A Black Therapist in America


A Black Therapist in America

Speaking Out Against Learned Voicelessness

By Ken Hardy

July/August 2020


Editor’s Note: We were on our way to print with this issue when George Floyd was killed at the hands of police and the country surged in collective pain and protest. This article is excerpted from “The View from Black America” (November/December 2015, America’s Conversation about Race).

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I’ve spent the last four decades of my life working with young Black people who feel trapped in a wall-less prison, who live their lives hidden in the shadows of invisibility as far as white society is concerned. They know all too well that their daily experience—whether it’s going to underfunded schools, absorbing constant microaggressions, or being the victims of discrimination and police brutality—doesn’t matter unless it interferes with or disrupts the lives of the white mainstream. While deeply rooted in the racial fabric of our country’s history, life inside the wall-less prison remains a mostly untold story.

Black kids know perfectly well how they’re perceived by white society: they’re threatening thugs and future criminals who need to be contained by any means necessary. Isn’t this the prevailing sentiment that undergirds the…

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1 Comment

Monday, July 13, 2020 3:17:43 PM | posted by Dr. Cynthia Raines
Thank you Dr. Hardy for speaking about your personal and professional epiphany. When you wrote, "I was playing the role of the stoically detached professional, trying to be as impenetrable as possible.I was trying to be what I’d learned a good white clinician should be", my heart leaped as you described my exact emotional and professional experience! I am an African American woman, that too was educated and trained in primary White institutions during a time when cultural diversity classes were just being being made a required course for institutional credentialing. This requirement was met with much opposition from many of my White peers and professors who barely discussed racial context in mental health. Despite learning about how mental illness may present within a cultural context, I believe where these mandated classes missed the mark was;1) emphasizing a one size fits all approach to relating to our clients, thus ignoring cultural differences in the essential rapport building process, 2) neglecting to help clinicians really understand the impact of racial oppression on one's mental health and presenting concerns, 3) promoting the false notion that having an ample toolbox of "techniques" and strategies are sufficient enough to help cultural and racially diverse clients, and 4) neglecting to train clinicians to help victims of racial trauma. Without guidance and even acknowledgement of these issues, sadly many novice Black therapists left graduate school well educated and trained, but ill equipped to handle the very difficult racial and cultural dilemmas we would eventually face when treating members on our on community. Success as a clinician natural improves with time, experience, and mentoring. However, it was not until I met and was mentored by Dr. Nancy Boyd-Franklin, who encouraged me to be my authentic self in the therapy space, was when I began to see and experience greater ease, confidence, and treatment efficacy. I am unapologetically Black; I openly discuss racism, sexism, and all of the other "isms" that my clients experience; and I treat mental illness from the context of age, race, SES, and gender. Our clients are dealing with real struggles, dilemmas, set backs, and strong holds. Authenticity is the best gift we can give ourselves and our clients.