Finding the Support to Help Heal Our Souls
Strategies to help Black people connect with therapy in unprecedented times.
Posted July 14, 2020
It is clear that 2020 has presented challenges and responses to challenges that are, as has been said often, unprecedented. In February, the realities of COVID-19 instilled fear in citizens all over the world as it indiscriminately wreaked havoc on the health of our nation. This fear begot anxiety in people of color when their families and community members started being hospitalized more often and dying from the virus more frequently than others.
As COVID-19 cases grew, many of the nation’s educational institutions, K-12 and college alike, closed their brick and mortar doors and transitioned to on-line education in response to the pandemic. At this time, parents became responsible for their children’s academic learning experience in ways that we have never seen before. Today, as some people continue to stay home to keep themselves and their families safe, their livelihood is threatened with the plummeting economy.
Concurrent with these challenges, the country has been reminded of the pre-existing pandemic of racial strife and injustice evidenced by the most recent public deaths of Aumad Aubrey (February 2020), Breonna Taylor (May 2020), George Floyd (May 2020), and Rayshard Brooks (June 2020). In response, Black Lives Matter protests have ignited across the world despite a life-threatening pandemic. As has been documented in the media and academic discourse, each of these realities have disproportionately or uniquely impacted the health of Black communities (Laurencin & McClinton, 2020; Price-Haywood & Burton, 2020, Alang, McAlpine, McCreedy, & Hardeman, 2017).
It is A LOT. And although Black people in America have often been lauded for their resilience, the acute and cumulative stress is unprecedented for Black people living in 2020. The stress of COVID-19 has many Black people grieving the loss of loved ones. The anxiety, stress, and trauma from the ongoing racial injustice, most notably the televised videos showing and recounting the killing of Black men and women has added a form of collective grief to the Black community. Add to this the stress of maintaining decorum in majority white spaces despite one’s anger and pain, it is no wonder that many black people are endorsing the #IamnotOK hashtag that has gone viral in social media.
These are difficult times and having a mental health provider can be a MASSIVE resource. However, access to services and stigma associated with receiving therapy continues to be yet another stressor and barrier for Black communities (Taylor, & Kuo 2019; Watson & Hunter, 2015, Cook et al., 2014) - but it does not have to be. Black therapists are in this struggle and want to serve, while simultaneously managing their own response to the struggle and equipping themselves with training and resources to assist via the provision of telehealth services and the adoption of protocols to keep themselves and others healthy in anticipation of face-to-face services.
Black therapists are committed to determining the best ways to meet the needs of potential new clients who need support.
With all of the issues in the world, complicated by therapists’ move to teletherapy in response to COVID19 safety protocols, potential clients benefit from being even more strategic in the search for a provider. Although a racial/ethnic therapist-client match is not a prerequisite for improvement, many clients show a strong preference for therapists of a similar racial/ethnic background (Smith & Cabral, 2011). The search for a therapist that can meet the unique needs of Black clients can benefit from the tips below.
1. Be patient and persistent.
Therapists are adjusting to the realities and complexities of the larger culture, just as clients are. Many Black therapists manage their own practice, are supporting existing clients through the evolving stressors, and are seeking the best ways to be responsive to new inquiries for services. On a normal day, finding the right therapist can be challenging given the availability of Black providers relative to the need. During times of societal distress, if you are looking for a new provider patience an even more critical virtue.
2. Know your insurance benefits (if using insurance).
You can empower yourself by checking your benefits prior to starting your search for a therapist. It can be discouraging to later find out that the provider you were really excited to meet is not a provider on your insurance panel or your copay is more than what you can regularly afford at this time. Try to avoid that by checking out your information ahead of time and verifying it when you do connect with a provider.
3. Don’t be shy about interviewing a potential therapist.
Ask for a free consultation to see if he/she is a good fit for you. Most therapists will offer this and are used to providing it. Have some questions prepared to see if this therapist has an approach and/or personality that works with yours. Sample questions might include:
- Do you incorporate spirituality? If so, how?
- Do you give clients homework?
- How do you determine when I don't need to come to therapy anymore?
- How does culture play a role in your approach?
4. Ask for referrals if an appointment is not available.
Black therapists can fill up pretty quickly as the demand often outweighs the supply. If a therapist of interest is full and no longer taking new clients, ask them if they have someone, in particular, they can refer you to.
5. Email the provider.
Just like you, most providers can check and respond to their email from anywhere. As a result, sending an email can allow providers to easily review the request, reply to indicate if their services do not match the need, or to indicate the next steps towards an initial meeting.
Below are some points to include in emails to increase the likelihood of more timely and informative responses. Keep in mind that your email may not be encrypted so be mindful of personal health information that you share outside of a secure portal.
a) As relevant, indicate which insurance you hope to use.
b) Indicate if you have reviewed their profile (suggesting you have an idea that this may be a fit)
c) As you are comfortable, briefly share points of concern and information about the potential client, without disclosing personal health information.
Examples: I have been experiencing elevated levels of work-related stress, my daughter has been acting out a lot over the past few months and I am concerned about her decision-making, the social-political climate has increased my anxiety and I would like some tools to cope).
d) Speak to any restrictions in your availability or immediate needs.
Example: I am looking for a provider who has evening openings. I am in search of a provider who has openings in the next three weeks.
e) Specify if someone has referred you.
This can suggest that someone else, aside from you and potential provider, believe that there may be a therapeutic fit.
6. Remain open to finding the best therapeutic match.
If you start with a therapist and figure out it's not a good match, seek out a different therapist. It can be easy to give up on therapy altogether because it can be so daunting to begin, especially to begin again. Trust the process but seek a new therapist who might work better with and for you.
7. Know that providers want to help.
Therapists want to provide high-quality services to their clients. Stay encouraged on your search and know that the right provider will become available. Finding the right match is a process.. and a worthy one.
8. When you find a therapist, be open to sharing feedback so that your needs can be met.
While therapy is a professional relationship, it is a relationship nonetheless. Feedback about what is going well and what may not be going well in therapy can often improve the quality of services that you receive. Being vocal about how therapy is working for you can help your therapist make adjustments. If they respond poorly to feedback or do not make adjustments, then you know it is time to move on to someone who may better align with your needs – and that is OK.
These are difficult times. The unfortunate reality is that COVID19, the stresses of racial injustice, and the atrocities of police brutality are not going away anytime soon. Thus, for the health of our families and our communities, it is critical that we continue to work against the stigma of mental disease and access services as needed so that we can ultimately promote the psychological wellness and power needed to not only survive but thrive!
Alang, S., McAlpine, D., McCreedy, E., & Hardeman, R. (2017). Police brutality and black health: Setting the agenda for public health scholars. American Journal of Public Health, 107(5), 662–665. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2017.303691
Cook, B. L., Zuvekas, S. H., Carson, N., Wayne, G. F., Vesper, A., & McGuire, T. G. (2014). Assessing racial/ethnic disparities in treatment across episodes of mental health care. Health Services Research, 49(1), 206–229. https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6773.12095
Laurencin, C. T., & McClinton, A. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic: A call to action to identify and address racial and ethnic disparities. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 7(3), 398–402. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40615-020-00756-0
Price-Haywood, E. G., Burton, J., Fort, D., & Seoane, L. (2020). Hospitalization and Mortality among Black Patients and White Patients with Covid-19. The New England Journal of Medicine, Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMsa2011686
Smith, Timothy B. and Cabral, Raquel R. (2011). Racial/Ethnic matching of clients and therapists in mental health services: A meta-analytic review of preferences, perceptions, and outcomes. All Faculty Publications. 80.
Taylor, R. E., & Kuo, B. C. H. (2019). Black American psychological help-seeking intention: An integrated literature review with recommendations for clinical practice. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 29(4), 325-337.
Watson, N.N., Hunter, C.D.. (2015). Anxiety and depression among African American women: The costs of strength and negative attitudes toward psychological help-seeking. Culture Diversity Ethnic Minority Psychology, 21(4):604-612. doi:10.1037/cdp0000015.