Last week, I wrote an article about my experience with my white therapist as a black therapist and praised her for the help she has given me. I also encouraged my own people to at least try to open up to their therapist of now or in the future even if they are white. Apparently, this rubbed people the wrong way, so let me clear up what I was trying to say.
No where in my article did I say that you shouldn’t only seek black therapists. The message I was trying to convey was that don’t assume someone that isn’t a person of color cannot help you. They can’t relate to your experience as a person of color however, they are trained mental health professionals and can provide a safe therapeutic space for you to work through your issues. They can always empathize. If you don’t feel safe with them because they are white, as a black woman I completely understand that.
Black therapists are scarce and the field of social work is in dire need of more of them. Black therapists provide a type of therapeutic space that words cannot describe for communities of color. They are invaluable. I know that because I am one. I will never dispute that. When I praised my therapist, who is white, I was simply expressing that I was grateful for her help through my trials in my personal life. I was saying that her whiteness didn’t prevent her from helping me make breakthroughs. This could be you too if you greet your therapist with a basic level of trust despite their race. I understand that that is easier said than done for some of my people. A person’s trauma and what they have seen in their community may prevent them from agreeing with what I am saying. I get that. I will never discourage a person of color from seeking a therapist that looks like them. I did too, but a black therapist wasn’t available. In fact, I have never had a black therapist but I was still able to grow from my time in therapy.
When I said that if you’re paying more attention to their whiteness than they are you’re hindering the process, what I meant was that doing so can cause you to shut down, which will prevent a therapeutic alliance from forming. Use your therapy no matter what that person looks like. Now if you try to build a rapport with them and their whiteness is a barrier, then change therapists. I encourage you to at least try. The therapy is for you!
When I saw and heard that people thought I was discouraging my own people from seeking black therapists I was not only angry, but hurt. In this Trump America, anything that even sends a hint of a message of “all white people aren’t that bad” will be shut down. It saddens me that my own people couldn’t hear me out and see that I was only encouraging openness.
One important point I left out is how me also being a therapist affects my experience in therapy. During my sessions, we are talking as two therapists which creates a very different space and gives me a different perspective. I know what a therapeutic space is supposed to feel like, which changes the way I approach and engage in therapy. Me and my therapist are both trained professionals so I know what her role is as an agent of change and I know what to expect from her as a therapist. I’m not the average client. Every person of color does not enter therapy with this insight, which may influence feelings about strictly wanting a black therapist. I understand that and I am not arguing with that. Your preference is your preference. The main message I am leaving you all with is that while seeking help openmindedness can serve as a catalyst for your healing.