By J.P. Antonacci

One barrier faced by people of colour seeking mental-health support is a lack of therapists who share the same cultural background.

A new app called Althea Therapy, created by Hamilton-raised mental-health advocate Micheline Khan, seeks to close that gap by connecting BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) clients with therapists from their communities.

“It’s about building trust with your therapist so you have a space where you can be vulnerable and have somebody who understands and identifies with your unique cultural identity,” Khan said. “There’s a lower dropout rate when mental-health professionals and clients share the same race and ethnicity.”

The process, she explained, can involve clients overcoming distrust of the medical system based on “a long history of oppression toward people of colour,” as seen in racialized patients being more likely than white patients to be admitted to psychiatric units or prescribed medication rather than offered counselling.

“A lot of cultural groups see seeking out help as a form of weakness,” Khan said, explaining a lack of BIPOC mental-health professionals in the mental-health field is one reason therapy is not more accepted in racialized communities.

“It’s a space where we think we don’t fit,” she said. “When you think of therapy, you don’t often picture a person of colour who’s your psychologist. But if you start to see more BIPOC professionals in that space, you start to change their perception.”

Opening up to a therapist who shares a common cultural background and understands concepts such as microaggressions and racial prejudice can make clients feel more empowered, Khan said.

“You don’t have to spend so much time and energy explaining every nuance and every issue that you go through,” she said.

Raised by Trinidadian and Guyanese parents, Khan was motivated to create Althea Therapy after seeing increased discrimination and harassment toward Black and Asian communities during the pandemic, along with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to police brutality against people of colour.

“The spark really was the layers of oppression we were witnessing last year,” said Khan, an ecologist by trade who now lives in Paris, France. “Seeing the impacts of the pandemic on racialized communities on such a global scale revealed the existing inequities in our communities.”

In search of something tangible to do beyond donating to anti-racism causes, Khan sought to help racialized clients across Canada access culturally sensitive mental-health support and overcome the stigma against therapy within some BIPOC communities.

Althea Therapy launched in April and the uptake has been enthusiastic. Khan has already heard success stories of clients who used the app to find new therapists from their own communities, which has given them renewed optimism about their mental health.

Clients are also making use of mood journals, clinical definitions, a peer-support forum, and links to other mental-health resources provided through the app.

“It feels incredible,” Khan said. “To know that this platform is positively impacting people shows that it’s completely worth it.”

See Original Article at The Hamilton Spectator