According to Alisha Powell, licensed clinical social worker, “counseling for African-Americans needs to be rooted in person-centered therapy. Most don’t come into therapy wanting to be told that everything will be okay and that they shouldn’t worry,” she says. “It’s important to create a safe space for worry, fear, and problems without letting it take over the entire session. Understand that in many cases, African-Americans are told that counseling is only for people who are ‘crazy’ and if they pray enough, everything will get better.”
She goes on to say that person-centered therapy will enable the counselor to get to the real root of the problem and build the proper therapeutic relationship with his or her client. Here’s some additional advice from Powell: “Don’t try to solve everything, but be empathetic and gently normalize life struggles. Affirm and praise their decision to open up to a stranger because it is not easy. Find out what they want out of therapy and offer a short summary of what was discussed before the session ends. If you’re not familiar with the culture, don’t be afraid to ask questions in order to learn more.”
What Is Person-Centered Therapy?
You can safely assume that person-centered therapy is, well, centered around the client. In short, it is a form of talk therapy that allows patients to take the lead in each session and subsequently discover the solutions to their problems. The therapist’s role is to merely listen, offer support, and ensure the client continues to progress on their journey of self-discovery—a key to success in therapy for many African-Americans, according to Powell. Additionally, person-centered therapy is also a great option for clients who suffer with…
- Low self-esteem
- Abusive relationships
- Other mental health conditions
Here’s How It Works
So, why is talk therapy—more specifically, person-center therapy—so effective? Again, the client is more or less in control of the sessions. This doesn’t just enable them to steer their therapy experience, but it empowers them to take charge of their life. Here’s how it works: the client talks about whatever they want/need to talk about. And the therapist chimes in only to move the conversation along and clarify what the client has expressed. This process of hearing yourself talk through your problems helps you better understand, address, and resolve your thoughts and feelings. Furthermore, it facilitates self-acceptance and a clear road to healing.
Person-centered therapy emerged in the 1940s, thanks to American psychologist Carl Rogers who sought to create a more supportive environment—one that allowed client and therapist to develop a more meaningful relationship. This sparked a move away from the traditional approach to therapy, whereas the therapist is leader and expert. Today, the success of person-centered therapy relies on the following conditions being fulfilled:
- Unwavering support and positivity. The therapist should provide support and maintain a positive attitude, so as to encourage clients to make their own decisions with confidence.
- Empathy and understanding. It’s also a person-centered therapist’s job to provide empathetic understanding, whereas they understand and accept their client’s feelings. It’s imperative this is apparent to the client as well.
- Equal standing. Person-centered therapy is rooted in an equal client-therapist relationship—making this congruence a necessary condition for success.
Finding Success in Therapy As An African-American
As mentioned previously, person-centered therapy is the right approach to treatment for many African-Americans because it allows them to stay in control—which is very important considering the many reservations they often have about therapy. “African-American clients need to know they have the right to direct their therapeutic process, as it’s not an authoritarian arrangement where the therapist is in charge,” Keisha Wells, licensed professional counselor, explains. “The client’s voice and participation in counseling is vital.”
She goes on to suggest the following: “Therapists working with African-Americans need a solid knowledge of historical injustices and how a lack of empathy and understanding of these issues currently impact African-Americans’ lives and can impair the therapeutic relationship. For example, understand how African-Americans’ reluctance to seek therapy may be a form of distrust in healthcare, stemming from biased and inequitable treatment. Overall, being educated about the therapeutic process, as well as working with culturally-sensitive clinicians to feel safe and understood enough to be transparent, are important factors in fostering an empowering experience for African-American clients in therapy.”