Updated: Feb 21, 2021
Finding the right therapist is an arduous task at the best of times. It can often take meeting two or three (maybe even more) before settling on someone who we think may be the right fit for us. This is made even harden for clients who identify as members of a minority community. The vast majority of therapists in the UK are white, middle-aged women, which can make finding the right therapist for members of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) communities, and members of other minorities, even more difficult.
Members of BIPOC communities are more likely to experience mental ill-health, but are still less likely to access therapy than their white peers. These greater levels of mental ill-health are caused in part by exposure to racism and anticipation of racism, both of which are linked with depression and anxiety, and can also contribute to poor self-esteem. This is because members of BIPOC communities experience greater social and economic disadvantages, financial hardship and stigma than their white counterparts. This adds to the barriers to accessing mental health resources for BIPOC clients.
Once BIPOC clients have found a therapist, they then have the potential worry of having to face racism and racial bias in healthcare provision, cultural barriers between them and their therapist and microaggressions in the therapy process. It's no wonder that only 1 in 10 people surveyed felt that their cultural needs were taken into account when offered psychological therapies. Ironically, 75% of surveyed mental health professionals believed that their services did meet the cultural needs of BIPOC clients, which shows just how in denial the mental health sector is about cultural awareness.
You have the right to find someone who is able to help you explore how institutionalised racism has impacted your experiences in life (if that is what you wish to explore). Your therapeutic space should be all about you - you shouldn't need to make space for your therapist's own unprocessed guilt or shame around institutionalised racism. You shouldn't leave feeling gaslit, or like you had to justify your experiences, or educate the therapist. As people of colour we do enough of that outside of the therapy space.
It's true that having a BIPOC therapist won't mean you have had the same life experiences - my experience growing up as a half-Thai-half English second generation immigrant will be vastly different to someone else's. But it does mean your therapist will probably have their own lived experience of racism, meaning you won't have to defend your own experiences to them.
Racial matching isn't necessary for the provision of a positive therapeutic relationship - if it was, the situation would be pretty bleak for BIPOC clients, given that there is still such a small proportion of BIPOC therapists in the UK. It is, however, helpful to have a therapist who is culturally aware, and will be able to affirm your experiences. Below are nine questions you may wish to ask your therapist, or potential therapist, to see if they be the right therapist for you.
9 Questions to Ask Your Therapist to Make Sure They Are A Culturally Aware Therapist
Do they understand how being BIPOC in white spaces has impacted my experiences?
How open and authentic can the therapist be about issues regarding difference?
Does the therapist have an awareness of my ongoing practical struggles outside the therapeutic space?
What are their experiences working with members of the BIPOC community?
Can they validate and affirm my experiences?
Will I have to educate them or censor myself around them?
Will I need to make space for their white guilt or shame?
Do they do their own work outside of my therapy space?
Are they able to provide a safe space for me?
Organisations that Provide Support for BIPOC women
Amina: The Muslim Women’s Resource Centre
Amina provide a range of services to Muslim women across Scotland, including employability support, befriending, and refugee support.
Helpline: 0808 801 0301
The Multicultural Family Base
MCFB offer a range of services and projects including group and one to one support for BIPOC families, parents and children.
Saheliya offer specialist mental health and wellbeing support to BIPOC women in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Phone number: 0131 556 9302
Shakti Women’s Aid
Shakti offers emotional and practical support to BIPOC women and children who have experienced domestic or intimate partner violence.
Phone number: 0131 475 2399