Tips for Therapy with African American Women
Although I am grateful for the recent support for Black women attending therapy, as a therapist, I know that we don't all know the best ways to create safe spaces in the therapy room for our Black clients. This of course means, that we may deliver less effective treatments and the women may leave our offices feeling just as bad or worse than they felt when they first entered. I have worked with, studied, written, and spoken to and about Black women for many years and they have taught me a few things about ways we can be more effective therapists in our work.
You must start by BUILDING TRUST, no matter what your orientation or approach. While this is standard in any therapy relationship, we must pay special attention in working with Black women because of the long history of abuse, misdiagnoses, experimentation on our bodies, healthcare providers doubting us and the list goes on. As a provider, don't be afraid to ask if there is something that you could do to help facilitate the relationship.
Recognize and acknowledge CONTEXT. Black women are not a monolith. We all come from different places, cultural/ethnic backgrounds, socio-economic classes, etc. And we all carry multiple identities that intersect and impact our well being. That being said, we all live in an overarching context that devalues Black women and Black people. Living in a country with a history and present of racism woven into its founding requires competent and ethical providers to have awareness of this reality and the myriad of ways Black women may experience it.
REFLECT. CHALLENGE. REFLECT. REPEAT. Because we have all been socialized in the same societal context which doubts, devalues and stereotypes Black women, we have to become aware of our own biases, even if we are Black providers or providers of color. Lack of awareness of bias transforms into blindspots, which can evolve into barriers. Don't be the barrier to effective treatment for your clients.
CHECK IN. Yes, we are therapists and we pride ourselves on listening well, being finely attuned to our clients and essentially being able to read the room. But sometimes we get it wrong. Or what we are reading has more to do with ourselves than our clients. So, CHECK IN. Ask if there is something you missed or could have done better/differently? And don't just do this in the first session. Continually check in. Normalize talking about the process of therapy and not just the content. This does wonders for the relationship, for the learning of the therapist and models effective communication within relationships.