How More People Of Color Are Finding Therapists Who Look Like Them | KERA News

How More People Of Color Are Finding Therapists Who Look Like Them

Feb 13, 2019

Directories of therapists of color are becoming increasingly popular, like Therapy for Black Girls and the National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network. This trend seems to signal a growing openness toward mental health care among minority communities. Still, Dallas counselors say the work isn't finished.

White noise machines buzz in the lobby of the Dallas Healing House off of Oak Lawn Avenue, offering patients privacy during therapy sessions. Lakeita Roberts, a licensed professional counselor, has just wrapped her sessions for the day.

Most of the patients Roberts sees are women who have experienced some sort of trauma or sexual violence. Lately, she's been getting more inquiries through an online directory called Therapy for Black Girls, which is also the name of the directory's accompanying podcast.

“I’ve gotten a few clients who have found me on there,” Roberts says. “So I think it’s a really helpful platform for people to not only be able to find people that look like them, but to get the resources that they are getting from that podcast, and then be directed to the help to get what they need.”

Therapy for Black Girls started as a blog in 2014 by Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a psychologist based in Atlanta. Today, it’s expanded to include a weekly podcast. Recent episodes have covered how to manage social anxiety, body image and Valentine's Day stress.

Bradford has also built a nationwide database of more than 1,100 black women therapists. She does all this with a mind toward combatting the stigma surrounding therapy in black communities, the idea that therapy is "only for 'crazy' people."

“The research has been consistent in showing that the relationship that the client has with the therapist is the most important thing that will determine whether therapy is going to be effective,” Bradford says. “So anything that makes you feel like you will have a closer relationship with the person who is going to be your therapist is something that we want to choose.”

LaKeshia Grant is a licensed professional counselor and the owner of Mindfully Restored Counseling in Dallas. Grant, who’s also listed in the Therapy for Black Girls directory, says the concept of opening up to a stranger is foreign to some of her clients.

“In the black community, trust is a big thing, especially when it comes to outpatient providers and mental health, in general,” Grant says. “There are a lot of people who have a hard time trusting [others] about being in their business.”

Grant tries to make her clients more comfortable with the process by including personal touches in her biography and bringing a sense of empathy to her sessions.

“Your clientele or the people that come to you are going to feel more attracted to you if you can relate to them,” she says. “If they can look across the couch and see, ‘they have a similar background to mine,’… that draws people in.”

Directories of therapists of color are becoming increasingly popular. There's Melanin and Mental Health, which lists “culturally competent” therapists for black and Latino patients. Another national directory serves queer and transgender people of color. All of this seems to signal a growing openness toward mental health care among minority communities.

Still, it can be hard for patients of color to find a therapist who looks like them. An analysis from the American Psychological Association found that in 2015, 86 percent of psychologists in the U.S. were white.

“People will actually ask me over the phone, ‘I just want to confirm, are you African American?’” says Dr. Stacia’ Alexander, a licensed professional counselor in Dallas. Alexander says she’s had no trouble finding patients, but she listed herself in the Therapy for Black Girls directory to try and help patients who are seeking a black therapist. 

Alexander remembers one experience that drove home the need for cultural competency. She was a student, sitting in on a session between a white therapist and a young black woman.

“The young lady, she used so much slang. She was basically saying that she was having an affair on her husband," Alexander says, noting that the counselor wasn't fully understanding the client's issue. "So at the end of the session, the counselor told her, 'Well, that's good that you're coming in. I don't think that you need me. I think that you have a good handle on everything that's going on.' I was shocked. I was upset, but I couldn't say anything because I'm a student."

It's now been 20 years since Alexander opened her own practice. She says she's seen great progress in diversifying the mental health care field, but there's still work to be done.

“All of us need that cultural sensitivity training – like, I treat a lot of people who are not black because I have gone through diversity training,” she says. “I have gone through [that] training, so I’m not going to impress my norms and values on you.”