Finding the right therapist for you is an essential element not only in a successful therapeutic experience, but also in treating mental illness. Despite a recent increase in social awareness regarding the disparities among various groups, BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) continue to experience challenges related to access and quality of care within the healthcare setting and, in particular, mental health care.
Prevalence of Mental Illness
If you have faced or are facing a mental health issue, you are not alone. Every year, millions of people experience a mental health disorder that requires some form of mental health care such as therapy or medication. In fact, 20.6% of American adults, or about 1 in 5, experience a mental health disorder. Mental illness does not discriminate based on race, ethnicity, or social status.
The following statistics illustrate the prevalence of any mental illness in the U.S. among demographic groups:
- Non-Hispanic Mixed or Multiracial: 31.7%
- Non-Hispanic White: 22.2%
- Non-Hispanic Alaskan Native or American Indian: 18.7%
- Latino or Hispanic: 18%
- Non-Hispanic Black or African American:17.3%
- Non-Hispanic Pacific Islander or Native Hawaiian: 16.6%
- Non-Hispanic Asian: 14.4%
Mental illness impacts people of all ethnicities and cultural backgrounds. However, access to effective mental health care is not equal among all demographics. Studies continue to demonstrate that certain groups of people have less access to mental healthcare than their white counterparts, and the care they receive is of lesser quality.
Factors that contribute to the disparities in access and quality include:
- Transportation issues.
- Inability or difficulty to take time off from work and find suitable childcare.
- Bias and racism among treatment providers.
- Lack of sufficient healthcare coverage.
- Mental health stigma among minority populations.
- Language difficulties including a lack of treatment providers who speak languages other than English.
- A mental health system that can be influenced largely by non-minority values and norms.
- A belief that mental healthcare is ineffective or won’t work.
It is our responsibility to help improve access to quality mental health care for all. We have made progress as a society; however, more work remains to achieve true equality for all. Things you can do to help decrease the disparities among BIPOC and other groups include:
- Communicate (via email, telephone, and/or social media) with federal and local legislators to support improving access to quality mental healthcare in your area.
- Share your resources and information with others.
- Support mental health organizations’ inclusion of minority staff and board members through voting and hiring of people from a variety of ethnicities and cultures.
- Educate yourself and develop empathy and understanding, and what these groups may be experiencing, even when it’s different from your own experiences.
Finding the Right Therapist for You
If you are looking for mental health care, factors to consider when finding a suitable therapist include:
- The language(s) in which your therapist is fluent.
- The personal and professional experiences of your therapist (can this individual relate to what you are going through).
- Location—For example, is the location convenient to your home, work, or other location you frequent regularly? Does the agency offer teletherapy?
- Cost—If you have insurance coverage, does your plan cover the cost of services? If you are unsure, you can contact your insurance provider and ask questions about coverage, deductibles, and copays. If you don’t have insurance, what is the out-of-pocket cost of a session? Is therapy limited to a certain number of sessions?
- Communication and therapeutic style—Is it talk therapy or educational? What communication style does the therapist most often use in sessions? What is your approach to working with clients?
- The therapist’s training and education—Does the therapist have training in both evidence-based treatments and cultural competency?
It is okay and encouraged to ask your therapist questions about training and any other relatable experience. Questions can include:
- Do you have experience working with a particular ethnic or cultural group? If so, how much experience?
- What is your specialty?
- What type of training do you have?
- What is your experience in working with people within my cultural and ethnic group?
Disparities still exist in access and quality of mental health care. Finding the right therapist is an important part of addressing mental health issues, and it is a highly personal choice. If you find that a therapist isn’t a good fit for you and your needs, it is completely acceptable and encouraged to find another therapist who is a better match for you. Your therapist will not be offended, as his or her ultimate goal is to support your efforts in achieving your mental health goals. You need to feel a connection and trust with your therapist, and if you don’t, it is important to let your therapist know and ask for a referral to another clinician. Openness, trust, and honesty are essential for effective therapy. If you have specific requests or requirements of your therapist, it is important to let the agency know of your requests so it can do its best to accommodate you and suit your needs.