By: Steve Linsenmayer, MHANI Engagement Coordinator
It is possible but not always easy to find a Black mental health provider in northeast Indiana, but there are options and—more importantly—good reasons to do so.
According to national data from Mental Health America, Black and African American people who screen positive for depression say they plan to seek help at higher rates than the general population. “Unfortunately, Black and African American providers, who are known to give more appropriate and effective care to Black and African American help-seekers, make up a very small portion of the behavioral health provider workforce.”
“It is not easy to locate an African American therapist,” said Joyce Strong, Board Vice President of The Society of Black Mental Health Professionals. This local group, founded in 2019, works to provide connections between professionals and clients who might benefit from having a Black counselor.
One Northeast Indiana option for those seeking care from Black mental health professionals is Courageous Healing, Inc. In operation since 2014, and receiving 501(c)(3) Non-profit status in 2019, this organization is a mental health practice with a clear purpose.
“We see anybody, but we specialize in treating people of color,” said Courageous Healing’s co-founder Janell M. Lane, MA, LMHC. “Locally and nationally there’s a shortage in culturally-competent therapy options for people of color everywhere. That is why we exist as an organization.”
“Yes, we need more Black therapists, social workers, and counselors,” said Courageous Healing Co-founder Aaron Lane, MSOL, MSW. “When we talk about culturally competent mental health services, we are not saying that black clients, can only be served by Black providers. We don’t want to dismiss the fact that white therapists are very, very capable of serving people of different cultures. They just have to be comfortable doing the work.”
“Doing the work means, having awareness of their own implicit biases and how that shows up,” interjects Janell Lane, Courageous Healing Co-founder and Aaron’s wife.
According to The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at The Ohio State University, implicit bias “refers to the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner…These biases are different from known biases that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.”
Janell further explains, “[Counselors and therapists] don’t always recognize our own implicit biases or fully understand how they may be playing out in our work with clients. We have a higher level of ethical responsibility to understand how our own blind spots, thinking errors, and cultural gaps might impact those we serve.”
American history has left our culture at large with many lingering biases about black people being less worthy, less knowledgeable, criminals, or even less humane.
Janell adds, “The institution of slavery may have ended, but those beliefs are still very present in every institution and industry throughout our country. In addition, many people of color have a culturally ingrained distrust of systems based on a history of neglectful, dismissive, and sometimes damaging interactions.”
The challenge to therapists is to not only focus on the client’s situation but to understand their own implicit biases that might interfere with providing constructive therapy, especially when working with populations of color.
Aaron explained, “You have to bring your whole self. You’ve got to engage in being transparent and vulnerable if you expect a client to do so. I think a lot of times when Black people go into counseling sessions, and they share their stories and their experiences, because of the severity of trauma, it gets looked at as if they are exaggerating. They are invalidated because sometimes, it’s hard to believe what these individuals are going through. An important aspect of working with populations of color is for the therapist to understand the need to validate and affirm.”
Janell adds, “It challenges us as therapists to take what the client is saying at face value, that it really happened, that it isn’t a figment of the client’s imagination.”
“It’s about meeting that person where they are,” said Crystal Kelly, Director and Founder of The Society of Black Mental Health Professionals. “If you don’t understand something, ask!”
Learn more about The Society of Black Mental Health Professionals on their website.