Updated: Apr 12, 2021
When we think about looking for a therapist, it can seem really straightforward: go on a website full of therapists, click on one you like, and then schedule that first appointment with them. Sometimes we might do that little dance of “therapist shopping” where we scope around a little bit more when one therapist doesn’t quite work out with us. What isn’t always talked about, though, is that extra layer of cultural identities.
Everyone has a cultural identity, and it isn’t only about race or ethnicity. It can be rooted in gender, religion, sexual orientation, gender, gender expression, size, disability, age, and more. And when people are part of marginalized populations, or holding an identity that doesn’t hold as much social power as privileged groups, the search for a therapist becomes a little more complicated than that streamlined search. There are a lot of reasons why someone in a minority group may find it harder to find a therapist, or even go to therapy. Here are a few that we are aware of:
The mental health stigma. This is probably the most obvious reason why a person with a marginalized identity might not want to seek therapy. Supporting one’s own mental health isn’t an activity that’s prioritized in our society, but when you add certain cultural identities to the mix, it’s even more so. For example, communities of color may emphasize other methods beyond seeking a professional like turning to religion or hiding distress. While this isn’t to say that turning to religion or hiding your problems isn’t effective (though we have more to say about the latter solution), seeking a mental health professional could get you the support you need. We understand, though, that this is a significant barrier, especially in our society’s mantras of “productivity over person” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” At Cultured Space and others in our communities, we are working to fight that stigma and change the narrative.
It’s hard to find a therapist who shares an identity. Each of us has different cultural identities that, when we see others have, may make us feel excited or eager to talk to them. It’s because of this feeling of being in a shared community! That person might understand the struggle of being in that community rather than just spare us words of kindness. The conversations may be richer, and “hit different” from those that occur with people outside the community (though this isn’t to say that they are not capable of having these conversations!). The same can be said about a relationship with a therapist, which is why representation is so important. To know that someone out there looks like you or shares a similar identity with you could be a place of safety. Unfortunately there aren’t very many therapists who hold marginalized identities, particularly intersecting ones, or they are very hard to find.
Their experiences may be misunderstood. This can go with the point above, that finding a person who has a shared identity, and thus shared lived experiences, are likely candidates to understand what a client is going through. Experiences that are misunderstood or that have to be explained could take up chunks of time out of session. And if you’re a person with a marginalized identity speaking to someone who has privilege in that identity, it could add to the additional burden of educating others rather than getting the help you need.
They fear experiencing microagressions (for good reason). By now you may have heard of the term “death by a thousand paper cuts.” It’s those words or actions that feel small, but are slights against one’s cultural identities and are actually signs of some sort of “-ism” that hasn’t been checked. The experiences out in the world can make a person with marginalized identities more wary about meeting with a therapist. There is a worry about being invalidated, that their therapist will be a contributor to their distress, or that they will only feel worse about their mental health journey rather than better.
Services might not be accessible to them. When you think about accessibility, what comes to mind? Telehealth makes services more accessible because of the world’s greater transition to working from home, but what else? What about if we were to have in-person services again? How many therapists are part of the deaf community and can give services in ASL? How many offices have you been to that had appropriate walkways, doorways, or even seating areas that fit all bodies? And even on the topic of telehealth, how many people who want to go to therapy have reliable internet access? And can you guess what populations are most impacted by this? Searching for therapists is tricky, but searching for an accessible therapist could be even trickier. And all of this is information that helps a person answer the question: is this therapist a safe place for me?
Going to therapy and prioritizing your mental health might be a massive step for you, and that’s great! Ensuring that you are able to get resources and feel empowered while exercising them is a huge goal that mental health professionals want to see you achieve. We are also aware of the items on our list and how they can be very daunting for people with marginalized identities when they’re on the search for a therapist. This isn’t to say that it’s impossible; this is to say that we are aware and are here to help you.
At Cultured Space, we pride ourselves on providing culturally-informed care to ensure you are heard and healing. Our clinicians take the time to know you, your story, and all of the intersecting parts that make you who you are.