WHY REPRESENTATION MATTERS IN THERAPY By Stephanie Barbee
By | Oct 2, 2023
Picture by Unsplash
For the last three and a half years since the pandemic, I have gotten to see something that
forever changed me as a therapist. I saw other Black therapists who were doing it their way. It should come as no surprise that understanding what it means to be a Black therapist can be difficult when only 4% of psychologists identify as Black. Although there are more in other disciplines (Counseling, Social work, Marriage and Family Therapy, etc.), the numbers are still disproportionately low. This matters as a client because mental health professionals who lack awareness of diversity can be dangerous. These mental health professionals are more likely to inaccurately diagnose Black people with more severe mental health disorders (such as Schizophrenia or a personality disorder). These same individuals who get diagnoses with more severe disorders are less likely to be given the same level of treatment as a white person with the same diagnosis. More information can be found in this article https://www.
This problem impacts on so many levels! It makes it difficult for Black people to trust mental health professionals. It makes it difficult for Black mental health professionals to be supported
in growth and learning because there can be consequences to pushing back against racist
systems. As a result, there are fewer Black mental health professionals in general and even fewer Black mental health professionals who feel empowered to be their authentic selves. But when they are….it creates magic for clients.
As a professional, as I saw the emergence of Black mental health professionals nationwide through social media, I was pushed to grow, too. As a result, my clients have gotten more of me. This has enhanced their mental health journey by allowing them to feel less concerned about cursing in session, having a bonnet on, or eating lunch or dinner so they can focus on
On a personal level, it inspired me to get my own Black therapist. I’d tried therapy twice before with White professionals, and let’s just say I was already giving what I didn’t receive. When I saw this authentic emergence of REAL Black therapists, I sought my own therapy and did some amazing work.
Even as the helper, we all live in this world and need a little help. Whether it’s unpacking family tensions, navigating the racial climate at work, or managing depression to continue to pursue your dreams, therapy can help provide support. Mental health directories such as Clinicians of Color can be a place to find culturally competent therapists to provide mental health resources for BIPOC people. We all deserve to heal in a space where we feel accurately seen and heard, and healing with a Black therapist can help support that for some people.
About The Author
Stephanie Barbee is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Missouri. She serves primarily Black Queer people who seek to understand their identities, overcome traumatic experiences, or explore how to move through a world that sees them as invisible. She is also a speaker, trainer, and consultant. She can be contact through her profile here: https://www.cliniciansofcolor.