Religion and therapy
Not all young people feel comfortable opening up.
“We as a culture have not overcome post-slavery,” said a 28-year-old African American woman in the District who sees a therapist but did not want her name used. “I think that in the black community we have to be strong and we cannot be perceived as weak.”
The woman said she has told close friends, but not family members, about her therapy. “I’m at a place where my peers are like-minded, but I think the older generation tends to think that it’s not needed.”
For many older people, a church, rather than a counselor or psychiatrist, is the natural place to turn for psychological healing.
“There’s no stigma going to a pastor, it doesn’t cost any money, and they know you because they see you every Sunday,” Barnes said.
Some churches have perpetuated people’s distrust in mental health services. “Many churches see therapy as antagonistic to some sort of spiritual calling,” said William Lawson, professor and chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Howard University.
But increasingly, black churches are forming partnerships with mental health providers and requiring their own ministers to get some training in counseling. At Zion Baptist Church in the District, Lawson and other mental health care providers give regular talks on topics such as depression and anxiety disorders.
“The black church can no longer be used for so-called one-stop shopping,” said Sherry Molock, an associate professor of psychology at George Washington University and co-pastor of the Beloved Community Church in Accokeek, where she offers therapy to parishioners.
“Prayer and connection to the church are all very beneficial, but it’s going to take more than that for someone who’s suffering from depression,” she said. “You do a disservice to your congregation to believe that you can treat people with serious mental illness” without professional help.
More churches in the Washington area are requiring their clergy to be trained in mental health counseling and referring parishioners to mental health professionals, she said. “In reality, we’re a team, and everyone has a role to play.”
Since her first visit to her university counselor, Dyson has gone from someone who used to hide that she was in therapy to someone who makes a living talking about it.
Her family didn’t really understand until this year. “They came and heard me speak, and it clicked,” she said. “They said, ‘We didn’t know how much pain you were in.’ ”
Her father, the Baptist minister, still doesn’t talk about it. But, she said, “he tells me he is extremely proud of me.”