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Black Women Need Therapy, Too
by Tanya Barnett
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September 13, 2018

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Black Women Need Therapy, Too

I knew I was exactly where I needed to be. I wished I had done it earlier. I was so happy that I came. But I was also mad. I was mad at the black people who had told me my entire life that therapy was for “crazy white people.” I was mad at the stigma. And I wanted it to change.

The only reason I was there was because of my husband. He was the one with the anger management issues and who needed the help. My agreeing to accompany him was more of a manipulation. It would get him the help he needed, and I would be able to go on about my business.

But in that therapist’s office, as I cried and released emotions I didn’t know were there, I knew it was exactly where I needed to be. My soul was cleansed in a way I hadn’t experienced before. I wished I had done it earlier. I was so happy that I came. But I was also mad. I was mad at the black people who had told me my entire life that therapy was for “crazy white people.” I was mad at the stigma.

According to the US HHS Office of Minority Health, “Adult Black/African-Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than adult whites.”

I am a Black woman who is a wife, mother, new grandma, daughter, and so much more to so many people. But I am also human. At times, I can be strong and fearless. At other times, I feel weak, afraid, overwhelmed, and even stuck. I forge through life, often barely taking time to breathe. Some days, I want to run away and be by myself, but then I remember I have a family who loves me and needs me and who I love and need just the same.

With the untimely suicide of Kate Spade a few months ago, who was a working mom and wife, I was brought to a place of real reflection. In that reflection, I realized I was dealing with some anxiety around my youngest daughter getting enough money to start her freshman year at Morgan State University and the fact that my oldest daughter welcomed a new baby hundreds of miles away from me. I quickly booked an appointment with my therapist.

YES. You read right – therapist.

Why? Because I needed someone who could help me work through my concerns from a professional point of view.

At the beginning of every year, we women attend vision board parties and then leave motivated to conquer the world. We scroll through countless Instagram posts with awesome inspirational quotes and pin them to our Pinterest boards. This is all great, however, have you ever stopped to ask yourself if you have the mental fortitude to keep grinding in life and in your relationship without seeking professional help?

I’ve had the idea of the perfect woman who’s got it all together with her fly and fabulous self. Her kids are super perfect. She has the best boyfriend or husband in the world, and her bank account is overflowing with money. She is widely represented on Instagram.

On the other hand, there are some of us who have kids that are tripping in school and at home, we aren’t connecting with the men in our lives right now, and we refuse to answer the phone when a number displays that we don’t recognize.

Trust me, I’ve been there. I actually wrote a book about it. I totally get the frustration and dread of facing these situations. When your home life is a mess, it is hard to stay motivated.

Then, there are some women who do have everything going right for them, and they still feel overwhelmed. None of us is immune, ladies. I don’t care how many double-stuffed Oreos you eat or how many episodes of Black Love you binge on, life can still be overwhelming.

So why don’t we Black women get additional, professional, help? Well, I can tell you why I didn’t –– the stigma of therapy within my family and community that had been passed on generation after generation: white folks go to see “shrinks” because they are “crazy.” Therapy is not for Black people.

My family was some God-fearing folks. I was taught that you “cast your cares on Jesus.” I was supposed to fast and pray and allow the Holy Spirit to heal me. This came from my church. Seeking outside help was a sign of weakness. And I lived by this stigma all my life, until life got so out of balance that I knew I needed more help.

But making the choice to see a therapist wasn’t easy. Honestly, I was deathly afraid to seek help. Like I said, I was taught that this was something white people did. If you watched tv, you saw white people sitting on a couch, not Black people.

When I found out that two good girlfriends of mine not only saw therapists but were also on medication that their therapist prescribed, I was shocked –– they were professional Black women, like me. Knowing this and then talking to them helped me feel a tad bit more comfortable about going to my first session.

Honestly, I still was scared of what my momma would think. But ultimately, I’m so thankful for all of the reasons that got me to walk through that door because it was transformative.

Today, I look forward to all my appointments –– sometimes I plan when I walk in the door, sometimes I simply cry, all the time I leave better for what I have experienced in that room.

An additional gift therapy has given me is the ability to inspire others to get the help they need. When I finally jumped and blogged about my experience, I was shocked that so many women reached out to me from that one post. So many were suffering in silence like I had. Because of that blog post, other women began to go to therapy. And since that first session, everyone in my family, including my children, have received therapy.

We even took our son at the age of seven for anger management. It completely changed his life for the better. My husband regularly attends therapy sessions. My dad goes for PTSD from the Vietnam War, and my mom started going this summer as a wife of a PTSD spouse. My parents said they went because I went.

My suggestion is to allow therapy to assist you in getting some relief from life’s pressures. Did you know your insurance may even cover it?

Call the number on the back of your Insurance card and ask about your FREE EAP benefits.

According to Psychiatry.org, Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) have been around for decades, and many companies provide them for their employees and families at no cost. An estimated 97 percent of companies with more than 5,000 employees have an EAP; 80 percent of companies with 1,001 – 5,000 employees have an EAP; and 75 percent of companies with 251 – 1,000 employees have an EAP.

Yet, no more than five percent of people with access to EAPs use them. Up to 40 percent of workers are unaware of whether their workplace provides EAP and what services are available. In addition to not knowing about EAP services –– reasons people do not use them include the stigma associated with mental health and substance use services and concerns about privacy and confidentiality.

I can tell you, getting over the stigma associated with mental health services is one of the best gifts I have given myself and my family, along with learning how to use my EAP benefits.

Most companies give you eight free sessions.

I use my eight free sessions every year. I used them after I was laid off and was faced with the decision to look for another job or to work my side hustle full-time. I did this because that process was a period of stress for me, and I was dealing with a lot of anxiety due to non-existent income. The sessions helped me get clear on what I needed to do to take the steps to make my side hustle more profitable.

My husband and I have also used our EAP benefit for marriage counseling. Our 18-year-old daughter used her sessions two summers ago when she was struggling with transitioning from 10th grade to 11th grade. My husband, Don, opted to use his eight free sessions last month to get clarity about what he wanted the rest of his year to look like.

Therapy is one thing we do not talk about in the Black community. It’s so taboo. But why?

The reality is that many Black folks, especially Black women, are suffering in silence. We have to stop this insanity of pretending we have it all together. We have, for far too long, been carrying burdens we need to finally release to live and love freely.

I challenge you to look into using your free sessions for whatever you want. It can be for stress on the job, moving, having a new baby or, like I did, the expansion of a business. Make sure to have this conversation with your honey, your family, and your friends too. Let them know they are leaving free mental wellness services on the table every single year.

Do yourself and your family a favor and add therapy sessions to the list of things you are going to do for yourself. You will be glad you did.

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