Ever since my time in grad school I’ve wondered what keeps African Americans from seeking counseling . We are a people who have no shortage of loss and experiences of being overwhelmed. My hope in this blog is to identify some of the cultural views that cause many of us to be hesitant. In no way is this list exhaustive and cannot reflect the views of all black people, but my hope is that in naming some of the barriers I can build awareness and encouragement for those who pursue counseling.
First Things First
As an African American women, I personally acknowledge that within the black community, there are diverse experiences. Below, I believe are a few that hit at the heart of why many individuals struggle to search out counseling. These barriers may be true not only of African Americans, but can influence many communities. I also want to reference the book, Counseling the Culturally Diverse Theory and Practice by Derald Wing Sue for which I’m grateful for insights and perspective.
Cultural Differences and Barriers
I often hear folks say that they are “not crazy,” in reference to why they are not interested in counseling. The questions can be “How will speaking about my own struggles impact or address the issues that our community faces?” Also, some fear that by seeking out a therapist or other mental health support, their peers would potentially have a negative perception of them as a person. Some may fear appearing less in control of their emotions
This is rooted in biases that the black community has experienced. No one wants to be seen as incapable of fulfilling their roles as parents, community members, leaders, etc. within their community.
Finding Someone Who Looks Like You
When I joined Optimum Joy Clinical Counseling, it was reflected to me that there are not many African American female counselors in the city, we are rare to find. While I am not sure how statistically true this is or even why, I have seen how having a shared cultural value can increase one’s level of trust and rapport building and can decrease treatment fears. I am defining treatment fears in this way: being concerned of how one might be treated or viewed by the professional. In a time and culture where judgement and unconscious/conscious biases are experienced, finding someone who looks like you becomes more important. In addition, in a culture that ascribes to collective values or ways of being, looking for providers that “look like you” can be beneficial in ensuring that you are receiving culturally relative support.
Seeking Support Within The Community
Individuals often try to get their emotional needs met through other supports within their community. Pastors, Spiritual leaders, school social workers, mentors, mom’s within the church or within their neighborhood. The Black community is a community that cares for one another and turns inward for encouragement.
Often times for those who practice a Christian faith there’s a belief that either someone didn’t pray hard enough, that they are experiencing these hardships because of generational sins, or there’s a sense that someone is “holier” or more in touch with God particularly if expression of faith is connected to outward expressions of feeling/seeing visions/supernaturally. See my blog post on: Turning to Mental Health Services in a Faith Community. In addition, the black community is one that supports a spirit of lament or grief and struggle. In our struggle we persevere and experience God’s strength and deliverance from these trials. We are a people who have experience and continue to experience oppression. While there is great strength and resilience that comes from these trials, this can cause us to remain stuck or unaware that counseling can offer growth, support and encouragement in the midst of these trials. Furthermore, when we do share of our laments or grief, we often do so from the “victory” side.
Going Against The Grain
For anyone who pursues counseling , it is true that any sense of greater insight or healing that you personally experience, will impact those around you. It will impact the way you experience yourself and how you respond to others’ needs. I liken it to how a family may experience this change, when one person seeks out therapy. As the individual changes, the family will also change. As a community, there is such a high value of being a “part of” and not the “other.” While we may ascribe strength and courage to those African Americans who are the “first,” seeking mental health services is not necessarily one that is looked upon with pride.
Finding a counselor that is in-network with your insurance, accessible, or whose fee is affordable for those specifically without insurance can be difficult. Resources include community mental health agencies or utilizing your insurance to help offset the cost of seeking therapy. Also, some workplaces have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that generally allow 3 to 8 sessions free of charge.
It can be pretty confusing and daunting to connect with a provider! Our intake process helps ensure you acquire the services you need for however long your need them. We value making services accessible to everyone, and can help direct you to resources that potentially fit your need when you reach out.
So Why Seek Counseling?
Thankfully, we and many others are passionate and interested in offering a person centered approach that values the experiences of many and provides a welcoming non-judgemental space. It is my personal desire to help all who come to counseling to have a different experience of themselves, others, and if they ascribe to the Christian faith their experience with God. Counseling cannot replace the hope and healing one receives from community. However, counseling can recognize strengths, collaborate, and assist others in building greater insight into your own ways of being.
If you are struggling with feeling overwhelmed and would like someone to journey with you in this path, counseling is for you.
Written by therapist Pamela Larkin