Racism and Mental Health Therapy
"What are you?"
"Where are you *really* from?"
"You are so articulate!"
"I don't even see color."
Racism is a pervasive, inescapable reality for us, as people of color. American society was founded on oppression, which continues to this day. It is woven into all of the social structures of America, including government, healthcare, education, employment, media and other structures.
For people of color in America, the daily effects of racism take their toll on our psychological and physical well-being. From microaggressions to hate crimes, people of color are subject to random assaults of dehumanization. We receive local, national and international news of systemic oppression, and it may impact us more deeply as we associate it with ourselves—our people, our kinfolk, our brothers and sisters, and people who look like us.
Heartbreak, terror and rage may be some of the attendant feelings that we experience as we encounter racism in the world. We may lose our self-confidence. Our sleep and eating may be disrupted. We may begin to lose interest in activities we once enjoyed. We may isolate ourselves, or become distant within our relationships. We may feel depression, anxiety or irritability and wonder how to go on in a world such as this. Our ancestors—through our family lineage—have passed down ways of coping with it. Some of these ways may be beneficial, while others may be self-destructive, but all have been valuable in order to allow us to survive.
If the experience of racism is a factor in your search for mental health support, it is important to find a therapist who is culturally competent. This therapist must be able to not only support your individual concerns, but also your concerns based on your group identity. The training that a therapist receives, in most cases, is not sufficient to address all of their unconscious racial bias. A therapist will need not only personal experience, but also lifelong motivation to address unconscious bias within themselves, which will allow them to effectively address the issue of racism while supporting you.
Here are some tips in seeking mental health support:
1) Know that it is okay to "shop around" and feel if someone is going to be a good match for you. Take advantage of free consultation sessions.
2) Ask them directly about their experience in working with people of color and addressing racism. Ask specifically about their work with people of your particular racial or ethnic background. Determine their comfort level with the conversation. Note how you feel inside about their responses. Will you feel comfortable opening up to them?
3) If you are already working with a therapist whom you feel is judgmental, dismissive or unresponsive to your experience of oppression, know that it is okay to quit therapy and find a better fit for you.
Racism can play a huge role in our lives, as people of color. You deserve to be able to bring all of yourself, including your racial background and experiences of racism, into your healing process.