Meet the Black Woman Therapist Dedicated to Normalizing Therapy in the Black Community
Updated: May 19, 2022
We know the conversation around mental health is a lot different when speaking about the life experiences of Black people in this country. Let's be honest, the Black experience in America is plagued with trauma and violence. Historically we have been dehumanized, oppressed, and face PTSD daily after just one click of the news or one scroll on social media.
We have less access to adequate healthcare and generations of mistrust towards the legal system. We struggle with handling the effects of trauma. Grief and financial hardships consume us. We can’t run, sleep, teach or drive without the constant thought of being killed because we exist. There is an overwhelming cloud of paranoia filtering throughout our community.
The reality is that the weight of the world is on our shoulders and many people in our community do not have the tools to combat their mental health journey. So where do we go from here?
I sat with Dr. Latoya Gaines, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Founder of Culture of Wellness to discuss the state of Mental Health in the Black community:
What do you believe is one of the main reasons Black people don't seek a therapist?
“Stigma. I think now it's becoming more of an ok topic in the community, because it's talked about on social media and the conversation is getting more popular. But, I think the fact that we were taught to not discuss family business outside the family is a big thing. The other issue is there is a shortage of working Black therapists. For the most part, black people feel comfortable talking to people who look like them and understand them. I don't think there is enough visibility on the Black therapists that do exist and are working to provide those safe spaces for you to come and talk. I think it's a combination of stigma and just not being able to find somebody.”
What made you want to become a therapist?
“Well, it actually started while I was at School 6 in Paterson, NJ. I didn't have the language for what I was seeing. The teachers referred a lot of the kids, well a lot of Black boys for Special Education, and I performed the assessments to see if they were able to learn. I looked to see if it was something going on in their brains that was keeping them from learning, and it wasn't anything wrong with them. They were doing fine in terms of academics and being able to learn. Something else emotional was going on that I couldn't figure out. What I later learned was that it was trauma I was seeing in these kids. I just didn't have the language to understand how it could affect you cognitively, emotionally, and physiologically. So in my studies that's mainly what I focused on, really understanding trauma.”
Where do you suggest Black people go to seek out therapy services?
So there's a couple of places:
Psychology Today (set the search criteria to African American Therapist)
Open path collective.org (offers therapy services at a reduced fee)
Word of mouth is also a great tool when seeking a therapist. If someone you know is seeing a great therapist, tell them to put you on. That's how I get most of my clients.
What are some great tools for people to use when dealing with trauma?
“So I always suggest Pro Active Self-care. Making sure that you’re taking care of yourself. I always reference these four areas when I say “taking care of yourself.” That means mentally, spiritually, emotionally, physically. If the context of your thoughts is always negative and you're always beating yourself up it's going to be very hard for you to deal with trauma. Some ways to deal with that is through journaling which helps, to get your thoughts out. This can lead to emotional self-care, which allows you to be able to express your emotions in a healthy way.
Spiritually, are you connecting with nature, a higher power, or whatever that means to you? Are you meditating and being still? Are you giving yourself the opportunity to be creative? Try limiting your time on social media, and limiting exposure to the news.”
Do you believe that this country is doing enough to address the Mental Health crisis?
“NO. Absolutely not. Many people don't take into account the mental health implications of some political decisions. Many decisions are made based on the economy but don’t consider people's humanity. I think the fact that mental health is not a priority in schools is an issue. We often need a physical for jobs and schools. Why are we not also doing mental health check ups? Mental Health is not advocated for in the way that other types of health are. We must normalize it and make it a part of every conversation, just like we do physical health.”
How does someone identify what type of therapy they may need?
“When you are thinking about going to see someone, a lot of therapists offer a free consultation. You can call them and schedule 10-15 minutes just to consult on what you’re experiencing and ask what they think is best for you. Oftentimes they'll tell you what they think is best and if that's something that they specialize in.”
How do you pick the right therapist?
“Its all about the right fit. All the research will tell you that no matter what kind of therapy you get, the best predictor of success in therapy is the relationship with the Therapist. Start by asking yourself, “do me and this therapist vibe really well?” The best therapist is going to be like a good pair of shoes. You're going to have to walk through some hills and; go down into some valleys, so you want to make sure that those shoes are comfortable so that you can do all that you need to do in them. You want to make sure your therapist understands and listens to what it is that you’re trying to communicate and, that he or she is collaborative. If you express that something isn't working and you want to try something different, they should want to hear you out.”
What steps do you believe we need to take in order to normalize therapy in the black community?
“I think talking about it is the first step. Our community needs to hear about people talking about what it means to go to Therapy and how it could be helpful. I also don't think people realize that Therapy is just a conversation. We are really just having dialogue about what's going on. I'm not here to tell you that you’re crazy. It's about understanding what's happening so we can help you heal. It’s exploration and turning the light on to some things that you didn't know were there, or that you weren't ready to address. In therapy we help you navigate that.”
Shout out to all of the dope Mental Health Therapists who are helping us navigate the ups and downs of life. This month, and every month, we salute you!
Looking for a resource to help you get started on your mental health journey? Get your Personal Guide to Therapy here, provided by Culture of Wellness, LLC.