Maximize Your Therapy Sessions With These Tips From 10 Mental Health Professionals

Therapy_Mental_Health
Image: courtesy of Alex Green

There are several reasons to put therapy at the top of the list of things to heal and move forward to becoming your best you. From chronic stressors like racial tension to social injustice and increased levels of anxiety and grief during the pandemic over the past couple of years, 2022 presents an opportunity for the community to begin a healing journey. 

Growing concerns about the rising rates of suicide and depression for the African American population are backed by studies. A 2021 report from the JAMA Network states that between 2014 and 2019, the suicide rate increased by 30% for Black individuals. Specifically, among the younger generations. “Although we will not be able to examine the association of COVID-19 with suicide rates for some time, recent reports suggest racial disparities in COVID-19…and the increase in Black youth suicide rates are worrisome.” 

In order to better understand how we can understand and uplift each other and remove the shame surrounding seeking professional help, EBONY asked 10 Black mental health experts to share their insights and resources on how to find the support you and your family may need to address any concerns and start improving your mental and emotional wellbeing. 

Image: courtesy of Alex Green

Janika Joyner, Licensed Clinical Social Worker 

The Black community has experienced and continues to experience trauma, which negatively impacts individuals, families, and communities as unhealthy and unsafe methods of coping are used to numb and simply survive. One of my favorite quotes used during therapy with my clients is, “In order to heal, we must be real.” I remind my clients that numbing and avoiding are temporary fixes and that emotions, both good and bad, are meant to be felt.

“I believe that therapy can be rewarding, life-changing, fun and should not be viewed as a chore. Making therapy a priority just as a routine check-up or exam is crucial for an individual’s well-being. I remind my clients that their mental health is equally important as their physical and spiritual health.”

Naiylah Warren, LMFT, Therapist and Clinical Content Manager at Real

We as a community have very few spaces where we can safely process the impact of that trauma on our mental health, relationships, or work. I often ask people, what relationship do you have in your life that is solely dedicated to supporting you? Most people struggle with finding answers to that question and the truth is having a safe space is essential to healing from painful experiences. And when we think about the amount of trauma or emotional discomfort we feel on a day-to-day basis, we realize that we are often left to deal with things alone and it can feel overwhelming or isolating. Working on our mental health also means that while we learn and grow, we are also helping those watching us to do the same. It may start with us but the work we put into ourselves won’t end with us and that inherently is how we heal intergenerational trauma as well.

Therapy is one example of a safe space, but you can also find safety in certain environments, with certain people, or with certain rituals. If you’re starting on your own mental health journey and looking for a high-quality and more affordable option, Real offers a monthly membership model of $23 per month (or less depending on your membership subscription) so you can start making mental wellness a priority in your daily life.

Natalie Hardie, Founder and CEO of NH Neuro Training, Holistic Mental Health Practitioner, Licensed Mental Health First Aid Instructor, Therapist, Inclusion Specialist, and Systemic Educational Practitioner.

Trauma due to slavery, racism, and prejudice can be transferred from one generation to the next. These unbearable experiences manifest symptoms of hopelessness, despair, depression, and anxiety. The traumatic effects of racism negatively affect mental health. Neural pathways can be solidified through trauma, including negative responses and memories.

The effects of trauma can be deeply embedded and long-lasting, triggering negative or unhelpful reactions that can escalate into a crisis.

Racial disparity is still evident in this day and age. Therefore, Black people are not only contending with unconscious generational race-related trauma but also the addition of trauma from direct experiences of racism and the systemic inequalities that stems from it.

Alongside the heartache the pandemic has caused; it is imperative that Black people have access to therapy and support which is both trauma-informed and culturally sensitive.

It is important to understand that although our trauma may not have commenced with us, the healing process can definitely commence with us. If Black people collectively begin to explore and unravel their heartache and trauma, a revolution of positive change, emotional healing, and well-being can commence and be transferred from this generation to the next. The first step in the journey is acknowledging the need for help, the second is accessing it – therapy is there to help express your emotions and feelings, assist to make sense of experiences, and offer practical strategies and techniques to help you cope and feel happier.

Candida Wiltshire, Licensed Clinical Therapist, owner of Good Deeds Therapy

We as a community have lost so many high-profile leaders in education, literature, politics, and entertainment over these last few years. Now as a community, we are facing a high level of grief & loss in a communal way. In addition, due to the disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on the Black community, we are all experiencing additional grief on a personal level due to the loss of loved ones, jobs, and homes.

We all understand the socioeconomic, physical, and educational effects of this, but many times the mental health aspect is ignored or minimized. Especially with Black women who are haunted by the myth of being the “Strong Black Woman”. It is unfortunate that within our own communities this unrealistic expectation is upheld by many individuals who stigmatize therapy as “white people stuff” instead of normalizing the act of self-care. The truth is, within the Black community therapy has always existed in some form. Hair salons, barbershops, and prayer meetings are all unofficial versions of group therapy. If the community can see the similarities in formal vs informal therapy, maybe more people will be open to seeking professional help from a community healer.

Karen Balumbu-Bennett, LCSW, Licensed Psychotherapist

The Black community deserves to receive the professional support needed to embark on the journey towards emotional healing. For so long, we were told, directly and indirectly, that we were not deserving of care and restoration. After years of being denied access, it is common for people to start to internalize those false narratives. As a community, Black people had to adapt to being denied fundamental access to all health care needs, and many focused on receiving emotional, spiritual, and mental supportive healing from religious organizations and community leaders. Though there is a need for community and religious healing, there is also a need for individualized introspective mental health counseling.

Angela Banks, Licensed Clinical Therapist and owner of The Clarity Couch.

Many therapists have specializations and are highly trained in providing care for their ideal clients. Try finding a therapist that has experience in treating your symptoms and ask questions about treatment options and interventions they use. Every therapist will not be a good fit but once you find the one for you, it can be life-changing.

Dr. Karmen Smith LCSW DD, Clinical Therapist, Spiritual Teacher, Clinical Therapist, Author, Activist

Spirituality gives you the tool to rise above the victim mentality that generates more oppression into an act of creativity. Creative action is initiated when we are not stifled by the fear of the status quo and instead begin to imagine the future we want. Spirituality helps define your identity instead of having society dictate it to you. Society says “what do you have?” and spirituality says “who are you?” Coming from a higher sense of your identity, you are able to create from a vision without limits. During times of overwhelming hardship, African Americans have turned to the church for support and action steps. As we go through this generation of hardships spirituality will provide an opportunity for resiliency, compassion, and a vision. The organization of the church may look different; we may find younger people gravitating toward Black Lives Matter movements that peacefully demonstrate how all colors can come together to make a change. 

Some African Americans are finding communities with Black and African diasporic spirituality such as Yoruba, Lucumi, Santeria traditions to find healing during stressful times. As many African Americans turn to their spiritual leaders during times of stress, it appears that people are now seeking ways to supplement their coping with spiritual practices that help them stay focused on creating an empowered identity.

Sheryl Prince, M.S.Ed., M.ED.L. President of Elevated Youth, Inc.

For years, conversations about mental health were taboo in the Black community. Consequently, therapy was often frowned upon. Many of us were taught not to “air our dirty laundry”, instead “bring it to God.” We walked around marred by abuse, hurt, pain, trauma, etc. Guilt, shame, and fear often plagued us and left us to deal with our mental and emotional turmoil inwardly and in silence. We brought it to God in prayer but still struggled to cope. Don’t get me wrong, as a woman of faith, I know the absolute power of prayer. But, I also know that God has anointed His chosen children to minister to us through therapy. So, I wholeheartedly believe in working with a gifted therapist (preferably a faith-based therapist) who through divine wisdom and guidance can support you on your journey to healing.

In recent years, more and more Black women, men, and children are seeking and receiving therapy to deal with mental health challenges, trauma, repressed issues, etc. Their mental health and emotional well-being have become a priority and of utmost importance. They are choosing to heal; essentially going from hurting to healing. Shackles and chains of bondage are removed as they release what has been pent up and buried so deeply. The stigma of dealing with mental health challenges is slowly fading away. Candid conversations are often had about mental health, empowering individuals to authentically and vulnerably share their stories about healing.

Healing is an ugly, long, drawn-out process. I submit to you that it’s even more painful than the actual hurting phase. You dig deep, excavate what’s at the core, and then you’re left with a pile of rubble to sort out. You uncover so much about yourself and about your life. The shattered and fragmented pieces seem beyond repair. But, the wholeness, peace, and joy on the other side of this seemingly insurmountable mountain are worth the hell you go through to get to the top. Healing begins with a conscious, deliberate choice. It’s an ongoing process that involves choosing to be your most authentic and vulnerable self so that you can become the best version of yourself. There’s stretching, growing pains, and moments when you have to give yourself grace. Your therapist is there to help you recognize and celebrate your wins and challenges you to stretch more when needed. He/she also encourages you to give yourself grace as God gives us grace. You learn that research-based methods coupled with prayer are a divine combination to combating anxiety, childhood trauma, depression, etc. In time, with diligent application, you begin to experience breakthrough and victory in your healing journey; transitioning from hurting to healing.

Dr. Sarah Shillingford, Counselling Psychologist, Perspectives Psychological Services Ltd

Events of the past two years have further highlighted the realities of everyday racism. Racial trauma is the cumulative impact of racism, it is pervasive and it can cause us to feel that we are under threat psychologically. This may mean that we struggle to relax in our day-to-day lives as our guards are up to protect us from the objectifying gaze of others. That might be from a security guard in a store or a police officer in the car behind us. Culturally sensitive therapy is important as it can help to unpack and explore the impact of inequalities that we face while also highlighting our strengths and resilience. It can also provide a safe space to work through any challenges we might be facing. It can allow space for us to exhale, to be supported without judgment, and work towards our goals whatever they are.

Dr. Q. Perry, PhD, ABPP, Board Certified Psychologist, Perry Psychological & Consultation Services

Historically, African Americans have not trusted the outcome of sharing personal and vulnerable information with medical and mental health professionals, and rightfully so. As such, people are torn between seeking a licensed professional they don’t trust or an unqualified person they do trust. Consequently, emotional distress and relational distress is mismanaged or self-medicated by even more painful experiences such as avoidance, substance abuse, spiritual bypass, excessive working, emotional eating, physical and emotional abuse and/or neglect towards others, abandonment of family and financial responsibilities, and premature divorce. When people are accustomed to carrying pain, the burden feels “normal,” and it may be hard for them to see the effects of their pain, unhealthy ways they cope, and the impact their behavior has on others. Further, with the unique experiences of African Americans such as racial and spiritual trauma, it is critical for these matters to be processed in psychotherapy in order to heal and fully live.

In my experience, many people in the Black community, especially those who identify as spiritual, are concerned about an automatic mental illness diagnosis and having to take psychiatric medication. They wonder what it may mean about the strength of their faith and their self-image.

While stigma remains around mental health treatment, it is becoming more and more acceptable for others, especially in the Black community to seek out therapeutic services. Part of the reason it is becoming less stigmatized is due to the transition from emphasizing mental illness to mental wellness. This shift in perspective is strengths-based and offers a collaborative approach that educates people on ways to care for their mind and soul, which feels more empowering. Plus, more spiritual leaders are sending the message that God is not against accepting His help through others He has gifted and equipped with compassion, knowledge, and wise counsel.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM) aims to remove the barriers that Black people experience getting access to emotional health care and healing.  

BetterHelp offers financial assistance (inquire during sign-up) 

Black Female Therapists is a directory of Black female therapists creating a safe space for Black mental health. Ask the provider if a sliding scale is an option.

Black Men Heal offers 8 free sessions to individuals who meet the criteria.

Black Male Therapists is a directory of Black male therapists searchable by location. 

Therapy for Black Girls is an online space dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls.

Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation offers a COVID-19 Free Virtual Therapy Support. Individuals with life-changing stressors and anxiety related to the coronavirus will have the cost for up to five individual sessions defrayed on a first come, first serve basis. 

EBONY’s Mental Health Resources Listings 

List of Black-owned and focused mental health resources by state.

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