Making the decision to start therapy is not an easy one. Most of the time, people know they need someone to help them navigate difficult situations, but for a myriad of reasons, taking that first step is delayed. Sometimes we delay because of cost and accessibility, or because of negative stereotypes we are told about mental health issues (both of which I will discuss in later posts). Other times, we postpone seeking services because we are unsure of the process or how to ask for what we need in a therapeutic space. This concept is magnified among African Americans because of the struggles to find therapist that look like us. But, I am here to tell you that it is not because we are not here…..WE OUTSIDE MANE! So, I want to help give you some tips to bring you closer to a therapist that is just for you. First, I want to acknowledge the importance of having a culturally similar therapist. Second, I will discuss the struggles of only seeking out Black therapists and the potentially missed opportunity for a culturally competent experience. And Last, I want to give you a few tips to help you navigate the therapeutic process.
My Therapist Looks Like Me
From a Black woman who purposefully engages in therapy with a Black woman, I am grateful for the chance to let my guard down, loosen the chains of professionalism and just be. Being able to have a space carved out just for you is undeniably an amazing feeling. To let words, ideas, fears and negative self-talk be able to flow and not be concerned about having to translate or hold back on using slang, is refreshing. On the other side of that, being a Black therapist, I have been able to experience seeing that flow. In a conversation I had recently with my sister, (another therapy goer) she remarked that even Black folks that have never been out the hood have learned to code switch and have learned levels of cultural competence and understanding that cannot be denied or diminished. And its so effing true! I work with clients from all economic backgrounds, and they all deserve (and reportedly appreciate) the chance to be authentically themselves. To be in the presence of Black authenticity is beautiful and energizing to witness. Now, therapy is built to challenge you so not every session ends with relief and smiles. Sometimes my clients hate me after (literally been told that, but they still come back because they know it’s all love at the end of the day lol) or we end not aligned on the same goals. But having a Black therapist can provide a safe environment to really accept those challenges and grow into who you see yourself to be, unapologetically.
They Not Black…. But they get it though
In a world where microaggressions occur every day, everywhere you go, it can be really hard to make a concerted decision to see a therapist that is not Black, especially if they are white. You may be tempted to forgo the process all together or some people enter into therapy knowing they are not able (and sometimes refuse) to be open and vulnerable in that space. This has also been an issue with me being a Black therapist and having clients of different cultures. Though I work to evaluate effectiveness often and build understanding of their worldview, sometimes you have clients that stagnate and fall off. But those other times, the times where cultural awareness, competency and experience come together to bridge the gap, it can provide a completely different dynamic. A dynamic where you can discuss similarities across culture and ultimately reach the same successes in goals and challenges with a brand-new perspective.
So how does this relate to you and finding the right therapist? When you are searching for a therapist, whether through your insurance or from a directory like Psychology Today or Therapy for Black Girls/Boys, you can use keywords to assist your search. More than just searching “black therapist” you can look for culturally competent therapists or look for therapists who specialize in understanding cultural differences. As you seek more and more specialized, you will need to be aware that costs will most likely increase, and therapists may not be in network with your insurance.
You can also utilize the first phone call or intake session to ask questions about their cultural competence training or their views of assisting culturally different clients. I am sure some reading this are like “Question my Therapist?!” Yes!! Any therapist you see needs to be confident enough in themselves as a provider to answer your questions. Even if they say something like “ I am willing to learn”, shows they have insight into the limits of their abilities and are open to grow and building knowledge. No one, Not even I know it all and cannot be expected to know. However, if your questions irritate that person or they lack motivation to grow with you, it may be beneficial to keep consulting with other Therapists.
If the therapist does not discuss their “therapeutic approach” you may also ask about that. Therapeutic approach will inform you how they do therapy. Do they focus all on you (person or client-centered) meaning session topics will flow more to your need session by session or are they more CBT based (cognitive behavioral therapy) where they use a lot of different interventions and homework. There are so many ways to approach therapy, so it is a good Idea to see if their approach aligns with your needs.
Also, be prepared to fill out a lot of paperwork during intake if your therapist does not have online forms, or if you do not complete the forms before your session time. If you are able to complete forms online, I suggest doing so, especially if you know you want to be able to talk about things in that session. We are healthcare professionals just like any other, which can be hard to remember due to the nature of the relationship….but alas therapy cannot begin without the proper forms being filled out and payment on deck.
When you are ready to “step down” (go to therapy less often), ready to “discharge” (I got the help I needed), or “terminate” (I could do more in this space, but I’m done for my own reasons), it is best practice to inform your therapist. This is mainly to avoid confusion of availability and excess charges. Most therapists have a no show/ late cancellation fee which can be charged and even deducted from your bank accounts without additional notice, depending on the contract you signed. So please review all intake paperwork fully and retain a copy for your records. I would also suggest reaching out to your insurance about your co-pay or deductible amount to avoid confusion or have session time wasted waiting an eligibility verification checks.
Lastly, take your time and give yourself grace during this season of your life. This is the first challenge I give all my new clients and now I give it to you. Be kind TO yourself as you find the right person, because when you do, it will be the best thing you ever did FOR yourself. -E.D.