How Mental Health Professionals Can Fight Racism

Black Lives Matter, African American, Graffiti

Racism irrefutably exists, and it undeniably influences mental health. Yet, some mental health professionals do not talk about racism in the same ways we discuss other aspects of clinical practice (e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy’s effectiveness). There are a number of possible reasons for this, including: 1) viewing it as politically-charged and preferable to avoid, 2) discomfort due to feeling like it’s not your place to speak up, 3) not believing it directly affects you, and 4) not feeling knowledgeable enough.

I understand these perspectives and can empathize with them. However, I am alarmed by how racism hinders our ability: 1) to provide services equitably and effectively to our patients and 2) to advance our field with the inclusion of mental health professionals from diverse backgrounds. We are missing out on valuable contributions from people from currently underrepresented backgrounds in the field of psychology because of racism-related barriers. I think this section from the American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct gets it right:


If you agree that fighting racism is a mental health and moral priority, it can feel overwhelming to know how to contribute to this goal. I’m not an expert in this – much more of a person who is trying to learn and who has changed my mind on issues over the years (teaching a Diversity in Clinical Psychology course was a major component of this). I want to share some of the resources and actions I’ve found helpful from listening to people who are experts. I list these resources in case they’re helpful to you, and I’d be grateful if you shared resources you found helpful with me (either through the comments or via e-mail). Please know that there are multiple ways to join the fight against racism.

1. Learn about current racial inequities and their historical context. There are a lot of websites and reading lists shared on social media. Here are just a few examples that I’ve found informative – including popular press articles, a PBS documentary, and podcast episodes: on healthcare (1, 2), on housing (1, 2, 3), on voting, on education (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6), and on criminal justice (1, 2).

2. Join and/or donate to organizations that work to fight racism in your community. There are some amazing local groups out there doing impressive on-the-ground work. Barack Obama posted this useful guide.

3. Vote and help elect officials with policy plans to fight racism. Put pressure on them to take action where racism occurs in your community. Ultimately, I believe (from listening and learning from many others) that systemic change is the only way to root out racism.

4. Provide culturally-responsive care for your therapy patients. Some books I’ve found helpful: Addressing Cultural Complexities in Practice, Connecting Across Cultures: The Helper’s Toolkit, Even the Rat was White (an exchange I had with the author had a huge influence on me), and The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health. Some podcasts I’ve found helpful: Naming It and Tatter. You can volunteer to provide culturally competent therapy services to underserved communities through the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation.

5. Talk about racism with the people in your lives. Speak up in your workplace, friend groups, and school when you hear or see racism. Push for change where you can. It’s not an all-or-nothing thing – I understand that people have individual circumstances that shape their decisions about when they speak up and when they don’t. We all have some places where we can help by being there, speaking up, and reaching out.

There’s so much pain and suffering that disproportionately affects Black people in our field and our communities right now. Let’s work together to make real change where we can.

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