How Can Therapists Prepare to Treat People of Color?

We have seen the disproportionate impact of the pandemic and the persistent police brutality against African Americans. It has led to a significant increase in people of color seeking therapy.

Mental health and psychological problems are more frequent in people of color, and they are less likely to get help.

The long-lasting history of unfair treatment involving African Americans and ethnic minorities is the prime reason for the lack of trust in the health and medical establishments. Discrimination and lack of health care facilities have spiked anxiety, fear, and depression in African Americans.

But, it is difficult for them to find the treatment they need. People of color rarely find therapists who could genuinely empathize with them and understand the cultural racism that they face, even today.

Now is the time for therapists and psychologists to work with and help people of different backgrounds, cultures, ethnicity, and customs.

These are some of the ways you could prepare yourself to treat people of color.

Learn about different cultures

As per the American Psychological Association's Race and Ethnicity Guidelines, therapists and psychologists must be receptive to varying cultures and ethnicity. One must ensure awareness, maintain knowledge, and address injustice and disproportions.

You learn so much about different mental health conditions and diagnoses. So why not learn about cultural differences, customs, LGBTQ identities, poverty, and immigration? A therapist must be culturally informed.

More than 80% of mental healthcare providers are White, so it is highly likely that people of color would seek therapy from them. Naturally, it is the "White" therapist's responsibility to learn and know about how cultural differences and racism based trauma affects the mental health of people of color.

Reflect on your biases

We all are biased. But, sooner therapists accept and acknowledge their biases, more authentic and genuine will be the therapy. Knowing where you stand in the socio-cultural hierarchy is important.

If therapists for people of color have unacknowledged prejudice and feelings of guilt or shame, their reaction to the client could be complicated. How do your values, norms, and beliefs about your own identity influence your behavior?

Therapists working with African American clients ought to make an effort to reflect on themselves and get a deeper understanding of their culture. Without which you could misread your client's experiences and distress.

Address cultural differences

Understanding your place in the community and the cultural differences between you and your client will strengthen the therapist-patient relationship.

You do not want your clients to tell you that you misunderstand their situation. It will lead to self-doubt, and they will see through it. You need to be aware of and understand what people of color experience daily.

The reluctance of African-Americans to engage in therapy is valid. After all, people of color want to get help from someone who understands them.

Education and training

"Multiculturalism" must be an integral part of the psychology curriculum. It is crucial to teach multiculturalism as a learning opportunity rather than a set of policies.

Psychologists must be self-aware, self-reflect, develop cultural openness, and continue learning about issues of race, ethnicity, and cultures.

Training and lectures provided therapists and psychologists of color, and participation in peer reviews could help combat bias.

Get Involved

Therapists could fight prejudice and discrimination rooted in healthcare organizations. It is important to consider clients in their social circumstances.

For example, if you are a therapist at a school, and you notice excessive and unreasonable suspensions of black students, you could choose to talk to those particular students individually. However, it will not help much unless you intervene and take the issue to the school administration.

Diversify your practice

How is your practice set up? Do you have staff from different backgrounds?

A diverse group of people working at your office would make your clients feel more comfortable. If you wish to know how your practice can be more responsive to the ethnic minorities, then you could consider contracting with therapists of color.

Be flexible

African Americans and other ethnic minorities face significant healthcare disparities, and many do not even have health insurance.

Also, factors such as uncertain work schedules, transportation issues, and caregiving responsibilities can be challenging for people of ethnic minorities.

Therapists could consider providing teletherapy services. You could also consider reducing the charges or give a sliding scale discount for those who are unable to afford therapy.

Related: How Therapists Can Help Clients With Financial Problems During COVID-19


Differences in culture and race will influence assessments. Often data and information collected from ethnic minorities are compared with that of a white control group. Such comparative studies further bolster the notion that "white is the norm."

Research conducted with regards to race and ethnicity lacks precision. For example, there is a difference in the experiences of "African Americans" born in the U.S. and the "Black" immigrants.

It is not as simple as collecting data and acting based on that data. Therapists who work with ethnic minorities must acknowledge the historical exploitation they have faced. How therapists interpret the psychological assessments and tests will dictate the success of the therapy and their ability to empathize with people of color.

Therapists must embrace sound strategies to develop racial responsiveness. You could promote the mental wellbeing of ethnic minorities and people of color.

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