Acknowledging Stigmas / Challenging Obstacles: On Being Black & Queer and Going to Therapy

When I was a child, I struggled with severe anxiety that manifested itself in frequent nightmares; selective mutism; stuttering/mumbling; and a compulsion to trace a specific pattern whenever I saw a square or rectangular-shaped object. When these symptoms reached an unbearable level, my mother sought out the care of a therapist to help me develop tools for managing and lowering my anxiety. I don’t remember every paragraph within those chapters of my life, but I believe that that experience helped me to shape a positive attitude about therapy as an adult.

But despite my worthwhile childhood experience in therapy, seeking a therapist as an adult has not been swift action to take. For one, I am introverted by nature. After nearly every experience, I require space and time to ponder its significance: what did I learn about myself, someone else, and/or the world? What made the experience neutral, positive, or negative? For better or for worse, I have a tendency to “study” each experience from multiple angles until I feel confident that I have an understanding of its meaning in my life.

My introversion has at times gotten in the way of wanting to invite someone else to peer through the windows to my brain. When I interact with others, my thoughts usually go through a triple-filtration system before I even speak. This process helps me to consider what it is I want to say,  whether I feel it will add needed value to the interaction, and how best to communicate the thought. This is generally a great quality, but therapy is meant to be a safe space where unfiltered thoughts may run as free as gazelles across a savanna-like sanctuary. I have to not only configure a way to bypass the filtration system that feels natural but also overcome the instinct to worry about lions, given that ideally, therapy is a sanctuary.

I also consider the fact that the intersections of my identity hold a lot of weight in this picture. Aside from my introverted temperament, I am Black and Queer. There is a gargantuan amount of stigma about therapy in the Black community. I have always been aware of this stigma and have felt its pressure, though I can’t say anyone ever expressly stated to me, “Black folks don’t go to therapy because it makes you less-than.” And for a great deal of time, psychology has been used to justify the marginalization of and disorder-labeling associated with a full spectrum of queer identities and gender-nonconforming expression.

On my favorite podcast, The Read, the co-hosts (who both also happen to be Black and Queer) openly talk about their journies in therapy and actively challenge the stigma that exists within both communities. During a recent episode, one of the co-hosts remarked that personal trauma aside, simply being Black and/or Queer is substantial enough to warrant therapy based on the way that Black and Queer-identified folks are too often treated in everyday life. I had certainly considered that truth, but it has been a process to accept that the other side to that coin is what has challenged me to find a therapist worth keeping as an adult.

In May of this year, the American Psychological Association published data that renders the cold, hard facts: only 4% of the Psychology workforce is identified as Black. I couldn’t find data from the same report that provided data about queer identities, but the racial statistics are staggering enough to paint a clear picture: folks like me who are Black and Queer struggle to find our identities represented within the spaces where we would like to engage in the–albeit complex–delicate and necessary work to support general wellbeing.

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When it comes to seeking someone who possesses the ability to consider my experiences as a Black woman as well as a queer-identified person, finding a therapist has been more than complicated.

If a devil’s advocate were to be entertained, they might say that a person does not have to share an identity with a care provider. But when we are talking about something as vulnerable as therapy, I believe it can be vital for the individual to feel confident that their therapist can relate to their experience as authentically as possible. That is very much vital to me. It doesn’t mean that I need for my therapist to “check all of the same boxes” as I do, but I do need to know that they operate from a place of regarding the significance of each avenue of my identity and their intersections.

I have, perhaps by the effort of sheer will, found a therapist that I am trying out. My experience was a process of extensive online research and insurance coverage cross-checking. There are no guarantees from my research that this will be the right person, but beyond my personal will, I am extremely grateful for having the privilege to gain access to a possible match.

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