As an African American therapist who spent my childhood being raised in the Baptist church, never once was engaging in therapy mentioned... But why?
Though it has become more common, especially in heavily populated, more diverse locations, for African Americans (AAs) to seek therapy for mental health issues and illnesses, many AAs continue to hold on to and struggle with stigmatizing beliefs about mental health and the treatment thereof. A study by Alvidrez et al., (2008) “found that among Blacks who were already mental health consumers, over a third felt that mild depression or anxiety would be considered "crazy" in their social circles. Talking about problems with an outsider (i.e., therapist) may be viewed as airing one's "dirty laundry," and even more telling is the fact that over a quarter of those consumers felt that discussions about mental illness would not be appropriate even among family.”
Furthermore, it has been documented that AAs show reticence in seeking mental health treatment, thinking it shows incompetence to ‘handle their problems’ and fear bringing shame upon themselves or their family. During my time as a therapist, the lack of education and awareness concerning the therapeutic process and treatment options among the AA population has become evident. Many shrug off therapy as a viable option, and have accepted the stereotype that only “crazies” need therapy and characterize their traumatic experiences as “normal;” therefore, not worthy of addressing.
The heartbreaking truth is that this perception has led many AAs to ignore or rationalize their own mild to severe mental disorders, causing them to go without acceptance or treatment of their conditions. Rather, African Americans continue turning to alternatives such as self-medicating, religion or even spirituality as coping mechanisms, without identifying the root causes for their feelings. Many are not aware of how to even to begin the search to find mental health treatment. As a minority mental health professional, it is my duty to continue to educate and raise awareness by debunking the myths of therapy that plague the African American community.
Anthony Quarles, Jr, LMHC is a therapist at BETA -- read his profile.