It can be said that there is a certain stigma in the world around seeking therapy. For black women and girls, seeking therapy can be especially difficult. For one thing, we are often viewed as very strong or enduring. This can sometimes make it feel like we are expected to bottle everything in and never seek help.
On top of that, it can sometimes feel like our emotions and the way we experience the world aren’t fully understood by others. So many times, we express ourselves and our struggles only to be told that we are overeating, being dramatic or making a big deal out of nothing.
All these factors can make the idea of seeking therapy feel scary or like a hopeless effort. But this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. There are some mental health services available out there to help us black women navigate any life experiences and challenges we may face; you just need to know how to start. This is why I have put together this guide.
Finding a Therapist
The first thing to do is to find contacts to therapists near you. This might seem like an impossible task if you have no idea where to start. But one way you can do this is by asking around in circles of people you trust. This can be in friendship circles if you have a good network of friends (especially other black women). Or you could ask other black women you know, such as family members or co-workers.
This approach is advisable because people you already know and have similarities will be more likely to put you in contact with a mental health professional that could actually understand your specific life experience because your friends and family know what kind of person you are and what kind of therapist you would easily get along with or connect with.
If opening up about seeking therapy and asking other people directly for contacts feels scary though, you can try looking up therapists online. Services such as therapyforblackgirls.com offer great, useful information on mental health services available for black women in the U.S.
They also allow you to search for therapists according to your area of residence. This eliminates the anxiety or uneasiness that you may feel with potentially opening up to people you know about seeking therapy.
The other great thing about this service is they allow you to find therapists according to whether you are looking for in-office therapy or virtual therapy. In-office therapy requires you to go to the location of your therapist’s practice and receive counseling there, while virtual therapy is done online through video or voice call.
Different people prefer different modes of counseling and whichever you would feel more comfortable with is what you should choose, then search for a therapist accordingly.
When it comes to virtual therapy, you can also look into services like BetterHelp or Talkspace, which are great because they allow you to go through a specific matching process where they assign you a therapist in accordance with any therapeutic needs and personal identifiers you specify.
So, for example, if you have particular traumatic experiences or experiences you feel the need to address, you can specify this in the questionnaire they give you in order to match you with a qualified counsellor. If you prefer to have to have a black, female therapist for example (because you feel they would understand you best), the service allows you to match with an experienced therapist of that identity, so you feel as comfortable and understood as possible.
All the services mentioned above can be accessed with a quick google search, or you can download their mobile apps onto your phone and begin the process of seeking a therapist through them.
So now that you’ve managed to find a therapist, how do you begin therapy?
Preparing for Your First Therapy Appointment
Depending on the service you use, the procedure for starting your counseling can be different. Whatever their procedure is though, they will likely inform you of what you need to do. Some services (such as BetterHelp which is mentioned above) will ask you to do a questionnaire of some sort or provide certain information before your first session.
This can be information about why you are seeking therapy, your previous history with therapy, any particular issues or traumas you may have that have driven you to seek help and also your financial status.
With other services, you may not have to answer these questions before you begin counseling and you can just book an appointment right away. But these questions will come up later, most likely in your first session.
This may seem daunting, but this kind of procedure is helpful to allow your counsellor to get a good picture of your situation and how best they can help you. Asking questions about your past, your life experiences and your therapeutic history will allow your therapist to devise a treatment plan that thoroughly addresses your needs.
Asking about your financial status will help your therapist provide you with a range of options for treatment and potential financial aid if the service provides it.
So, whatever the procedure your chosen service/therapist suggests, as long as you feel comfortable following along with it, it will be helpful to you because it will only clarify to both you and them what kind of treatment would be best for you.
Navigating Your First Session
In your first therapy session, your therapist will likely ask you to provide a lot of information about yourself and you will probably find yourself doing a lot of talking. Try to remain as open as possible and don’t feel you have to hold anything back.
For some people, especially black women who have been socialized to ‘keep their composure’ and put on a certain appearance for others’ comfort, it can feel really awkward to really open up about your personal life to a virtual stranger you just met. But try to remember that this is your therapist’s job. Your therapist is there to help you. They can only help you if you are honest and open with them from the start about your thoughts, feelings and experiences.
It is also important to let your therapist know right away any concerns you have about starting therapy with them. It is not uncommon to feel skeptical, guilty, anxious and fearful about beginning therapy.
These feelings can be specific to your experience as a black woman and the stigmas associated with that when it comes to seeking therapy. Or they can be related to past trauma, concerns about your relationships with others and how therapy will affect them etc.
No matter where the skepticism, fear, guilt, anxiety or other emotion stems from, your therapist, if they are a good one, will know exactly how to affirm you and make sure you feel comfortable proceeding with your counseling with them. But they can only do this if you make sure to express what you are feeling to them.
After your first therapy session, you may feel a little emotionally drained. It is important that you allow yourself to feel this and give yourself time to process what has come up in your session. Doing some form of self-care after the session is also advisable as it will help you release any heavy emotions and relax.
It is just important that you note that feeling heavy after a therapy session is not unusual or a sign that anything is wrong with you pursuing it. Only if the emotional response you experience after your therapy session is severe and unmanageable should you worry or stop your counseling with that therapist. But if all goes well with your first session, keep in contact with your counsellor and continue to practice being open and honest with them as you have more sessions together.
What to Do if You Don’t Like Your Therapist?
If you feel that the service you chose or your therapist isn’t helpful, don’t feel afraid to search for another one. Ultimately, you should be getting the best out of your counseling experience and if you feel your concerns are not being addressed, it’s okay to switch therapists or services. In fact, it takes some people a few tries to find just the right fit for them, so don’t be discouraged.
A therapist might not be a good fit for you for many reasons. For instance, if you find that their procedure or treatment style feels too uncomfortable, peculiar or unhelpful to you, this is grounds to switch to another therapist or service.
If you feel that your therapist does not set and enact appropriate boundaries with you as their patient, this is also reason to switch therapists. In some cases, therapists may also not be a good fit because for whatever reason, they remind you too much of a person, situation or experience in your life or past that makes you uncomfortable.
Ultimately, it doesn’t make a difference for what reason you may want to switch therapists. You should always feel welcome to do so if you feel you can receive better treatment elsewhere.
Once you have finally settled with a therapist you are comfortable with though, the next step would be:
Integrating Your Therapy Lessons into Your Day-to-Day
As a black woman navigating therapy for the first time, it is important to have a support system outside of therapy that you can talk to about your experience. This can be family members, friends, a romantic partner etc.
While going to therapy in and of itself is a feat, it ultimately means nothing if you cannot apply what you are learning to your life in ways you can actually observe and appreciate as growth. Make sure you have a person/people you can share your thoughts, feelings and reflections with and who can help you assess whether the therapy is helping you grow or not.
You can ask these people periodically about how they feel you have changed as you have progressed with your therapy to get an idea of where you are in your journey. The other good thing about having this support system as well is they can be there to push you forward when you begin to fall back on your growth or fall into old patterns that are not helpful to you.
Moreover, to integrate your therapy lessons into your day-to-day, it’s advisable to incorporate some kind of mental health practice outside of therapy. Some good examples of this are meditation, yoga, journaling or another mindfulness practice.
This can be useful for helping you to personally reflect, without the help of others, on the things that come up in your therapy sessions. Not only that, but these mindfulness practices have been proven to improve one’s general state of mental peace and clarity and can be helpful to manage any stress you may experience in your life as you navigate both your day-to-day life and your healing process.
Therapy For Black Girls, Conclusion
Making mindfulness a part of your daily routine may seem like a small act, but its benefits can really be monumental. On the other hand, following all 5 of the steps above is easier said than done. Seeking therapy is not an entirely easy journey to go on. But nonetheless, it is still full of monumental benefits.
Hopefully, with this guide, you can find the help you need and be able to face the experiences you are having in your life with the maximum level of clarity, peace and a healthy mindset.