If you are emotionally struggling, talking to a therapist can help. But the idea of reaching out can be overwhelming, or even shameful. This experience is amplified for many Black Americans. Marvin Harris, a psychotherapist at Perspectives, talked to us about the stigma of mental health in the African American community. He also shared some simple steps to start a successful mental healthcare journey.
WHY MIGHT I AVOID MENTAL HEALTHCARE?
Seeing is believing. Mental health has become more widely discussed in recent years, yet it still doesn’t have the same focus as our physical health. The CDC reminds us that our mental health directly affects our physical health and vice versa, but physical health is still given more visibility.
Choosing Church or Therapy. For many people, religion and their church community have been the hub of community and support. Seeking mental healthcare can feel like turning away from this community and belief. Harris’s advice? Keep looking until you find a therapist that can provide space and respect for your spirituality and religious community while helping you navigate mental health struggles.
Distrust in the medical system. African Americans have historically been treated with prejudice and discrimination in the healthcare system. Implicit and explicit bias has led many African Americans to experience a lower quality of care. This understandably leads to a lack of trust in providers and an unwillingness to seek help.
HOW DO I KNOW WHAT I AM LOOKING FOR?
Harris suggests taking a few minutes to think about what type of mental health experience you want. What will feel safe and productive for you? Questions to consider include:
- Do I have a preference for my providers:
- Experience level?
- Mode of communication?
- What kind of interaction am I looking for?
- Some combination of the three?
HOW DO I KNOW THAT MY MENTAL HEALTH PROVIDER WILL BE A GOOD FIT?
There is never a guarantee that your mental health provider will be a good fit. However, if you answer the questions above you will have a better sense of what will serve you best. In addition to understanding your own needs, there are questions you can ask providers to ensure you feel safe and seen.
See below for our recommendation on questions to ask your provider from a previous blog post.
- Have you treated other African Americans?
- Have you received training in cultural competence or African American mental health?
- How do you see our cultural backgrounds influencing our communication and my treatment?
- How do you plan to integrate my beliefs and practices into my treatment?
A therapist could very well be one of the most significant relationships you have during your lifetime.Marvin Harris
WHAT IF I DON’T FEEL LIKE I AM GETTING GOOD CARE OR MENTAL HEALTH ADVICE?
Even if you follow all the steps above you may end up with a provider or advice that doesn’t feel right. Trust your gut and judgment. There is a long history of African Americans experiencing explicit and implicit bias from medical providers, which leads to less effective care.
Advocating for yourself takes time, and not everyone has the luxury of time to spend on finding a new provider. If you need a change, ask your company’s EAP, the psychotherapy practice you visit or your insurance company to recommend a new provider. You deserve quality care.
Harris’s closing word “Don’t allow a bad fit or experience with a therapist dissuade you from seeking another. A therapist could very well be one of the most significant relationships you have during your lifetime. Without a doubt, it can be life changing.”
About Marvin Harris, MA, LCPC
Marving Harris MA, LCPC is a Perspectives psychotherapist based in Chicago. He has worked 20 + years in the community serving youth, adults, couples and families, as well as consulting with nursing homes, social service agencies, residential facilities, schools and hospitals. Harris has experience treating clients who come from different backgrounds and serving a diverse community with diverse needs.
He specializes in providing an environment of non judgement and unconditional positive regard. Harris encourages his patients to be accountable as well as able to identifying thinking errors/patterns that interfere with reaching personal and professional goals.
Harris’s practice is based in family, community ethics and individual responsibility for behavior and takes into account the need for healing, using empathy and other emotionally based techniques to strengthen people to contribute to society as well as live productive and affluent lifestyles.
If your company provides an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), like Perspectives, you can call or text 24/7 for confidential, in-the-moment support, resources, and help to identify a short-term option.