How do I find a therapist who understands systematic racism?
June 8, 2021 9:22 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to find a therapist to help me work on some anxiety issues. I am a WOC and would like to find someone who is familiar with concepts like microaggressions, implicit bias, structural bias etc. Are there any common phrases in the therapy industry that describe this? Anything that I should ask / explain right off the bat to help figure this out?

Please do not tell me that this shouldn't be a criteria for selecting a therapist. It's a major source of stress that many people around me minimize racism and its effects. I do not want to pay someone to repeat those patterns to me.

I am in the Seattle area if anyone has a specific therapist that they want to recommend.
posted by SockISalmon to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
In re: phrases, terminology:

1. You may be dealing with anxiety, depression, racialized trauma or generational trauma that make it harder to function. For too long, the idea of mental wellness was viewed as a luxury only allotted to the few. Someone was considered “strong” if they endured a traumatic or life-changing event, regardless of functionality. We are now beginning to understand that those events can change the way we relate to everything.

2. I provide counseling services that are informed by the contextual backgrounds of your life (i.e. - race, culture, gender, faith, family dynamics, etc.), and adapt the therapeutic process accordingly. Most of my work involves addressing symptoms of anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, and interpersonal conflict with individuals, couples, and families. While also being intentional to deconstruct and challenge the impacts of oppression on the lives of marginalized communities.

3. Have you been stressed from the current state of the world, covid, exacerbated racial trauma? Are you experiencing microagressions at work? Have you been in a funk that you just can't get out of? [...] I am one of the leading experts in racial trauma. While I am a Black therapist who specializes in racial trauma & minority mental health I also provide a safe space for ALL to feel empowered, gain insight, and learn skills to get through the difficult stage you are in.

4. My services focus on reducing the symptoms of Anxiety, Depression, and PTSD that come from experiencing life's traumas and transitions. It is common in those who have experienced life traumas to constantly live in "survival mode". If you find yourself feeling emotionally and mentally unsafe while simultaneously trying to make decisions that keep you safe, then you know the hypervigilance, the self-criticism, the fear, the persistent negative thoughts-the realities-that accompany this life. Survivor mode, although once necessary to endure traumatic experiences, only paints the world in less vibrant colors.

Not recommendations, but excerpts from a few "Racial Identity Therapists in Seattle" listings in the Psychology Today "Find a Therapist" database, after winnowing by Issues: "Anxiety" and Ethnicity Served: "Black and African American" (also in that drop-down menu: Asian; Hispanic and Latino; Native American; Pacific Islander). The categories on the left offer further customization.
posted by Iris Gambol at 10:53 PM on June 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

I don't mean to be presumptuous and I'm sure you'll get more robust responses in/by the morning, but since it's the wee hours, your mentioning Seattle reminded me of this NPR piece a few years ago (when a friend was living there): Racial Stress: What 3 Seattle Therapists Are Seeing.

The three therapists, particularly Drs. Henderson and Dorsey (if you'd prefer to work with a woman), and the referenced Association of Black Psychologists' member search might be useful resources for you. I hope you find someone who is wise, respectful, and a good match for you.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 11:01 PM on June 8, 2021

I just saw this tweet come across my timeline, but I am not familiar with these resources myself.
posted by matildaben at 11:40 PM on June 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I recently worked with the founder of Ayana therapy. I was impressed by the company's focus on intersectionality and their mission to find matching therapists for many different groups who are underserved by typical mental health treatment. I think their current model is that they'll custom match you to a therapist based on your needs.
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 12:28 AM on June 9, 2021

This is absolutely an essential criteria for selecting a therapist. Therapists use the same words you're using. I would suggest just asking the question, "How do you address the impact of racism on mental health?" and listening for replies that feel good to you, both in terms of the content of the reply and the nonverbal or implicit aspects. You've gotten some good specific resources; I just want to validate that you deserve and ought to be able to expect that any trained and competent therapist should be able to address this as a central part of treatment.
posted by shadygrove at 5:05 AM on June 9, 2021 [7 favorites]

What shadygrove is saying is likely true for people training now/recently but someone who trained 30 years ago will have heard none of these terms unless they have done continuing ed courses or are connected to the relevant political/social movements in some other way. This means that if you want someone with a lot of experience you'll have to check them out yourself.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:38 AM on June 9, 2021

If you're open to long-term virtual therapy, you can extend your search a little wider in some of the resources LNM shared above if you're not finding good matches in your immediate area. I think finding a therapist who is a person of color would be both reasonable and wise.

I am a white therapist. I was trained relatively recently, so I feel I received better training in cultural competency/cultural humility than someone who went to grad school 20 years ago. I am delighted to see anyone whose symptoms match up with my expertise. However. You still might see a flicker of something on my face (guilt? confusion? skepticism?) when you describe a particular microaggression, in a way that might distract from therapy or make you feel less safe and free to express yourself, or we might run into a topic where I make inaccurate assumptions of your experience because of my experience as a white person, in a way that at best distracts from the session and at worst erodes your trust that I believe you and take you seriously. Those can, of course, be worked through. (And, indeed, because therapists are people this sort of thing happens all the time on a variety of topics.) But you're not going to therapy to educate your therapist or to facilitate their antiracist growth, so if you have the option to see a person of color, it's worth exploring those providers first.

That said, if you want to screen some white therapists who seem like they might be a good fit otherwise, you can definitely ask about how they support clients who experience microaggressions, systemic racism, and trauma related to white supremacy, and you may find someone who has done the work enough for you to feel safe with them.
posted by theotherdurassister at 12:13 PM on June 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Hi - I have done this search as a POC but in a different major city. It was extremely important for me that the therapist I chose could understand and be sensitive to my cultural background (as I sought therapy to deal with immigrant family of origin issues, among other things). For me the best find was an "institute / counseling center" that had a network of therapists - I did an intake meeting with a counselor who managed the therapist-patient matching process, and I was able to note my preferences for a therapist. I was upfront about needing someone who understood immigrant issues and had a preference for a therapist who identified as a woman. In the end, I was matched well and it really helped the therapy process to be validated by someone who could empathize with my background. My point is 1) if possible, try finding a larger center that has a built in matching process and 2) it's OK to screen therapists for their cultural background - you should find someone you can feel safe with, and if it takes screening out certain demographics, that's OK.
posted by icy_latte at 12:52 PM on June 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

adrienne marie brown recommends the National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network ("Advancing healing justice by transforming mental health for queer and trans poc") and their statement of community care is congruent with what you seek, I believe. I see several practitioners in or near Seattle. See also directories they link to for more places to look for therapists who may be a good fit.
posted by brainwane at 9:17 AM on July 1, 2021

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