Danielle Navonne: a Writer, experiencing and sharing the journey of life one Word at a time.

For eight months, I was regularly seeing a woman and virtually no one knew about her. I changed my schedule for her. She took precedence over phone calls. I laughed with her. Cried with her. Shared dreams with her. Confessed struggles to her. This woman started me on a path toward a healthier, more fulfilling life. She was my therapist. My secret therapist.

Some people (OK, one person 😉 ) close to me knew of her, but by and large, she was simply “my appointment downtown.” My “meeting after work.” The “friend” I was “meeting at her office.” Granted, some of this ambiguity was merely because I’m a keep-to-myself kind of girl. But there was another factor, one I couldn’t really articulate. It had to do with the taboo associated with psychological therapy. I feared that a number of people in my community had certain stigmas attached to people who saw a therapist. I guess I didn’t want to be one of “those people” to them. So, for a while, my dealings with this woman remained a very covert operation.

As an African American Christian, my cultural experience taught me to “hold my peace and let the Lord fight my battles.” To simply pray about things and trust that God would fix them. Somewhere along the way, I learned that in order to be successful, I needed to simply overlook many of the stresses that accompanied being black in America. Many of us are taught never to ask for (or admit that we need) help; it’s sign of weakness, and we are a strong people. Don’t get me wrong, I value these lessons and think their premise is needed in order for African Americans to see beyond the societal labels placed on them. But do these lessons – ingrained in many African Americans from childhood – potentially inhibit us from seeking emotional/mental help? In her book, “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting,” Terrie M. Williams suggests that our “black power” has caused us to (unhealthily) mask our black pain. Is this true?

I’ve come across a few cultural beliefs that may fuel the stigma of psychological therapy in the black community:

  • Don’t air dirty laundry
  • Not comfortable discussing personal problems with a professional and/or authority figures
  • Some things are better left untouched/Don’t rock the boat
  • Do whatever you have to do to keep peace in the family (even if it involves bottling your pain)
  • All you need is God; according to Isaiah 9:6, He is your “Counselor” (Especially true for those of us who grew up in church.)
  • Only “crazy” people go to therapy
  • It’s not a financial priority
  • Seeing a therapist is an outward admission of your (or your family’s) failure to handle problems internally
  • There is fear of misdiagnosis or extreme diagnosis

When our children need educational help, we find a tutor. When we need spiritual help/guidance, we pray, meditate, go to church (or a myriad of other things depending on your faith identity). When we need physical help getting in shape, we go to the gym. And if we can afford it, we may even get a personal trainer. Oftentimes, we brag about how much we are able to lift with our trainer – how many miles we were able to run. Why not be just as proud and intentional in reclaiming our mental health when needed? Is that somehow less important than the others?

In her Psychology Today blog, “Culturally Speaking,” Dr. Monnica T. Williams (a black psychologist) talks about her frustration in not seeing African Americans take advantage of the help available to them. She cites a qualitative study that found that among Blacks who were already mental health consumers, over a third felt that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles. And so, they don’t talk about it. And as long as we’re not talking about it, the stigma will remain.

In other reading, it seems that many African Americans agree that schizophrenia, severe depression, and suicidal thoughts warranted psychological intervention, but that if it’s not “serious” like those, you should be able to deal with it on your own. But who decides what’s “serious?”

People who grew up witnessing abuse, or a parent leaving the home – not “serious” enough? Those who grew up hearing gun shots, fearing for their lives while walking to school – is that “serious?”  What about those who are confused about who they are because they’ve been told they’re going to hell for “acting gay.” Or the lawyer who’s totally unhappy and is only a lawyer because her parents expected it. What about the lady who keeps finding herself in abusive relationships? Or the friend who is constantly gaining weight because she eats her pain? Are those “serious?”

Some may not have labeled my reasons for seeing a therapist as “serious,” but I knew this woman had been trained to help me rethink and deprogram a lot of things that were inhibiting me from experiencing my “best life.” And so I went. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Now I’m not suggesting that we all go running to the nearest therapist, but I am suggesting that we make room for these conversations at our dinner tables and sorority meetings.

I am always seeking to be better than I am, and I long to see people be better than they are. When I find something that contributes to my fulfillment, I’m compelled to share it to possibly help others on their path toward a more fulfilling life. So, I wanted to engage this dialogue. Maybe it’s for the simple act of engagement. Or maybe it will encourage someone who’s considering therapy, to look beyond their preconceived notions and take the step that may change their life. I’m no therapist (only an advocate), but if you have questions about my process, please reach out to me. I’m happy to share my experience. After all, if you’re reading this post, my secret therapist is no longer a “secret!”

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Comments on: "This Woman I’d Been Seeing…" (26)

  1. Wow, my friend and I were JUST talking about this very subject. I do feel that in the black community we do not talk about our feelings. We are told to “suck it up”, or “mo one wants to hear that”. Especially men! I am a firm believer in “talking to someone” because that person is objective and can help you through it and give sound advice, since they are not emotionally invested in you. My husband went to therapy after his brother committed suicide, and it helped that the therapist had gone through the same situation and was able to provide some insight. I was of no help, seeing as how I have never been in that situation, and was hurting myself because of it. I have another friend who is in therapy now dealing with her “daddy” issues. It has helped her get over the hurt and self esteem that having an in & out father can have. I can definitely relate. I am thinking of going as well! It can do nothing but good, especially if your job is paying for it. 🙂

    But, good for you Danielle! More of us need to change our attitude about therapy. There is a stigma of therapy in the black community, and I hope that more of us get the help. getting help definitely does not mean that you are crazy, it means that you want to get even BETTER.

  2. DanielleNavonne said:

    Thanks so much for sharing this, Court! I’m so glad your hubby was able to get help in working through that loss! Especially as a man. I think you’re right that it’s even more taboo with guys.

    And those “daddy issues” are no joke if you don’t deal with’em. I’ve experienced it first-hand, so I can totally relate to your friend. It makes me sad that a lot of people are so scared of the very thing that can help them. I think as the generations progress we’ve become a little more open to it, since our generation has access to more information. But it’s still, by and large, a taboo thing. Even since posting this an hour ago, I’ve had a number of private messages from folks who didn’t wanna post publicly, but had questions/comments about the topic. I was extremtly ELATED to receive the messages and know that this post is relevant and resonates with people, but I hate that this topic is not “safe” enough to discuss outright, ya know. It could help so many people. Like, why is taking care of our mental selves so top secret? Ok, clearly, this could easily turn into another blog post, lol, so I will step off the comment soap box. Lol. Thanks for reading and sharing, Court! I really appreciated hearing your thoughts/perspectives on this! 🙂

  3. Linda said:

    Growing up in an Irish Catholic home, we lived by the same 9 cultural beliefs you enumerate here. People who are in pain have a lot in common — and a LOT to learn from your post. Thank you!

  4. DanielleNavonne said:

    Thanks so much for taking the time to share your perspective, Linda! I figured that a lot of these principles crossed cultural/religious lines, and wondered how those with a different background identified (or didn’t identify) with them vis-a-vis psychological therapy. Thanks for your insight!

  5. Amazing, Danielle!

  6. Koren Utley said:

    You have no idea how many people you are Blessing Danielle!!! I truly thank God for you being so open and sharing your Life with us.

  7. DanielleNavonne said:

    Thanks so much, Jess!

  8. DanielleNavonne said:

    Koren!! Thank you!! It’s funny, cuz you know, I would much rather chill in the background and let MY business be MY business. Lol. But, I kept feeling compelled to share my journey. This blog is the start of that. And I love that I’m able to use this platform to open the door for these types of growth moments; in whatever way they apply to people’s lives. I’m learning more and more that what I go through (and have gone through) is not just for ME: “Each one teach one.” Thanks for your encouraging words! I appreicate them!!

  9. Awesome. I believe many will be helped. Utilize the share option and hashtag away on Twitter. I love your willingness to utilize your vulnerability as a tool for others’ healing. That’s awesome. I share in this.

  10. Caryn Bell said:

    What I find interesting is that though there is the stigma of seeking “professional help” amongst many blacks, we have no problem telling our problems to our pastor/parent/significant other/friends and anybody else that will listen. Truth is, we are seeking therapy all the time from people who usually can only relate to and advise us on OUR issues based on THEIR experience. Doesn’t make much sense to me. Just a thought.

  11. DanielleNavonne said:

    realnhonest: thanks so much! I’m still getting used to the twitter world. Lol. 🙂

  12. DanielleNavonne said:

    Good point, Caryn! I recall hearing someone say in a sermon that we often have “pity parties” and tell our problems to people who have the same problems as we do and can’t help us through them. Although just getting it out sometimes IS helpful, sometimes it’s like the blind leading the blind….

  13. Wow… Thank you for posting this. Not a conversation I’m willing to fully share at most dinner tables, but I’m working on it. Just as I am working on myself. Because it is “serious”.

  14. DanielleNavonne said:

    Thanks, N.j! I’m working on it right along with you! 🙂

  15. Carry Web said:

    Great post! I hope it helps a lot of people. I also found this counselling post helpful and covers some of the same topics.

  16. Sherry Thornton said:

    Danielle I really enjoyed this! Was just discussing this with some ladies the other day! I’m a firm believer in talking things out but sometimes you need to go where nobody knows your name! There’s nothing like seeing things through someone elses eyes.

  17. DanielleNavonne said:

    Carry and Sherry – Thanks so much to you both for taking the time to read and comment! And Carry, thanks for sharing the additional info link on the topic!!!

  18. Awesome post! Thanks for writing it. I was fortunate and grew up in a world and community where therapy was normalized and I for one believe in it. As you pointed out, it’s not something you just turn to at rock bottom. I believe I experience great happiness in my life because therapy has taught me how to process and recognize my own positive and negative behavior patterns. I’d say that’s been the greatest benefit, learning to ask myself, ok, why am I making this decision and whose making this decision. Because of that I’ve been able to move out of hard times much easier and I feel like I avoid chaos before it starts 🙂 Two snaps up around the world in a circle for therapy, lol!

  19. LaTrice said:

    Danielle, as a social worker by study, Ive always been an advocate for.therapy. I think it is one of the missisng pieces in many peoples lives. Paul and I talked about how beneficial it could be overall after we went through premarital counseling. There were so many things that were uncovered that we both decided we will pursue individual therapy to deal with some of those deeper issues.

    I applaud you for being so transparent with the world. I think through your writing, you will.help.to.heal someone and help them to live write! I am so proud to call you sister!

  20. Danielle, I think the information that was shared is empowering for me. I have always believed within the black community we are constantly under psychological assault and we often try to cover our hurts. But as a result of covering our hurts we in turn hurt other people.

    Lovely article, thank you for your courage!

  21. DanielleNavonne said:

    Thank you so much, Ebony! I love your “two snaps up around the world in a circle!” Lol. Yes, it has definitely helped me step back, assess, and make better choices. I definitely think I’m wiser and more aware of myself because of having gone through the process. Not perfect, but definitely more equipped to recognize and make better choices. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

    Trice (*tear* at your comment) and Paul, thank you both so much! I appreciate you! Thanks for sharing your experience. I can imagine that premarital counseling weeds out a lot of issues people never even address until after the wedding!

  22. Angela Layne said:

    Danielle, thank you very much for blogging about this topic, I agree with you 100%!! I was just speaking about it with my friend on Saturday stating, mental illness is real. If your artery was clogged you’d go to see a doctor to unclog it, similarly, if you have a chemical or emotional imbalance, you need to see a psychologist or psychiatrist who can help you address the issue. I enjoyed Terri Williams’ book; have you read “Shifting” by Charisse Jones and Kumea Shorter-Gooden or “Willow Weep for Me” by Meri Nana-Ama Danquah? If not, you may want to check them out as well. Thank you for having the courage to share your story; it empowers others to do the same!

    Best,
    Angela

  23. Such truth! This definitely needs to be dialogue that is engaged. Thank you for sharing and inspiring others through your encouragement. Stay blessed, a blessing & encouraged!!!

  24. Thanks so much trinityizreal!

    And Angela, I’m not familiar with those titles. I’ll have to check them out! Thanks for the recommendation!

  25. Great post. I really agree with your examination of what is considered serious. Thank you for sharing.

  26. Thank you for reading, Ashley!

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