Therapy isn’t so much a of a big deal as it was in the past. I would bet a copy of the Sunday Times Rich list and an expensive organic cupcake from an overpriced cafe in Hampstead Heath, that a lot of the people on that rich list have seen a therapist at some point.
No doubt, stigma around mental illness still exists, but it’s almost become trendy in certain classes to have a therapist. Watch any banal reality TV show, and a therapist will pop up at least once every 4 episodes.
I once had the distinct displeasure of living in a flat with a cat who was undergoing cat therapy for its behavioural issues. (I’m deadly serious, I met the cat therapist myself. The owners were vegans. I felt embarrassed on behalf of flexi-vegans everywhere). So if cats now have therapists, why is it such a big deal in the black community, especially amongst black men, to go to therapy?
Obviously, there are exceptions, but trying to get a black man to go to see a counsellor or a therapist is like trying to get a woman with a fresh perm to go deep sea diving. And I know that men in general, regardless of race, are less likely to jump at the idea of therapy than women, but even more so for black men.
There may be myriad reasons for this. Firstly, black men are stereotyped and encouraged into a form of hypermasculinity that is clearly at odds with the idea of seeking help from a therapist. All men are encouraged to be macho, but black men in particular are encouraged to be super-macho and hyper sexual. Even if many black men may have the inkling that the issues that they are dealing with need professional help, I don’t doubt that many would be embarrassed if others were to find out.
Perhaps also on a subconscious level, there is a distrust of the mental health profession. This isn’t at all unfounded – poor treatment of black men and women by mental health professionals and the reality of black people being labelled as ‘crazy’ with ease, persists. In America especially, the medical profession has up until as recently as the 1970’s yielded stories of horrific treatment of black people. It goes without saying that most therapists and psychiatrists are white and middle class – suspected, probably rightly, to be less able to relate to black men seeking help. This is one of the many reasons why it’s so important that more black people, men especially, enter professions like medicine and psychotherapy. There are white therapists who may do a great job, but as a group of people who are marginalised, it’s important to have representation.
Religion may well play a part in this. Coming from a Christian background, there was sometimes an idea that seeking help from a therapist or counsellor was somehow denying God’s ability to be a source of comfort and healing. If you’ve got Jesus, why do you need Dr Phil? Things are changing in the black church and we are more open to the idea that therapists can often be God’s way of providing a means of healing from emotional trauma, in the same way that we go to a doctor for a tummy upset,but an attitude still lingers that paints people who go to therapy as ‘not having enough faith’. The Good Book also says that faith without works is dead, and part of putting your faith to work is using resources that God has given you.
What is obvious to me, is that out of any group of people, perhaps black men need therapy the most. To be a black man in Western society, regardless of what the colour-blind coalition of the privileged may say, is to be constantly undermined and treated with suspicion and fear.This is not dependent on wealth or social status – your university degree and polite accent will not save you from the stigma of being a black man. This is aside from the socio-economic deprivation , the trauma of growing up in a single parent home (although many black men according to research, do spend significant time with their children even if they are not with the mother), and experiences of overt racism that affects a large sector of the community.
I’m of the opinion that pretty much everyone could do with speaking to a therapist at some point.. Heck, even therapists have therapists.
Black men need therapy too.
And we, as a community need to encourage our brothers, fathers, boyfriends, friends to not be afraid to get the help they need.