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Demand for Black therapists outstrips supply in Northeast Ohio, counselors report

Some Northeast Ohio therapists have created referral networks because demand for black therapists is so high.
Some Northeast Ohio therapists have created referral networks because the demand for Black therapists is so high.

The American Psychological Association reports demand for mental health treatment continues to increase across the country, which can make finding a therapist difficult.

But, according to experts, it’s especially hard for people in Northeast Ohio to find Black therapists.

Robyn Hill, a licensed clinical care psychologist based in Cleveland who is Black, said she has seen a surge in demand for Black or Christian therapists over the last few years.

“People have different belief systems, and so finding a therapist that can meet them culturally, having cultural competence and cultural empathy is what people are looking for now," she said.

Hill said a few years ago she helped found the Professional Black Christian Therapist Network to help people get connected with a mental health specialist who is like them.

Black professionals are underrepresented among people working in psychology. Onlyabout 4.2% of the psychology workforce is Black, while Black people account for about 12% of Americans, according to the American Psychological Association (APA).

Cultural competency requires altering practices to reach different cultural groups, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). To Hill, it’s about finding a counselor that understands where a patient is coming from.

“There's the nuance that they understand and they get me," she said. "They get the non-verbal cues. They don't have to explain everything to this therapist. And I feel comfortable. They know me.”

African Americans may want to see a Black provider for comfort reasons, said Hill, in part due to historical traumas.

“Psychiatric hospitals, asylums were used as punitive places for African-Americans throughout slavery and throughout Civil Rights eras,” she said. “To say, ‘go get mental health care’ sometimes is a scary concept within the Black community.”

Research shows clients are more likely to open up to clinicians who can understand verbal and nonverbal cues, family and community structure and values and norms, she said.

She tries to make referrals to other Black therapists but also recommends people search the profiles of local therapists on the Psychology Today website.

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.