I am so excited to introduce a new blog interest for Minority Mental Health Month; Mental Health Monday. On Mondays, I will focus on various mental health topics and resources. I am always so humbled when anyone takes the time to allow me to interview them and today we have an extra special treat!
Please meet Dr. Angela Clack..
Sadly, struggle becomes the norm for the black woman because she associates strength with struggle.
Please give us some insight into your background. What inspired you to work in the mental health field and in the beginning what were some of your goals? Have you goals changed over time?
I started as a youth counselor in a residential treatment center in Maryland for children ages 5-13 years old. This was my first serious job in the mental health field. I had my Bachelors in Arts Degree. I worked for this program for several years while pursuing my Masters Degree at Towson University. This opened up clinical opportunities to the work of a licensed counselor. The residential treatment center work was direct care that was more about daily living skills and managing youth placed out of their family homes. From this opportunity I began work in community settings connected to well known institutions and universities and hospitals. That’s where I was introduced to the beginning of trauma work with youth and families.
I was always interested in helping others. My mother told me that when I was in sixth grade I told her that I wanted to be a psychiatrist. She asked me why and she said I told her there are a lot of kids in my class who need help and I want to help them. I thought I wanted to be a psychiatrist but medical school frightened me. I was so bad at math and science. So, God granted the equivalent , a psychologist!
In the beginning I only knew that talking about problems helped. I didn’t really know the mechanics and inner work that are the critical factors that make therapy work but I knew counseling was my gift that would change lives. My goal in the beginning was to help people feel better. I have been in the field of mental health for twenty plus years and my goals and philosophy of change has evolved significantly. Of course, my evolution included earning my doctorate in clinical psychology but it also includes working with great professionals and growing and evolving as a person.
My approach to clinical care is now focused on the mind body soul spirit connection. I have a holistic care treatment focus. I’m continually learning about the brain and the impact of neuroscience on our mind body connection in helping us better understand ourselves, our self in relation to others and the world. I love how I have grown in the field with new information and research in treating and understanding the human mind. I call my work, heart work. I connect with each individual on a deeper level to get to the heart of the matter.
Explain how you define “wellness”, what does that look like for you.
Wellness is attention to mind, body, soul and spirit. Wellness is embracing care for the body that effects the mind; what happens in the mind effects the body and the soul is the containment for it all. Wellness includes healthy living with what we eat, drink, how much we move I.e., exercise and fitness, and ridding the body of toxic inhabitants and parasites as well as removing ourselves from toxic relationships. Embracing emotional wellness is making self care a priority and learning how to set and maintain healthy boundaries for healthy living.
What are some of the barriers you have witnessed for those seeking treatment? How can we as a community help eliminate some of those barriers?
There has been and continues to be the stigma and judgment of seeking mental health treatment and the acknowledgment of having a diagnosed mental illness. Specifically, for African Americans the numbers of people who report they sought help are often an under-estimation, and Black and Brown communities are undertreated, misdiagnosed, or under-diagnosed due to the differences in cultural expressions in mental health disorders. In other words, some physicians and mental health professionals are doing a poor job of assessing the symptoms because they are not asking the right questions of the African American patient/client. The stigma attached to seeking help for mental health problems is viewed as a personal weakness, not a health problem.
There are cultural, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, spiritual/religious, and health disparities that influence access to health resources, as well as the inadequate information and education about mental health issues. Oh and the trust factor. This is a major obstacle to communities of color and perceptions of medical care.
To eliminate these barriers starts with advocacy and education. We are making progress with more people seeking help but many more could be helped. The celebrity and professional athlete who share their story help to destigmatize the conversation because many people rest on their credibility. The more we talk about mental health through our transparency with others the more that will be exposed to another’s narrative of having struggled and sought professional help.
Do you know of any resources that are of reduced cost or on a sliding scale fee?
For individuals who need sliding scale fees or therapy at reduced cost start with their local community mental health centers. Community agencies typically offer a menu of resources including case management. Other ideas are to check with state and local organizations for a list of providers who may offer time limited pro bono services or low cost services. Local universities will also have counseling centers that have interns and trainees under the supervision of licensed mental health professionals who provide counseling support for low fees. Another possibility are support groups. Support groups are typically free and the appropriate group may provide just enough contact and support until the individual can find a therapist.
Talk a bit about the process one might use to seek help.
I’d would recommend reading a few credible online articles and resources that provide guidelines for seeking help and where to start. With social media being the way many of us market to connect with persons seeking help, read therapist blogs and articles by checking out their websites. Of course ask for recommendations. Most people know someone who can point you in the direction of finding help. If you have health insurance you can also use the provider portal for a list of therapists in your area.
What do you think of the “strong black woman” narrative that many use as a reason to not seek out therapy?
Being strong is a cultural imperative that has been accepted and shared from one generation to the next and now exists as a cultural norm of Black women. A cultural norm that silences the expression of depression and one that suppresses and oppresses Black women.
The strong black image does not serve the black woman well. It actually backfires on her when she needs help from others. Her pride and ego hinder her from allowing others to know her battles and hardship because she resists asking for help. Then there is this other interesting dynamic that subconsciously occurs. It’s called self-sabotage. This happens when the black woman complains, vents, cries out, etc. that no one cares about her or “asks” her if she needs anything. Well, likely those same people who pull and pull on you In the role and the façade we wear of the strong black woman will not ask you, because you project and act like you don’t need help. That’s the dance we do. I need you. I don’t need you. I love you. I hate you. You aren’t there for me. I don’t want your help. Women we have to take personal responsibility for getting our own houses (read: mind, body, soul & spirit) in order. It is not the responsibility of others to read our minds to know what we need. Sometimes you have to get out of your feelings and ASK for what you need and desire!
Sadly, struggle becomes the norm for the black woman because she associates strength with struggle. Clinician Marilyn Martin who wrote Saving our last nerve: The Black woman’s path to mental health (2002) draws the reader’s attention to the assumption that struggle must contextualize and validate Black women’s lives. “…Aren’t we all Super Black Women? But that image is as much a curse as it is a blessing. It drives us to meet our obligations and to produce, but along with keeping us busy, it keeps us numb enough to shut out the inner voices of pain, rejection, and rage.”