NEWS

Black People Want Black Therapists—Why This Matters For Mental Health Care

therapists handing Black patient a cup of tea

Verywell / Ellen Lindner

Key Takeaways

  • Increased numbers of Black Americans are seeking Black therapists who can identify culturally with their experiences.
  • While race can be an important factor in deciding a therapist, it’s also good to consider the therapist’s specialty, style of therapy, and your connection with the person.
  • The ability to bond with someone over shared experiences can help a client feel like their voice is being heard during a therapy session.

Fans of the television series This Is Us know the scenario well. After attempting to process the video of the murder of George Floyd and other racially charged incidents, one of the lead characters, Randall, decides to stop seeing his white female therapist. He instead chooses to seek out a therapist who looks more like him—a therapist who is Black. While a fictional situation, Randall’s decision to find a therapist of the same race is a very real phenomenon.

“When a person feels comfortable or safe, that opens the door for being able to discuss, process, emote and verbalize difficult experiences. Safety is paramount, and sometimes that similitude gives that. I have had clients say, I wanted a therapist that looks like me,” explains Erin Jones, LCSW, Epiphany Concepts and Consulting.

Erin Jones, LCSW

The thought of sharing vulnerabilities with someone who has a shared or similar experience helps people feel more at ease and understood.

— Erin Jones, LCSW

Finding the right therapist can be a delicate undertaking, as you research websites and bios to find the right person. Once you settle on someone who checks off all your boxes, meeting them in person and gelling to form a productive relationship, is another feat altogether. And while there are many factors to consider, race can be an important one.

This article will examine why representation matters in your relationship with your therapist, the importance of balance and taking other factors into consideration, and resources to find therapists of color.

Why Representation Matters

The National Alliance on Mental Illness notes that only one in three Black adults who need care for their mental health actually receives it. A lack of health insurance and stigmatized views of mental health struggles play a large part in those numbers. So does provider bias and a lack of equity in care. Having a therapist you can identify with, and who understands your viewpoint, can make all the difference.

“The thought of sharing vulnerabilities with someone who has a shared or similar experience helps people feel more at ease and understood," Jones says.

"Many clients have stated that they felt like they had to not only process emotions, but also explain to the provider of another race things that a Black therapist (if the client were Black) would already know. Some described that as exhausting,” explains Jones.

Felice Martin, LPC

I think it creates a sense of validation. It gives the clients a sense of I am being heard, [and] this isn’t all in my head.

— Felice Martin, LPC

That exhaustion, and the desperate feeling of wanting to be understood, can cause people who are seeking mental health care to look for a person of the same race.

“I think it creates a sense of validation. It gives the clients a sense of I am being heard, [and] this isn’t all in my head,” notes Felice Martin, MS, NCC, LPC, NeuroCoach and NeuroLeader, Behavioral Health Associates of Georgia, LLC. “I think it moves the healing process along a little bit quicker,” she adds.

In fact, after the shootings and deaths of a number of unarmed Black men that were widely publicized, experts saw Black men reaching out for therapists who could relate to what they were going through.

“I think what transpired, the death of George Floyd and a plethora of unarmed Black men, I think it increased Black men wanting to see Black males,” notes Vladimire Calixte, Founder, Therapy for Black Men.

The men experienced a feeling of solidarity with Black therapists. “[Clients would say], I can make a cultural reference and everyone in the session just gets it,” Calixte explains.

While that relatability is crucial, a Black person having a Black therapist does not guarantee an automatic connection. In other words, race can’t be the only factor when looking for a mental health professional.

What to Look for in a Therapist

Although race can be an important way of connecting with a therapist, it is not the only way. You want to be sure you find a therapist who can address your specific needs.

“Certain therapists have certain areas in which they specialize, therefore finding someone who has a specialty say in anxiety or depression, trauma or what have you, may help in narrowing your search,” Jones recommends. “We cannot assume in all cases that same race therapist/client relationships are the only successful interactions.”

Choosing a therapist is a personal and unique journey, just like choosing any other doctor. You want to determine which factors are most important to you and look for someone that fits the bill.

“A potential client should develop a list of qualifications and go from there. Ask yourself: Does this therapist possess the knowledge, empathy, compassion, and ability to connect that I need for my journey to healing,” Jones notes. 

A bond between therapist and client is one of the ingredients necessary for helping a person achieve healing and wholeness. 

“You definitely want to feel like, ‘I’m working collaboratively with my therapist.’ It’s a partnership. It’s a genuine connection. And that can come from a Black therapist as well as a white … therapist,” Calixte explains.

If you decide having a therapist of color is what you desire, organizations are available that offer support.

Resources

A number of resources focus on the mental health of Black clients and connecting them to Black therapists.

Therapy for Black Girls helps guide you to a therapist while destigmatizing mental health care among Black women and girls. Similarly, Therapy for Black Men notes that strength still needs support, and therapy is not a sign of weakness, in support Black men on their mental health journeys. Clinicians of Color helps you find a therapist of color based on your selections and preferences.

Other resources include Open Path Psychotherapy Collective, which allows you to purchase a lifetime membership and pay specified rates to see counselors, and The Counseling Brothers of Atlanta, Inc., a non-profit that works to bridge the gap of mental health access in the Black community.

No matter what path you choose, find a therapist who understands you, values you, and makes your voice feel heard. Ultimately, your mental health is what matters most.

What This Means For You

Therapy is about feeling heard, understood, and finding healthy ways to cope with feelings and emotions. When seeking someone to help with your mental health care, the most important thing is to find someone who makes you feel safe, validates your feelings, and helps you move forward in your healing journey. And in many cases, that includes finding a therapist who looks like you.

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  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Black/African American.