'Don't Show Weakness:' Black Americans Still Shy Away from Psychotherapy
Leland, John, Newsweek
DR. ALVIN POUSSAINT remembers clearly a visit to the housing project s of Boston in the late 1960s. A public-health nurse had directed him to a woman in need of help. When he identified himself as a psychiatrist, says Poussaint, who is black, the woman refused to open her door. "She told me there were two individuals who could have her locked up. One was the police. And one was the psychiatrist." The experience taught him a lesson about the power relationship between his profession and the black community. "I realized that in poor black communities, the psychiatrist was seen as someone who had the power to say you were crazy, to have you committed"--or to take your children away.
When Mike Tyson announced last week that he planned to seek psychiatric treatment, it was something of a watershed. African-Americans have traditionally tended to avoid openly talking about their psychological problems or seeking treatment for them. "This whole notion of therapy is not really embedded in the African-American culture," says Bertha Holliday, who runs the American Psychological Association's office of ethnic-minority affairs. Many can't afford it or don't have insurance; others fear the stigma or prefer alternatives--mostly clergy, but also astrologers or psychics. Black men especially remain wary of therapy, with possibly dire consequences. The suicide rate for young African-American males has risen more than 50 percent in the last decade. Dr. Linda James Myers of Ohio State contends that untreated depression, "particularly among [black] men, is why drug use and alcohol levels are so high and homicide is so high--people are trying to mediate themselves."
Middle-class people of all races are more likely to seek therapy. But some of the obstacles for blacks cross class lines. …