If you are a white person, have you ever consciously thought about what your therapist or psychologist looks like? Have you ever not taken for granted that most mental healthcare professionals available look and sound like you and are of a similar cultural background?
We often fail to acknowledge the privilege we have as white people in being the default of what is represented in the media and in the professionals available to support us in education, healthcare, etc. We do not have to actively seek out someone who looks like us, sounds like us, understands our experiences; it is more than likely that we will encounter just that when seeking support.
When choosing a therapist, many women prefer to work with women. There is a level of comfort and trust there. In the same vein, it should go without saying that BIPOC should have ready access to therapists and psychologists that they feel safe with and understood by.
The barriers to this are exorbitant wait times due to a dearth of culturally responsive services as well as the lack of options themselves. Black Canadians should have access to Black mental health practitioners without dealing with wait times or fees that are unmanageable and beyond what white Canadians face. As discussed in previous pieces, police intervention should not be the main entryway to care; care should be accessible before someone becomes so symptomatic that law enforcement is deemed necessary. Furthermore, this care should be culturally responsive and speak to their background, experiences and culture.
The first piece in this series dealt with the psychological impacts of racism and microaggressions. These have definitive negative effects on someone’s mental health and working with a therapist who shares these experiences can be exponentially beneficial.
White mental health practitioners lack an understanding of this prejudice and discrimination and often gaslight their clients, whether intentionally or not, pushing them to believe that the mental and emotional toll of this abuse is less significant than it is. One researcher stated that microaggressions are “pure nonsense” (Thomas, 2008, p.274) while another decided that microaggressions are not worth researching (Harris, 2008). This speaks to Black Canadians’ experience being consistently invalidated and belittled by the predominantly white mental healthcare system. The lack of culturally responsive care and treatment also speaks to the institutionalized racism that exists within academia and the healthcare system, creating a barrier for Black Canadians to find opportunities in the mental health field.
Monica Williams, a PhD in psychology, explains the following:
“As much as psychologists hate to admit it, prospective Black patients are right to be cautious. Ethnic and racial stereotypes often affect therapeutic relationships and not always to the client’s benefit. The therapist’s reaction to the patient can be complicated by unacknowledged prejudice, stereotypes and feelings of guilt.”
She goes on to explain how many white therapists are apprehensive of approaching this topic head on and prefer to adopt an approach they think of as “colour blind”. She then explains how colour blindness is a racist approach in and of itself as it refuses to acknowledge the different experiences, unique challenges and rich cultural offerings of Black clients.
Having access to mental healthcare practitioners who understand your background and your experiences and can validate all of this is a crucial part to treatment being effective. Despite many other important barriers such as financial hurdles and over policing, the lack of access to culturally responsive treatment should be a focus. Again, it boils down to effecting systemic change and would take much more than simply ensuring more Black Canadians become therapists and psychologists. We need to address why there aren’t more in the first place.
Nadal, Kevin L., et al. “The Impact of Racial Microaggressions on Mental Health: Counseling Implications for Clients of Color.” Journal of Counseling & Development, vol. 92, no. 1, 2014, pp. 57–66., doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2014.00130.x.