2023 is all about honesty, revelation and renewal. So let’s be real: the Black community has always had a contentious relationship with mental health and taking action to protect it. Though there are many origins of the taboo nature of this subject, there have been progressive strides to eliminate the negative connotation surrounding mental health in the past decade. Because of these initiatives, many have become more drawn to the benefits of therapy at the cornerstone of their respective mental health regimens.
Licensed therapist, mental health advocate and community leader Kier Gaines believes everyone can benefit from therapy no matter where they come from. The D.C. native and influencer has amassed a large following for his transparency regarding his personal mental health journey and finding balance as an entrepreneur, husband, father and human being. Attributing his respect for the value of preserving one’s mental health from his mother, it wasn’t until he stepped into fatherhood that he realized the importance of prioritizing his own.
Gaines took time to chat with EBONY on how to find the right therapist to fit one’s needs, and how we can take ownership in the conversation surrounding this topic in the Black community.
EBONY: What are some misconceptions that you feel people should let go of when thinking about therapy? And how can get they to a place where they can efficiently engage with it?
Kier Gaines: Something I think is important to let go of is the idea that once you engage in therapy, you’re transformed and completely different. The reality is that when you go to therapy, you get to see how slow the healing process can be. You’re not back to playing tennis the next day when you break your arm. Healing is a prolonged process, both physically and abstractly. So the idea that you’re supposed to go in and be instantly better is false as opposed to going in, unraveling some of the more complicated parts of your brain and experience, finding healthy ways to cope with them, and overcome them, learning the difference between when to fight what your brain is thinking aggressively and when to sit in silence and allow your thoughts to be. Those are things you learn in therapy, but not overnight. It doesn’t happen within one, two or even three weeks of engaging with a therapist.
I also hope people will let go of the idea that therapy is only for people who are mentally ill. You have to have an incredible amount of self-awareness or have the capacity to develop an incredible amount of self-awareness in order for therapy to really be effective for you. We have to let go of the idea that therapy is for weak people. One thing I wish folks knew is that everybody has a really funky concept of weakness. Sometimes you see a weak moment as an overall characterization of who you are instead of it being a season. Those things are just these gravitational principles that keep people from really engaging in the therapeutic process, especially minority folks. If we dispel that, I think a lot more people will find it helpful and beneficial.
People love to coin the “new year, new me” mindset. I think it’s okay to do, as the symbolism of a fresh start can be reinvigorating. For those wanting to take their mental health journey seriously in this new year, what rules of thumb should they consider when searching for a therapist that best fits their needs?
One thing that people can do is inform themselves about what therapy looks like and the different types of therapy available. Therapists are not all the same. One popular modality and probably the largest makeup of the way I approach therapy is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is very different from Cognitive Processing Therapy. Although the goal is to get you to the finish line, some therapy approaches may work better if you have something like bipolar disorder, PTSD, paranoid schizophrenia, alcoholism or recovering from an abusive relationship. Different therapy types help with certain life challenges a little bit better than others. So, I think it’s good to inform yourself on how each type works. The therapy space has been demystified tremendously over the years and there’s a lot of information online that’s truly accurate and easy to get to.
Additionally, I think another thing that you can do is start listening to friends that have sought therapy and found it effective. I think word of mouth is one of the more effective ways to find a therapist, too. It doesn’t guarantee that it’s going to be a square peg in a square hole because therapy is like any relationship. It’s not just the therapist’s ability but their personality that makes you feel comfortable. So once you’re there, you’ve got to ask yourself, “Do I feel safe with this person? Do I feel confident that this person can get me to my goals? Do I feel open to sharing with this person?” The level of security you feel with your therapist is going to depend on a myriad of things. Maybe you think you may work better with a Black woman because you share a similar experience, but in all actuality, there may be an Asian South Pacific man who’s a therapist that can hit the exact angle you need. There’s just a lot of nuance in therapy, so definitely do your research. Then, ask yourself those self-reflective questions. This will be largely helpful in shaping what you want your therapy experience to look like.
How do you believe we can continue to work with one another in our community to dispel negative stereotypes and have better conversations about mental health?
This topic is really close to my heart. I’ve been having a lot of conversations with my Black therapist friends and we ask each other this question all the time. The answer that pops up in my brain is that we must stop gatekeeping experiences. Because I love us, I’m going to be honest with us—we do this thing where we don’t share information freely. I don’t know why, but in the past, it has hurt us because we kept many very valuable family secrets that we shouldn’t have. I think a great deal of those behavioral patterns transition in other parts of the Black experience. We have to be honest about our healing journey. We have this reoccurring thought of “not sharing my blessings until they fully hatch.” Ultimately, what happens is that you become like this big, bright finished product and none of us get to learn from your experiences of when you fail, how you tried or when you weren’t your best.
I need us to start talking about our therapeutic experience. My therapist says something about therapeutic experiences being a shared journey. That’s how we learn. It’s the green book you share about your journey along the way and, in turn, you embolden other people to feel safe to share about their own. The best way to get somebody to take their mental health seriously is for them to see the light that shines in you that came from that experience. I think these are things that we’re already doing in our community so we need to continue doing a great job at that.