Mariel Buque M.A.

Unpacking Race

Therapy is Now Trending

Popular culture is heading to “the couch” and proudly proclaiming it.

Posted Jul 31, 2017

Cast of HBO's Insecure

2017 is quickly becoming a year where therapy is being popularized by big names in the media. From television, to music, down to social media outlets, a therapy culture is now #Trending and opening up conversations about sitting on the couch. 

Mental health concerns have had a longstanding history of eliciting stigma and shame, which has been one of the greatest deterrents to people seeking help for any psychological difficulties they may experience. Also, since its inception in the late 19th century, psychotherapy has often been seen as inaccessible and foreign to people of color. As such, it has slowly segued into the popular culture streams that are more closely tied to the interests of people of color. But in 2017, that seems to be changing.

Girl's Trip Actress, Tiffany Haddish

In recent years, high profile celebrities like actresses Halle Berry and Kerry Washington have openly discussed their decisions to engage in psychotherapy. For Berry, her 30-plus years in therapy was a means to cope with her father’s alcoholism and abuse, as she noted in a 2013 interview with Hello Magazine UK. Kerry Washington, on the other hand, hasn’t publicly identified her rationale for engaging in treatment, but has noted in several interviews how she appreciates the experience of therapy. Fast forward to 2017, the star of the movie Girls Trip, Tiffany Haddish, shared in an interview with The Undefeated, the candid details of her mother’s experiences with schizophrenia, a chronic and severe mental disorder that affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. She also shared about her own visits to her psychiatrist, which gave her fans a piece of her personal history that contributes to her overall wellness and comedic inkling, which she uses as a form of healing.

The New Spotlight on Therapy

As of late 2015-2016, Hip Hop artists like Scott Mescudi, known as “Kid Cudi,” and Kendrick Lamar have opened up to the public about their respective journeys through depression, a common yet sometimes serious mental health condition, and suicidal thoughts. They have taken to doing so either through their lyrics or public interviews and statements. Prior to checking himself into a rehabilitation center in October 2016, Kid Cudi wrote a public note to his fans in which he openly noted his struggles with depression, anxiety, and relationships. In his note, he stated, “My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember…I deserve to have peace…It’s time I fix me,” denoting his intention to dedicate time and effort to treatment. This note and his decision to seek help for his mental health concerns incited a slew of comments and articles in which fans and celebrities alike disclosed their own struggles with mental illness and offered their support to Cudi.

Roc Nation
Source: Roc Nation

Rapper Jay-Z is also among those who have noted that they have some relational difficulty for which therapy was an option. In his most recent album, 4:44, he reveals his connection to therapy by quoting his therapist’s thoughts in the song Smile. Some have expressed surprise towards Jay-Z’s revelations, as they assumed him to be an unlikely person to seek out therapy for several reasons, including that he is a black man, one of the groups of people that are least likely to utilize traditional psychotherapy as an aid to emotional woes. In his lyrics on 4:44, Jay-Z raps, “My therapist said I relapsed,” which is not only a claim that he has actively participated in therapy, but that he has applied some value to his therapist’s interpretation of his actions.

Candid Depictions of Therapy

Television shows aren’t trailing far behind in their representation of therapy, with shows like HBO’s Insecure and OWN Network’s Queen Sugar featuring psychologists in this season’s episodes. On Queen Sugar, we saw the main character, Charley Bordelon West, played by Dawn Lyen-Gardner, at her therapist’s office expecting to have a joint therapy session with her son Micah, played by Nicholas L. Ashe. In Insecure, Issa Rae’s on-screen best friend Molly, played by Yvonne Orji, gives us an eye into how she shared, and didn’t share, her concerns with her therapist. And we also got to hear that this wasn’t her first round of therapy, which gave us an eye into how therapy can be an ongoing process at different stages in life.

Cast of OWN Network's Queen Sugar

From #Trending in Popular Culture to "The Couch"    

With the continuous normalization of therapy and its capacity to help people from all walks in life and with a full range of concerns, the hope is that more people in communities of color would consider the option of therapy as one of many that are available to help cope with life’s stressors. In psychology, we often see that the stigma associated with needing help and guidance from others, particularly from a professional counselor, discourages people from actively seeking out or engaging in therapy. This, in part, is why attrition rates for people of color are in the higher ranges and why the popularization or #Trending of therapy is important. The destigmatization of therapy is important, especially within cultures, like the black culture, where stigma has been a constant force.

Now therapy does indeed help people who are suffering from severe and persistent mental illness, yes. But these aren’t the only individuals that therapy has the capacity to help heal. Framing therapy in a more comprehensive way, allows us to see that it can also be utilized as a tool for people to overcome obstacles in their lives or to strategize about moving their lives in a different direction. With popular media opening up the public the full scope of therapy rather than the constricted view of therapy, we can look forward to more candid conversations and realistic expectations of psychotherapy.

Will you help continue to further the conversation on #Therapy and destigmatizing this form of healing?

After the post “Is Psychotherapy for People of Color?,” a number of people reached out indicating interest in finding a therapist for themselves and others.

If you or someone you know is interested in therapy-based resources, please see below. 

Follow me on Twitter @marielbuque

Read more posts on my Blog Unpacking Race

References

Franklin, A. J. (1999). Invisibility syndrome and racial identity development in psychotherapy and counseling African American men. The Counseling Psychologist, 27(6), 761-793.

National Alliance on Mental Health. (2017). Stigma Free, Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/stigmafree

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