What do you know about Black History Month and psychotherapy?
Considering that I am a multi-race individual I can tell you that there are a lot of dynamics to digest for people of color during Black History Month.
The dynamics become more complex and interwoven when we integrate the topic of psychology.
Sadly, there are many individuals of color in America who suffer from psychiatric and behavioral disorders but who tend to go overlooked as a result of a lack of mental healthcare.
In this article, I will discuss some of those disparities and provide you with a video of the complex view of this month.
Mental health treatment in ethnic minority communities is often underutilized and highly stigmatized. Treatment is typically the last resort for cultures who rely heavily on holistic health, alternative and nontraditional healing practices, faith-oriented practices, and Christian counseling. Sadly, for urban and rural residents, the majority of services are found in suburban areas as well as larger cities. Securing transportation or funds to travel to a psychotherapist in the inner city or suburban area can be a headache for families. As a result, other avenues for treatment are sought before traditional psychiatric services are even considered.
In my practice, I see a variety of clients from various walks of life. I see individuals from other countries, other states, urban areas, rural areas, middle/upper/lower class neighborhoods and communities and even juvenile detention centers or jails. With these experiences, I am able to see the vast differences between a 25-year-old Caucasian female getting services from me in a predominately working-class neighborhood, versus a Hispanic 19-year-old boy from an inner-city detention center. The disparities are heartbreaking. They are segregating to say the least.
Many theories support the view that services are out of reach for ethnic families of lower socio-economic status (SES) and are either physically or financially unavailable. Other theories highlight issues such as high or unreachable practice rates and fees (even with sliding scales and payment plans), general lack of interest in counseling, and widespread lack of cultural competence of mental health therapists.
Cultural and multi-cultural competence (sensitivity to a culture or ethnic group and its issues) include an array of skills necessary to empathize with and fully understand the needs of individuals from particular cultures.
While becoming culturally competent is a goal most therapists are striving toward today, this is only half the battle. Many ethnic minority households are uninformed about the services available to them. And as stated above, most cannot afford counseling. In fact, some middle-class and working-class households cannot afford the fees for psychotherapy. Although this varies greatly based on geographic area, most people cannot cover the cost of their deductibles or copayments which means psychotherapy will take a back seat. For some people of color, paying for food and other necessities outweighs the need for psychotherapy.
Before we can properly reduce or fully eradicate this problem, we need to understand the issues that prevent proper psychiatric care:
- Lack of ethnic support: Only 2% of Psychiatrists and 2% of Psychologists in the U.S. are African American. For many ethnic minority families, it can be stressful considering the need for mental health treatment and can become even more daunting if there are limited opportunities to meet with therapists who you feel can relate to you.
- Lack of cultural competence: Because psychotherapy has been an avenue largely sought and researched by middle-class Europeans, ethnic minorities, primarily African Americans, have had little access to services and have not been included in the research. We are just beginning to incorporate ethnic minorities in research and provide avenues for access to treatment.
- Poor understanding: Many ethnic minority families have poor knowledge of how mental health influences behavior, thought patterns, and lifestyle. Most behavior is viewed as problematic due to an inborn characteristic that cannot be changed.
- Gender: It can be difficult for males of all races to express feelings of depression or anxiety. But it can be even more difficult for African American males due to their cultural background. In African American communities, males should “tough it out and get over it.” In other cases, many are far more represented in the criminal/juvenile justice system than the mental health system.
For more information on mental health in African American communities watch: “Snapping the chain: Ending mental health stigma in the African American community”
I wish you well
This article was originally published 3/10/2013 but has been updated to reflect comprehensiveness and accuracy.
PEERS Tv. (2011, October, 8). Snapping the chain: Ending mental health stigma in the African American community. Retrieved February 4, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZcqtFlLNSa4.
PEERS Tv. (n.d.). PEERS Tv. Retrieved February 4, 2013, from http://www.youtube.com/user/peerstv?feature=watch.
photo credit 1: Source unknown