According to a 2015 study by the American Psychological Association, 83.6 percent of psychologists are white, while only 14.6 percent combined are Black, Latinx and Asian (and that doesn’t even account for Native Americans and other underrepresented communities). While therapists specialize in a variety of areas regardless of their background, stats like this can be so disheartening. Identity is important, and it’s hard to speak up and communicate about the struggles plaguing our society (aka racism, economic disparities and microaggressions, to name a few) to someone who has had the privilege of not experiencing those issues.
"The largest benefit of having a therapist who reflects your identity is that there may be a greater understanding based on some shared experiences. While every person’s experiences are different, there is no mistaking that walking in the world with darker skin informs your perspective," said Jor-El Caraballo, founder of Viva Wellness and Shine contributor. "Sharing that identity has been well-demonstrated to create a deeper sense of trust between therapists and clients and that’s incredibly important when you’re sharing intimate details of your life."
While it may seem like a mountain to climb, Caraballo shares a few tips for BIPOC to get started on a positive mental health journey.
1. Create a list. Before you start your search, write down what you're seeking support for. "Finding the right therapist often starts with understanding your reasons for seeking out therapy and having some idea of—no matter how broad—what you’d like to achieve or get out of therapy. Being able to articulate this can help you align yourself with the right therapist who has experience supporting people with similar issues and has the competence in helping you move forward," Caraballo explained.
2. Search through BIPOC-specific directories. Now that you settled on areas you want to touch base on, you can begin to look for an inclusive professional through BIPOC-specific directories.
3. Put on your interviewing hat. You found a few candidates. Great! Now, it’s time to ask yourself, "Do they match with the needs I'm looking for?," and/or "Will I be comfortable with this person?" Also, don't be afraid to reach out and ask them a few questions before setting up an appointment. Caraballo recommends asking “What are your experiences working with BIPOC clients? and "What’s your relationship to social justice and how race/ethnicity impacts therapy?”
4. Be prepared for trial and error. Finding a therapist is like speed dating. Sometimes, you'll find the one and other times you have to go back to the drawing board. However, don't feel discouraged (and don't settle if you're unhappy). Says Caraballo: "I think that one sign that potential clients can look out for in an initial contact is how comfortable the therapist is in talking about racial/ethnic identity. Do they seem comfortable answering your questions on the topic, or do they seem taken aback or awkward? If it’s important to be able to speak honestly about your identities and experiences, it’s important to not settle for a provider who doesn’t seem capable of creating that comfortable space for you."
5. If therapy is expensive... Sessions can be costly and there are only a few insurance companies that will cover it (or not at all). Sometimes directories offer financial assistance while nonprofits like The Loveland Foundation are willing to make therapy more accessible to the BIPOC community.
Whether you're into therapy or not, there are plenty of other mental health resources (free or membership) to try instead. From social communities to apps, here are ways you can connect with others, practice daily self-care and stay informed.