Good Reasons Why People of Color Often Distrust Therapy and Our Hope to Change That

A friend recently told me she was thinking about going to counseling and, as she explained why she thought she needed counseling, I asked why she hadn’t gone before now.

Her answer struck me. “I didn’t want to be that black person.” To her, and to her family, counseling was viewed as something “white people do.”

Despite having experienced mental and emotional stressors (some possibly related to her ethnicity) this stigma had kept my friend from reaching out for the help she needed. Unfortunately, among many ethnic minorities in the United States, a stigma exists around receiving counseling services.

Mental health professionals are working towards addressing this stigmatization. This starts by exploring some of the issues that account for why people of color are less likely to go to counseling.

I can’t talk about my personal stuff with a stranger!

The idea of opening up to a complete stranger can seem odd, particularly when sharing personal and intimate information.

This can be especially true for people of color, who may have faced a variety of social injustices. It might seem like a counselor who doesn’t share your history, struggles, or experiences won’t be able to understand or help you.

As therapists, we listen carefully to try to understand each client’s unique circumstances. We understand that most issues are complex and require thoughtful exploration and consideration.

We are your teammate right from the beginning, and eventually, we aren’t a stranger anymore!

How can a therapist understand me and my experiences?

Every person’s experiences are unique, and not every person has experienced discrimination in the same way.

Using a multidimensional lens, therapists work with you to identify factors (such as ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion, geographical impacts, family dynamics, etc.) that influence who you are as a whole person.

We help you clarify your values and identify your strengths, and we recognize your own resourcefulness when partnering with you to achieve your goals in counseling.

I don’t want to be labeled in therapy.

Many people are apprehensive about a diagnosis labeling them in counseling. This might worry you too.

Historically, diagnoses pathologized people of color. It is understandable why some people continue to be resistant to counseling.

Fortunately, the trend of diagnosis is moving towards ever-increasing understanding that behaviors make sense in their contexts. Today diagnoses are used to describe problematic emotional and behavioral symptoms that are fairly typical responses to harmful situations. We are sensitive to how diagnoses can impact you and work to accurately represent your needs and goals.

I’m worried I will be seen as the problem.

While there are people out in the world that do believe people are the sources of problems, therapists don’t view things this way. Rather, therapists see adverse environments, destructive communication patterns, and counterproductive attempts to meet our needs as being problematic.

As therapists, we work with you to strategize and overcome these external problems so that you can reach your goals. A good therapist will not see you as the problem. They will have great respect for the insights and resourcefulness that you will use as you identify your own best solutions.

In a world that is full of problems and conflict, it is important to take care of yourself and maintain perspective (that you aren’t the problem). Counseling is just one of the many ways to do this.

Every therapist is the same.

This isn’t true! If you are interested in counseling, take time and explore your options. For counseling to be successful, you need to find someone who you feel comfortable with and can trust.

No two people are the same, and it is important to find a counselor that is a good fit for YOU. If you want a black therapist, look for a black therapist. If you want a male therapist, look for a male therapist! You want a funny therapist? — then look for a funny therapist!

Although a therapist doesn’t need to be or look exactly like you in order to be successful, remember counseling is for you, and you determine what you want from it. Essentially, the most important aspect of effective counseling is for you to find comfort (and even enjoyment) in being you!

Counseling is too expensive.

Many therapists accept a variety of insurances, and some therapists even offer a sliding scale.

While some insurances have copays, insurances like medicaid generally cover counseling in full. Psychology Today can be a great resource to search for therapists who accept your insurance or offer reduced fees.

Even if I was interested, I wouldn’t know what to look for.

As you already are aware, it is important to find a therapist that is a good fit for you.

You might first start by searching a site like Psychology Today and seeing what therapists are in your area. There are other, more specific directories that you can use, too. Some examples include Therapy for Black Girls or Denver Therapy Match.

From there, you can look at their websites to read about how they approach the types of problems you are wanting help with.

It might also help to read their bios, or check out FAQ pages to find answers to other commonly asked questions.

Even if you are still a little skeptical, you can always call or email a therapist and ask them any additional questions before setting up an appointment. And if you have any other questions or comments, we would be happy to hear from you as well!

Camrie Vlasak, Registered Psychotherapist

Camrie Vlasak, Registered Psychotherapist

Hi, I'm Camrie! I'm a therapist at Through the Door Counseling and I am finishing my master's program in Marriage and Family Therapy. I work with couples who are struggling with divorce and those navigating non-traditional relationships. I have a passion for exploring how couples are impacted by their families of origin, strengthening emotional security, and building communication skills. To learn more about me, you can click here.