Finding the right therapist can be challenging for many different reasons. Not only do you have to factor in your schedule, budget, insurance, and location, but you also have to navigate the societal stigmas that commonly surround seeking help for mental illness. It’s a lot to take on—especially if you’re part of the many communities that don’t have easy access to therapists that look like or share the same lived experiences as them.
A recent survey by the American Psychological Association shows that 86% of psychologists in the U.S. workforce were white, while only 5% were Black. While some claim this gap in representation is due to a lack of interest by the Black community, it’s actually much deeper than that. It may be a hard pill to swallow, but the medical system has a long history of racism and discrimination that is a direct culprit of the mental health care disparities we see today.
Naturally, this has created an air of cultural mistrust where many Black people and other communities of color fear that seeking therapeutic services from white bodies could wind up further perpetuating their trauma. How can we help everyone feel safe seeking the mental health support they need? Well, firstly—we acknowledge that there are indeed unfair differences in access to or quality of care according to race and ethnicity, and secondly—we help fight the stigma.
To help us out, we linked up with Licensed Social Worker and Founder of Creating Space for You, Kamri William, to discuss why it’s essential that BIPOC communities have access to culturally competent providers.
Filling the Gap
We’ve all been affected by the events of 2020 in varying ways, and many people are realizing that reaching out to a mental health care professional is a beneficial way to cope with the chaos. Kamri gives us an inside look at how her experience with therapy compelled her to pursue a career as a full-time therapist.
“Having gone through the pandemic like everyone else, my mental health was affected,” she explains. “It was so validating to find a therapist of color that was not only a woman of color, but she was also a social worker—so those shared experiences helped a lot. After realizing that around the Indianapolis area, there are not a lot of other women of color who are licensed therapists, I saw a need and now want to fill that gap.”
Nearly 30% of psychologists have reported an increase in patients since the start of the pandemic. Furthermore, another study shows that Black Americans’ anxiety and depression jumped from 36% to 41% in the week after George Floyd was killed by police. That’s roughly 1.4 million more people reporting feelings of anxiety and depression. This increase in trauma needs culturally competent therapists who actually know what it’s like to be Black in America—but if you think back to that lack of representation in the phycologist workforce, it’s easy to understand how this can be hard to come by.
“It’s definitely hard,” Kamri agrees. “Especially if you’re looking for a person who accepts certain insurance. It limits the process greatly, so there’s not a lot of options. Even if you look on Therapy for Black Girls, there are less than 20 entries for Indianapolis, which I would say is not a lot.”
We’d agree. And let us not overlook that this is in stark contrast to the over 40 pages of predominantly white therapists that can be found on Psychology Today’s Indianapolis directory.
A culturally competent therapist that can empathize with your lived experience can help build a solid foundation for your healing. As Kamri puts it: “Having a culturally competent provider allows for less time to be spent on explaining why I feel the way I feel and why I have perceived these experiences in a certain way, and more time on treatment and the root issues at hand. Seeing a culturally competent therapist gives me more confidence that I will be validated, acknowledged, and respected.”
What’s already understood won’t need to be explained, and there are some key instances where having a therapist that can understand your unique struggles is extremely helpful.
“I wouldn’t say that just because you’re white, you couldn’t help me with my anxiety,” Kamri explains. “It all depends person-to-person. If the issues I’m looking for support with as a Black person are due to racial trauma or generational trauma, I do feel like—although a white therapist may be really culturally competent—there’s still going to be some connections that won’t be able to be had.”
This disconnect is a huge driver in why many people in our community refrain from seeking mental health support. Not to mention that the Black community is too frequently on the receiving end of general misunderstandings and alarmingly high misdiagnosis rates at the hands of white providers.
Historically and statistically, this checks out. One of the earliest examples of medical racism dates back to 1932 during the Tuskegee Syphilis Study—and we still see instances of harm inflicted on Black bodies in the medical field today. Seeking medical support from a predominantly white medical system can be understandably nerve-wracking for people of color, and these are very real issues that people in our communities face every day.
“I’m seeing a lot of generalized anxiety,” Kamri explains. “And when it comes to medication or treatment, I always preface that it’s just something to consider. If they don’t feel comfortable, then that’s completely understandable. But I try to have my patients explore all options, and I think it helps if you can then connect them directly to a health provider that is of color and can kind of ease the worry. It eases the worry for me,” she continues. “My primary care provider has always been a Black woman, so talking about my anxiety and getting anxiety medication has always been comfortable.”
Breaking Down The Stigma
In a society that profits off our shame, it’s no surprise that mental illness still faces a persistent social taboo. With that being said, more and more people have started using their platforms to speak out about their experiences with mental illness and how they cope. This relatability from people we idolize makes things like depression much less taboo and more, well—exactly what it is: a common health condition that often benefits from intentional treatment.
Kamri seconds this, saying, “I definitely think strides are being made to normalize therapy and mental health… I’d say we still have a ways to go,” she admits. “I do feel like it’s becoming more talked about in the mainstream media with Black influencers/entertainers and Black people in positions of power. Seeing them speaking out about their experience and the importance of mental health helps normalize it all.”
Advice on Healing
If you didn’t already know, healing looks different for everyone. While it’s awesome to hear other people’s stories and draw inspiration from them, it’s also really important to make sure you listen to your own body and pay attention to what you need. And don’t forget to give yourself some grace throughout the process. Maybe your body’s been giving you hints that it may be time to get back on your anti-depression meds—lean into that. Perhaps your body is letting you know it needs to take a break from work and go for a walk in the sunshine—that’s great self-care, too!
“While medication management and psychotherapy can be helpful to some, it’s not necessary for all,” she clarifies. “Since my focus areas are anxiety, burnout, and healthy boundaries, I do promote overall wellness. There may be some things you need to see a doctor for, but that’s not always the case. Some people can get what they need from regular exercise, dietary changes, or simply being able to talk and process with someone. I find that processing with someone provides so much healing.”
We think there can be a lot of benefits to marrying professional mental health care and intentional self-care. Moreover, we love the fact that Kamri puts a huge emphasis on reconnecting with Mama Earth and more natural forms of therapy as a part of her practice.
“I encourage all my patients to get outdoors as much as they can and to change up their environment. Since we just spent so much time in our homes, it can definitely be mentally exhausting. I also really love essential oils and encourage things like yoga, meditation, or journaling, depending on the patient. Practicing affirmations is also something I like to suggest.”
Those are some of our personal self-care go-tos, and it made us wonder if Kamri had some wellness practices specific to her healing that she wouldn’t mind sharing with us. Oh, she shared—and it’s safe to say we’ll be taking the advice of this professional and adding the following to our wellness routine ASAP:
“Before I even graduated with my Masters, I said, “when I get a full-time job, I’m getting a massage membership.” And now, I go to the massage parlor at least once a month. That’s one thing I try to consistently do for myself—not just because of the pampering aspect—but because I notice and recognize that I carry so much of my stress in my shoulders, and some days it puts me in physical pain. You know, the weight of the world on your shoulders,” she jokes.
“Also, I really try to be mindful of the content I consume because I understand how it increases my anxiety. I try to lean on my support system when I can and be open and honest about when I need support.”
Honoring Our Journey
Paying attention to your needs and finding a therapist that can provide the culturally competent support you need can make all the difference in your healing journey. Don’t give up! Your healing is important, and finding someone that can help you heal is possible. And if you’re already a therapist or thinking about becoming a therapist, make sure your services are intentionally inclusive. We need to radically decenter mental healthcare from the far-too-typical white, heteronormative, ableist, gender-binary narrative to create a space where all bodies can feel safe seeking help for mental illness.
“You know, this has been new territory for me. I really don’t have much of a blueprint,” Kamri explains. “Creating a business and stepping into this specific lane—I keep finding myself having this imposter syndrome, like “oh, I can’t be a therapist” because I’ve always seen it as such a serious profession—like what you see in the movies. And I’m like “that’s not me.” I just constantly have to remind myself that there is a reason that people keep wanting to talk to me about their challenges, and it really validates that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Not that she needs our validation, but we know Kamri’s doing exactly what she was called to do. Want to see for yourself? Her passion revolves around helping people—especially communities of color— manage their anxiety, address burnout, as well as set and maintain healthy boundaries.
She has a couple of remaining evening openings right now, and come June; she’ll be working full-time at her practice. Keep an eye open for more morning and midday openings with Kamri in June 2021! Appointments can be scheduled by calling 317-648-7660 or following this link. She works with patients 12 years of age and older and accepts private pay only with HSA accepted as a form of payment.
At Be Well Indy, we’re committed to dismantling the stigma surrounding seeking professional mental health support, especially for people of color. Do you know any culturally competent therapists in the Indy area? Please send us their info!