Self-Care Strategies for Black Clinicians
Managing Racially-Based Stressors
Posted June 10, 2019
Contributing Author: Beverly Ibeh, MA
Edited by Natalie Cort, Ph.D.
Black clinical psychologists and mental health counselors often face Black patients seeking validation of their pain and distress stemming from systemic oppression, marginalization, and socio-cultural pressures. For these clinicians, their patients’ recounting of their racial traumas may trigger their own racially fostered distress. The concurrently occurring distress between clinician and patient may be a source of mutuality for some but clinically disruptive for others.
While psychological research has generally focused on the impact of institutional racism on the Black community, emerging research demonstrates that there are narrower individual psychological and physiological effects—post-traumatic stress responses, anxiety, and high blood pressure—of repeated exposure to racism and discrimination (Harrell et al., 2003; Utsey & Ponterotto, 1996). To manage these effects, Black clinicians frequently rely on crucial professional mentorship and interpersonal supports to manage race-related stress. Nonetheless, it is important for Black clinicians to engage in racially sensitive self-care practices. Self-care practices mediate the effects of racially-based stressors, promote increased resilience, and reduce negative health outcomes.
As a Black woman who will soon receive a doctorate degree in clinical psychology, I have found a number of effective methods to manage the stress that arises from the ubiquitous exposure to racism and racial microaggressions. I am committed to creating a safe and validating space to patients from marginalized backgrounds. Therefore, it is imperative that I and my colleagues of color engage in deliberate self-care to continue providing compassionate care to all.
Seek Culturally-Responsive Therapy: It is important to dialogue with therapists who are comfortable and clinically-trained to work with patients from marginalized and underserved backgrounds, especially those chronically exposed to racial stressors. Please see national directories for culturally-sensitive and racial/ethnic minority clinicians, such as TherapyForBlackMen.org and AfricanAmericanTherapists.com.
Become a Listener and Feel Empowered: Have a long commute or lunch break? Listen to one of these mental health podcasts by prominent Black and Latinx clinicians that focus on the intersection of mental health, gender, race, and culture.
- Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is hosted by licensed psychologist Dr. Joy Harden Bradford. She explores the complexities of being a Black woman, mental illness in the Black community, and stigma.
- Through their organization Melanin and Mental Health, Eboni Harris, LFMT, and Eliza Boquin, LMFT, have generated a directory for the Black and Latinx population and the Between Sessions Podcast, featuring experts in the mental health field and Black community.
- If you want to belly laugh about everything from pop culture to sociocultural issues, check out The Read Podcast with close friends Kid Fury and Crissle West, who deliver their ‘Read’ on celebrities and segments on Black Excellence, creating a safe space to discuss their own and listeners’ mental health (‘Crissles Couch’), and amplifying marginalized voices in the LGBTQIA community.
Affirm Your Body and Mind: Did you just experience a microaggression during session or in the workplace? Try some of these tips to affirm your experience and calm your mind. Mindfulness activities help to increase positive bodily sensations through mindfulness strategies:
- Journaling: Take a moment to write down notes in your phone or in a personal notebook to write down the racially adverse experience, how you felt, and identify a trusted colleague of color, mentor, and/or friend you will seek out for support, validation, and dialogue with later in the day or week.
- Engage in daily mantras and affirmations that uplift your spirit and offer reminders for Black resilience. Try this with a mirror first thing in the morning to remind yourself of how valuable and resilient you are.
- Grounding technique: Sit in a chair, plant your feet on the ground, take a breath, envision a safe space, and feel bodily sensations from your toes up!
- 3-minute silent meditation and deep breathing (diaphragmatic/belly breathing) in a quiet place. Inhale for a count of 5 and exhale for a count of 8.
Get Connected: Join a national or professional advocacy group and engage in social justice advocacy such as the Association of Black Psychologists (APBsi) and the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM), whose mission is to “...facilitate consciousness-raising and direct action to address social inequities and conditions that impact Black mental health—such as transphobia, racism, ableism, misogynoir, and homophobia.”
Beverly Ibeh, MA is a 3rd-year Clinical Psychology doctoral student at William James College. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling with specialized training in Couples and Family Therapy. Beverly avidly practices yoga and is passionate about providing clinical care to trauma-exposed individuals.
Harrell, J.P., & Hall, S. & Taliaferro, J. (2003). Physiological responses to racism and discrimination: An assessment of the evidence. American Journal of Public Health, 93(2), 243-248.
Utsey, S.O., & Ponterotto, J.G. (1996). Development and validation of the Index of Race-Related Stress (IRRS). Journal of Counseling Psychology, 43, 490-502.