Black men and therapy go hand-in-hand like oil and water. There’s multiple studies/ articles about Black men NOT attending therapy and the troubling history between the Black community and health fields (Looking at you, Tuskegee Experiments). Possible reasons for Black men avoiding seeking mental health treatment: negative stigmas, mistrust of providers, or lack of culturally-informed care. In addition to these reasons, I think there is a lack of understanding when it comes to counseling. I recall when I first started going to therapy, a few people asked if I was going crazy or they blatantly said, “that’s a yt people thing”. As Black people, we’re socialized to believe that we have to be tough ALL THE DAMN TIME or HAVE IT TOGETHER because the world isn’t going to care. We give so much of ourselves and take care of everyone else before we care for ourselves. This doesn’t help anybody in the end and can have a negative effect on our health. Just think: who takes care of the caretaker?
In recent years, the taboo of mental health is no longer a secret. One google search will bring up more than one article focused on mental health. Self care and mental well-being are being promoted in the Black community (especially for Black men). That’s how we got the #YouGoodMan movement to happen and I want to keep the conversation going for Black men. In the past couple of months, I’ve had some deep conversations around the topic of therapy with other Black men. Questions ranging from “what is it like?” to “is it helpful?” were asked and I hold these questions with care. I know these conversations about mental health are awkward and sometimes uncomfortable. I appreciate these brothers’ vulnerability and their desire to learn more about the experiences of counseling, which got me reflecting on my own journey.
I’ve attended therapy since December 2016 and honestly, it is one of the few meetings that I always look forward to attending each month. I had a session this past Friday and at the end, my therapist asked me if I wanted to continue my sessions and I just looked at her like she was crazy. Of course I want to continue my sessions! Although it’s challenging to have the mirror held up in front of me or even realize how some of my past hurts still affect me, I feel that I’ve grown in the roles that I have (husband, friend, colleague, brother, etc.). Am I perfect? Hell naw. But do I try my best? Hell yea. Through therapy, I was able to get through one of the most difficult periods in my life, understand who I am, and how to be a better husband (not all at once of course). Needless to say, I am an advocate for therapy, especially for Black men. I’d like to offer a few insights that can help my brothers in their therapy journeys:
a) Figure out your “why”: Before you start going to sessions, take an inventory of yourself and decide what you want to get accomplished by going to counseling. Are you trying to resolve past hurts? Learn better communication skills? Understanding what you want to achieve from therapy can help you make better decisions.
b) Be selective: When choosing a therapist, don’t choose the very first person that you have a session with. Just like you shop around for a car, shop around for a therapist. Have a conversation about your goals and what you hope to achieve during your sessions. Think about cultural differences and perspectives when selecting a therapist too. I intentionally chose a Black therapist because I understand that there is a strong possibility that there could be a cultural disconnect if I chose a non-Black therapist that I didn’t want to deal with.
c) Be prepared to confront some of that toxic masculinity or harmful ideas of masculinity that you’re clutching to: One of the biggest challenges that I had when I started therapy was breaking some of the ideas about masculinity that I held onto. The first few sessions were difficult because I couldn’t open up. I didn’t feel comfortable being vulnerable because I didn’t want to seem weak or feel open. Quickly, I learned that I wasn’t doing myself any favors by holding in my feelings. What was the point of sitting in these sessions if I wouldn’t open up?
d) Do the work: When my therapist suggested that I begin journaling, I was down for it because I already journaled. The challenge? Having those tough conversations with my wife, friends, and some family members about things that bothered me. I could’ve taken the easy way out, but I needed to do the work! In the moments of discomfort, I learned a great deal about myself. It’s not always going to feel good, but to make the experience worthwhile you have to DO THE WORK!
e) Talk about the experience: After my sessions, I tend to talk to my best friend (my wife) about the counseling session for the day. I share what I learned in therapy for the day and even some of the challenging moments from the conversation. Also, I talk about my experiences with my mentees and brothers. I think this helps normalize the idea of attending therapy thus opening the door for others to share their feelings and thoughts.
These are just a few tips that I feel can help my brothers enjoy their experience with therapy a bit more. What would you add to this list? What am I missing? I’d love to connect with you all more about your experiences in therapy!