By: Jonathan Benz
This is a continuation of a series about mental health and the Black community and how to advocate for mental health equity. See the first post here.
So how does a Black person access culturally competent care?
When searching for a provider—whether a therapist, psychiatrist, or other behavioral health specialist—I recommend doing one’s research. Most mental health settings are structured around the needs of the majority White community and do not always take into consideration the needs unique to Black, African American, Afro-Latinx, or Afro-Caribbean communities. Due to this fact, it is important to ask around and find out who in your community provides culturally competent care.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recommends interviewing providers to get a sense of their cultural awareness. I recommend asking these questions to behavioral health professionals you may see, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
Questions to ask behavioral health professionals to gauge cultural awareness
· What is your approach to psychotherapy? For how long do you like to work with clients and with what frequency?
· Have you treated other Black people or received training in cultural competence for Black mental health? If not, how do you plan to provide me with culturally sensitive, client-centered care?
· How do you see our cultural backgrounds influencing our communication and any diagnosis and treatment I may receive?
· Do you use a different approach in your treatment when working with clients from diverse cultural backgrounds?
· What is your current understanding of differences in mental health outcomes for Black clients?
If the therapist can’t answer these questions, I recommend you keep looking. However, if your provider is willing to seek out answers to these questions with you, as they provide culturally competent care and treatment options, I would recommend giving them a chance.
Keep in mind that you may have to choose a White therapist. If this is the case, be aware that while they may be aware of their “Whiteness”, they may not get it right every time. However, if they have committed themselves to providing culturally competent care, they will more than likely embody humility and teachability and be able to adapt more quickly when needed.
NAMI also encourages Black clients to contemplate the following when choosing a behavioral health provider:
· Does my therapist communicate effectively with me?
· Is my therapist willing to integrate my beliefs, practices, identity, and cultural background into my treatment plan?
· Do I feel like I am treated with respect, honor, and dignity?
· Do I feel like my therapist understands and relates well with me?
How can behavioral health professionals provide mental health equity?
Now, a word for behavioral health professionals seeking to provide mental health equity for their clients. Keep in mind that it can be incredibly challenging for some in Black communities to discuss the topic of mental health, oftentimes due to the fear of how they may be perceived by those in their own community. These apprehensions could prevent people from receiving mental health care when they desperately need it. So, be aware of the way you communicate. Be mindful to not race to judgment. Be sensitive about how you confront, and as well, know when to back off. When in doubt, just ask the client the style of communication and feedback they are most comfortable with. This is all in keeping with best practices of client-centered care.
Finally, speaking for those in the White community, I am acutely aware that we don’t always get it right, myself included. But I understand not all my White counterparts see it this same way. Unfortunately, the White collective just isn’t there yet. However, I think if we remain committed to embodying principles of humility, empathy, and curiosity, we can all get their together. Healing and recovery are possible for everyone.
To find a therapist who is BIPOC and who understands your lived experience, visit:
If you are in doubt about how to navigate this process, OPG has a diverse team of qualified professionals who can assist you in your search. Get in touch today