Why Representation Matters in the Mental Health Field

Representation is a commonly talked about theme in the media today. We’re especially interested in how representation appears in movies, TV shows, comic books, and so on. Some statistics show how much attention we pay to representation in the media - while in 2008 only 21% of characters in TV shows were people of color, the statistic is now 50%. American society has obviously shifted from not valuing representation of all cultural groups in the media to making equal representation a priority! What about representation in the mental health field? Currently, Zippia estimates that 76.4% of mental health therapists are white, and 74.01% were women. Only 11.4% of therapists identify as LGBTQ+, as well. Clearly, the mental health field is dominated by heterosexual, white, women therapists. While there’s certainly nothing wrong with having an abundance of therapists (many states have a shortage of therapists, actually!), there is a startling lack of representation for clients who are not white, not straight, and not female.  What is the result of a lack of representation in the mental health field? Check out three reasons below why representation in the mental health field matters! Clients Have Better Outcomes With Clinicians in their Cultural Group Several studies show clients tend to attend sessions more regularly, make better progress towards their goals, drop out less, and report more satisfaction when meeting with a counselor in their cultural group. Clients may also view clinicians of their same race or ethnicity as more qualified to work with their concerns than clinicians of a different cultural group. One of the reasons is that clients may be concerned that their clinician doesn’t understand their values, traditions, or beliefs if they’re from another cultural group. This is especially prevalent when a client’s main concern relates to their culture - such as racism, sexism, homophobia, or religious concerns. Language Barriers Lead to Less Mental Health Access Clinicians outside one’s cultural group can certainly be bilingual, just as clinicians within a cultural group may not necessarily know another language (picture an American whose great-great-great grandparents immigrated from Mexico; they may not necessarily know Spanish). However, clinicians of other cultural groups that can speak languages other than English are startlingly lacking in the mental health field. For example, only 5.5% of mental health clinicians (Latinx or otherwise) say they can speak Spanish fluently enough to meet with a Spanish-speaking patient. Access to clinicians who speak one’s native language is a huge treatment barrier for those Americans that do not speak English. Not Every Clinician is Multiculturally Competent Unfortunately, not every mental health therapist has undergone training or is sufficiently trained in multicultural competencies. Lack of multicultural competencies can lead to microaggressions, misinterpreting cultural expressions as symptoms, and misdiagnosis. A startling 53% of clients across the board report experiencing racial or ethnic microaggressions from their therapist. Studies show clients find that clinicians who display multicultural competencies are more capable of developing a stronger therapeutic alliance and lead to improved treatment outcomes. While having a marginalized identity doesn’t make someone multiculturally competent, it does decrease the chance of iatrogenic harm when treating someone within your own cultural group. We hope this blog advocated for increased representation in the mental health field, and why having clinicians of all cultural backgrounds is so important! If you’re looking for therapy, we may be a good fit for you. Reach out today by emailing hello@therapybeyondhealing.com to ask us about our treatment philosophy and values! We’d love to work with you, and look forward to hearing from you soon.