Black Wellness: Commonly asked questions, answered here.

IMPORTANT: This blog is not a substitute for therapy, but provides evidenced-based education for the purposes of self-help, or to compliment the therapeutic process. ​ ​This blog is non-monetized.

February is Black History Month, and this year’s theme is ‘Black Wellness.’

We, at DALD, would like to honour black people everywhere and celebrate the contribution of our black folks in our families, communities, countries and indeed throughout the world.  We hope their lives are filled with joy and friendship and continued great achievements.  

We are aware, though, that not everyone will be in a state of absolute well-being.  For those people who might benefit from support for emotional and psychological challenges, the collective of therapists and counsellors at Dig A Little Deeper would like to extend a warm welcome to chat.  

For those who are hesitant, we have given attention to some of the concerns they might have about participating in therapy in the form of some Frequently Asked Questions we hear about therapy.  We hope that you will utilize this FAQ to help make use of resources available to take care of yourself.  

We wish you well and would like you to know that we are here for you.  Have a wonderful, creative and healthy month.  

Happy Black History Month!

Question 1

How does Psychotherapy work?  I am black and within my culture, if you are troubled by anything, you would go to what we call our big ‘Aunty’.  That could be a Grandmother, Godmother, Aunty or any respected Elder, including a Neighbour.  However, as helpful as these people are, they are not trained to provide specialized mental health services.  I am specifically concerned about my younger brother.  He is 32 years old and is addicted to Alcohol.  I also struggle with depression.  In both cases, we were told that we could just snap out of it.  Can psychotherapy help? 
Cindy*

Answer:

Thank you, Cindy, for your question.  

First, we want to acknowledge that, as you have stated, in yours, as in many other minority cultures, there are rich traditions of helping and supporting.  We all at DALD have deep respect for the many ways in which healing and recovery, breaches in interpersonal relationships, conflict resolution, life-transition concerns and all other forms of difficult life challenges can be approached.  In many cultures, traditional ways are being brought back into prominence and we celebrate that.  Sometimes, after we have utilized all the resources we usually use, we realize that we continue to hurt and that our pain is still with us.  That is a good cue that it might be helpful to seek additional support.      
 
In psychotherapy, you build a special relationship with a therapist, allowing you to sort out what interferes with you enjoying your life.  Your therapist will work with you to get at the root of your difficulties, will help you decide whether you are ready to take steps, and if so, what you can do to rectify the problem.  Often, people already have very good ways of coping with or of solving their problems.  We fill any gaps in knowledge and/or skills in dealing with the issues and we will monitor your progress to determine if you need to change the strategies you are using and if anything else is required.  

Typically, we do not solve your problems for you.  We work to enhance your ability to do so for yourself.  You will find that many of the features of the support you are used to will also be present in your relationship with your therapist.  For instance, just as your Aunty did, therapists will listen to what you have to say about your problem and, again as your Aunty did, will also form some opinions about your situation.  
 
We are sorry that you and your brother are dealing with challenging situations at this time.  Many individuals dealing with substance abuse problems or with depression realize that their condition is more than they can handle.  Sometimes, professional help is required.  Sometimes it is as simple as finding out what prevents them from coping with their difficulties or achieving the outcomes that they want and using that information to alter their behavior.  At other times, it is much more complex and treatment is much more complicated or intensive.
 
Here at DALD, we do have Therapists with advanced skills to help you and, if he is interested, your brother as well.

Question 2

​I often think of participating in therapy but I am afraid that if I do I might end up disclosing family secrets.  Actually, I can’t begin to imagine how my family would take it if I were to talk about some closeted things.   I do not know that I can cross that line.  What would you say to someone like me who comes from a black family and wants support but does not want to hurt their family?
Patricia*

Answer: 

First, we wish to thank you, Patricia, for your question and know that you are not alone in feeling constrained in some way from beginning therapy or, after you get started, from fully participating.  Lots of people, including non-blacks, also feel that way and that is understandable.  

You are right about the therapeutic environment being a space where clients might feel vulnerable. There many factors that might be attributable to this feeling of vulnerability, one of which you have mentioned one, that is, the risk of disclosing or having to disclose family secrets. It is not uncommon for our therapists to try to obtain as much information as is necessary to help their clients. This might include information that they and/or their family deem to be private.  

We want to assure you of three things:

  1. Our therapists at DALD do not solicit information from or about their clients that is not required to best support them. It is unethical for us to do so.  
  2. Our clients are under no obligation to disclose any information until they are ready to do so. Generally, though, withholding crucial information, for whatever reason, could interfere with the therapist’s ability to best support their client. A clear example of this is the therapist who might be conducting an assessment for risk of suicidality. Failure to release certain pieces of information about the family could compromise the assessment and might leave the client without adequate support to reduce the risk of self-harm or even death.
  3. Our therapists can acquire information about a client from many sources. However, at no time will they even attempt to obtain any information from a third party without your written consent, and if they do have to seek that information, they will explain who or which agency they will approach, why that information is being sought and how it will be used.


We would like to let you know that if you are ever in therapy, whether here at DALD or elsewhere and this situation comes up for you, please feel free to discuss it with your therapist. It would be helpful if they are aware of your discomfort.    
 
Patricia, we believe that you are also concerned that the information you share might somehow get back to your family.  We want you to know that our therapists are ethically bound to confidentiality.  What that means is that unless you are a minor and require parental consent to participate in therapy, not even the fact that you are attending will be disclosed to a third party without your or your Guardian’s consent.  

There are a few occasions when our therapists would have to break confidentiality even if you do not want them to.  These are very limited and are mandated by law.  These are discussed with our clients prior to providing service and prior to asking for consent to provide care.  Of course, our clients are always free to disclose any aspect of their therapy work to whom you wish.  That is totally up to them.  At DALD, we take the extra step, if the client wants, to discuss any potential harms that might accrue should they decide to share your therapy information with anyone else, but the decision regarding whether, what and how much to share is still our clients’ to make.  
 
Expecting some family upset if they become aware that you have disclosed classified information to your therapist is often a legitimate concern.  Almost every black person knows that the principle “what-goes-on-in-the-black-household-stays-in-the-black-household” is sacrosanct and any deviation can be very destabilizing for the family.  This is true of may non-black households as well.  So, such disclosure may or may not put you at risk of severe consequences.  Our therapists can help you identify and assess any risk to your safety and wellbeing and will provide appropriate support. This could include support for your family members, should they desire it. 
 
Finally, a word about secrecy. There is a difference between privacy and secrecy. Everyone is entitles to their privacy.  Every individual and all families have secrets, and there might be many reasons for maintaining privacy around those.  For some, it might be to avert embarrassment and shame, to forestall moral, legal or other consequences, to preserve relationships, to save people from disrepute and to save lives.  Sometimes, it is simply just nobody else’s business.  You are encouraged to think deeply before disclosing other’s secrets, whether or not you are in therapy.  Disclosures about other people’s secrets can have serious implications for you or other people. But holding secrets that you are conflicted about can have serious implications for you. Without hearing the exact details, your therapist might be able to help you determine which one it is. 

Question 3

I have some white friends at work who often talk to me about their engagement in therapy.  They encourage me to try it, especially now that I am stressed but I am afraid to do so.  If I do go to therapy, I prefer to see a black therapist but I do not know of any black therapists in my neighbourhood and am not sure that a white therapist would understand me.  Do you have any advice for me?
Robert* 

Answer:

Hi Robert!  Thank you for your question.  We will answer first generally and then specifically.  

First, the general response:  Many persons we know are very cautious of working with a therapist with whom they do not identify in ways important to them.  There is nothing wrong with feeling that way.  The important thing is to recognize where the fear is coming from, deciding if there is a strong basis for feeling fearful and if there is, how you might want to respond to that fear.  That a white therapist might not fully understand you is absolutely true.  That is possible.  But that can be true of any therapist, even a black therapist.  

According to what we have been told, many clients, including black clients believe that if their therapist is not of the same ethnicity or cultural, religious or racial background, that therapist might not understand their mental health needs, might have little understanding of their family dynamics and might not know how historical and contemporary social and political issues contribute to their experiences of stress or to the deterioration of their mental health.  All this might be true, but not necessarily so.  Otherwise, one might have to believe that the therapist who is single would not have sufficient expertise to provide marital therapy, unless they are or were once married;  similarly, the person suffering with depression, substance abuse disorder, grief and loss issues or any other mental health or emotional challenge would require support from only those people whose lives were/are similarly impinged.    

You, and other people with similar concerns might be comforted to know that even as well-trained professionals, our Therapists also struggle with the issue of functioning in a multicultural environment.  We assure you that neither our clients nor ourselves, as therapists, want any misses or disses to happen in therapy – no misunderstanding, misinterpretation or misrepresentation, no disregard, disrespect or disesteem.  It is for this reason that our therapists continue to engage in continuing education to bolster our expertise in providing support to people with individual and cultural differences.  Also, our therapists have access to clinical supervision that helps us to upgrade our skills to respond therapeutically to the diversity of clients.  We also rely on and encourage our clients to tell us when we don’t quite get them and to correct us when we get it wrong.  We welcome that.

Our advice to you is that only you would know when or if you are ready to engage in therapy.  Listen to your heart and to the people who you trust to help guide you in your decision.  You might also want to talk with a Therapist before you make your final decision.  Here at Dig a Little Deeper, our therapists offer free consults and would be happy to have a preliminary discussion with you.

And now for a more specific response:  We are aware that many black people do have specific concerns about how mental health services are delivered to them.  Some have told us that they detest pathological labels.  They say that western psychology does not get it that their mental health problems and emotional disturbances are closely connected to vicarious ancestral exposure to slavery and contemporary experiences of racism.  In other words, they view their psychological problems as systemic challenges and not only in terms of individual psychology.  

We realize that some people carry deep wounds from intergenerational trauma and from current experiences of discrimination and injustice.   We believe that the affected individual or group of people has a right to analyze their situation for themselves and this includes how to make sense of what has happened to them.  It makes good sense to be uneasy about helping services that make light of their understanding and explanation.  For some of our clients, oppression and social justice issues are important aspects of their lives.  So too are some personal problems that they might share.  Our therapists work with them to identify and help them to constructively deal with their biopsychosocial needs.  

​Sometimes, we are able to identify other resources that are better suited to address their needs.  For example, a client facing discrimination in their application for social housing might want to elevate their concerns at the appropriate Agency.  Our task is to support them to take the stand that they want.  In any event, we, at DALD, do consider the painful life experiences of all our clients, and especially in the case of our black clients, we do strive to ensure that in conducting psychological assessments, we do not ignore, misinterpret or misunderstand past and current experiences of trauma.  We also ensure that the treatment protocols that we formulated with input from our clients.      
 
Here is the last thing that we would say to you, Robert about the concerns you raise:  We are under no delusion that our therapists are always aware of specific experiences, perspectives and world views of all their clients.  We rely on our clients to brief us and we take the information seriously.  You might be delighted to learn that more and more emphasis is placed learning about and understanding our clients more fully and on incorporating their differences and individual uniqueness in our assessments and treatment responses and that is why we always check in with our clients and invite them to tell us when we are not reading them correctly.  

​We understand that people of minority groups have been and can be subjected to various forms of oppression and prejudices because of their differentness and we take great care to both celebrate those differences and to help clients mitigate adverse impact of any adverse experience.  As an additional way of support our clients, we also understand the importance of therapist/client fit and are open to supporting clients for whom support from another therapist might be more suitable.

* all names are pseudonyms to protect privacy. 

More Resources

  • Looking for more supports to help you and your loved ones get through this pandemic? Check out our specific COVID19 Resources Page
  • Looking for support for your romantic relationship? Learn more about Couples Therapy – who it’s for, and when it’s not quite right yet, on our Couples Therapy Page.
  • Looking for a whole list of wonderful fiction and non-fiction books to support your mental health journey? Check out our Recommended Book List – new titles are added often.  

If you prefer talking to a human to help find the right therapist for you,
Leave a message at

905-584-8963

or email admin@digalittledeeper.ca

during regular business hours.

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Picture of Carol Benjamin, RP, CCAC, MDIV (she/her)

Carol Benjamin, RP, CCAC, MDIV (she/her)

Carol is a Registered Psychotherapist and Certified Canadian Addictions Counsellor (CACCF) at Dig A Little Deeper. ​Carol has over 14 years experience in treating mood disorders, anxiety, relationship problems, substance abuse, trauma exposure, anger management and grief and loss. Carol has a special interest in working with Indigenous Peoples, having lived within an Aboriginal community for over a decade.

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