“Black people don’t do therapy; we go to church” is a statement I’d heard countless times in my community. We didn’t discuss mental health so much in my family either. And when the concept of therapy did come up, it was doubly dismissed as a privilege purely for the rich, and something only white folks did. But after I suffered from insomnia and anxiety for more than five years, my friends started suggesting I find a therapist. It never crossed my mind that racial dynamics would play a part in this treatment—but then they did.
I am a black gay woman in an interracial relationship. I have survived sexual assault. Knowing I wouldn’t want to explore this with a man, I looked for a female therapist and by chance ended up with a woman of color. Our shared experiences as marginalized people made me feel safe, understood, and validated. She understood how the subtle nuances of my oppression impact all aspects of my life, including my mental health. She understood racial income disparities (the Economic Policy Institute reported in 2017 that black women would have to work seven additional months to make as much as white men do in a year, for example), and she took that into account when suggesting coping mechanisms (holistic treatments, classes, and even medication can be expensive and out of reach). Her language was inclusive, empathetic, and intersectional, and it helped me immensely.
A few years later, my partner and I moved to her hometown of Atlanta. Having to live in a state where the majority of the people voted for Donald Trump—who emboldens racists with his dog-whistle rhetoric and whose policies further marginalize people of color—heightened my anxiety. Georgia also doesn’t have legal protections for LGBTQ residents in the workplace, and “religious freedom” legislation essentially creates loopholes for this kind discrimination. Simply existing in this place, at this time, was triggering, and I needed to resume therapy.