Mental health awareness is at an all-time high with many of us seeking self-improvement and healing with the support of therapists. Tucked away in cozy offices, or in the comfort of our own homes, millions of women receive the tools needed to navigate our emotions, relate to those around us, or simply exist in a judgment-free space.
For some, finding a therapist is as simple as pulling up a website, reading a few bios, and choosing a clinician. But for many Black women, finding a therapist that sees us as the multi-faceted beings that we are, and understands our unique experiences, can be a precarious affair. Therapists and clients are bound together by respect, trust, and vulnerability. And just like any relationship, it’s a delicate dance to find the right clinician that gives you the space to show up as your authentic self while maintaining a healthy, productive connection.
xoNecole recently chatted with seven women about the process they took to find the therapist that was ‘The One’ and how therapy has impacted them. Here’s what they had to say.
Courtesy of Destiny Oribhabor
My first time going to therapy was around 10-12 years ago and it has literally changed my life. It led to internal healing from emotional baggage and childhood wounds. It helped me become self-aware about myself and my triggers. It helped me have hard conversations with family members, which has led to those relationships being restored. Therapy has also reminded me that healing is a continuous cycle and there is no shame when you have to go back to therapy.
I’ve had various counseling stints over the past 12 years, and I’ve gone the recommendation and directory route. I had a 15-minute consultation to understand the counselor’s process before committing my time and coins! The consultations are so important because you get a peek into that particular counselor’s process. On my journey, my preference has been that my counselor must be a Christian counselor. As I have evolved, my preference changed to a Christian counselor who was also Black. I knew that I wanted a counselor that would give me homework, and also give me tools that I could use after the sessions. My counselor not only helped me with identifying the root (hello, childhood) but also provided tools and affirmations that helped me process when I was in a moment.
Due to the pandemic, I saw a counselor for several months last year who created space for me. Upon getting to the root of my battle with unworthiness and savior complex, she saw through when I would apologize for my tears and emotions. She could see through the times I would try to act unbothered. She stated, “These 50 minutes are for you and you can cuss, be angry and not be okay.”
When she spoke to the part of me that tends to want to be strong for everyone and allowed me to be a mess, it broke me open in the best way! She gently challenged me, and that’s how I knew this was whom I needed to work with. I would tell another woman who doesn’t gel with her counselor that it is absolutely normal. Not every counselor is a good fit. When I learned about doing a pre-interview or consult before committing, that changed the game for me.
Author, Self-Healing Educator
Courtesy of Yasmine Cheyenne
Therapy has been the safe place that I know I can come to and share how I feel, receive advice or feedback, and truly be seen and heard. It's a non-reciprocal relationship, unlike friendships or relationships we might have with our family, so therapy is also one of the few places where I'm coming to get space held for me and not having to do any holding in return. As a healer, teacher, and coach it was imperative that I create spaces like that for myself, to ensure I'm filling myself up too. I think it's important to research the kinds of therapy that you're interested in (i.e. EMDR therapy, Trauma-Informed Therapists, Art Therapist, etc.) because it's helpful to see a therapist who is going to be able to support you in the way that feels most comfortable for you.
I've also used directories like Therapy for Black Girls or The Daring Way directory by Dr. Brené Brown to find therapists certified in particular ways of supporting clients. I wanted a therapist who had experience in supporting people who were already in wellness or primarily see therapists. Although I'm not a therapist, I support my clients through coaching and teaching self-healing, and I knew I needed a therapist who could support my unique needs.
"Therapy has been the safe place that I know I can come to and share how I feel, receive advice or feedback, and truly be seen and heard. It's a non-reciprocal relationship, unlike friendships or relationships we might have with our family, so therapy is also one of the few places where I'm coming to get space held for me and not having to do any holding in return."
I knew I found a therapist I could trust and wanted to work with when I recognized her ability to help me dig deeper with kindness, when I could feel understood without judgement, when I was able to apply what I was learning in my life with more ease, and when I felt held and safe throughout our sessions. I also love therapists who uphold strong boundaries and ensure that the session is a safe space for me to unpack, not me listening to their personal stories unless it is useful to the session.
[If you don’t gel with your current therapist] talk to your therapist about your feelings because they may be able to help you feel more at ease when they understand what you're experiencing. But if they aren't able to understand what you need, or if you don't start to feel a better connection, start looking for a new therapist. It's tough to get what you need out of therapy when you don't feel comfortable with your therapist, so advocate for yourself and look for something different that feels good!
Entrepreneur, On-Air Host
Courtesy of Nicola Ajayi
I’ve used therapy services in two different instances. The first was in conjunction with my husband in couples therapy. I also used therapy services as an individual when I was experiencing so many life stressors and needed resources and ways to help me manage them. In couples therapy, my husband and I learned ways to be patient with each other while giving grace for each other’s faults, how to actively listen to each other, and how to be empathetic to each other’s feelings and needs. Individual therapy allowed me to identify my “triggers” before I reached the boiling point and most importantly gave me a safe space to air my deep thoughts and feelings.
I think it’s so important to go to a therapist who shares the same values as you. First and foremost I knew I wanted a therapist who was a Christian, and I found both of my therapists by Googling Christian counseling in my area. I needed someone who tied the Word of God into our sessions as well as give us practical, everyday tools to utilize on a day-to-day basis. For marriage counseling, I specifically wanted a male therapist who was married with a family because I felt like my husband would relate to him more. For my individual sessions, I chose a female therapist who was married and had a family because I knew she and I would understand each other the most.
I thoroughly scoured my therapists’ websites and bios before deciding to hire them. I wanted to make sure they had the qualities listed above before even attending the first session. During the first trial session, I knew I would continue with both of them because in both instances I felt “understood” and heard. I never felt rushed or felt like they were not actively listening to me, which in turn allowed me to feel free to open up and let my guard down.
My advice for a woman who doesn’t gel with her current therapist would be to speak to them about her feelings to see why there is a disconnect. If you still don’t feel as if you gel during the next session, find someone else! After all, you are paying for a service so you’re doing yourself a disservice if you don’t get every benefit from your time together!
Dr. Eleanor Khonje
Courtesy of Dr. Eleanor Khonje
I went to therapy at a point in my life when I knew that therapy was really the only thing that was going to help me. After leaving an abusive marriage, I was completely broken. I was in the midst of finishing my Ph.D. when I decided to leave this relationship. I was working full-time for an international organization, and as wounded as I was, I knew that I could not afford to let anything in my life slip by or get out of control.
If I was going to move ahead powerfully, I needed to understand why I made so many excuses for such bad behavior from my ex. I needed to understand why I could be as smart as I am, have so much knowledge about feminist politics and gender-based violence, and yet could not discern that what I was experiencing at home was violence. And thank God I went to therapy because I got the answers I needed.
"I went to therapy at a point in my life when I knew that therapy was really the only thing that was going to help me... If I was going to move ahead powerfully, I needed to understand why I made so many excuses for such bad behavior from my ex."
A close friend of mine suggested the particular therapist I worked with. She worked with her in the past and assured me that, if anything, I should at least try her out. I initially thought it did not matter whether my therapist was female or male. [Because] I live in Switzerland, I definitely did not even think about a Black female therapist because I did not know where I would go to find one. I really needed a safe space where I could cry and cry without judgment and a space that would help me understand where my brokenness was coming from and how I could resolve it. But after carefully thinking about it, I knew I needed a female therapist.
My therapist was not someone I could potentially be friends with, she was not someone I particularly went home and talked about because I thought she was amazing. My therapist was a professional, whose role was to help me find solutions to my problems and find ways I could effectively move ahead. In that light, if I felt like she was not qualified to help me dismantle my emotions and heaviness, I would have left to find someone who would. I don’t need to be your friend, and I honestly don’t even need you to look like me, per se. But are you knowledgeable enough to help me resolve my stuff? Depending on that answer, I would advise another woman to find another therapist or change her mindset [on what she wants].
Emelda De Coteau
Writer, Podcast Host
Courtesy of Emelda De Coteau
Being in therapy is helping me address some core issues, which have shown up in my life, again and again—people-pleasing (which has some of its roots in childhood sexual trauma), setting healthy boundaries, and releasing mom guilt. My therapist also supports me in navigating the experiences of caring for our daughter who has some health challenges, while being there for my Dad, who is in at-home hospice care, all while juggling being a wife and entrepreneur. In the past, I asked friends [for recommendations]. More recently, I decided to head to Therapy for Black Girls, and do a deeper dive. I am so glad I took that additional step!
I wanted someone I could both connect with and relate to on a fundamental level. I felt an internal pull to prioritize working with a Black woman therapist who valued mindfulness as a practice, alongside faith and building a relationship with God. I wanted to find someone who could relate to my experience as a Black woman living in America and understood the importance of a holistic trauma-informed approach. And most importantly, I sought out a therapist who would hold me accountable, and walk alongside me on this journey of healing.
Throughout our first meeting, I felt an immediate sense of connection, like this woman understands me! She took time to read through the paperwork I submitted, asked follow-up questions, and set treatment goals with me. During our sessions, she also steers me towards action steps so that I am always growing and putting into practice new, healthy habits.
Don’t wait to find someone who speaks to your spirit, and will listen to you. Pray for guidance, but don’t use this as an excuse not to move forward. Our mental health is the foundation of all that we do, and it’s important we prioritize caring for it. Connect with communities like the one I’m part of, Spoken Black Girl, which centers on healing and well-being for Black women. They now have a directory where you can find women of color therapists and wellness providers.
Therapist, Wellness Coach
Courtesy of Minaa B.
Therapy has helped me build my emotional self-care and has helped me to manage the emotional challenges and roadblocks that I face in life. Overall, therapy has been a useful tool in helping me live in alignment with the growth and evolution that I desire. I used the directory PsychologyToday.com to connect with my therapist, but I believe word of mouth can be a great and useful strategy as well.
Personally, because I am a therapist myself, I specifically looked for a therapist who has worked with other therapists and has experience treating the issues that I am presenting with, and can provide guidance and educational insight. Working with a client who is also a therapist can be a unique experience so it's something I prefer to know upfront when talking to a therapist.
Our consultation call was warm and inviting, and she immediately knew how to address some of the needs and issues that I had. A first session is a big impression to make, and because I found her to be useful early on, it made it easier to trust the process as I continued on.
To be straightforward, find a new one [if you don’t gel with your current therapist]. There are too many good therapists out there and it makes no sense to force a relationship with someone who you have to pay and share intimate details of your life with if there is no trust or a genuine connection. Shopping around might be tiresome, but it's worth it.
Dr. Akua Boateng
Psychotherapist, Mental Health Media Expert
Courtesy of Dr. Akua Boateng
Therapy has provided me with a safe sounding board for all aspects of my life. I have a place where I am heard, seen, and valued. As a therapist, it can be a challenge to find a good fit. Fortunately, a colleague referred me to my therapist. I was looking for a Black therapist that was well trained, immensely compassionate, and with a similar cultural background to better understand my lived experience.
I knew I found the right therapist when I felt comfortable and experienced growth toward my goals. I would advise you to talk with your therapist [if there is a disconnect]. There might be reasons for the misalignment. Next, if challenges cannot be fixed pursue a therapist that serves you. Believe it or not, your current therapist wants you to find the right fit as well.
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Featured image courtesy of Yasmine Cheyenne