Black Families Matter: A Call to Action for Therapists to Do Better for African American Clients

Black Families Matter: A Call to Action for Therapists to Do Better for African American Clients

George Floyd wall art2020 sparked the Black Lives Matter movement into a global force with the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor amid the Covid-19 pandemic. 

In a new research article, The Black Lives Matter Movement: A Call to Action for Couple and Family Therapists, Mia Smith-Bynum, a professor of Family Science, along with three researchers, addressed strategies for therapists on how to effectively work with African American families in a counseling context. 

The article applies the Critical Race Theory and Bioecological Theory to Couple and Family therapy, highlights systemic racism and its impact on clinical training, describes racial socialization and ways to apply it, mentions the issues that Black couples face in therapy and strategies to address them. 

Smith-Bynum contributed to the racial socialization portion of the article that covered how therapists should intentionally address race-related stress and trauma with Black families.

Racial socialization, parents talking to their children about race, is referred to as “The Talk” in news outlets, according to Smith-Bynum. 

“There are several, long-standing challenges that African American kids growing up in the U.S. today face,” she said in a racial socialization presentation video

 

 

Some of these issues include developing a “healthy identity in a society where ethnic minorities continue to be systematically devalued,” coping with discrimination and racism and navigating African American culture versus mainstream culture. 

“Kids have to be able to negotiate both,” Smith-Bynum said. “In mainstream institutions, that’s where the resources are. Therapists need to be grounded in African American culture because that’s where the affirming, positive values are.”

Black culture is exciting, innovative, creative and vibrant, and resiliency is a key factor in celebrating what it means to be Black, Smith-Bynum said. She encouraged therapists who have Black parents and children as clients to uplift them and help them to understand that Black culture and being Black are wonderful and continue to form American culture and global cultures. 

It is also important for Black children to understand their history and the efforts that were accomplished during the Civil Rights Movement, Smith-Bynum said. Reassuring the lessons of bravery, courage, persistence with clients during sessions can have a significant impact on how kids understand their racial identity. 

Children knowing history matters because they can “disentangle the social context, laws and the discriminatory practices that have led to some of the current struggles that African American families may have,” she said. 

The message that Black parents should express repeatedly to their children with the support of therapists is that their community can overcome tremendous obstacles, and success is achievable despite how others may attempt to define or label people. 

Read the article to learn more about how Couple and Family therapists can efficiently serve and support Black families. 

December 3, 2020


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Rob Briskman, co-founder of Sirius-XM Satellite Radio, is an alumnus of UMD's A. James Clark School of Engineering.