Finding a Therapist as a Black Woman

The importance of cultural competency.

Posted Oct 21, 2020

RF studio/Pexels
Source: RF studio/Pexels

It’s always hard to find the right therapist, but that process can become even more difficult when factoring in cultural competence and the importance of shared experience. Liana Taylor, blogger, mental health advocate and aspiring clinician, discusses her search.  

Recently, I’ve taken on the task of looking for a therapist. Not only do I owe it to myself, but I owe it to all who follow, engage with, and respect my platform to practice what I preach. However, the process so far has been tedious and exhausting, to say the least. Finding therapists in my area that meet all the necessary criteria of insurance, cost, and availability can be overwhelming. I long for the days of my undergraduate career when seeking mental health services was so much easier—not to mention free.

It’s been over a year since I was last in therapy, so it’s long overdue, especially with everything going on personally, nationally, and globally. As a Black woman, cultural competence is a huge factor in my search for a therapist. Cultural competency, to me, is the understanding that my blackness and womanhood are core pieces of my identity that color my day to day life, but do not encompass my life in totality. To see me fully, as an individual with my own idiosyncrasies, as well as a young Black American woman living in this age, and successfully acknowledging and engaging with both of these inextricable realities is to be culturally competent. Ultimately, the quality and competency of a therapist is not based solely on their racial or ethnic background, but it certainly plays a role in their ability to address the unique challenges and stressors we Black folx face daily.

I was spoiled by my first experience in therapy. My first therapist was a Black woman who was a mother figure for me while navigating my freshman year at my PWI (Predominantly White Institution). The experience of having a Black female therapist was remarkable and affirming because I didn’t have to explain the subtleties and nuances of my experience, from being a Black girl in a mainly White environment, to intracommunal Black issues. In the years following, all my therapists were White women. They were great, but I noticed that I never talked about issues pertaining to race with them because I never felt the comfort to do so.

While in college, I also had no idea that I could choose to have a Black therapist. This is why I want to encourage all Black folx and people of color who wish to find a therapist of color to not give up on that hope or feel that they are asking too much. The therapeutic space is vital when it comes to addressing our specific traumas, hardships, and perspectives. I’m realizing now that this is a process that won’t honor any sort of deadline. I am frustrated, tired, and completely over it. I send copious amounts of emails daily, only to get a handful back with sessions at price ranges I can barely afford. I don’t understand the system, and I’m reluctant to receive teleservices because of the extremely thin walls of my apartment, but I don’t have any other choice with the ongoing pandemic, so I persist.

I know now that this is something that I have to prioritize and make happen, despite the cost. A recent phone consultation has reignited the drive within me to finalize this process. My first phone consultation certainly didn’t solve my problems, but it was definitely cathartic to talk through a lot of what I’ve been struggling with uninterrupted, while having my thoughts and feelings validated and even receiving some actionable steps. It makes me so angry that at times like this, these services aren’t readily available for everyone!

To combat these issues within mental health, we need real systemic change, a reimagining of the system from the ground up. The ease of entering into therapy as an undergraduate was probably one of the best things my college had to offer, even if that system was deeply flawed. Seeing how this process works in the real world, I can’t help but acknowledge the enormous privilege I had those four years. It’s disheartening that even there on that campus, many Black and Brown students didn’t even feel comfortable stepping into that office week to week. But for those who did, a lot of them are now, like me, at a complete loss.

For anyone still in their search, please don’t give up. It’s unfair and ridiculous even, at moments. However, you deserve to receive treatment, you deserve the help that you are looking for. Do not compromise, waver, or settle. In due time I believe I’ll find the therapist I need, and you will, too.

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory

You can follow Liana on Instagram @blackdermatillomaniac. Liana’s page offers a safe space for Black dermatillomaniacs to share their struggles.