Advice is also for blacks!
To search for a culturally competent mental health professional, call the Black Alliance for Mental Health at 410 338-2642.
By Katherine Helm, PhD
Too often I hear that “black people don’t go to counseling” and “counseling isn’t for black people”. In my personal experience as a psychologist with about 24 years in the counseling field, this is a myth.
Some Black people don’t go to council, but many do. During my career as a psychologist, my current client base has always been at least 50% African American. One of the main reasons some of my African American clients came to me for advice is because they wanted a black advisor.
So while there is a stigma around seeking advice in the black community, in some segments of our communities that is changing.
There have always been black therapists seeing black clients. In 1968, the Association of Black Psychologists was founded to help black psychologists in communities struggling with the ongoing mental health consequences of living with racism and discrimination. The National Association of Black Social Workers was founded the same year for a similar purpose.
These organizations have been and continue to be powerful shapers of policy and identification of the mental health needs of people of African descent. Most black psychologists, social workers, and counselors are fundamentally committed to working with black clients and therapy communities.
So when people say “counseling isn’t for black people,” that statement rings hollow. Unfortunately, this discourages African Americans from seeking powerful psychological support from those who are trained and prepared to serve them, black therapists. Obviously, black clients can choose to work with counselors from many different cultural backgrounds, but many black therapists have entered the field with a passion to meet the mental health needs of their own communities.
What is counseling?
Also known as talk therapy and psychotherapy, counseling is the process of meeting with a trained professional to explore issues where you may be having emotional and psychological difficulties.
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Some use counseling for personal growth, while others use it to look at issues such as: physical, sexual and/or emotional trauma, depression, anxiety, relationship breakdowns, family issues, interpersonal conflicts, grieving and loss issues. Other problems include destructive behavior and thought patterns, feelings of low self-esteem, relationship problems, and severe mental illness.
What are you supposed to get from counselling?
Counseling presents a confidential, private, supportive, caring and non-judgmental environment where you can explore your concerns. Additionally, counseling helps you heal past and current wounds and provides those leaving with a unique perspective on their lives.
It is a collaborative development between you and your adviser in which you determine the objectives of the counseling process. The vast majority of people who successfully complete counseling feel better about the problems they have encountered and report having learned more effective coping skills and strategies for coping with life stressors. A typical counseling course is between 8 and 10 sessions, but this can vary greatly depending on the issues.
Here is a list of common counseling myths:
- You must be crazy or something is wrong with you to go there.
- The counselor will tell you what is wrong with you.
- Medication will be imposed on you.
- The counselor’s job is to fix you (or your partner.)
- Simply talking about problems does not solve them.
- The consultation takes forever.
- Talking to a friend is just as good.
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Research has shown that counseling is very effective in helping people make desired changes in their lives and deal with a range of issues. Not only that, counselors possess training in a wide variety of areas to help their clients.
How to find a counselor or therapist
There are several types of professionals qualified to do counselling. Psychology, counseling, and social work are regulated fields where professionals must earn a specific degree and pass an exam to obtain a license in the state in which they practice.
- psychologists (these professionals have a doctorate, PhD or PsyD)
- counselors (these people may have a doctorate such as a PhD or an EdD, but most have a master’s degree in counseling, MA, MS or MEd)
- and social work (MSW).
Psychologist Dr. Joy Harden, who founded the podcast, “Therapy is for Black Girls”, provides a list of resources for therapists across the United States.
If you are insured, your insurance company will have a list of advisers covered by your policy. You can ask for an African American counselor if you prefer, or you can take the list and look up those on the list they provide.
Workplaces have Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) that provide limited counseling services. Additionally, many communities have Community Mental Health Centers where counseling is often provided at a reduced cost. Finally, some counseling apps have started to become popular lately. Therapists are conducting sessions in person or virtually, since COVID-19 has extended the provision of counseling services to the virtual realm.
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To do the first step
Counseling can be done individually (most often), in a group, as a couple, or as a family. And counselors are trained in a variety of approaches, though most have certain specialties and issues they prefer to work on.
Above all, psychology today contains a national database of counselors, therapists and psychologists, where each professional provides a brief biography and contact information. You can select an advisor based on the information they provide about themselves.
Once you find a counselor, during your first or second session, you should feel a connection with them. You should feel that you can work with them to help you. Beyond that, you should also feel comfortable asking questions. Your therapist should address any concerns you may have about the counseling process.
If you don’t feel that way, you can research other options for advisors. In the end, taking the first step is what’s most important.
Dr. Katherine Helm, PhD, is Professor of Psychology and Director of Graduate Programs in Counseling at Lewis University, Romeoville, IL. She is also a part-time private practicing psychologist where she sees individuals and couples. Katherine is the author of several publications on racial and cultural issues in mental health, couple issues, and pedagogy in multicultural classrooms. She has participated in the training of counselors at several levels. Katherine is a sought-after speaker, professional trainer, clinical supervisor and author. You can find out more about Katherine at: drkhelmconsulting.com