The Break Room : Therapy (March 11, 2021)

This is the podcast adaptation of the fifth episode of The Break Room! This one’s all about therapy. Part of the Living Corporate network, The Break Room is focused on mental health, wellness and healing for Black folks at work. You can expect real talk from real experts about the real ways Black folks can protect and heal themselves from racialized trauma at work. Catch a new episode every Thursday at 7PM Central! (Note: The Break Room is currently between seasons. Catch up while you can!)

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Dr. LaWanda (00:22): Welcome.

Dr. Nikki (00:25): And if you are joining us for the first time, we will remind you that we are excited and privileged to be a part of this web show and podcast, The Break Room, which is focused on the mental health needs for Black and brown folks in the world of work. And that’s really where we sort of center a lot of our time and conversation. And we’re here to not only give you information about topics, but also to make sure we answer questions for very specific things that you have going on. So, I’ll introduce myself and then kick it over to my cohost. I am Dr. Nikki Coleman. I am a licensed psychologist here in the state of Texas. I have been licensed, I need to do the math, I think it’s like 18 years. It’s a random number. I’ve been a licensed psychologist for about 18 years and I have a private practice here in Houston. And we’re going to spend our time today talking about therapy. What is it? What isn’t it? Why Black folks should be going? How to go about finding the right therapist for you and all those sort of really important nuggets. So, yes.

Dr. LaWanda (01:35): Yes. I’m excited. I think this is a very important topic and it’s very timely, especially as we are coming up on, I think today, actually a year of the pandemic. So, it is very important to talk about the impact of that and navigating that with therapy. But before we hop in, I am Dr. LaWanda Hill, y’all. She/her pronouns. I am also a licensed psychologist in the state of Texas, as well as in the state of California. I’m a consultant, [?] and I have been practicing probably maybe four years as a licensed psychologist. And so I’m excited to have this conversation and make it fun and jovial, but also touch on some really serious things that we need as Black folks navigating how to find a therapist. So I’m excited about the conversation, and we hope that you all will drop your comments and your questions in the comments so that we can make certain that we answered them to the best of our ability.

Dr. Nikki (02:28): Absolutely. So, if you’re new to The Break Room, let us give you a little overview of our structure and format. While we have a specific topic that we focus on every week, we always start with “What’s the tea?” So, we will get into that. I’m interested to see because this week, Dr. LaWanda is responsible for the tea. And then the other bookend is sort of our opportunity to rant and be free and we call it The Last Nerve. I had the privilege, The Last Nerve, when I tell you it’s so freeing, I had the privilege of doing The Last Nerve last week. So this week The Last Nerve goes to Dr. LaWanda. I’m excited to hear what tea we’re sipping on this week. I only have filtered water, but I’m going to pretend it’s tea.

Dr. LaWanda (03:06): It’s a mystery of what’s in my cup.

Dr. Nikki (03:06): Yes. You’re a mysterious woman.

Dr. LaWanda (03:20): So let me start you all off with this tea. So, today’s tea of course made headlines. I’m going to be talking about the fact that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry sat down with the one and only Oprah Winfrey, and of course they talked everything, their experience, the racism, what it was like being a part of this organization and being in this tough space. I went to Black Twitter, because Black Twitter is where the streets are and I like it. So I went to Black Twitter, and I want to post this to you, Dr. Nikki, because I think it’ll be interesting to discuss. So, there are a number of different reactions. People are saying, “Wow, Meghan in her interview expressed suicidal ideation and of course [was] having a very difficult time.” She expressed not feeling the support she needed. And so, people are feeling very empathetic about that and feeling like, “Wow, that’s terrible.” And this other range of reactions of people are like, the British monarchy being racist, they being anti-Black, Prince Harry is naive to think that just because he loved a Black woman and he now has a Black child or a biracial child, or he loved a biracial woman, that that was going to change. And so, welcome to everybody else’s world and problem, and feel like he is still trying to defend this very institution that is prepared to let him die. Because they did cut financial ties. He shared that without his mom’s inheritance, without Princess Diana’s money that she left, that he would not be okay. And for Tyler Perry who put them up for I don’t know how long, maybe three months. So, there’s a number of different reactions. And so, this tea is kind of like, all right, we know what’s going on over there with the Brits, but also when did you all expect? It’s kind of like a mix of sentiment. So I have a number of different reactions to it. What do you think about it? And what do you all think about it? For those of you who did see the interview before we dive into tonight’s topic. Because I think it relates, as she talked about her struggle with mental health and that kind of thing. So what do you think?

Dr. Nikki (05:33): I think both things can be true. One thing that I don’t like about Black Twitter is it constantly tries to create like these really stark dichotomies or like these really false boundaries of reality. Something is or isn’t, and there’s a lot of nuance and gray area in the world. And so, this is sort of the way that I think about it. Yes, I wake up and realize as a Black woman in this country, I’m going to experience racism on a regular basis. Even though I live in a lot of privilege, I live in a lot of social class privilege. I have cisgender privilege. I have heterosexual privilege. I’m well-educated. I have credentials that bring a sort of prestige that comes along with that. So, the structures that I’ve been able to interact with as a Black person around racism, sexism don’t impact me daily in that way.

Dr. LaWanda (06:25): That’s good.

Dr. Nikki (06:27): That doesn’t mean that I don’t still experience racism. I’m not like automatically absolved for all of those things.

Dr. LaWanda (06:32): Just because I have this privilege.

Dr. Nikki (06:35): I mean, the fact that I could be driving down the street, I drive a Nissan Rogue, a very classic middle-class mom car and I’m just a Black woman. And I can still encounter sort of interpersonal racism. And I get microaggressed just like everybody else. So what am I supposed to do? Go someplace on the planet where I don’t experience that because I already know what it is?

Dr. LaWanda (07:00): Right.

Dr. Nikki (07:00): You can’t escape it. And so, I heard the part–I didn’t watch the interview in its entirety, but I heard her say she went into it naively. And I think you could look at that and say, “Well, you get what you get.” But I also think I don’t know that there’s any experience in life that could prepare you for that.

Dr. LaWanda (07:21): That’s real.

Dr. Nikki (07:21): But I’m an American. I don’t even fully get why folks are like, “You don’t speak against the queen.” I mean, I hear them intellectually, but what’s that? Is it an embodied experience? I don’t have that. So I don’t know that she could have been prepared. And then it’s also a very different thing to be in it and living it every day. And none of us know what that feels like or we’ll ever know. I remember when everything was coming out about them dating and getting engaged… So my daughter is bi-racial. Her daddy is Mexican, he’s light-skinned. He has, like, European ancestry. And so my daughter is fairly light-skinned, and I remember when everything came out with Meghan and Harry, one of my cousins was like, “I just think that could be your daughter.” Like, “I think that could be her,” and I was like, “Why would you wish that on my child? I think you think that you are complimenting us though.”

Dr. LaWanda (08:23): But that is not it.

Dr. Nikki (08:23): And so they hear–Meghan even referred to it as the institution. We don’t know what that’s like.

Dr. LaWanda (08:30): Yes.

Dr. Nikki (08:31): And if we could have Black folks–so we’re going to connect it to our topic here. If we have Black folks that are in the corporate world of whatever sort of professional context you’re in, in medical schools and medical corporations or in academia, and you start to get up the ladder, you’ll experience insidious racism day in and day out. And that takes a toll on them psychologically. It creates burnout, all of those things. So don’t be so hard on sis.

Dr. LaWanda (09:06): You know what, that’s fair and I appreciate that. On the one hand, it’s like, yes, because some people are like, the naivety and the privilege of not having to experience anti-Black racism on a day to day basis, that this was just such a big experience for you. Some people have some reactions to that of like, “Welcome to our world,” and I saw this post that said colorism is what got her there and anti-Black racism is what ultimately pushed her out. Very fair and accurate of, like, the colorism and your complexion and your experiences and the way you move through the world is what allowed you to marry into this. Anti-Blackness is what ultimately pushed you out of it. And also at the same time, because I believe in both ends, at the same time, nothing could prepare you for what you experienced. And definitely I have empathy for the psychological impact that I heard her talk about. That is very jarring, and she speaks about being in a dark place and telling her husband, like, “I’m afraid to be left alone all by myself,” and then they kind of steered into this image of her with him and she was like, “You will see [me?] holding his hand tight, because it’s like I’m just barely holding on.” I think it’s nuanced and I think it’s complex, and I really appreciate that perspective, because it doesn’t have to be this dichotomy of know what you’re walking into or don’t, but there’s a level of privilege that I think contributed to her naivety and then when she got in, it really just opened both of her eyes.

Dr. Nikki (10:36): Yes. We can get into this in terms of our conversation about therapy. But sometimes I feel like Black folks in America, and I believe in my understanding around the differences between institutionalized racism in this country and colonialism in other parts of the diaspora, we understand white folks and whiteness and racism in a different way than other places. It’s almost like we’ve been in the house with racism this whole time versus colonialism where they live on the block. Like we see them, but they aren’t in the house.

Dr. LaWanda (11:21): Every day.

Dr. Nikki (11:22): Every day. So we have a different sort of intimacy with white racism in a way that maybe other folks don’t. And so my point that I want to make here is that because of that, I think sometimes Black folks have developed, like, a brittleness around our ability to react to racism.

Dr. Nikki (11:41): Like, if you’re constantly hit with it all the time, you really sort of, like that James Baldwin quote, “To be a Black man aware of racism is to live in a constant state of rage.” And so I think we develop like this callousness around it that shows up sometimes in that way of, like, “You knew what it was.” And it was really fucked up.

Dr. LaWanda (12:06): Yes. That’s real.

Dr. Nikki (12:07): Yes. I think there is where some of the role of therapy comes in. To help you sort of process through, navigate, understand how the experience of living in racism impacts you as a Black person specifically, and we can talk about people of color and how it affects them in different ways.

Dr. LaWanda (12:29): So, let’s dive into it. I mean, that tea was relevant because her mental health, the impact of it and just Black folks moving through the world impacted by racism has its own level of story to it that I think is worthy of us really diving into it. Especially as it relates to us thinking about pursuing therapy. What is it? Who are misusing it? Who are not? What can you expect? What can you not expect? So, let’s dive into it, Dr. Nikki. But what exactly is therapy?

Dr. Nikki (12:56): What is therapy? And Black folks go to therapy, right?

Dr. LaWanda (13:00): Yes.

Dr. Nikki (13:01): Let’s remember that. So therapy is a professional… I’m pausing on that part. Professional, objective relationship that you develop with a trained mental health professional that creates a safe space for you to bravely engage with internal, mental wellbeing, internal challenges to your psychological health, whether that be the impact of things that happened in your past on your present, or helping you really cope through and navigate your present experience. Sometimes therapy is a combination of those. But the idea fundamentally is recognizing that we as human beings are healed through our ability to connect with another human being through the process of talk therapy. That’s what therapy is in a big picture. What makes therapy different than… Let me just run down the list of all the things I’ve heard Black folks say. Well, I just talked to you because you’re easy to talk to.” Well, you’re already training with the school, so I can’t just talk to you about it.”

Dr. LaWanda (14:16): Right.

Dr. Nikki (14:16): You can’t just be my therapist.” Well, I talked to the pastor about it.” Well, I’m being honest, I think I had a good conversation with my barber, with my hairdresser. I feel good.” I have a friend who is a life coach, and so I just work it out with her.” These are all the things that I hear people say, and while all of those things may be affirming, while they may be validating, while they may help continue to contribute to your overall sense of well-being, none of them are therapy, and I am a firm believer that there is no substitute for good therapy. And I’m going to talk about good therapy versus bad therapy in a second, but there’s a very specific sort of healing that comes through the experience of having a therapist that is able to meet you where you are culturally, and often times for Black folks, that means our ability to fully either understand or empathize deeply with our experiences around systemic, cultural and individual racism and who is able to help you see yourself in a nonjudgmental, yet accountable light. And I think the biggest difference between therapy and those other sort of spaces that we might get help in is that piece around objectivity and accountability.

Dr. LaWanda (15:41): Say more about that. And I think that that kind of leads into a little bit about the different types of mental health professionals, because there are. When we start thinking about therapy as a distinct relationship between professionals that has a level of objectivity, right?

Dr. Nikki (15:57): Yes.

Dr. LaWanda (15:57): Objectivity, I’m just going to say more about that.

Dr. Nikki (16:01): Absolutely.

Dr. LaWanda (16:04): It’s hard. And this is what comes up all the time. As a psychologist, I’ll have friends, family members like, Oh, why can’t you be my therapist? Why can’t we talk through it? Why can’t we do whatever? Number one is it’s unethical. We can’t have a dual relationship. I cannot be a therapist to a person I’m in a relationship with, friends with, or even, like, one person removed. But for this very reason, you lose objectivity. There are some things that I am able to objectively say to a person who is not my friend, who is not my mentor, who is not my family member, that I cannot, because I’m clouded by emotions. I’m claiming a vulnerable interpersonal relationship, and that’s not to say that’s not the case in therapy because we certainly do have vulnerable relationships with our clients, but it’s different. And the objectivity is blurred once you cross that line and that boundary. And so I think that a lot of times I hear that and I see it come up with like, Well, why can’t just my barber be the person?Or “My dad can be the person, or my mom be the person,” but the objectivity is kind of lost. Taraji P. Henson has a show or she had a talk show on mental health, it’s called Peace of Mind with Taraji, and she said the first time she went to a therapist she thought she was going to be just talking to her therapist like she was talking to her girlfriends. She realized her therapist was like, Hey, pause, let me objectively reflect back to you what I heard.”

Dr. Nikki (17:29): Right.

Dr. LaWanda (17:29): See, your girlfriends or your friends or your family members go by Well, I could see how you weren’t that wrong,” or I can understand.” So you lose a level of objectivity and something that’s very critical, not critical and harsh, but critical in terms of that, it can be…

Dr. Nikki (17:45): Essential. Essential.

Dr. LaWanda (17:46): Yes. Essential when you have it. So, I think that’s an important distinction. Same thing with pastoral relationships. There’s still a level of objectivity that’s impaired there just because of the nature of the relationship, and I think that we don’t talk enough about that. So, I wanted to really highlight that.

Dr. Nikki (18:03): Yes. I think that’s so critical. So I’ll just use an example from recently. A client that I have been working with for a couple months and the session before our most recent session we had to have that sort of accountability piece. “I hear you saying this. I hear you saying that. We’ve talked about this. We’ve talked about that. Where’s the disconnect?”

Dr. LaWanda (18:30): Yes.

Dr. Nikki (18:30): “What is getting in the way of you actually doing these things that you say you know are good for you and that you’ve agreed to working on? But you’re not doing them.” And so, we had a followup to say, “What was that like for you?” Her response was like, “Yes, I was salty, I didn’t want hear it.”

Dr. LaWanda (18:52): There you go. Now I know I’ve done my job. If you’re salty, now I know. Because what’s the difference, right? Your girlfriend may be thinking it, or your parent may be thinking it, or your friend may be thinking it, but they’re not going to always hold you accountable and ask the question in a way in which you can hear it.

Dr. Nikki (19:08): Yes.

Dr. LaWanda (19:09): That’s is an element of therapy that I don’t think you get in other relationships. And when we do group therapy, which is another topic, I’ll tell people in group therapy, “This is the space where we’re going to give you feedback that other people don’t give you.” They just go away or they just self-select out of the relationship with you because they’re not giving you that feedback to hold you accountable. And so I think that in therapy those two pieces are very critical, that objectivity as well as that accountability.

Dr. Nikki (19:34): Yes. The other thing is, on the other side, “Can I just talk to you,” or “I just talk to my girlfriends,” what that does is it gives a different level of emotional labor to your friends. Right?

Dr. LaWanda (19:51): Right.

Dr. Nikki (19:53): So therapy is a dedicated 45 or 50 minutes once a week that you have for you and it’s all about you. That’s not the same as engaging with your friends, family, loved ones, partners, spouses, about things that are going on in your life. There’s always them and their needs. Beause it’s a relationship that is happening. And so why would you not give yourself that gift? To be able to have that time out for yourself, to be able to be with yourself, sit with yourself. Now, it doesn’t mean–so this is the accountability part–it does not mean that you just come to a place and vent. You mentioned Taraji. She just wants to say, Let me tell you this, and let me tell you that,and I can’t believe this.

Dr. LaWanda (20:40): Right, right.

Dr. Nikki (20:48): There is processing that happens. And that means that you need to often times ask yourself how loud those questions that come up for you in the quiet or in the dark are when you don’t want to deal with it. You’re actually pulling them out and looking at them and really sitting with those tough questions. And it also means sitting in your discomfort.

Dr. LaWanda (21:09): Yes. That part.

Dr. Nikki (21:10): It’s sitting in your emotional discomfort for the sake of experiencing it. It’s not saying that being emotionally uncomfortable is good or bad, it’s not saying that you should be crying or angry, it’s that you are a human being and in that process, you experience not just your thoughts, you’re not just a reaction, but you also have this whole emotional life, and therapy is one of the few places, especially in our societal context, where it is absolutely not just acceptable, but really a functional part of therapy for you to be in those emotions.

Dr. LaWanda (21:50): I mean, that’s a lot of information. In the rest of the world, in other relationships outside of the context of therapy, we are mostly inclined to not be uncomfortable. Nobody wants to be uncomfortable. It is just a fact of life. Nobody wants to be uncomfortable. So you’re going to shy away from that. Therapy is a space where you’re going to be invited to sit with that discomfort and sit with those emotions, because I firmly believe that emotions come to give us information if we would just pause to lean into them. Because we get kind of stuck in being in the discomfort, but once you get on the other side of it and you’ve actually leaned into it and the emotions have given you information, you’re like, Sis we’ve been here three or four times. There’s a pattern.” “There’s a pattern we’re seeing. It’s not the outcome that you want. This is very different from what you want to see in your life.” Now we’re getting somewhere. Now you have that time that’s just dedicated to you with the clinician, with the therapist, that’s now giving you insight about, I never can pause to think about it because I’ve been venting.” There’s been no accountability or there’s been no objectivity, but now we have these different elements that are coming together to give insight, to lead you to another side, which I think is well-being.

Dr. Nikki (23:00): Yes. Well-being. And it’s so interesting and great that you said pattern because what you want to find out through the process of talking, through the process of processing your emotions and being in discomfort, is to point out the patterns, because the other part of therapy is the doing something different.

Dr. LaWanda (23:22): There you go.

Dr. Nikki (23:23): That’s what makes it therapeutic. I remember I had a professor say that to me, that it’s not just that you are changing behavior, but that you’re doing something different towards your well-being. That is what makes it therapeutic. And so [you don’t?] get that with your friends. You don’t get that even with your pastor necessarily. You don’t get that with all these other sort of potential equally health… No, I challenge maybe the equally, [inaudible 00:23:52] that can maybe be helpful. But it’s not the same because then my job as the therapist is to hear, reflect back, point out the patterns, sit with you in your discomfort, and then also work with you as you change those patterns to find a healthier way. So it’s not a one and done, “Let me just get this off my chest” sort of experience. It’s an ongoing process and a relationship.

Dr. LaWanda (24:26): And it’s different in the sense that, and I’m probably biased, but I would say that it’s different than other relationships in that there’s a lot of theory and science that’s helping you understand those patterns.

Dr. Nikki (24:40): Yes.

Dr. LaWanda (24:41): You might not have access to. Human behavior, in some ways, is predictable and in some ways it’s unpredictable, but just understanding biologically how we develop, how we’re socialized, the context that we live in, different factors that contribute to our norms or what we feel are appropriate or inappropriate. That is a lot of information that a therapist is coming into that session with, and as you’re talking through, as you’re listening and reflecting and sharing patterns, we can then put into a larger picture of like, “This pattern is being influenced by XYZ.”

Dr. Nikki (25:13): Yes.

Dr. LaWanda (25:13): And then to the doing, as Rashada says, the work in between the sessions is the hardest part. But I think that that’s what makes it a distinction from other types of professionals in that you do have theory and this knowledge and this science that’s driving how you’re understanding those patterns or the development of those patterns.

Dr. Nikki (25:30): Yes. And I appreciate the comment, Rashada. That is really where the hardest part comes in, but that’s where also the biggest results come in.

Dr. LaWanda (25:38): Yes.

Dr. Nikki (25:39): So you got to have the balance of that. So we’ve been using this term professional. I think it’s also important that we sort of just identify with that, because we’re in a time period where people talk more openly about going to therapy. I should say Black and brown folks talk more openly about therapy and going to therapy, but I don’t want to take for granted that everybody’s clear around the nitty gritty. So when we talk about therapists or mental health professionals, we’re talking about folks with a range of different degrees. So doctoral degrees could include a PhD or a PSYD, and typically those folks would therefore be licensed as psychologists. Individuals who have a PhD have gone through no less than five years of supervised training and also have engaged in a rigorous process of learning and engaging in their own research. Individuals who have PSYD have also had probably equal amounts of supervised training with therapy. The emphasis on the research component is more focused on practitioning rather than particularly maybe generating new science or new theories and models. So you could be a licensed psychologist in any of the states, and when you hold a PhD or PSYD. I think it’s really important. There was just a case that was recently brought to my attention in Arizona where this woman who was actually fraudulently saying that she was a licensed clinical psychologist, a Black woman, never really heard much. Personally–LaWanda, she had on a white lab coat.

Dr. LaWanda (27:24): No, no. Say it ain’t so.

Dr. Nikki (27:33): She was pretending to be a licensed psychologist. She was not. So do your due diligence. Go talk about platforms where you may be able to encounter psychologists, and usually those places include a host of reputable folks. You can always go to your state board presence on the internet and just search for that person’s name and their license number should come up. If they have any sort of offenses or any disruptions in their license, that will also be there. So that’s a little bit of extra protection for you. So you have PhDs or PSYDs, and then you might have folks that are licensed at the master’s level, so most master’s programs or even an accelerated 18-month program or two-year program, and they’re either going to be a licensed professional counselor or a licensed mental health counselor. You could even have some folks licensed as a social worker. And I just went blank. I forgot. Oh, a license in marriage and family therapy. And so those folks have gone to some additional training beyond their undergraduate degree with the specific emphasis on working with clients and the development of therapy skills. And really there’s a lot of nuance sort of in, like, how they may approach their work with you based on what those credentials are, but you need to see some of those letters behind someone’s names for them to be a licensed mental health professional. Did I forget anything?

Dr. LaWanda (29:03): I think LPC, Licensed Professional Counselors, which is specific to different states. So there’s multiple mastery level clinicians, and it varies based on states. I think there’s, like, licensed mental health professionals in the East Coast and, like, New York, and then there’s licensed professional counselors in Texas, then more prominent here in the West is licensed clinical social workers. So, I think that ‘L’ is what gives you some indicator that they’re licensed. And what licensure means is that there is a board, there’s a regulatory board, that makes certain that the clinicians are from number one a code of ethics. So that kind of gets into what we can do, what we cannot do, what our highest aspirations are, what’s legal or illegal for that state, and then also, which I think is the critical part, make certain that there is some regulations around their continuing education. I mean, I have to consistently continue to engage and learn more and understand the human experience, the nuances thereof, be culturally sensitive. And so you have a licensing board that’s governing that.

Dr. Nikki (30:10): Yes.

Dr. LaWanda (30:10): As long as we work to get our licenses, then you’re going to do what you need to do to keep those licenses.

Dr. Nikki (30:17): Absolutely.

Dr. LaWanda (30:17): And that’s the extra accountability that makes professionals, whether they’re mastering level or doctoral level, I think more ethical in their practice, because they’re trying to make certain that they maintain or exceed what the standard is.

Dr. Nikki (30:34): Absolutely. I recently had a conversation with a potential client, and there were some concerns around record-keeping and confidentiality–even though I have all of that really well spelled out in my informed consent documents–and at the end of the exchange my bottom line was, “I’m not going to do anything to jeopardize my license. If I don’t have a license, I can’t do this work. This work is how I fuel some of my income.”

Dr. LaWanda (31:07): Exactly. You’re not sabotaging that.

Dr. Nikki (31:07): No. Not for any one in particular, let alone someone I have yet to even meet. Like, I don’t think so. So that license part is really important. So we’ve put in the chat places that are reputable, [?] a reputable therapist, but also where you are highly likely to find a Black therapist or at the very least a therapist of color.

Dr. LaWanda (31:29): Yes.

Dr. Nikki (31:31): Because the other piece that we have to talk about is therapist fit. So you could live in a city like Houston, Texas, where there are literally thousands upon thousands of mental health professionals. That doesn’t mean everyone is going to be best-suited for you, and that’s the other part about finding a therapist. There’s one thing to go to therapy, but finding a therapist is also a process.

Dr. LaWanda (31:55): Yes.

Dr. Nikki (31:55): And so I think this is why it becomes also critically important that you don’t wait until you are in a place like Meghan Markle, that you’re in a place where you feel like “I don’t even want to get up tomorrow,” because the reality is if you’re going to see somebody that’s really good at what they’re doing and a really good fit for you, they’re not going to be able to see you that afternoon if you call them in the morning. They might not even be able to see you for a couple of weeks. So it’s about sort of being proactive and recognizing that you might have to shop around.

Dr. LaWanda (32:30): You probably will. I tell people it’s like dating. Therapy is like finding a good fit. It’s like dating. It doesn’t mean that people aren’t great people, that they don’t have good characteristics, that they don’t have good traits, that they’re not a good person, but they may not be the best person for you, and I think we have to approach therapy the same way. Beause I hear often people like, Oh, I tried therapy one time and it didn’t work, so I quit.” And I’m like, “We’re more committed to dating or more committed to our hair products and skin and beauty products than we are to the therapeutic process.”

Dr. Nikki (33:00): It is. How many [?] you got in there?

Dr. LaWanda (33:03): So many that don’t work. Shae Moisture don’t work. Have to keep looking for different stuff, because you want to get your head together, and so I think therapy is the same thing. You definitely have to shop around sometimes. And two, your point, Rashada, I don’t know if you would agree or disagree, Dr. Nikki, I do think that therapists that were appropriate for you in a season of your life, where you were working through something, isn’t always going to be the most appropriate when you’re in a different season of your life, working through something different. I have clients now who are like, Hey, I’ve been working with my other therapist. She’s great and phenomenal, and she assisted me for this phase of life, but now I’m really moving more into sexual health, sexual intimacy, and I want somebody more specialized, so I’m looking into you.So, I do think it’s possible for your therapist to once have been able to meet your needs and when you have different needs, or you’re at a different developmental period in your life or the context has shifted, that you may need a different person and you may need a different approach.

Dr. Nikki (34:03): Yes. So, let me just say, I’m not afraid to say “There are seven sessions with you. You aren’t working for me no more.” And so there is a fine line, and somebody teased me. We know, LaWanda, Felicia teased me. She was like, “You’ll fire a therapist real quick. You’ve got to give people a chance.” I do think it’s different for me. I am a licensed psychologist. I’m a Black woman licensed psychologist. I am culturally responsive in all that I do. So I have the expectations that when I walk in the room you’re able to meet me in my full, whole, complete self. And if you’re not, I’m not interested in wasting my time or your time. I think that that should be the barometer that you use. Not that they’re challenging you or making you accountable, but are they able to really hold you in your full self where you are? And it’s perfectly acceptable to say, “I think that I’m going to discontinue working with you for now and pursue some other options. I get that. But part of what happens–if you know of any other practices, please chime in, LaWanda–but what I do and what most people that I know do as therapists, as mental health professionals, we’ll offer you a free 10 to 15 minute consultation. So if you sort of go to one of these platforms, you are able to pull up my profile or LaWanda’s profile, whoever else, Dr. Ebony’s, whoever’s profile jumps out to you, and I say you can only go on a vibe. So you’re looking at how a person has chosen to either update their headshots, add their headshots…

Dr. LaWanda (35:52): Or not.

Dr. Nikki (35:56): Or not. They give you information. And so I say that’s just sort of all that you can use to get started, and then you look at their bio or how they’ve described themselves. If the words they’re using in how they describe their approach to therapy or what they have done stand out to you kind of like, Oh, okay. That sounds good,” then you make a short list and you reach out to them and say, Hey, are you taking new clients? If so, what’s the process? And typically that is a 10 to 15 minute call where the therapist will talk more about what their practice is. So it’s like, “Let me introduce myself.” It’s like speed dating, and then the therapist will generally ask you, “What’s bringing you to therapy right now? What are you going to work on?” Because my practice is only part-time–I work full-time as a corporate DEI trainer–I know that there are certain levels or sorts of severity or symptoms that I can’t handle, and so I will ask even in that time about any history with trauma or are there any histories of hospitalization or suicidality right there in that conversation, because if there are clients with that level of severity, I can’t offer that type of support because I’m not full-time. I don’t have that sort of support staff. I don’t have credentials with it or work in concert with any other psychiatrists or hospitals. And so I’m not the best fit for you, and that also can happen in that conversation where the therapist might say, “That’s not really my expertise,” and what I also typically do, because I have so much pride in faith in our profession, I keep a list of folks, and if I feel like it’s nothing for me to be able to say, “I’m not it for you, but I really think you should go work with this person,” and that’s part of what goes, and then let’s say you have that conversation, you vibe with someone, you think “This is it.” You have those first few appointments. I tell all of my new clients, “Let’s work together for at least three sessions consistently. We meet every week. By the end of that, we’ll both have a pretty good idea of whether this has some longevity or whether we’re not clicking.”

Dr. LaWanda (38:14): Right.

Dr. Nikki (38:15): And then we could always talk about, “Do we meet every other week? What would be the cadence of how we meet?” And that sort of thing

Dr. LaWanda (38:23): The frequency will change.

Dr. Nikki (38:24): Yes.

Dr. LaWanda (38:25): Or could change, and I think that that’s important to underscore as we are wrapping up. I see that we’re getting close to time, so feel free to drop any additional questions you all may have. I think that’s important to highlight sometimes, because I have met with some clients who have kind of taken it personal when they’ve done these initial consults. So, they’re like, Oh, well, they said we weren’t a good fit.” Well, maybe it’s not their specialty. So just because a therapist may say to you that they don’t feel like you’re a good fit, I know it’s hard to not accept that, or interpret that, or internalize that as rejection, but it could be just that. It’s just that we’re not a good fit because of the very things that you mentioned. If you’re full-time or part-time, the level of severity, the support that you need, the specialty in which they offer. I don’t think where I am in my career I could fully treat eating disorders. It wouldn’t be a good fit because that’s not my specialty, but I feel like Dr. Ebony could because that’s her area, that’s something that she has way more expertise in. So it wouldn’t be that I don’t necessarily want to work with a person, but I want to do them justice, and I want them to have the best fit there is. Wanted to put that out there because we’re wrapping up.

Dr. Nikki (39:31): I know we’re to about to wrap up, but we did start a little bit late. I do want to add this one–I always say one, but it is never just one. I want to talk about this sort of culturally congruent part. So, one, it’s a really good place to start if you’re a Black person, finding a Black therapist, Latinx person finding a Latinx therapist. That’s sort of a good place to start, but even then you still have to do your shopping around, because we are not a monolith. We know that intellectually. So let’s apply that even to this situation, and I also want to recognize that you may either be limited by insurance or live in a space that’s not as populous as a place like Houston or the Bay Area or wherever, and so your options may be limited. But I absolutely believe that if your racial identity, your ethnic and cultural identity, are central to who you are, you cannot get effective therapy if your therapist is not able to take that into account.

Dr. LaWanda (40:31): Yes. That’s good.

Dr. Nikki (40:32): And so you can ask those questions when you’re doing that sort of dating, that shopping around, you can ask those questions. “What’s been your experience of working with Black women?”

Dr. LaWanda (40:42): Listen, I’m telling you, my trans and queer clients, potential clients before they turn into clients, they’d be grilling me [about] the experience of working with trans clients. “What are their racial and ethnic identities? What’s your approach?” All of that, which I appreciate, because I think that speaks to the empowerment and agency that people should feel when they’re going into looking for their therapist.

Dr. Nikki (41:05): Yes. And so that brings another layer, that we are not only motherless racially ethnically, but we are intersecting identities. And so take that into account. If you are a queer person, you have the right to look for queer-affirming therapists. You have the right to look for a culturally congruent queer-affirming therapist. It doesn’t mean your reasons for coming to therapy are around problems with those things, but it means that you’re able to show up and be your full, complete self, not have to police your language, not have to code switch.

Dr. LaWanda (41:39): Not have to explain and educate.

Dr. Nikki (41:44): We absolutely have a right to all of those things. And so ask the questions. Look for those things on their website.

Dr. LaWanda (41:54): Because we don’t want assumptions. Just because they look like you, all skinfolk ain’t kinfolk, and I tell my clients that as well. Don’t make assumptions because of what people look like. If they are not explicitly spelling out that they are kink-aware or queer-aligned or racially just aligned, I need to see it in writing. Get in the practice of looking for that, like, seeing it in writing to see if that’s what’s central to their practice.

Dr. Nikki (42:22): Absolutely.

Dr. LaWanda (42:22): Because I guarantee you it’s going to be on paper.

Dr. Nikki (42:24): Absolutely. So I just wanted to make sure we put that I had to put that piece out, especially for The Break Room. We couldn’t end without that. I think those are really, like, sort of the basics of therapy. I mean, I don’t think everybody’s at a place or a point in their life where they need to go, but [?]–

Dr. LaWanda (42:53): I’m going to say this. I’m going to be bold. No one has survived 2020 and not needed therapy. I’m going to just go out on a limb and say that. I just feel like, in my spirit, nobody has went through 2020 and not needed therapy. This has been unprecedented, y’all. Over half a million folks have died that did not have to die, disproportionately Black and brown folks. We’re talking about not being able to grieve in the way that you usually grieve. We’re talking about increased isolation for people, that increased isolation leading to unprecedented rates of anxiety, of depression. We’re talking about people grieving ceremonial things that usually make them feel good, or milestones, or not being able to be with family. We are interpersonal at our core. We are relational beings at our core. That is how we’re hard-wired, and we have had to actively not engage in that for over 365 days due to the poor, poor handling of the last administration. So those things alone, and I didn’t even scratch the surface, are enough for us to be impacted, and I think that it’s important for us to acknowledge that and sit with that. I’m trying to get back to Houston right now to see my therapist, because that’s the other piece that we’ll have to touch on another time. Clinicians are licensed in their state. So because she’s not here in California, she can’t see me. She can only see me if I’m in Texas, but she’s good, and she’s culturally competent and she’s changed my life. So I’m trying to give back to her. So, even as a therapist, I know that I haven’t escaped 2020 unchanged. So I know that everybody else is in the same boat.

Dr. Nikki (44:31): Yes. Therapy. Get you some.

Dr. LaWanda (44:34): Get you some in your life. That is the new it. I say this, there’s two types of people in the world. People in therapy and people who need to be. That’s it.

Dr. Nikki (44:47): That’s it. That is it. So I hope we answered all of your questions. I’ve enjoyed this conversation. I don’t doubt at all that we’ll revisit therapy, what therapy is and isn’t, what it can do for you, how you can maximize it. We’ll come back to these topics I know for sure as The Break Room continues. LaWanda, are you ready?

Dr. LaWanda (45:10): Speaking of therapy–and this is a good segue–I had a pretty good week, y’all. So I haven’t had anybody to really get on my last last nerve, but I did have somebody to get on my Last Nerve, and it’s related to the tea that I opened up with. Your boy Piers Morgan… Piers is a host on Good Morning Britain, and for I don’t know how long, he has been slamming Meghan Markle. Like, just going in on her on this show. Come to find out–we got 60 seconds for Last Nerve y’all, so I’m timing myself–she rejected him. That’s what it’s about. This personal thing that happened between you and her has contributed to you misusing and abusing your platform to go in on her for however long you’ve gone in on her. Then finally, finally, his colleague calls him out on it. So he’d been dishing it, y’all. He’s been dishing it out, dishing it out, and his colleague is very calm, very centered. He doesn’t raise his voice, but yet he’s sharp in his words, and he can’t handle it. And then all of a sudden he storms off and then he quits. And so I’m just like… I’m so over people engaging in and dishing out anti-Blackness, but [they] can’t take criticism and can’t take heat. It gets on my last nerve. If you’re going to be bold enough to come for somebody and talk about somebody, then be bold enough to get critiqued. And he isn’t. He can’t stand the heat, Rashada. He couldn’t. So he got on my last nerve this past week. I don’t even think I made it to a minute.

Dr. Nikki (46:46): You didn’t need more than that because you said it all. Your feelings are hurt because she didn’t want you. And you know what? You could have gone to therapy and worked through that, but rather what did was you sublimated and projected all of your rejection issues for all of the world to see. And the moment you got called on it, your fragile masculinity and your fragile whiteness crumbled on yourself. And you couldn’t handle it. Now you lost your whole TV show. You lost.

Dr. LaWanda (47:23): And I don’t have no empathy for you, sir. I don’t. You need to go to therapy, and that’s that on that.

Dr. Nikki (47:31): I think that’s it for us.

Dr. LaWanda (47:35): We will be back next week at the same time, same place, and we’re excited to continue to dive into these conversations that center Black mental health.

Dr. Nikki (47:52): Awesome. Bye.

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