Relationships/Family Identity Lifestyle

The Power of Black Therapy

Judy Campbell-Smith

About ten years ago, I went through a period of grief following the deaths of two friends. Grieving is never an easy process, but what made it even harder for me was that all of my closest friends were also grieving these same losses. The people I normally turned to for support were struggling too. As a result, I became increasingly overwhelmed by the heightened emotions all around me. I started having nightmares. I was grinding my teeth so much that I bruised a tooth. 

I needed help, so I started meeting with a therapist. In therapy, I could emotionally vomit without worrying about anyone else’s feelings. After just a few months, I was sleeping better and feeling more emotionally stable, but I kept going to therapy. My therapist (who was white) and I moved on to talking about my love life and other insecurities. What had started as grief counseling ended up lasting for three years. I felt ready to manage things on my own again, and did pretty well for a while.   

Then 2020 happened. A trip to the grocery store suddenly became a trigger for my anxiety. I have had almost no breaks from my kids for months. The pandemic was stressful enough, but then came the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor. Reading the news made me angry but I couldn’t stop doomscrolling. Everywhere I looked (including the mirror) I saw outrage and fear. It was all just too much. So I went back to therapy, but this time I was intentional about working with a specific kind of therapist: a Black, Christian woman. 

My new therapist and I talk about my marriage, stress levels, and coping strategies—typical therapy stuff. But we also talk about racial issues in a way that I never did with my white therapists. I am naturally more comfortable talking about race with her because of our shared background. When we talk about how to respond to racist comments, she speaks from both her expertise and her personal experiences. I don’t worry about offending her when I express frustration at how conversations about racial justice are going at my majority white church. When I’m anxious, she reminds me to slow my breathing and write in my journal, but she also reminds me to pray. Recently, I admitted to her with some embarrassment that I have always felt insecure about my hair. My therapist not only affirmed my natural hair, but also gave me practical tips about how to style it. 

That is the kind of healing work that can be done with a Black therapist. So many of us carry scars and baggage from racism. Many of us live or work in mostly white spaces where we face ignorance, marginalization, and isolation. Even within a caring Black community, there may be times when we struggle with helping each other because of our individual lack of emotional resources. As I discovered years ago, when a community is in pain sometimes there is not enough strength to go around. Whatever your situation, I encourage you to seek out a Black therapist. Therapy works best when you feel safe. It requires trust and vulnerability. I am a work in progress, but I have already seen the healing that is possible by working with a Black therapist.

I recognize there are still stigmas surrounding mental health, but I believe that therapy is for everyone—and not just as a last resort for when you hit rock bottom. A counselor or therapist is a person who will walk alongside you. If you are struggling with pain, loss, anger, stress, fear, and trauma because of racism and white supremacy, talking with a Black therapist could be a vital step you can take today towards healing yourself.  

I’ve seen a lot of ink spilled about the importance of centering Black voices and experiences. Therapy centers your Black voice and your Black experiences. You deserve that. You deserve a chance to heal.