A number of new organizations aim to digitally connect patients with mental health providers who value and understand different cultures.
By Christina Caron | New York Times
July 16, 2021, 12:30 p.m. ET
Several years ago, while Charmain Jackman was going through a rough patch in her marriage, she started looking for a Black, female therapist. At the time, she said, she was desperate to find someone who would understand who she was, as a Black woman.
“I wanted to come in fully as myself and not worry, ‘Is this person going to get it? Am I going to have to explain everything?’” she said.
But even Dr. Jackman, a psychologist from Massachusetts with decades of experience, kept running into roadblocks. Her insurance carrier did not offer demographic data on any of her in-network providers. A search on Psychology Today, one of the most commonly used internet directories of mental health professionals, was returning results that did not include women of color. And, at the time, the website Therapy for Black Girls only had a couple of therapists in her state who took her insurance.
“So,” she said, “I decided I would create the site that I would want to use.”
In recent years there has been an expanding number of digital companies and nonprofits created to help people of color find a therapist they can trust — someone who is not only skilled in the best evidence-based treatments, but also culturally competent. In other words, a provider who is aware of their own world views, knowledgeable about diversity and trained to connect with different types of clients.
The founders of these organizations say there has always been a need for such services, and even more so now that people are coping with the stressors of the pandemic and the racial reckoning that followed the killing of George Floyd by the Minneapolis police.
Studies have shown that mental health treatments can be more effective when a client feels that their therapist values culture.
“What we’re speaking to with cultural competence is not how much do you know about individual cultures, it is more how do you show up in any space in a way that allows other people to feel welcome, to feel heard and to feel understood,” said Alfiee M. Breland-Noble, a psychologist in Arlington, Va., who has taught cultural competence and multicultural counseling skills to mental health professionals for more than two decades.
Dr. Jackman’s website, InnoPsych, which officially went live in January of last year, has a free, searchable directory of potential therapists. Users can filter providers by several categories, including their state; the type of insurance accepted; and the therapist’s availability, ethnicity and specialty.
The list of therapists — all of whom are people of color — nearly numbers 450, and keeps growing.
“Our goal is to feature 2,021 therapists of color in 2021,” she said.
Other organizations go a step further and help patients set up therapy appointments. The nonprofit Black Men Heal, for example, offers up to eight free online counseling sessions. About 70 percent of clients choose to pay for additional sessions, said the executive director, Tasnim Sulaiman, a psychotherapist in private practice in the Philadelphia area who founded the organization in 2018.
It can be difficult for people of color to locate a therapist with a shared cultural background. According to the Census Bureau, about 18 percent of people in the United States identify as Hispanic and 13 percent as Black, but an American Psychological Association report found that only 5 percent of psychologists are Hispanic and 4 percent are Black — 86 percent are white. A similar disparity exists among the country’s social workers and psychiatrists.
Eric Coly, who formerly worked in finance, founded Ayana Therapy in 2020, about eight years after hitting “rock bottom” while facing anxiety and depression.
Back then, he struggled to find a therapist who could understand the intersection of his different identities as a Black man and an immigrant from Senegal who has lived in different parts of the world.
“This product was almost meant to heal my former self,” he said.