My Relationship With Therapy #BlackMentalHealth

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Let’s get personal. Growing up in the 90s in a Black household, mental health wasn’t necessarily a priority. Did my parents want the best for me? Yes. Did I have both parents? Yes. Did I have everything I needed? Yes. Did I feel that I really learned how to process grief, emotional trauma, and my feelings? Nope. I grew up pretty fortunate, no arguing that. But when I look back on the times when I felt like I just needed to be heard and understood, it was pretty bleak.

When I look back on the times when I felt like I just needed to be heard and understood, it was pretty bleak.

When I got older and went to college I talked to my mom about getting a therapist. I felt like maybe I needed someone that I could talk to who: 1) didn’t outwardly judge me and 2) could give me unbiased advice. What was my mom’s response? “Why can’t you just talk to me? Why do you have to talk to a stranger?” She also felt that me needing a therapist in some way was a judgement of her role as my mother. It wasn’t. She didn’t get it, but I don’t blame her.

For decades, centuries even, Black people, especially Black women are expected to bear the burden of generations of trauma, power through, and thrive. Well, I was tired of that narrative, so I got a therapist. Click To Tweet

I’m a casual therapy consumer. I’ve always been really into journaling, being in tune with myself, having those daily or weekly check-ins, but venturing into therapy was something new for me. As a broke college kid I certainly didn’t have money for a therapist, so I used the resources my college provided. I reached out to the counseling department and found out I could get 20 free 30-minute sessions with a therapist, perfect. I was nervous; this would be the first time telling someone outside of my family or close friends what was actually going on in my mind—all of the anxiety, pressure, and feelings of loneliness. I showed up at the appointed time, walked into a small, cozy room, with low lighting, sat on a chair (I assumed there would be a couch; I was wrong) and began talking to Jackie.

It was a complete sh*t show. Probably five minutes into my session I was a sobbing mess. Finally, I had release, but I was shocked at how much I was holding in. My 20 sessions with Jackie helped get me through another year of college. I learned some coping skills and the biggest relief of all was that I realized my thoughts weren’t uncommon—I wasn’t the only one that felt “weird” and all alone in a sea of people. Jackie was white, but at the time I never really thought about her race, she was just there when I needed someone to help me and I appreciated it.

The biggest relief of all was that I realized my thoughts weren’t uncommon.

Fast forward a decade and I was in dire need of therapy again. It’s 2017 but this time it’s not my inner thoughts torturing me. This time it was the country, the world, and me dealing with my husband’s first real deployment. I was a mess. I was also finally in a place where I could afford the high price of therapy, but I had zero time to actually go. So, I did Better Help, an app that puts you in contact with a therapist for virtual sessions within a few days. It was pricey; I paid $300 a month to talk to a woman on the phone, one hour a week, four times a month. It was good, I got through the roughest year of my life, but I was more aware of what I needed.

Stacey was great. She helped me through a lot but at the end of the day she was a white woman, who I’m positive had we met in real life, outside of therapy, would be the woman who asked to speak to the manager. I can’t say she was a full on Karen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she pulled that card a time or two. I can’t say for sure and I could be totally wrong, but you know how when you hear someone speak, you just know? That’s how it was for me.

I remember never wanting to do video therapy sessions with her partly because I didn’t want her advice to be clouded by her seeing me as a Black woman. She may or may not have been able to tell (I’ve been told I “sound white,” which honestly ew, wtf does that mean anyway), but I digress. During those times of not wanting her to see me I felt silly. How could she help me if she didn’t know the REAL me? I was a Black woman dealing with police shootings, a Trump presidency, MAGA supporting coworkers, and a husband halfway around the world. That realization was like a lightbulb moment. I realized I needed a Black woman as a therapist.

The Black community talks often about representation in media, in politics, in the corporate world, but I would argue it matters most when you’re divulging your insecurities, fears, and exhaustion of constantly having to fight for yourself and Black men. I’ve heard horror stories from friends who have ventured into therapy with a white person. Some have said the therapist assumed things about their life that just weren’t true. Some asked questions that seemed like microaggressions and others just didn’t feel comfortable telling a white face they were scared to have a conversation about BLM with their young son. From my experience, I can’t tell whether my therapists ever assumed anything about me but I do know that I purposely shied away from speaking on Black issues because I didn’t want to feel judged or unsafe.

I’ve figured out how to express my emotions without putting others down and most importantly I’ve learned that I am enough. I don’t need validation from anyone else but myself and that’s really comforting.

Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot from my experiences with therapy. I learned that mistakes happen, not everything has to be perfect for you to be happy, and that “perfect” isn’t even a real thing. I’ve figured out how to express my emotions without putting others down and most importantly I’ve learned that I am enough. I don’t need validation from anyone else but myself and that’s really comforting. Some of those lessons and coping strategies have stayed with me for more than a decade. Now that I’m older, I realize therapy is still something I might need in the future. Next time, I want to find a Black, female therapist that can understand and perceive things that I might feel but not be fully aware of. There are things that Black women experience that other women don’t and it’s those nuances that could be groundbreaking.

Growing up in this world is hard... No one really tells you the proper way to heal from rejection or failed relationships, you need someone to process those feelings with and that’s what a therapist can do. Click To Tweet

I’m proud of my journey with therapy, I’m proud that I can advocate to my friends and coworkers about mental health. If I ever become a mother, I will be sure to let my child know therapy is okay and if they need a therapist it isn’t a judgement on my role as a mother. Growing up in this world is hard, no one tells you how to navigate the microaggressions and stereotypes you might encounter at any moment. No one really tells you the proper way to heal from rejection or failed relationships, you need someone to process those feelings with and that’s what a therapist can do. So if you’ve ever thought about getting a therapist, do it. Just try it once and I promise you the insight you’ll gain will be worth any uncomfortable Holiday dinner conversation you might have about WHY you went to a therapist.

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