On TikTok, Black therapists shine a light on mental health — and each other

From a good light in the room, the trees are blurred in the background, their faces framed by closed captions, says Shahem Mclaurin straight into the camera. Lesson: “Ten Ways to Start Healing.”

But this is not a classroom, nor is it a therapist’s office. This is TikTok.

“We all have our own things to carry and those burdens should not carry us for the rest of our lives,” says Mclaurin, a licensed social worker.

Through videos – some on topics like grief, “race/race”, trauma and healing, raw reactions or other trending sounds, such as this call to action to amplifying people of color on TikTok – Mclaurin advocates for better mental representation of the health sector. Mclaurin spoke to viewers who haven’t found a caregiver they connect with because of the stigma surrounding therapy and admits that there are few practitioners like them.

“I’m a black, gay therapist and I want to prove I’ve got it all,” says Mclaurin. “I always say, ‘My panties are part of my uniform.’

Mental health professionals have become popular on TikTok, addressing a range of mental health conditions, responding to racial trauma from incriminating events like Derek Chauvin’s trial for crimes George Floyd’s murder and the January 6 uprising and brings humor to sensitive issues like depression that for some communities remain hidden. On TikTok, Black therapists talk openly about working in the predominantly white sector, while also making mental health care more accessible to those who may not be part of the system. health care system.

The Chinese-owned video app, with its US headquarters in Culver City, California, offers a huge platform and even potential fame, with over 1 billion monthly users. The hashtag #mentalhealth has attracted more than 28 billion views, along with others like #blacktherapist and #blackmentalhealth which have attracted millions of viewers.

Shahem Mclaurin shares healing tips. Licensed social workers and therapists have nearly 319,000 followers on the app. (SHAHEM MCLAURIN)

Kojo Sarfo, a mental health nurse practitioner with 2 million TikTok followers, guides viewers on what undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can look like. Video production has become a mainstay of Sarfo, who now has a small production team and journalists. (KOJO SARFO)

Video production has become the main job of Kojo Sarfo, a mental health nurse practitioner living in Los Angeles who has amassed 2 million followers. Sarfo dances and acts in short skits about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders and other mental health conditions.

“I try to shed light on topics that people have a hard time talking about,” he says. “And let people know that getting help isn’t as scary as you think.”

Mental health professionals can run the game from a medically trained psychiatrist to a psychologist with a PhD to a mental health consultant with a master’s degree. Although diversity is improving in the field – black professionals make up 11% of psychologists under the age of 36 – only 4% of the total U.S. psychology workforce are people. Black, according to the most recent data from the American Psychological Association. More than three-quarters of mental health counselors are white.

Patrice Berry, a psychologist from Virginia, primarily uses TikTok to answer people’s questions about things like advice for new therapists and setting boundaries with teens. Berry wasn’t there to find customers. She has a waiting list at her private gym. She says TikTok is a way to give back.

Her comments are mostly a mix of appreciation notes and follow-up questions, with some videos getting over a thousand replies.

In a TikTok, Berry joked about suddenly leaving church when “they say you don’t need therapy or medication.” One user commented that that’s how she was raised in her Black Baptist church and that “we have so much work to do.” Another wrote, “As a therapist, I love this. Preach!”

A tight TikTok community has formed, and Berry leads a Facebook group dedicated to Blacks, Indigenous people, and other people of color focused on mental health.

“I wanted to create a safe space where we could have real conversations about our experience on the app and share tips and resources,” she said.

One client told psychologist Patrice Berry that she would do well on TikTok, and although her initial reaction was “I’m too old,” she gave it a try. In the video, Berry jokes about suddenly leaving church when “they say you don’t need therapy or medication.” (PATRICE BERRY)

Therapist Janel Cubbage originally joined TikTok in 2020 just for fun. However, quickly, videos from fellow mental health professionals started appearing in her feed, and they inspired Cubbage to create her own content. In this video, she discusses collective trauma. (JANEL CUBBAGE)

Therapist Janel Cubbage’s video topics cover evidence-based strategies for suicide prevention on the bridge to collective trauma, sometimes addressing her Black audience directly.

Like other TikTokers, she’s quick to note that watching videos is no substitute for seeking professional help, and important concepts can be lost when scrolling. Plus, even as TikTok works to identify and remove inaccurate information, creators without a mental health degree still discuss the same issues without the expertise or training. created to support their advice.

Cubbage said that, in the face of trolls, emotional support from the creators she meets on TikTok is indispensable. “That’s one of the things that’s really fascinating about the app, which is finding this community of Black therapists who have become friends with me,” she said.

Where to find therapy?

It can be extremely difficult to find an affordable therapist who is accepting patients, let alone a therapist of color. Psychologist Alfiee Breland-Noble shared several resources for finding care: – Psychology Today has a searchable database filtered by location, insurance coverage, ethnicity, type of therapy , pricing and more.– InnoPsych provides a list of therapists of color.– Black Girls Therapy also has a database.– Melanin & Mental Health is another option with a list of providers. grants.– AAKOMA Project, the non-profit organization Breland-Noble founded, offers 5 free virtual therapy sessions .– Black Men Heal also offers free therapy sessions .– Loveland Foundation has therapy funds free for black women and girls.– The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation has a free therapy fund and a list of mental health providers serving the African-American community.

Unlike Facebook, which largely relies on a user’s friends and followers for feeds, TikTok’s algorithm, or “recommendation system,” is very interested in what people see. Kinnon MacKinnon, an assistant professor at York University in Toronto who worked on the app, said that when a user interacts with certain hashtags, the algorithm pushes similar content. At the same time, TikTok moderates a lot of content that doesn’t adhere to its community guidelines, such as preventing eating disorder hashtags like #skinnycheck.

Black creators have repeatedly said they have been persecuted on the app. At the height of protests following the death of George Floyd, the company apologized after posts uploaded using #BlackLivesMatter and #GeorgeFloyd received 0 views. (TikTok cited a “technical glitch.”) Last June, many of TikTok’s Black creators went on strike to protest that they weren’t recognized because white creators copied the dance. their tunes and fame.

Black therapists also question racial bias. At times, TikTok users have questioned her login information or tagged a white creator to confirm the information, Berry said.

Around the same time as the strike, TikTok wrote that it was training its enforcement teams “to better understand content that is more nuanced like cultural appropriation and defamation”. The company hosts a variety of initiatives that promote Black creators, including an incubator program. Shavone Charles, TikTok’s head of diversity and inclusion communications, declined to comment on the profile but only gave KHN statements issued by TikTok.

Marquis Norton, a licensed professional counselor and assistant professor at Hampton University, uses TikTok to reduce stigma when seeking mental health care. (MARQUIS NORTON)

Marquis Norton, a TikToker, licensed professional advisor and assistant professor at Hampton University, tries to direct people to more in-depth resources outside of the app, but he worries that sometimes people maybe try to diagnose themselves from what they find on the internet and get it wrong.

Viewers regularly ask Norton to accept them as patients – a common request heard by mental health professionals on TikTok – although complicating factors such as state licensing and insurance restrictions make It becomes difficult to find a therapist on the app. So he made a video about where to look.

Berry has also posted several videos with advice on finding the right therapist, including one certified to treat trauma and a child.

Alfiee Breland-Noble, psychologist and founder of the AAKOMA (Optimizing African American Knowledge for Healthy Adolescents) Project, a BIPOC mental health organization, said: I think it’s great that it opens a door for people. At the same time, she adds, it can feel like a “glass window” for some, where mental health services remain out of reach.

“Blacks are still not taking full advantage of the mental health care they need,” she said.

A behavioral health equity report from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that in 2019, 36% of black teens ages 12 to 17 had experienced some form of mental illness. major depressive episodes were treated, compared with more than half of their white friends.

There’s a shortage of mental health providers and costs associated with therapy, but “more than that, they’re not going anywhere,” Breland-Noble said. “Conversations haven’t changed much for Black communities abroad.”

Especially for older generations, says Norton, people have adapted to a disease pattern of mental health in which seeking help means “something is wrong with you. ” But thinking has changed, driven by millennials and Gen Z, towards a model of healthcare without stigma.

Norton hopes his videos will continue to push these conversations forward.

KHN (Kaiser Health News) is a national newsroom specializing in the production of in-depth news on health issues. Along with Policy Analysis and Exploration, KHN is one of three main activities at KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation). The KFF is a nonprofit organization privileged to provide information on health issues to the nation.

https://www.inverse.com/culture/black-therapist-tiktok On TikTok, Black therapists shine a light on mental health — and each other

Emma James

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