July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month: An Interview With a Culturally Competent Therapist.
by, Lexi Zipkin
(Synergy eTherapy Summer Intern. Tulane College Student. Future Therapist. )
July is Minority Mental Health Awareness Month.
While mental illnesses affect people of every background, minorities are more likely to experience difficulties accessing effective mental health treatment.
The term “minority” often refers to race, ethnicity, and culture, but it also includes other marginalized groups involving religion, sexual orientation, and more.
I got the inside scoop on the importance of Minority Mental Health Awareness Month by interviewing an incredible clinician, Moraya Seeger DeGeare. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist with many years of experience providing culturally competent psychotherapy. Moraya’s own background, including her racial and cultural identity, has played a role in her experience of becoming a clinician.
She grew up in an activist family in New York and was trained by Planned Parenthood as a peer counselor throughout middle school and high school. Moraya received an undergraduate degree in psychology, but she truly knew she wanted to become a therapist after she lost a close friend to suicide. Moraya comes from a mixed-race family. Her dad is African American, her mom is Caucasian and Japanese, and her husband is also mixed.
Moraya uses her own knowledge of both the highs and lows this type of family can bring to relate to her patients and provide guidance that is culturally pertinent.
Going through life with your guard up makes it incredibly difficult to tear it down.
Obstacles for Minorities.
There are many obstacles that minorities (including POC, LGBTQ, deaf, etc.) face when it comes to accessing mental health treatment. One of the biggest barriers, according to Moraya, is the actual idea of doing therapy.
There may be a cultural component ingrained in minority families in which they’re not supposed to talk about their business to other people, and the thought of opening up to someone who probably won’t understand them does not sound enticing. I asked Moraya about some of the differences she’s noticed among her patients who either are or are not from a minority background, and her response literally gave me chills.
A recent experience she had exemplified the idea that minorities don’t always speak up about their issues even though it’s okay. Moraya said that women of color especially feel that they “shouldn’t take up more space than they need to,” and this statement referred to a client who experienced trauma over the weekend but didn’t want to bother Moraya about it. Moraya further explained that this mentality could be due to abuse, trauma, or racism experienced during childhood. Going through life with your guard up makes it incredibly difficult to tear it down.
To ensure that minorities have equal access to quality mental health care, Moraya highlighted the importance of having culturally attuned therapists and medical providers. Extensive training about anti-racism and understanding microaggressions is imperative so clinicians can better understand their patients. It’s also necessary for clinicians to hold themselves and each other accountable for doing the research and remaining open to having the difficult conversations that dig into the issues around race. Another crucial step toward equal access to quality mental health care is more funding, accessibility, and advocacy work needed at the government level.
No matter your race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or any other category you may fall into, everyone deserves equal access to quality mental health care. Minority Mental Health Awareness Month is a time for us to recognize some of the barriers to obtaining access and discuss how we can overcome these obstacles. Moraya Seeger DeGeare taught me so much as she gave me a glimpse into her world, and I hope I was able to relay the importance of this conversation.
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