Documentation Wizard stands in solidarity with those who are opposed to the senseless violence and oppression of Black people in this country.
As I witness the horrors of what is happening, I see how it is increasing people’s sense of alienation, hopelessness, and helplessness. The 21st century lynchings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Tony McDade, and countless others are not new. They are the result of systemic racism that can and do affect the mental health and safety of people of color, as well as the emotional health of White people. It is our responsibility as therapists to address racism and its effects on our clients’ mental health.
This is the first of two blog posts (and potentially more) addressing issues of social justice in the therapy room.
What is the link between systemic racial oppression and mental health care?
There is a Disparity in Access to Quality Care
Unfortunately, there is still a stigma against mental illness and mental health care. If we, as therapists, want to reduce the stigma and increase access to care, we need to first address the disparity of access to and quality of mental health care. Black people in America are less likely to receive mental health services and when they do, it often lacks cultural competency and is a poorer quality of care.
Racism Deeply Affects the Mental Health of People of Color
Black Americans are unfairly burdened with the responsibility of coping with oppressive and racist experiences on their own. Race-based trauma and stress associated with racial discrimination often go untreated because there are not enough therapists qualified to address these issues. As mental health providers, we need to be able to better treat mental health issues that are a result of racism.
Are you qualified as a therapist to help or treat someone whose mental health has been affected by racism? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Are you a person of color?
- Do you have colleagues who are of a different race?
- If the answer is yes, have you ever had conversations with them about the effects of racism on mental health care and mental illness?
- If the answer is no, why not?
- Was racism addressed in your education or training to become a therapist?
- If not, did you seek out any specialized training or workshops that could better help you understand race-based trauma or the effects of racism on mental health?
- Have you read any scholarly articles or books on race and mental health?
- Do you follow any therapists of a different race on social media?
- Would you define yourself as a culturally competent therapist?
Therapists have an obligation to be anti-racist.
We’ve all heard that “prevention is the best medicine,” so how do you prevent your client from experiencing intentional and systemic racism and oppression? Increasing access to care and cultural competency is not enough. The only way to prevent yourself or your clients from experiencing racism, is to be anti-racist and actively work to dismantle the system of racial oppression in this country.
It is an uncomfortable necessity as a (white) therapist to be an agent of change. But confronting my own white privilege and unconscious racism does not compare to the experiences of people of color in America. We have an obligation to advocate for any individuals or group of people whose mental health is suffering. We also have an obligation to challenge the racism of white clients we work with because silence is violence. Our silence harms our clients, their safety, and their mental health. If we really want to make a difference in the mental health of people in this country, we need to be able to treat mental health issues that are a result of racism and fight against systemic racism.
I believe in equality and I am an agent of change.
This is a frightening time that is leaving many people feeling hopeless, helpless, and exhausted. But I’m also seeing how people are coming together to stand up for what is right and demand justice and positive change. We are seeing people coming together and creating connection and community.
I believe in equality. And I believe in looking at myself as an agent of change so I can be a better ally to Black people and people of color. As a therapist, I pledge to do my part to end racial injustice. The personal is political. The political can be therapeutic.