Ron Artest, forward for the LA Lakers, thanked his therapist for helping him relax in order to be a key player who assisted the team clinch the NBA championship. Interesting, most black folks who win anything thank God. Thanking a therapist is a first. I give credit to Artest for engaging in therapy and at least attempting to be emotionally/psychologically responsible. I think it's something more black men should do.
Historically the black community hasn't been big on sitting on the couch crying to a stranger about their mother. That was something for white folks. Strong, enduring, proud black people can handle their own problems. While many of us have utilized church as an unofficial therapy session, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, African Americans are among the least likely groups of people to receive formal psychotherapy. This may be due to lack of health care, or maybe an overall mistrust of the practice. But with depression becoming more and more prevalent in the black community I think getting professional emotional support is a good idea. And I'm particularly in favor of black men seeking the assistance they need.
While I know a number of black men who've chosen to go to therapy, I've known many more who need to. This isn't about bashing black men. This is about the fact that a lot of black men carry pain they don't recognize. Whether the pain stems from the feelings of rejection of an absentee parent, or from the socio-economic barriers to living the American dream, a lot of black men internalize a range of negative feelings that impact every aspect of their lives. But a lot of these men cry in the dark without the opportunity or means to get help. And there may still be a stigma that strong black men shouldn't need help. I think if more black men received the emotional support they needed, the landscape of the black male mind, and therefore the black community would be transformed.
Of the African Americans who are seeking therapy, women are more likely to participate. But women are generally more emotionally expressive in or out of a formal setting. It's more socially acceptable for a woman to communicate how she feels. It needs to be okay for black men too. If black men can express, examine and manage their emotions I believe it could curtail destructive behavior that has a ripple effect. Maybe we would see more black men who are struggling with commitment overcome those issues and create loving, trusting relationships that culminate into fortified families. And with that development maybe we would have more black children growing up feeling whole because they have both parents in the household providing a more solid foundation that contributes to better self images that promote positive choices.
Black women have been disproportionately "holding it down" for the black community for a long time. If more black men could get a handle on their emotions and self worth, theoretically they would be better mentally equipped and subsequently motivated to pick up the slack, resulting in an immeasurable impact on the black community at large.
Black men don't have the market cornered on being emotionally disconnected, but I believe they are more likely to be disengaged from their feelings than most other men. I believe a lot of black men disengage emotionally possibly out of the self preservationist necessity to protect themselves from pain that can be magnified by the particular stresses of being black in this society. I'm not saying all black men are unable to navigate the socio-political challenges of being black in this country in a healthy manner, or that those challenges serve as an excuse for the black men who've chosen not to be emotionally responsible. I am saying that though we know how hard it can be to be a black woman, it's also hard to be a black man, and that truth is rarely examined. And more black men need the opportunity to express themselves, learn about themselves, heal themselves, and ultimately love themselves. And it needs to happen in a non-judgmental and safe environment.
Who knows why Ron Artest has chosen to engage in therapy. And who knows why he felt the need to tell the world his business, but I'm glad he did. Hopefully his truth rang a bell inside some black men who were watching and more will go on the journey of self discovery in therapy of some sort. Part of a man's ability to be happy and successful in any aspect of life is knowing who he is. Because as philosopher Aristotle said, "Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom." I hope Artest's moment of courage will encourage more black men to empower themselves and take the first step to emotional health.
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