Around 86% of psychologists in the US are white.
Therapy is already a reach for people of certain cultures. Aside from other obstacles like cost and access to mental health services, traditionally, Hispanic, black and Asian cultures aren’t very warm to mental health counseling.
A recent report by WFAE in Charlotte, North Carolina explored this subject in the Asheville area.
“In Hispanic cultures, in black cultures, you’re expected to tough it out,” explained Michelle Álvarez, a therapist who has worked in Asheville for over a year. “Therapy is for crazy people. Why would you go and air your dirty laundry to a stranger? I think some people might see it as a luxury for white people.”
Álvarez is under “a lot of pressure” as one of very few therapists of color, and a Spanish speaker, in her area. Some of her clients travel long hours to meet with her.
Less Diverse Than America
The lack of diversity in the mental health profession is stark. According to the American Psychological Association, in 2015 around 86% of psychologists in the US were white—while 5% were Hispanic, 5% were Asian, and 4% were black. As the APA noted, this breakdown is “less diverse than the US population as a whole.”
There has been much discussion regarding the benefits of having a therapist that a client can relate to. Having a shared cultural background is one way to help the client open up and feel comfortable in a session.
“It’s a sort of shorthand and familiarity we share with our clients, not having to explain everything,” said Álvarez. “It ends up being more comfortable for the therapist and the client.”
To offset this lack of diversity, a number of POC-centric mental health directories have emerged—including Therapy for Black Girls, the National Queer & Trans Therapists of Color Network, and Melanin and Mental Health.
“The research has been consistent in showing that the relationship that the client has with the therapist is the most important thing that will determine whether therapy is going to be effective,” said Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, who created Therapy for Black Girls in 2014. “So anything that makes you feel like you will have a closer relationship with the person who is going to be your therapist is something that we want to choose.”