Journeying into my black mental health with my black therapist:
By Lisa Savage | Jul 31, 2023
The importance of establishing a therapeutic alliance with someone who looks like me!
Written By Chelsea Glover-Jordan, LCSW-C, LICSW
I’ve never done a study on it but I’m sure if I did and based on life experiences (I’m a black woman) and relational input from others, I would imagine that the number one thing people want to feel is seen and heard. Narrowing that down to black people, these qualifications are amplified times 10 based on our colonized and oppressed history alone. Aside from systemic oppression and cultural stigmatization, we as black people seem to face daily opposition in addition to internal struggles that seem to stifle our potential and our growth. Within the last decade, black mental health has become a thing to talk about. Subsequently, black people in mental health seem to give a little razzle-dazzle to the topic. People want to feel like they’re implementing this narrative of inclusivity. But even without trying, even without anyone inserting us into the narrative, we fit right in like a hand in glove. Whether we are hearing criticism from outsiders or criticism from those who share in the same plight, we as black people are constantly and consistently trying to push up against stereotypes that cautiously sear “politically correct” narratives white society has set forth.
According to Desharra Alexander-Self who wrote a piece for Monarch of Simple Practice, “The main issues when it comes to addressing the mental health concerns for Black Americans are social stigma and validation, empathy, and accessibility.”
This is why it is more important than ever for black people to hold space for other black people, particularly in the therapeutic and mental health realm. If you are a black person reading this, please take heed as to why your mental health professional should look like you!
There is the freedom to be your most authentic self:
What better space to bring your walls down than with someone who looks like you and with someone who you know has shared some of the same fundamental experiences as you? Imagine being in an emotional and mental space that prompts authenticity and encourages you to simply “say that shit”. I have had clients show up to our virtual therapy sessions with a bonnet on because they had just gotten their hair done. I’ve had clients talk about how they hate it when their husbands get into bed with their “outside clothes” on. Not once did I ask for clarification in any of these situations because I just simply knew as a black person what these things meant. Imagine how liberating this can be and how comfortable you could feel by simply sharing your feelings, darkest thoughts, and secrets.
Being relieved of having to push up against stereotypes:
From a black client to a black therapist, you will likely feel less compelled to negate widely “accepted” stereotypes. You can tell your black therapist that your daddy “wasn’t there” growing up and they will not likely discount you out from being successful while “defying the odds”. You can also share with your black therapist that you went to a cookout on Saturday, demolished some fried chicken and watermelon, but was able to exceed corporate expectations on Monday morning at your typically populated, culturally skewed workplace. Your black therapist will believe wholeheartedly you’re able to show up in both seemingly different spaces as your most authentic self. Trust me, it’s not a conundrum y’all!
What’s understood doesn’t have to be explained:
One word…colloquialisms. Just being a part of the culture, places some therapists at an advantage. Knowing that your therapist is able to know what you’re insinuating without you having to explicitly spell things out can be gold. Phrases from “period” (and that’s what I mean) to my kid had me “ripping and running” (doing way more than what I anticipated) creates genuine rapport and alleviates the constant need for clarification that may come up in an “unseasoned” therapeutic environment.
The therapeutic relationship is not only about you sitting in front of a professional who went to school for 6+ years while they clinically theorize you, it is also about manifesting a relationship of trust, empathy, and safety. All things that have been proven time and time again to cultivate meaningful therapeutic bonds that strive to understand, heal, and help. As a black person with a black therapist, you are less likely to feel judged and more likely to continue going back for treatment. Because this particular space may create emotional safety for you, productivity in treatment goals is increased tremendously.
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About The Author
3 Roads, a group private practice owned by clinical social worker and therapist, Chelsea Glover-Jordan based out of Maryland and Washington D.C. Chelsea is dedicated to helping underserved populations, black women in particular. With a niche in maternal health, anxiety, and depression, Chelsea works hard to meet clients where they are. To Chelsea, self-care is super important and that is one thing she encourages with anyone she encounters. She implements mindfulness exercises and interventions such as CBT, DBT, and EMDR to help clients in their therapeutic journeys. She considers herself a spiritual being who is always on a journey to balance all 7 of her chakras.
3 Roads was established because she wanted to make a career out of something she loves doing, helping people. She sees so much beauty in the art of living to one’s full potential and on her journey to enlightened spirituality, she hopes that her narrative and experiences can help others.
Picture by Canva