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5 women of color changing the face of therapy for their communities

As the COVID-19 pandemic worsens the mental health of Americans, experts stress the importance of culturally competent care. These women are trying to make that care more accessible.

The coronavirus pandemic has had a lasting impact on the overall health — and mental health — of Americans. In a report from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, researchers found that the number of adults with symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder are on the rise. Between August 2020 and February 2021, due to COVID-19, the percentage of individuals reporting unmet mental health care needs increased as well.

Coupled with the stressors of systemic racism, such as police brutality, anti-Asian violence and Black, Latinx and Indigenous folks dying at disproportionate rates due to COVID-19, people of color are searching for resources. Experts emphasize the importance of finding culturally competent care, but a study from the American Psychological Association found that in 2015, the psychology workforce was 86% white. Change is happening: Meet five women of color who are paving the way to make therapy more accessible for their communities.

Latinx Therapy

Based in California, 30-year-old Adriana Alejandre is the founder of Latinx Therapy, a bilingual podcast, a national directory to find a Latinx therapist and a collective for Latinx mental health professionals. Alejandre launched the platform because she saw the necessity of therapists who could speak both English and Spanish and reach the community.

“The mission of the podcast is to destigmatize mental health within the Latino community. We are taught from a very young age that we shouldn't burden others with our problems,” Alejandre said. “The goal is really to bring on different Latinos, mental health professionals, to discuss their specialties, to give them a platform.”

From experiencing imposter syndrome to the pressures of being the first in the family to go to college, or recently immigrating, finding someone who can understand cultural identity is imperative, especially as COVID-19 has adversely affected Hispanic and Latino communities. By inviting different voices, media personalities and health professionals to the weekly podcast, Alejandre wants to build trust with clients, demystify diagnoses and make therapy more accessible to all. Upon entering your ZIP code on the site, you can find nearby licensed bilingual therapists, learn about their identities (i.e. sexual orientation, ethnicity, etc.), whether they offer a sliding scale of payment and more.

Adriana Alejandre is the Mexican-Guatemalan founder of Latinx Therapy
Adriana Alejandre is the Mexican-Guatemalan founder of Latinx TherapyYaquelin Hernandez

Brown Girl Therapy

32-year-old Sahaj Kohli is a former journalist whose passion lies at the intersection of storytelling and mental health. Kohli launched Brown Girl Therapy in 2019, dubbed as the “first and largest mental health community for children of immigrants.” Though content is created from her perspective as a South Asian American woman, Kohli polled the community to find that over 100 countries were represented. Kohli's site offers a therapist database, mental health resources and more.

"One of the biggest things in the mental health field, especially in the Western narrative, is this idea of individualization. There's this whole other part of mental health care that's not being discussed or utilized and that's community care,” Kohli said.

Past studies have found Asian Americans are less likely than white Americans to seek mental health services. Kohli said this is attributed to factors such as cost, then followed by the concern of bringing shame upon the family and being perceived as weak. While Kohli is completing her degree at Georgia Washington University, in Washington, D.C., she created a database in April 2020 once the pandemic began. Her mission is to make culturally competent therapy more accessible and help people find providers who can understand what it means to grow up bicultural.

“It's hard to believe that you deserve quality care when the care doesn't look like you,” Kohli said. “One in 4 children in the United States is a child of immigrants. We deserve quality care, we deserve to be seen.”

Sahaj Kohli, a graduate student at George Washington University and founder of Brown Girl Therapy.
Sahaj Kohli, a graduate student at George Washington University and founder of Brown Girl Therapy.Samuel Hall Media

Therapy for Black Girls

With over 14 years of experience, Joy Harden Bradford is a licensed psychologist in Atlanta and the founder of Therapy for Black Girls, an online space dedicated to encouraging the mental wellness of Black women and girls.

Bradford began blogging on the website in September 2014 and added the directory in 2016, which now spans over 2000 mental health providers across the country and in Canada. By entering their address, users can find virtual or in-office providers, filter them based on insurance and more. Bradford said it’s important to not only break down the stigma surrounding religion and wellness but acknowledge that historically, it has not always been safe for Black people to engage in the mental health system.

“Drapetomania, related to slaves running away from the plantation, was considered a mental illness. There's a lot of talk in the family about anybody who has to go to therapy, that they’re crazy," she said.

“It's seen as if you don't have a strong enough faith walk, and that’s why you're having a mental illness. Of course, we know that you can be incredibly spiritual and still be struggling with mental health concerns," Bradford noted. With Therapy for Black Girls, Bradford brings guests onto the weekly podcast to talk about different aspects of wellness and utilizes pop culture references from shows such as "Insecure" to connect with Black women listeners. “The mission of the organization is to really create a community that's engaged around mental health and wellness in a way that feels really relevant and accessible for them. Now more than ever, if you are thinking you need some support, then it is a good idea to go ahead and start that process,” Bradford said.

Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, founder of Therapy for Black Girls.
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, founder of Therapy for Black Girls.Tammy McGarity von Nordheim

Inclusive Therapists

Located in Austin, Texas, Melody Li is the creator of Inclusive Therapists. Li, who is a queer Asian woman, started the platform in 2019 and sought to decolonize and destigmatize therapy.

“It is important to be inclusive of race, yes, and also class, gender, sexuality, neurodiversity and people with disabilities," Li said. "The directory is the bridging part, to help to make it simpler and safer for people of all identities, and abilities and bodies to find a therapist that gets them.” On the site, users can sift through office facilities, insurance options, services (i.e. family, adult, group counseling, etc.), specialties (i.e. trauma, disorders, etc.) and notably, cultural knowledge. Clients can search for therapists down to ethnicity and nationality, such as West African cultures, Southeast Asian cultures and more. Don't know what you're looking for? Those seeking therapy for the first time can use the matching tool.

Melody Li, founder of Inclusive Therapists
Melody Li, founder of Inclusive TherapistsMelody Li

Indigenous Circle of Wellness

Raised in Southeast Los Angeles, 34-year-old Monique Castro is the founder of the Indigenous Circle of Wellness. Castro is Xicana and a member of the Diné tribe, also known as Navajo Nation, and has been a therapist for over eight years. Created in February 2018, Indigenous Circle of Wellness seeks to provide culturally inclusive counseling and holistic healing that centers Indigenity.

"I just really want to uplift and share with the world, especially indigenous folks, that our community is healing and thriving. Wellness and healing have always been very important and essential," she said.

As Indigenous populations grapple with higher rates of suicide than other demographics, Castro hopes to bring change to who is offering support to those struggling. “If it's a government organization or funded by the government, there's going to be more resistance to them. With the medical system, folks can be diagnosed with things that are not truly diagnosable; these are expected and anticipated experiences or symptoms of oppression, systemic racism and systems that have not been here to support us.”

With the team of 11 providers, Castro wants to ensure that Native organizations show up for one another and the needs of community members, regardless of differing tribes, are met. Though only licensed in California, to meet the needs of folks beyond the state, ICOW holds beading and painting workshops, training and community gatherings to foster healing and connection.

Monique Castro, founder of Indigenous Circle of Wellness
Monique Castro, founder of Indigenous Circle of WellnessPamela Peters