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Why It's Important to Have a Culturally-Sensitive Therapist

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As a black Muslim woman with mental health challenges, part of the struggle I face is finding practitioners who understand my point of view and who can work within the confines of my religious, ethnic and cultural identity. Thankfully from the beginning, I’ve had a Muslim psychiatrist who has been my rock and at times literally a life saver. I always felt like he understood my emotional and psychological issues in a way that enhanced my spiritual inclinations. That has truly been a blessing.

Then, I was recently fortunate enough to meet and now work with an Imam who is also a doctor. He’s been able to help me accept my illness and use both medicinal and religious approaches to my day to day challenges. For the first time, I felt as though someone completely understood where I was coming from and what I needed to hear, in order to heal and make the best of my life. I thought it couldn’t get better than that.

But yesterday as I sat in my therapist’s office, I finally realized the importance of having someone counsel you while being cognizant of how you view the world and your place in it. My therapist isn’t Muslim but I’ve always felt comfortable going to him for help. Given the current political and social climate, his immediate concerns were how I’m handling events in the news and the very real Islamophobia faced by members of my community. As we talked, I noticed the way he tackled my thought process and helped me turn a corner mirrored what I learn in traditional religious settings. He encouraged me to seek advice and healing from those in my community offering self-care tips from an Islamic perspective. He further gave pointers about how to come closer to my spiritual side and tap into the joy I get from communing with God through prayer. It was truly a unique experience — one I haven’t had from those of a different racial or religious background before. I felt entirely supported and encouraged, and I was able to completely deconstruct some negative thought patterns I’ve long held onto.

I’ve been reading articles critical of approaches to therapy that only come from a typically White, Judeo-Christian approach. I’ve seen how that can be a barrier for those with diverse backgrounds to get the help they need. At times, I’ve felt misunderstood or underrepresented in the therapy community, and indeed it is problematic to not be able to relate to the person giving advice and psychological assistance. But what happened in therapy yesterday let me know there are clinicians so dedicated to their profession that they go the extra mile in reaching populations who require a nuanced, culturally sensitive approach.

I’m truly grateful for my therapist and the time I’ve spent with him. Seeing he respects and understands my situation, I’m inspired to work with him in order to heal and thrive.

I hope others find a therapist like this, who can help them be the best version of themselves in spite of any obstacles.

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Originally published: April 5, 2017
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