Support. Going to therapy is an incredibly vulnerable experience. You are trusting your inner most thoughts and feelings to a professional who is not a friend or family member. For Black males, this experience is compounded by the expectations for their racialized masculinity and the inherent mistrust they might have about the process and outcomes of therapy. To effectively encourage Black males to go to therapy actively support their decision to seek help through your words and actions. As appropriate ask how therapy is going. Offer a ride to and from therapy if needed. Be available to process a challenging thought or topic that came up during therapy. Be an accountability partner for any homework or tasks that have been assigned. And provide consistent reminders that they have made the right choice to seek out help.
Involve. Many Black males who receive treatment for mental health issues are engaging because they were requested or mandated to participate. The requests usually come from a concerned loved one or friend who leverages the strength of their relationship with the Black male to convince him to attend therapy. Mandates for treatment participation usually stem from institutional involvement with psychiatric facilitates or the criminal justice system. When individuals are forced or coerced to engage in therapy, they are more likely to be less open, have poorer attendance, and to benefit less from the therapy process. To effectively encourage more Black males to go to therapy we must involve them in the process as a collaborative effort. Greater collaboration will contribute to better attendance, therapeutic process, and healing outcomes.
Normalize. Although comparatively small, there more Black males attending therapy than ever before. In the media, we are constantly seeing examples of prominent Black males opening up about their experience in therapy and how it has been helpful to their identity development, relationships, and emotional health. Furthermore, from barbershops to churches, Black males are being exposed to and educated about the process of therapy. To effectively encourage Black males to go to therapy, we must let Black males know that they are not the only ones who have struggled emotionally or relationally and that there are individuals out there just like them who go to therapy. These Black males are not ridiculed, ostracized or thought of as less than for seeking the help they need. Black males do go and benefit from therapy.
Acknowledge. Society does not give Black males much permission to engage in emotional expression or to experience significant vulnerability. When permission is given, it comes with the caveat that the Black male will limit his emotional expression to anger and his coping strategies for vulnerability to aggression. Having to work within these parameters creates a situation of inaccessibility for Black males to pursue therapy services and to engage in the very hard work of developing a trusting and vulnerable relationship with a mental health professional. To effectively encourage Black males to go to therapy, we must explicitly acknowledge that this dynamic exists. Additionally, we must name the tension that they might feel between being adhering to societal expectations for their racialized masculinity and processing challenging emotions, behaviors, and relationships.