Psychotherapy or Nah?

By: Alike Zesiro Chandler, M.Ed Multicultural Education, M.A. Clinical Psychology, Pre-license therapist


Love & Hip Hop Atlanta’s Jocelyn Hernandez and Steve J and the Real Housewives of Atlanta’s Nene Leaks are among a number of reality TV celebs that have utilized psychotherapy as an acceptable means of crisis intervention, ranging from depression and suicidal ideation to substance abuse and addiction. Is psychotherapy trending amongst African Americans? Have African Americans finally departed from the antiquated thinking of past generations that believe the church and the Lord’s healing hands are our only salvation?

Historically, African Americans have utilized the church for community, counseling and healing of the mind, body and soul. Research findings indicate African Americans rely heavily on faith, family and social communities for emotional support. Since the conception of the first group of Africans arriving in America by force, families intact and broken were only able to commune and uplift one another in private due to the rules of enslavement. The healing embodied song, dance and prayer. As generations continued to emerge and “thrive” in the most challenging and inhumane conditions, African Americans continued to maintain hope and togetherness through faith and counsel. Due to this endless dynamic, many contemporary African Americans have continued a legacy of aiding one another during crisis and trauma within their families and community organizations. Seeking help from groups that are disconnected from the African American experience or struggle with cultural sensitivity and competency would have inevitably resulted in rejection.

Although many African Americans share the sentiment that the “system” isn’t trustworthy and that institutionalized racism has significantly affected education and healthcare, there has been a shift among both progressive and marginalized groups. Who are the “game changers”? What are the influences of the current implications that the attitudes and perceptions have changed from earlier generations? Is it the hip-hop cultural influences that we see within the media? Or is it higher education? To date, there hasn’t been enough substantial research into the rising number of African American’s utilizing psychotherapy, however many therapists in the field have reported as having a growing number of African American clients. Does this mean the long-standing pervasive stigma that has been embedded in the culture and global community is slowly growing into a more acceptable means of psychological intervention? Despite the long history of adversities and disparities within the African American community due to race-based exclusion, many are now able to benefit from mental health resources.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office of Minority Health, African American adults are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than whites. African Americans of all ages are more likely to be victims of violent crimes, which make them more susceptible to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Moreover, African American youths in grades 9-12 are more likely to attempt suicide than their white counterparts. If this is true, what may be some of the reasons why individuals and families don’t receive the help they need?

A national survey commissioned by Mental Health America reported that many barriers have precluded therapy. Of the number of African Americans surveyed 40% believe the issue of denial is a factor that impedes the process, 38% believe it to be due to embarrassment/shame, while 31% conclude the barriers to be related to the refusal of receiving assistance. 29% also believe it’s due to lack of money/healthcare insurance, 17% predict fear. Another 17% believe the barriers may be due to lack of knowledge and 12% believe it to be due to hopelessness.

So when we see our favorite stars and celebrities sitting on sofas with therapists and life coaches, like Dr. Thema-Bryant and Iyanla Vanzant, should we be convinced that the community is now headed towards incorporating psychotherapy as a “normal” means of support for mental health challenges?

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