As Black History Month draws to a close, I am reminiscing about the celebration of African American culture. I am also challenged even more as a therapist in the area of mental health within the African American community.
I have encountered many children and families over the years from various ethnic backgrounds. In my experiences I have witnessed a habitual pattern of reluctance from many minorities.
I take into the account the possible reasons that many African Americans and other ethnicities may be hesitant to step foot into a therapist's office. I can even draw upon my personal experiences with approaching counseling for the first time.
I remember when I first revealed to my mother that I experienced sexual abuse as a child. Initially, I was fearful of what my mother's reaction might have been when I revealed it to her. Once I told her about the incident she recommended that I go to counseling. Now, I initially thought I could deal with it on my own. I had been raised to be a "strong man," and it would not enhance my life if I went to therapy.
Now in retrospect, I was very much masking the fear and shame associated with the abuse that I experienced. If I went to speak to someone about what I endured meant that I had to actually confront the pain and suffering that I had been experiencing over the years. In my mind I thought it would be much easier to simply avoid, and be numb to this incident then to actually seek someone's assistance.
After successfully dodging therapy for years, the rubber met the road when I decided I wanted to be a therapist and help others. Now, how could I want to help others when I, in fact, did not want to actually help myself? The decision to seek counseling was one of the best decisions that I have ever made within my life because it provided me with a surreal level of self-care that I had never known.
Through my experiences of meeting with many people for the last 13 years I have deduced a few common themes that individuals may use to avoid in seeking help.
Three common sentiments that people may express in response to counseling:
- "I'm strong, and I'll figure it out." In many African American families we are taught to be "strong," or take everything on your shoulders, and keep going. Before counseling was commonplace in our society, many of our family members did not have the option to seek help. They just learned that things will work themselves out or possibly pray to God and things will work together for our good. When this mentality is your only resolve it can be limiting.
- "Why am I going to pay someone to tell me something I already know."
This feeling of being all-knowing, which is often masked as pride, can limit you from your full potential. There is truth within this statement. You probably already know the answer, but the cliché definition of insanity applies here. "Expecting different results after doing the same things." Counseling might help bring a different perspective than what you, family, and friends have already spoken to you about. And the great thing is, they are sworn to confidentiality.
- "I'm not crazy!" Many people think if you go to counseling that something is majorly wrong with you. Counseling is a resource present to help you. People may attend one session and get the answer they were looking for themselves. Or some people may need several sessions depending on the issue.
One of the great things about counseling is that if you do not like it, you do not have to return, and you can identify someone else who might connect with you better.