Myth: I’m Black So My Therapist Must Be Black Too
The most common belief coming from black people that I see online regarding therapy is that their therapist must be black. This is for a few reasons. Many black people have a general (and deserved) distrust for non-black health practitioners. The thought of sitting across from a white therapist and revealing the most intimate part about ourselves can be very scary for black people. We believe, for the most part, that black health professionals have our well-being in mind and that they take our needs more seriously. Many black people also believe that only a black therapist can understand them. The nuances and cultural references that we use with each other are not easily understood by those on the outside and it is exhausting trying to translate AAVE (African-American Vernacular English) to someone who is not black. All of these concerns are valid and it is absolutely okay to want a black therapist and to support black people and black businesses. However, it is not okay to STOP seeking therapy in case you can’t find a black therapist that you mesh with.
Let me tell you about my experience. Before I started therapy, I was determined to find a black female therapist. Now, I live in San Antonio and simply put, there are not a lot of black people here which means there are definitely not a lot of black female therapists here. I was, however, able to find one. I was looking forward to our first session following my worst anxious and depressive episode to date. Now, this therapist (who shall not be named) was a very sweet and kind older black woman. She reminded me of the elders in my own family. I felt extremely comfortable around her and I was immediately able to open up to her. Sounds great, right? Wrong. The problem was that she felt the same way about me too. She was way too comfortable. She began talking to me like I was family instead of a paying client!
Now, this could be because we were both black women and we would sometimes joke around during our sessions and there was a deep-rooted, cultural commonality between us. This could also be because the training she received when she became a counselor is outdated or maybe because I’m getting my degree in counseling, I knew she wasn’t using her skills and maybe someone who has no prior knowledge of counseling would feel that she was doing a great job. I’m not sure to be honest, but the point is that she wasn’t the right counselor for me. So I started looking for another one. This time, instead of focusing on the therapists’ race, I focused on her mission as a counselor. What were her values? What were her beliefs? Did they align with mine? After deciding on a few therapists’ that looked good on paper, I called each one of them. My current therapist was the last one I called out of my bunch and when I tell y’all she had SOBBING over the phone. I mean I could hardly even piece together a sentence. I felt so safe and comfortable over the phone that I knew I could spill my guts to her. She acknowledged that my feelings were valid, she didn’t make me feel like I was being dramatic or that my experiences weren’t as traumatizing as they were, and she assured me that this was something we could work on. That was a year ago. My therapist is a white woman.
Now, I’m not saying that if you don’t find the perfect black therapist the first time that you should start looking for a white one, but I will say that you should look at your reasons for coming to therapy and decide if your experiences are something only a black person can understand. However, I do encourage black people to search for a black therapist first. It is usually easier to build trust and there’s generally a connection that comes very naturally. Also, many black therapists are doing this work for the community. I just hope that you don’t get discouraged or stop your search if you can’t find a black therapist that works for you. At the end of the day, this is your health, your peace of mind, and your quality of life at stake so you must do what is best for you.
Sincerely, The Life Therapist