Truthfully, it can be challenging to find a POC therapist. Even in NYC.

The mental health field is a reflection of our larger society. Unfortunately, there are far fewer BIPOC therapists to choose from. 

“Broadly speaking, both psychoanalytic theorists and clinicians have been slow to examine how histories of race and colonial modernity implicitly frame their field’s evolution—its dominant paradigms and theoretical assumptions…” —David L. Eng, PhD and Shinhee Han, PhD, Racial Melancolia, Racial Dissociation

Psychotherapy as a tradition and set of practices has been shaped by individualism, Western European philosophies and educational systems. Such theories and lenses left unchecked contribute to many immigrants or descendants of collectivist and non dominant cultures feeling misunderstood. Worse, unfortunately, over-pathologized.

Largely, cultural stigmas and familial beliefs often prevent people of more interdependent cultures from seeking professional support. As well, economic factors, not understanding how to navigate the healthcare system and difficulties with insurance are common obstacles for immigrants and minorities.

Quite often somatic symptoms in the form of shortness of breath, digestive issues, headaches, joint pain, and more are not resolved by seeing a doctor; then, unfortunately ignored, disregarded or dismissed. Sometimes unresolved trauma also contributes to distrust and avoidance of help-seeking for both medical and mental health.

The mental health field is slowly learning from mistakes. Hopefully, greater benefit and reducing harm will emerge from these troubling times. With educational institutions trying to examine systemic biases and blind spots, it will take time, commitment and much effort.

Meanwhile, BIPOC therapists are also growing in number. Because of demand, you may find a POC therapist and then learn that their practice is full.

Unfortunately, there are still too few BIPOC therapists to see all of the diverse clients seeking support.

Therapists are trained to work with people from many walks of life, backgrounds and life experiences. Some clients understandably seek a match by race or ethnicity. Meanwhile, other folks purposefully don’t, preferring a therapist of a different racial/cultural background than their own.  Each may have distinct reasons and rationales. Either way, there can be both benefits and drawbacks. What’s most important is to feel enough of a common world view, or shared values.

Common ground between you and your therapist can be a solid starting point. However, how you feel responded to by your therapist is crucial. What gives you the sense that you are understood? Or not? If you do not feel understood, are you honest with your therapist about that? Does your therapist get defensive, or rather course-correct? Are they willing to not know and hear more from you? Ok, as a person with an entirely different set of life experiences, maybe your therapist can’t fully understand what you’ve gone through. However, do you feel affirmed? Do you find your therapist displays compassion? Does she express her emotional responses to what you’re sharing? How does your therapist convey support, warmth and care for you?

Finding a therapist, your therapist, can offer transformative experiences of feeling heard, understood, seen and known deeply. A trusting relationship with a therapist can offer corrective experiences, perspectives and insights. May the therapist you choose as your therapist usher you through several chapters of your life as you grow and evolve.

Thema Bryant-Davis, PhD speaks to finding a therapist who uses an anti-racist stance.
Thema Bryant-Davis, PhD speaks to finding a therapist who uses an anti-racist stance

Find Your Therapist

Therapists are trained in many different ways, and psychotherapy approaches are wide ranging. With so many options, how do I find a therapist who is right for me?

Sometimes you might hear that a friend really likes her therapist. Would she mind sharing contact information? Of course, a word of mouth recommendation is strong. However, you’ll also want to feel comfortable enough to speak candidly with your therapist about any issue. Asking your friend if her therapist could refer you to a trusted colleague eliminates any potential conflicts of interest.

What are your criteria? What are you hoping from your experiences in therapy?

You may be considering factors like cost, location, schedules etc… all important considerations. Because you will likely entrust your therapist with thoughts and issues that you may or may not discuss with anyone else in your life… More importantly, who do you want to confide in?

Do you need a space to hear yourself? A sounding board? Someone who offers feedback? Calls you out on BS and actively challenges you? In addition to training and background, various therapists have different styles for engaging.

With so many considerations, it may take talking with a few potential therapists before you settle on working with one. Rather than putting a lot of pressure on a first meeting, I like to recommend a period of 3-5 sessions to get a feel for each other. This way both client and practitioner have a chance to see how the relationship is developing.

As your relationship with your therapist develops, you may find that you address your initial goals. You may feel greater trust, as well as seen and understood more fully over time. The process will likely reveal new areas that need your attention. This is to be expected with engaging a process of growth and change. Therapy can be a potent, transformative experience where you have a witness and supportive ally through different phases of life.

With a deep commitment to seeing more BIPOC practitioners in the mental health field, Michele L. Kong, CPC, SEP, LP contributes a percentage of net profits, energy and time to volunteer assisting in the professional development of BIPOC practitioners to ensure that more are trained in trauma-informed, somatic approaches.  

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