Last summer, I was interviewed about my experience as a clinician (another way to identify a therapist) of color. And since today is the last day of Black History Month, I figured it would be a good day to share my experience. The interviewer is also a Black therapist which made the interview much more impactful and important than I expected. The conversation left me with some realizations which I had previously considered, but had not realized the magnitude that I was effected. Being a clinician with mostly Caucasian colleagues has been quite interesting, especially when most of my clients look like me. Sometimes there is this unspoken understanding between myself and my clients of color, we understand one another, not just because we share similar skin tones but because of the unique experiences of people of color in this country.
We touched on many subjects during the interview, I'll share with you a few:
Lack of diversity in my master's program
Generational trauma and how it manifests in people of color
How generational trauma impacts the likelihood a person of color may seek treatment or accept having a mental health diagnosis
Stigma regarding being diagnosed with a mental illness
Using my Black Grandmother's voice
Coping with my personal triggers due to the current state of this country
I admit sometimes it gets lonely and overwhelming to be one of a few in the room as a clinician. Many of my supervisors have been White, some more woke and culturally competent than others. I have noticed how their biases and misperceptions have influenced how they perceive me and my judgement as a clinician. Despite the challenges and hurdles, I have reminded myself as to why I do this work. What has helped me to get this far is to engage in reflection, utilize peer support, discuss any difficulties or implicit bias with my peers and supervisors, advocate for my client needs, and to be unapologetically myself. Unapologetically Black!
My Blackness allows those I support to feel understood and accepted without having to explain certain cultural experiences. There are certain times when it is a benefit to have me in the room. I have been told my Blackness has helped certain patients feel more comfortable with receiving treatment. I know what that feels like to be in the room and see a provider of color enter and inform you they will be treating you. There is a sense of relief and hopefulness that I will be seen and understood. This is not to minimize the effectiveness of my non-melanated treaters. Sometimes, it feels like my concerns are better heard when I have a treater of color. I can relate to this and I meet my clients of color with this acknowledgment.
It has been interesting to work in different settings and see how I am received.
I have been confused with a peer (though we look nothing alike)
I have had to de-escalate situations which were fueled by misunderstandings from my White co-workers
Clients will verbalize their appreciation to see me
Community providers have said, “When did you get here? It’s nice to see you sister.”
I have been called “that Black girl” when a client becomes frustrated
One thing is for sure, I am always aware of my Blackness as I am frequently reminded by those I work with and serve. I identify as a therapist but most days, I am well aware I am a BLACK therapist. I share this to give some insight about my experience and encourage those of you who may be seeking a therapist of color or who may be Black and on the path to becoming a therapist. To my current and future Black therapists, I see you, I am you, I support you.