When a Black/African-American womxn faces her mental and emotional challenges and decides to seek therapy, this can be a very scary and uncomfortable experience. Not only is she acknowledging that she needs help, she is also breaking away from the burdensome label of the “strong black woman” – one of several barriers that drive the taboo of mental health treatment in African-American culture.
As a Black womxn, having a black therapist goes much deeper than cultural competence. Not every facet of black womxnhood can be explained or articulated with words. A black therapist understands how race plays an inherent role in our physical and emotional well-being – always fighting prejudice, expectations, microaggressions, and striving to just feel like enough.
The descrimination and predjudice of the healthcare system has routinely been weaponized against us, causing many Black womxn (as well as non-binary, trans, and all-gendered individuals) to have difficulty trusting that we will be heard, understood, and properly cared for. Such mistrust can leave us in emotional distress and vulnerable to ill equipped professionals charged with our mental health care.
Research reveals that Black womxn are more likely to experience trauma and suffer from a mental illness, yet less likely to seek treatment. When we do seek treatment, we are often misdiagnosed as in comparison to our counterparts. We are also more likely to use emergency rooms for mental health care, thus making us more susceptible to being hospitalized.
In the space of therapy, all parts of your black womanhood should be validated and liberated. When you’re able to organically talk about your issues instead of pausing to translate your culture, it allows you to get to the root.
Early in my own healing journey, after experiencing therapists of other ethnicities I found solace in a black therapist. She didn’t judge my family – she “just knew” and tended to my wounds. I felt safe, validated, not judged or pathologized for my very common reactions to the trauma that I’d experienced in my life. She sat with me through the pain and gave language to the collective trauma that often feels heavy. She celebrated my big kinky hair, round hips, huge roar, and head wraps. She had a Big She Mamma, and shared stories about her often. She saw strength in the struggle and got what it meant to “vibe.” Therapy was not easy – and she understood and welcomed me back with open arms every time I tried to run. Finally, I felt at home in my own skin and seeing her brown skin reflected was naturally healing.
Every Black womxn deserves to be at home, especially if carved out once a week during a therapy session. It is vital that we encourage, normalize, and celebrate mental wellness and healing for trans and cisgendered Black womxn. I give thanks to resources like Therapy For Black Girls and Kindred Medicine that are instrumental in providing awareness for Black womxn to seek therapy and improve our mental health. The courage to heal warrants a space that is familiar and sacred. For Black womxn therapy should be a space that validates our experiences, reflects our many shades of beauty, and understands the complexities of our plight. Now, as I sit on the other side as a black therapist, it’s important for me to show up in my authenticity (Baltimore-bred, infectious laugh, tatted and pierced), because I want you to do the same. I have learned that in some part of me, lies a piece of your story.