Identifying African-Americans’ Barriers to Family Therapy

Family therapy can help families and couples overcome challenges with interpersonal relationships. Many issues that families and couples face become volatile and hostile without the help of learning how to constructively communicate and problem-solve. Relationship issues do not discriminate, and people of all cultures and races are vulnerable to family conflicts. This does not mean that people of every ethnicity embrace family therapy equally. In fact, African-Americans are far less likely than white people to seek out therapy for family problems. The reasons for this are many, and could include limited access to care, financial restrictions, mistrust of mental health professionals, and fear of stigma associated with counseling.

Cadmona A. Hall of the Marriage and Family Counseling Center at the Adler School of Professional Psychology in Illinois wanted to examine the specific barriers preventing African-Americans from seeking treatment. In a recent study, Hall interviewed nine participants and found that stigma presented the biggest obstacle to treatment. Resilience was the most common personality trait that helped the participants overcome the stigma. Hall believes that African-Americans are more likely to be resilient, having had to surmount the atrocities of slavery and the injustices of discrimination. This ability to overcome could have been an underlying force that led the participants to seek out help despite the barriers.

Hall also noted that eight of the nine individuals in her study were affiliated with the college where the counseling clinic was located. Having knowledge of and access to the services could have increased the willingness in this sample of participants. Another appealing aspect of the university clinic was the sliding fee scale, which was cited as a very beneficial aspect. Mistrust, which was listed as a barrier to treatment seeking, was addressed when the participants realized that their sessions were confidential and they felt comfortable enough to build rapport with their therapists. This was critical in setting them at ease and ensuring they would return to complete therapy. Although the sample size used here was small and lacking diversity, it was able to provide insight into the factors that prevent African-Americans from seeking out therapy. “As clinicians increase sensitivity and understanding of the unique features of African-Americans, they will have an increased ability to engage that population in therapy and increase quality of care,” Hall said.

Hall, Cadmona A., and Jonathan G. Sandberg. “We shall overcome”: A qualitative exploratory study of the experiences of African-Americans who overcame barriers to engage in family therapy. American Journal of Family Therapy 40.5 (2012): 445-58. Print.

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  • dale

    November 16th, 2012 at 9:43 PM

    I think the major stumbling block is accessibility and affordability.But yes,stigma cannot be discounted.It is a major reason in many communities that prevents people from seeking care.

    Not having knowledge of treatment an care combined with lack Of funds and presence of stigma sounds like a massive block and overcoming it really needs quite some resilience.

  • Laurie R

    November 17th, 2012 at 4:06 AM

    There is the problem of money and accessibility for many minority families. Those barriers don’t go away even if you change how families ultimately feel about going into some sort of family therapy together.

  • Kelsey

    November 19th, 2012 at 4:00 AM

    It is improtant to remember that therapy itself hasn’t really been around for that long, and it certainly hasn’t been something that has ever been open and available to even those who seem to need it the most. Black families traditionally want to keep everything in the family, and try to help one another; and while that is an awesome trait that I wish more families had, the fact is that sometimes we are not equipped to give help without a professional stepping in and offering some guidance too. So I think that there is still soe real reluctance on their end to air their dirty laundry in public, and unfortunately that is doing areal disservice to many who need therapy but who are afraid to seek it out.

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