Gets Real: Shortage of Black mental health counselors affecting Black Americans

JACKSONVILLE. Fla. — May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and the need for mental health counselors has never been greater than it is right now; especially when you consider there was already a shortage of counselors before the pandemic.

For Black Americans, finding a mental health therapist who looks like them is even more challenging.

For more than a year now, traumatic images of racial unrest have become inescapable.

Additionally, a relentless pandemic has disproportionately affected minorities.

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Black mental health counselors are needed now more than ever, and therapist Tamara Ferebee can feel it.

“Everybody has been inundated, whether they are Black therapists, white therapists, all of us are inundated,” said Ferebee.

Ferebee is the co-founder and executive director of the National Association of Black Counselors.

Founded in 2017, the organization has about 500 members.

“Black counselors are about 8% to 9% of the mental health workforce,” said Ferebee.

“It makes a difference when the person you’re speaking with has your same lived experiences,” said Action News Jax’s Lorena Inclán.

“Absolutely, and they feel like they can understand their frame of reference better,” said Ferebee.

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It’s a domino effect; if a therapist misinterprets your behavior, it could lead to a misdiagnosis, which leads to the wrong treatment plan.

Ferebee said it’s crucial to get more people of African descent to become licensed mental health counselors, but there are several setbacks.

“The government, the state governments and the local governments do not want to fund mental health care on the level that they need to,” said Ferebee.

She said the salary isn’t as competitive as other medical fields, and there’s also the struggle with insurance companies.

“The insurance companies, I think, need to increase our rate of pay for what we do, so I think we need to be compensated better,” she said.

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Despite the challenges, Ferebee said it’s a career she loves.

She knows the importance of talking to someone. If you’re struggling to cope with trauma, Ferebee said whatever you do, don’t stop reaching out for help.

“This is a temporary situation and you don’t end your pain when you kill yourself. All you do is pass your pain to the rest of the people that are left,” said Ferebee.

The National Association of Black Counselors is looking to open a chapter in Florida. Licensed mental health therapist Chasity Chandler is leading the charge.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).