Why therapy is frowned upon in the black community


According to the National Association of Mental Illness, approximately one in five adults in the United States will experience mental illness in a given year. Mental health diagnoses impact everyone no matter gender, ethnicity, religion or geographic location. However, the black community still struggles to acknowledge the importance of mental health and the role it plays in the overall quality of life. The Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health reports that African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Despite the fact that the black community is faced with various challenges that negatively impact mental health (i.e., poverty, discrimination, police brutality, prejudice, racism, economic disparities), many in the black community refuse to seek treatment. As a black psychotherapist, I am troubled that such a negative stigma is associated with mental health leaving many to suffer in silence. In my experience as a psychotherapist, I’ve found there are a few reasons people never step foot in a counseling office or take a long time to do so.

Lack of understanding about mental health

Due to mental health not being as openly discussed as medical problems like diabetes, high blood pressure or obesity, many don’t know or understand what depression, anxiety, mood disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder are. This leads to failure to acknowledge these emotional challenges and results in many people living unhappy and frustrating lives. Our mental health directly impacts every part of our lives, including academic/work performance, relationships, financial success and physical health. Not understanding the racing thoughts that keep you up at night and cause you to feel like you can’t breathe are symptoms of anxiety may cause you to label it as insomnia. Not knowing your constant feelings of emptiness, loneliness, sadness, crying spells and feeling like a heavy weight is on your shoulders could be symptoms of depression prolongs the suffering. Thinking those nightmares about a situation, the flashbacks you have in the middle of the day, the zoning out or becoming extremely paranoid when you hear a certain noise or smell a certain smell is just you “tripping” could be ignoring a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. These are the things many are faced with daily and suffer silently due to not understanding that there is a cause for those feelings and options for relief of the symptoms. 

Stigma, Judgment  & Myths

  • Why do I need to see a therapist, I’m not crazy?
  • I don’t need to have someone who doesn’t know me tell me about my life.
  • Weak people go to therapy.
  • Those people can’t tell me anything I don’t already know.
  • I was ashamed of what others would think of me if I got help.
  • Black people don’t go to therapy.

These are only a handful of the reasons many give for not seeking help with emotional/mental health issues. Therapy does not mean you are crazy or weak. I often ask people, “If you are having severe chest pain, does it make you crazy to go to the doctor? No? Then why if you are having emotional pain and you see a therapist you consider yourself crazy?” Society and Hollywood movies promote the negative stigmas associated with mental health. Therapy is the opportunity to obtain insight on how experiences, family environments, your upbringing, relationships and your overall perceptions influence you. Therapy aids in healing emotional wounds and overcoming generational curses by providing education on mental health diagnoses, identifying barriers that prevent you from living a higher quality of life, and giving you an opportunity to learn new skills to promote emotional health. 

Going to Therapy = Not Having Faith

If I go to therapy, it means I don’t have faith and I am not trusting God. I hear this many times from those who practice various religions. I cannot tell someone what to believe or not to believe about their religious preference. However, I think one of my 10-year-old clients said it best when she looked at me and stated, “My daddy said therapy won’t help me, and I should just pray about it. But I told him that God made doctors and therapist to help us. God created therapists so we have someone to talk to.” I looked at her and smiled because this makes total sense.

God provides us with many resources. When you have a test, if you study does that mean you don’t trust God? When you break a leg, if you go to the doctor for a cast does that mean you don’t have faith? As a Christian myself I am not mocking the importance of having faith and trusting God as I would not be where I am today without Him. However, think about those questions. The Bible states, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2: 14-26). I am glad many churches are now bringing awareness to mental health and educating church communities on the importance of mental health. Religion and spirituality play a huge role in our mental /emotional health, and church leaders are now recognizing that psychotherapy, in addition to spiritual guidance and support, is necessary for many with mental health challenges.

Minimizing mental health diagnoses

  • That’s just Uncle John, you know he always drinking; just go get his beers.
  • You know crazy Aunt Debbie always thinks people are following her. Don’t pay any attention to her; that’s just how she is.
  • Jason is just bad just like his daddy, that’s why he always in jail. Nothing’s wrong with him; he knows better.
  • Cherie is just not good in school. I was the same way. School just is not for her.

These statements minimize the role mental health plays in the decisions people make and their unhealthy behaviors. Uncle John suffers from alcohol dependency. Aunt Debbie suffers from paranoid schizophrenia disorder. Jason may be suffering from depression and/or oppositional defiant disorder. Cherie more than likely has a learning disability. All of these are mental health issues that if addressed can aid these individuals in having a higher quality of life and being successful people in society. We have to stop normalizing and simplifying behaviors that if addressed could change a person’s life for the better.

Though this is only a handful of the reasons the black community fails to prioritize mental health, these shed some light on why many continue to suffer in silence. Let’s break stigma! If you have questions about mental health and would like to find a therapist in your area, you can visit websites such as www.psychologytoday.com which is a directory of therapists and their qualifications or visit www.nami.org .