The Stigma Associated with Counseling in the Black Community

Zac Marketing InternOn average, White Americans are two times more likely to go to counseling than their African American counterparts (source). This disparity isn’t only because African Americans believe mental health services are expensive or costly, either. There is a stigma associated with going to therapy in the black community. People view you as “crazy” or “weak” if you aren’t able to handle issues that may arise in your life. Monnica T. Williams, a licensed clinical psychologist and Associate Director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, cited a study that found “that among Blacks who were already mental health consumers, over a third felt that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles.” That same study also found that a fourth of those consumers believed that discussing mental illness would not even be appropriate among family. If you can’t go to a counselor about a crippling depression and you can’t talk to your family about it, what can you do?

While studying this topic, I found an awesome video created by the National Black Programming Consortium; it created a beautifully accurate picture of the stigma associated with counseling in the black community.

In my 21 years of life, I can attest to this stigma being alive and prevalent in the communities in which I’ve lived.

Growing up, I was taught that if you couldn’t handle a problem by yourself, with the help of your family, or through the church, then you and your family were weak. This thought process wasn’t explictly stated, but it was confirmed by reactions to hearing someone you knew had gone to counseling. You never wanted to be that “crazy” guy who went to counseling, so if you did have an issue, you just sucked it up and kept it moving until it went away. This thought process continued well into college and by my 3rd year, it died out.

I’d say there needs to be a change in the culture. This is something that is detrimental to the black community and must be addressed. The stigma needs to die and the only way to kill it is through education. Mental health education will clear up any misconceptions individuals may have and, in turn, end the stigma. The black community must know that going to counseling does not make you a “weak” or “crazy” person, but, in fact, makes you brave and strong for wanting to get real help.

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Comments

  1. says

    As a black psychotherapist [specializing in Marriage & Family Therapy] who has been in the field of counseling for just at 35 years, the video & blog is quite relevant & timely. Just a quick summation concerning descriptives of the lack of blacks involvement in therapy are TRUST (or mistrust), CARE/CONCERN (or lack thereof) & RELEVANCE. No one has any idea of how berated we as black therapists feel when fellow blacks come up to us at a social, church or gathering “bragging” about the fact that they have themselves or kids or family members in therapy with our white counterparts or European Colleagues & how much they pay them for therapy. My reaction is . . . “has your loved one(s) gotten any better?” A central, perpetual theme or pathology that we as a people come into therapy often centers around racism. My poignant reaction to the lack of progress that so many blacks experience in therapy with white therapists comes from a Malcolm X quote: “Why should I go to Massa to set me free”?! The closest “diagnosis” for the mental health disease or mental illness of racism is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. A truer labeling is that the disease of racism is Present Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ask yourself this question: How can you get over something of the past (“post”) when it is still ongoing? The church has been a “saving grace” concerning the mental balance / sanity of black folks particularly here in America but Betrayal trumps Belief all too often. How can you have a working, functional counseling relationship that helps bring mental balance, sanity & cure when you cannot have trust in the therapist? I’m intimately aware of the “Power of the Preacher & the Pulpit” as I am as equally aware of the damage this can cause to the psyches of trusting parishioners when they become violated or exploited. I’ve seen the “inside track” as I too have been an ordained minister!

  2. Curtiss Robinson says

    Zacch…wow 2 for 2 brother. Great Blog and am I seeing a trend in your posts? Allow me to say that there is a stigma in the military about getting counseling that is exactly the same as you describe the stigma in the black community. (Maybe there is a universal stigma regardless of gender, nationality or otherwise). While your statistics indicate that fewer blacks seek counseling than whites one has to look at those numbers with caution. In the world of science we must account for extraneous variables and those things that are left out of the numbers. My question would immediately be…do the numbers account for socio-economics, demographics, age, gender, culture, and so forth. I would guess…no, but I don’t know the research. I bet you do so let us know.

    In the meantime…don’t feel alone and definitely avoid isolating yourself by color. Blacks are not alone in stigma. They are not alone in lack of compassion. They are certainly not alone is options. Give us more and we (your readers) will respond.

    Curtiss

  3. Stephany Pruitt says

    Yeah but the stigma is attached to the already historical cultural secrets within the black community of overall distrust of the dominate culture. The fears of being labeled inadequate and inferior. And cultural compentency training doesnt get at the root but promoting diversity among clinicians within your practice and clinics will. People talk to people they can relate to and who know the cultural secrets.

  4. says

    I talked about this stigma on my blog and have made a point to use my skills and gifts to ameliorate this issue in our community. I work with women using support groups and informational workshops to empower them to get the help needed instead of relying on our old cultural ways of denial and ignorance. We aren’t hurting anyone but ourselves by avoiding and demonizing mental health issues.
    Please spread the word to those in the new York area who work with or seek support for women of color. I am also a black woman with ADHD and make a point to let the world know so we can start thinking of mental health the way we do our physical health. Great article. So glad I’m not alone! @savvyadhdsista

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