Is it racist to create services directed to people of color?

By Lisa Savage | Nov 15, 2020

Why we created this directory

I, along with a business partner, recently created an online mental health directory specifically targeting BIPOC. Mental and emotional concerns are increasing in this population, yet, Black and Brown therapists only compromise between four (4) and five (5) percent of mental health professionals. Historically, Black and Brown communities have endured generations of trauma. The trauma resulting from enslavement, Jim Crow laws, and ongoing structural racism and the resultant maladies impacts many BIPOC communities’ ability to rebound. Poverty, toxic stress, environmental issues, education inequities, over-exposure to violence, inadequate housing, chronic health conditions continue to disproportionately impact people of color, further jeopardizing their mental health.

Race-based trauma is the injury that occurs to the psyche of every BIPOC. It cannot be escaped while living in a society that denies the persistence of racism. Sometimes race-based trauma is subtle; other times, it’s overt but nonetheless damaging. In my role as a therapist, I’ve worked with a diverse group of clients. My clientele has ranged from people living ordinary lives to folks whom others might deem successful based on specific metrics. I saw but didn’t have the language at the time, the adverse effects of racial trauma in each of them. It showed up in devaluation of self, chronic health conditions, low self-confidence, passivity, anger, self-limiting thoughts, and so much more.

Clinicians of Color, LLC is comprised of 14k BIPOC therapists from around the world. We have a space on Facebook where we provide support, resources, encouragement, and collaboration. The initial objective was to provide guidance on how to build a sustainable private practice. Since its inception, we have branched out, creating a clinical training track, an advocacy committee, and, most recently, created a mental health directory. www.clinciansofcolor.org

We believe the directory will bridge the gap between need and access. But why focus on BIPOC, you might ask? We have unceremoniously been accused of being racist, which frankly is hilarious. The Clinicians of Color doesn’t exclude anyone based on race or any other demographic, but it centers Black and Brown people. It is easy to assume that those who have called us racist feel threatened by this notion. What moves us forward is recognizing the stats above indicate the growing need for mental health services and the importance of having representation in health care.

Studies have shown that when clients/patients have providers who know and understand their culture, they have better outcomes. Anecdotally, people of color are likely to be misdiagnosed because providers fail to factor in societal ills that contribute to maladaptive behaviors. For example, many Black teens who have acting out behaviors often have unassessed trauma and anxiety. They do not receive the right treatment, so the root cause of their difficulties do not get resolved, and ultimately, they fall into other systems that are not designed to help but to punish.

Furthermore, BIPOC communities have endured racism and harm in the healthcare systems that are supposed to help them. In particular, black people are assumed to be stronger, more pain tolerant, and are less likely to receive referrals to specialized services. Unconscious bias is always at play in providers, and unless one is cognizant of how their biases show up, it will affect patients’ care.

Many mental health providers are familiar with a popular online directory. However, after a series of outright racist incidents with this directory, many BIPOC providers did a mass exodus, causing another obstacle for those seeking culturally relevant services. Clinicians of Color stepped up to be a bridge between those in need and access. We expect that the racist commentary will continue, but we will not falter or back down. We believe it is critical to ensure those who are in need can reach experts who can best help them with their pressing concerns. Please check us out, share the directory, and, of course, join the registry if you’re a provider.

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Lisa Savage

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