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To seek a culturally competent mental health professional, call the Black Mental Health Alliance at 410 338-2642.
By Katherine Helm, PhD
Too often I hear that “Black people don’t go to counseling” and “counseling is not for Black people.” In my personal experience as a psychologist with about 24 years in the counseling field, this is a myth.
Some Black people don’t go to counseling, but many do. Over my career as a psychologist, my caseload of ongoing clients has always been at least 50% African American. One of the key reasons some of my African American clients came to me for counseling is because they wanted a Black counselor.
Thus, although there is a stigma about seeking counseling in the Black community, in certain segments of our communities, that is changing.
There have always been Black therapists who see Black clients. In 1968, the Association of Black Psychologists was founded to assist Black psychologists in communities struggling with the constant mental health consequences of living with racism and discrimination. The National Association of Black Social Workers was founded that same year for a similar purpose.
These organizations have been and continue to be powerful shapers of policy and the identification of the mental health needs of African ancestry people. Most Black psychologists, social workers, and counselors are fundamentally committed to working with Black therapy clients and communities.
Thus, when people state, “counseling is not for Black people” this statement rings false. Sadly, it discourages African Americans from getting powerful counseling support from those trained and ready to serve them, Black therapists. Obviously, Black clients can choose to work with counselors from many different cultural backgrounds, but many Black therapists have gone into the field passionate about serving their own communities’ mental health needs.
What is Counseling?
Also known as talk therapy and psychotherapy, counseling is the process of meeting with a trained professional to explore issues in which you might be struggling emotionally and psychologically.
Some use counseling for personal growth, while others use it to examine issues such as: physical, sexual, and/or emotional trauma, depression, anxiety, relationship break ups, family issues, interpersonal conflicts, grief and loss issues. Other issues include destructive behavioral and thought patterns, feelings of low self-worth, relationship issues, and severe mental illness.
What are you Supposed to Get from Counseling?
Counseling presents a confidential, private, supportive, caring, non-judgmental environment where you can explore your concerns. In addition, counseling helps you heal from past and current hurts and provides those who go with a unique perspective on their lives.
It’s a collaborative development between you and your counselor in which you determine goals for the counseling process. The vast majority of people who successfully complete counseling feel better about the issues they came in with and report learning more effective coping skills and strategies to deal with life’s stressors. A typical course of counseling is between 8-10 sessions, but this can vary widely depending on the issues.
Myths about Counseling
Here are a list of common myths about counseling:
- You have to be crazy or something has to be wrong with you to go.
- The counselor is going to tell you what’s wrong with you.
- Medication will be pushed on you.
- The counselor’s job is to fix you (or your partner.)
- Just talking about problems does not solve them.
- Counseling takes forever.
- Talking to a friend is just as good.
Research has demonstrated that counseling is highly effective in helping people make desired changes in their lives and deal with a whole host of problems. Not only that, counselors possess training in a wide variety of areas to help their clients.
How to Find a Counselor or Therapist
There are several different types of professionals that are qualified to do counseling. Psychology, counseling, and social work are regulated fields where professionals have to get a specific degree and pass an exam to become licensed in the state in which they practice.
- psychologists (these professionals have a doctorate degree, PhD or PsyD)
- counselors (these individuals can have a doctoral degree like a PhD or EdD, but most have a masters degree in counseling, MA, MS, or MEd)
- and social work (MSW).
Psychologist Dr. Joy Harden, who founded the Podcast, “Therapy is for Black Girls”, provides a resource list for therapists all over the United States.
If you are insured, your insurance company will have a list of counselors covered by your policy. You can ask for an African American counselor if you prefer, or you can take the list and research those on the list they provide.
Workplaces have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that provide limited counseling services. Also, many communities have community mental health centers where counseling is often provided at a reduced cost. Finally, there are some counseling apps that have started to become popular lately. Therapists conduct session in person or virtually, since COVID-19 expanded counseling service delivery to the virtual realm.
Taking the first step
Counseling can be done individually (most common), in groups, with a couple, or with a family. And counselors are trained in a variety of approaches, though most have certain specialties and issues in which they prefer to work.
Importantly, Psychology Today contains a national database of counselors, therapists, and psychologists, where each professional provides a brief biography and contact information. You can select a counselor based on the information they provide about themselves.
Once you’ve found a counselor, within your first or second session, you should feel a connection to them. You should feel like you can collaborate with them to help you. Beyond that, you should also feel comfortable asking questions. Your therapist should alleviate any concerns you have about the process of counseling.
If you do not feel this way, it’s okay for you to seek other options for counselors. Ultimately, taking the first step is what’s most important.
Dr. Katherine Helm, PhD is a Professor of Psychology and Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling at Lewis University, Romeoville, IL. She is also a practicing psychologist in part-time private where she sees individuals and couples. Katherine has authored several publications about racial and cultural issues in mental health, couples’ issues, and pedagogy in multicultural courses. She has participated in counselor training at multiple levels. Katherine is a sought-after presenter, professional trainer, clinical supervisor, and author. You can learn more about Katherine at: drkhelmconsulting.com