How Therapists Can Help BIPOC People Access Support

The underlying stigma attached to mental health is even more pronounced for black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), who often face mounting barriers to accessing support. These barriers come in the form of cultural differences, lack of access to resources, and discrimination from mental health providers.

But while mental health access can be much more difficult for BIPOC people, we can all work together to recognize and address this challenge. Here are some questions therapists can consider, affirming these clients and making sure services are as accessible as possible.

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How To Be a Culturally Responsive Therapist

Culturally responsive therapy is one of the most significant ways you can support clients who are BIPOC. At its most basic level, culturally responsive therapy is the intentional decision to see, respect, and celebrate the aspects that make clients unique. It’s accepting the responsibility to implement culturally appropriate clinical skills when working with the client. 

Culturally Responsive Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Is your practice tolerant, inclusive, and integrative?
  2. What is your experience treating BIPOC clients?
  3. How do you work with clients who have experienced racism or discrimination?
  4. What is your knowledge of the safety risks and considerations related to BIPOC identities?
  5. What resources/trainings do you use to remain current with BIPOC issues both locally and nationally? 
  6. What is your view on intersectionality, and how do you implement this in your practice?
  7. What is your view on generational trauma and how it relates to racism or racial violence?
  8. How do you help BIPOC clients navigate trauma related to systemic oppression?

How To Help Improve Access to Mental Health Care

Studies show that BIPOC people experience relatively similar rates of mental illness as white people, yet they face glaring disparities in accessing mental health support. Therapists, counselors, and other mental health professionals are essential to promoting the mental health of BIPOC people and addressing the systemic discrepancies in the quality of and access to care for these individuals.

Access Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. What have you done to identify and current the lack of inclusiveness in your practice?
  2. What strategies do you utilize to create an intentionally inclusive environment for BIPOC clients?
  3. Can you offer services on a sliding scale?
  4. Can you take on a few low-fee or free clients that could benefit from your services but can’t afford them?
  5. Do you offer telemental health services/teletherapy?
  6. Do you provide free consultations?
  7. Can you offer free workshops that could reach those who may not be able to afford regular sessions?
  8. How can you utilize social platforms to provide free resources to BIPOC people?

How To Address Unconscious Discriminations and Biases as a Therapist

You’re a therapist, but you’re still human. This means you probably have ingrained attitudes that can cause unintended discrimination. Studies show that mental health care providers are more influenced by their unconscious biases than they realize. 

When these biases remain unchecked, they can impact your interactions with clients, leading to biased decision-making or invalidating your clients’ experiences.

Personal Bias and Discrimination Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. What is your racial/cultural background, and how does that impact your work as a therapist?
  2. How might your background and upbringing influence a BIPOC client’s perception of you or their ability to trust you?
  3. What are some of your common misconceptions about BIPOC people that could negatively affect a client during a session?
  4. How do you use an anti-racist lens in your practice?
  5. In what ways might you be committing microaggressions without realizing it?
  6. How do you communicate to BIPOC clients that you recognize the impact of racial trauma?
  7. How do you recognize and address differences between yourself and BIPOC clients?
  8. How do you invest the time and energy into understanding your own privilege?

Research has shown that a BIPOC client’s experience can be misinterpreted by a white therapist and lead to a potentially dangerous misdiagnosis. Use the questions above to acknowledge any unconscious biases you may hold and consider how your practice can help clients deal with systemic racism. 

Bridging the Mental Health Gap

Research tells us that BIPOC people have less access to mental health services compared to white people. As a result, these individuals are less likely to receive much-needed care. Furthermore, when they do receive care, it is often of poor quality. 

The effects of racism and racial trauma on mental health in BIPOC communities are real and cannot be ignored. As a therapist, you must understand the problematic past BIPOC communities have endured in healthcare systems to help close the mental health gap. In addition, maintaining an awareness of clients’ cultures is an essential aspect of providing the highest quality of care, particularly in therapeutic settings.

What Does This Look Like In Practice?

BIPOC clients often worry that therapists who don’t look like them or have different backgrounds will not understand their story or struggles. These clients might be reluctant to share their true feelings and experiences out of fear of judgment by their therapist. 

If you are treating BIPOC patients – particularly clients who have experienced racial discrimination – you must have a knowledge of the generational traumas, systemic disparities, and stigmas they’ve battled. 

Search out resources to help you better understand challenges that BIPOC clients might face, such as:

  • Micro-aggressions, discrimination, and racism
  • Socio-political injustices
  • Code switching
  • Economic and Health inequities
  • Police violence
  • Immigrant detentions and deportations
  • Interracial relationships
  • Workplace stress

Working Through a Culturally Informed Lens

When working with BIPOC clients, here are a few things you can do to engage with clients through a more culturally informed lens.

Put in the Work

Educate yourself about racism on personal, institutional, and societal levels and take courses on practicing anti-racist, culturally sensitive therapy. Ideally, you will learn these skills from BIPOC experts. You could also seek out a supervisor or mentor who is well-versed in culturally relevant training.

Get Comfortable Discussing Race with Clients

Broaching a racially-sensitive topic with a client – such as a recent current event involving police violence – can be uncomfortable. Make race a normal subject of conversation with your clients so you can reduce feelings of awkwardness and build a better rapport with them. If a client doesn’t want to talk about race, respect their decision and move on. It’s still important that you as a therapist recognize how BIPOC could perceive that there is systemic racism and be sensitive, validating their feelings.

Accept That You Will Make Mistakes

If you catch yourself unintentionally making a culturally insensitive comment, acknowledge it. If a client calls you out for doing so, thank them and apologize. You will make mistakes. Knowing how to repair the relationship after a misstep is just as important as learning how to avoid one. For example, it may be helpful that you and your client process together what happened and how it hurt your client. 

Helping BIPOC people access support means being prepared to talk about race and cultural differences, even when it’s challenging. Your clients’ well-being will be worth the effort.

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