The Elephant In the Room

Race, Culture, and the Therapy Relationship

Black (or Asian or Latino or American Indian) Like Me?

Research shows that people of color prefer therapists of one’s own race/ethnicity. Unfortunately, trying to find an ethnic minority therapist requires the sleuthing skills of a private investigator. But it doesn't have to be that way. Read More

Racist much?

No surprise really that people are racist about their therapist choices, they already are sexist.

Myself as a white man my psychologist is a woman and my psychiatrist a north africain arab.

Sad, really.

Sad, really. When the most important things for a therapist be that they are professional, brilliant, and really, really insightful. That folks would rather see a mediocre black or Jewish therapist than a brilliant Irish or Catholic one says more about the state of the world than it does about psychotherapists advertise themselves. What's most important too is that the therapist have some real expertise in the problem area you are bringing to therapy. If the issue is chronic illness, don't see someone your own race who has never dealt with illness. If it's sex, don't see someone your own ethnicity who isn't a member of AASECT.

Gawd. We've got to get away from all this silly identity stuff. When it's relevant, it is certainly relevant. But too often it is made relevant when it's the least relevant of all the variables.

Well said.

Well said.

How do you know their

How do you know their mediocre? How does religion effect one's
"brilliantness" if you will? That seems racist right there. And obviously you haven't read the articles about therapists dismissing racial trauma or how being colorblind to race during therapy isn't necessarily a good thing. So yes, therapists can have real expertise and be "black or Jewish". "Gawd" right back at you. How can you say we have to get away from identity stuff when you were just exhibiting why it's relevant or an issue in the first place.

That is the dumbest thing

That is the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

I am multiracial (black, white, Cuban, Indian), or what Americans would refer to as "black" and if I were seeking a therapist my most important qualifier would be that they don't give bad, hippy-dippy advice like, "Your marriage can be saved by sleeping with other people." That's it.

Credentials and competence are viewed as important

Thanks for weighing in, everyone. Just to clarify, studies of racial preferences show that when asked to rank order preferences for therapist characteristics, race falls much lower on the list, below things like experience, credentials/education, etc. As several of you noted, therapist competence is viewed as much more important than therapist race. However, all things being equal, "people assume greater similarity of opinion between themselves and in-group members than between themselves and
out-group members” (Marks & Miller, 1987, p. 80). This is true for race, as well as social class, and other indicators of group membership. Certainly, there are problems with this reasoning. And the research also tells us that racial/ethnic matching does not lead to any appreciable benefit in terms of treatment outcomes. In other words, sharing the same racial/ethnic background as one's therapist does not necessarily mean that you will do better in treatment. Yet, many racial/ethnic minorities are resistant to seeking help because of beliefs that the mental health establishment is culturally biased and outright discriminatory against people of color. Others may simply wish to see someone who they feel may have special insight into their specific problems. For these individuals, therapist race may be an important consideration in promoting treatment seeking and engagement in care.

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Doris F. Chang is a clinical psychologist and Associate Professor of Psychology at the New School for Social Research.

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