Why does the black community have trust issues with therapy? What are some less overt forms of racism that you may be overlooking? What are some things you can do to be truly intentional with your part in making a change?
In this podcast episode series, Joe Sanok speaks to Dr. Connie Omari about why the black community doesn’t trust therapy and what can be done about it.
Meet Dr. Connie Omari
Dr. Omari is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor. Dr. Omari, better known as Dr. O is the owner of two businesses, Tech Talk Therapy PLLC, an online counseling platform offering person-centered counseling through the use of technology and the Black Marriage and Family Therapy Matters Directory which connects black families to black therapists. Dr. O received her Bachelor of Arts in African-American studies and Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, her Masters of Art in Multicultural Counseling through Teachers College, Columbia University, and her Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision from Regent University.
Dr. O utilizes her online counseling platform to serve adults, children, and couples who are facing trauma, depression, and anxiety. As a certified clinical trauma specialist, Dr. O incorporates creative art therapeutic techniques and trauma-focused CBT strategies to reach her large gamut of clients in North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, and Georgia. Dr. O is a media expert and has been featured in major publications including the Huffington Post, NBC News and, Bustle magazine.
In This Podcast
- Trust issues
- Less overt forms of racism
- Being intentional
- Advice for every private practitioner
There is extreme discomfort related to just being vulnerable and letting people know your weaknesses. Because being weak has not been safe.
Slavery itself has weighed very heavily on how things are perceived. Especially as it relates to things that are based on Eurocentric values. It was extremely important to keep problems, issues, and challenges within your family dynamic for fear that you could be punished by being beaten, sold, or mistreated any other way. Dr. Omari points out that generationally African Americans continue to operate from these dynamics.
Less overt forms of racism
Someone who is not of color might not be sensitive to that because they just take it for granted that that’s the way the world is.
There is a tendency to protect white people from these uncomfortable feelings: white guilt, white privilege, or white fragility. This speaks to the narrative that white people have a different experience in the world. Many times white people will respond to issues around race by using inclusive terminology ‘all lives matter’ or ‘I don’t see color’. This may come across as dismissive.
Because of systemic racial issues, the black community does not have access to simple things such as growing up in a 2 parent household, opportunities for generational wealth are lower and educational resources and educational access are limited.
This isn’t something that just started in 2020, I don’t anticipate that it will go away in 2020. It has to be a continuous thing. It requires white people to be intentional about continuing this legacy.
A big part of our work is to know that this is an ongoing issue.
Advice for every private practitioner
Black lives do matter and if you’re having a hard time with that, rather than fight the movement, and rather than resist the change, and rather than see what you don’t know as something that should be dismissed, take a moment to look internally.
- What White Therapists Need to Know with LaToya Smith: Black Leaders Matter Series | Part 1
- LEARN: Listen. Empathize. Act. Resist. Never Stop. with William Hemphill: Black Leaders Matter Series | Part 2
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Meet Joe Sanok
Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.
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This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok. The Black Leaders Matter series.
Welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast. I am so glad that you are here today. This is part of the Black Leaders Matter series that we are doing and I’m so excited about Dr. Connie Omari. Connie has been on NBC, Huffington Post, she has her own podcast. She has blackMFTmatters.com, Tech Talk Therapy, and we’re going to dive into some deep conversation today. Connie, how’re you doing?
I’m doing great. How are you, Joe?
I’m doing awesome. You know, there’s so much going on in the world right now. But I feel like having these conversations and digging in has, just for myself, been just very helpful, but even just to reevaluate how we’ve done things and say, we don’t need to keep doing them this way. So, I’m excited for our conversation today, especially because we just spent 15 minutes chatting about what we’re going to chat about.
Oh, yeah, great stuff. Great stuff.
Well, as we were kind of preparing for this before we started recording, you were talking about how the black community oftentimes doesn’t trust therapy, that there’s kind of systemic things there. I think that’d be a great place to start, of what have your observations been in regards to the African American community and therapy?
Well, I can’t help… thank you for asking that question. And I can’t help but think about how to answer this without looking from a historical perspective and taking things into consideration from that point. So, you know, slavery itself – let’s just start there – has weighed very heavily on how we perceive everything, really. Especially as it relates to things that originated, based in Eurocentric values. So, as slaves, as you know, it was extremely important to keep problems and issues and challenges within your family dynamic for fear that you could be punished by being sold, by being beaten, or any other form of mistreatment. So, you know, there’s extreme discomfort related to just being vulnerable and letting people know your weaknesses because being weak has not been safe. And I believe that generationally, we continue to operate off of those dynamics because while the more overt forms of slavery are frowned upon, or of racism are frowned upon, we still experience the same forms of racism. And we don’t understand that that’s what’s happening, or that that’s what’s going on. And it causes us some reasons to fear and mistrust what’s going on around us.
And what would you say are some of those maybe less overt forms of racism that, as a white male, I might not pick up on, or even as a therapy business owner, I might not be as sensitive to?
Good question, Joe. And I really appreciate you for asking those questions. Because things pertaining to racism are very uncomfortable, I think it’s normal for us to not talk about things that make us feel uncomfortable. And so, there’s a tendency for… my experience as a black woman is to feel the need to protect white people from the discomfort, uncomfortable feelings, and a lot of that has been associated in terms like white guilt, or white fragility, or white privilege, which basically speaks to the narrative of white people having an experience in a world that’s very different. So, a lot of times, white people will respond to areas around race by using inclusive terminology like all lives matter, or I don’t see color, or I’m colorblind. Well, as a woman of color in general, that essentially means you don’t see me.
Black people have… just talk about basic stuff – buying a house, okay? First of all, our opportunities for generational wealth are lower because we haven’t had access to the financial resources to carry it down from generation to generation because of our slavery history. Then you have actually buying a property, which is going to mean the price of your property will now decrease because neighborhoods that are primarily black have lower financial value. Not only do we see that in homeownership, we see that in educational resources, educational access, we see that in the political venues. You know, a lot of the laws are not being created with us in mind because we’re not the ones who are making the laws. We’re not the ones who are in charge of enforcing the laws. Things as little as just being married and growing up in a household with a two parent household; statistics show that people who grow up with a mother and a father have better financial resources, they have better educational opportunities and children in general have better socio economic statuses and emotional development. So, we don’t have access to that, a lot of times because of systemic racial issues. And someone who’s not of color might not be sensitive to that, because they just take it for granted that that’s the way the world is. So if we’re having a conversation, and we might be talking about our home, or whatever, you might not understand the sensitivity that that might mean for me, knowing that my home, even if it costs as much as yours initially, will depreciate just because it’s located in a black community.
Yeah, I mean, just thinking about the layers on top of just… I mean, just adulthood in general is tough for anyone, and then to have these additional layers that then are always top of mind. And then having people now in this moment saying, now I care about this. I would imagine, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, I can imagine that it would be like we’ve been struggling with this our whole lives. Thank you for being here now, but like, where were you for the last, you know, 30 some years? As you look kind of in your own business, and you look at advising other people in their businesses, what does that look like for people that are new? And what would you hope that they would either learn, and act, educate themselves on, so they can continue in this and not have this just be something that happens, you know, summer of 2020?
Right. Very good. That’s a great question. And I think that you are right. I think it does speak a little bit to the privilege piece, of being white and being able to say, wow, racism was just brought to my attention. Now, tell me all about it. Because you’re putting another person in a position to have to relive their uncomfortable experiences. Anyone who works with trauma knows that the last thing you want to do is just force the person on the spot to have to think of all of the traumatic events that they’re trying to hide from, and that’re troubling them anyway. So, you know, the privilege piece does come into place here, but what I’d like for people to know is that you’re right, this isn’t something that was just started in 2020. I don’t anticipate that it will just go away in 2020. It has to be a continuous thing. So, it requires us to be – and by us, I mean white people – to be extremely intentional about continuing this legacy. Let’s do it when people are not getting shot or dying from asphyxiation due to a police officer’s knee. Let’s do it when we hear people making jokes about black people. Let’s do it when we’re thinking all lives matter, but we’re not recognizing that wait, if that were really true then we wouldn’t be having to argue that black lives do, let’s do it when we’re having lunch, and we’re meeting exclusively with people who look like us, thinking that we’re not racist, but we don’t know if we’re racist or not because we’re not inviting anybody in our circle that has a different experience in the world. So, I think a big part of our work is really just to be sensitive to the fact that this is an ongoing issue. Just like we’ve gotten everybody’s attention as it relates to how important it is and that it is very present and very real. It’s going to be just as real next year, and next year, and next year. And the goal is to not have to have this type of awareness brought to the forefront to recognize that it happens, but rather recognize that it happens more or less on a daily basis.
Yeah. You’ve brought up the all lives matter, or I’m colorblind. I feel like that’s something that, whether I think of family members or people in my neighborhood, or… I sometimes see that. How would you hope people like myself that want to be a part of this, that want to be an agent of change, they want to use their privilege. How would you hope, or what would you expect out of someone like myself to say to those people, if they’re like, well, all lives matter? What would you hope that I would say in that situation?
So, I saw a meme on Facebook, so I am going to plagiarize real quickly here. But it said that saying all lives matter is like going into a community, seeing one house on fire, and saying, well, let’s just put water on all the houses right now. Like, it makes no sense. We get, in theory, all lives should matter. In theory, that would be great. And from a humanistic perspective that is very much true. But that is not what we are seeing. Blacks are getting killed by police, percentage wise – because a lot of times people like to look at the numbers and the statistics and say, oh, well, more white people are dying by cops than black people. Well, that very well may be true, but that’s only because there’s a lot more white people in the population to pull from. When you look at percentages – and this can be seen, I mean, not only in the murder rates, but all you have to do is go to a jail, go to a prison and look and see how significantly more black people are in there, which is extremely disproportionate to any other population, really, in our society. You know, it is the black people that are getting into these situations. So, to say all lives matter really misses the big picture, because, yes, in theory, they should. In actuality, they don’t. And that’s supported by the statistics and the research for what we see in crimes from police officers, or the criminal justice system, towards black people.
I want to go back to that first question about the black community and therapy. I know you’ve done a lot of work around this and are guiding even black leaders in that area. What are some things that you’re seeing in black therapists that they’re doing to help destigmatize therapy, to build awareness, to have it be culturally sensitive? What are some things within your own community that you found is working to help people get the help that they need?
So I don’t know if this is a term that I’m just coming up with, I’m familiar with code switching, which speaks to the narrative of the black community, to kind of talk… forgive me, but white people who are in white settings like, you know, at work, or maybe at school, or on a podcast, etc. But one of the things that I really appreciate is that we’re doing a lot of this in our therapy session on the reverse. So, you know, using words like maybe being woke, you know, or YOLO, you only live once, and I’m not saying we just do slang, but being relatable is very important. One of the big issues that I see a lot in working with black women is just our hair. And it’s just so comforting that we can have a conversation and, you know, I do a lot of telehealth, I do exclusively telehealth, so I can see people – they might be putting their braids in, they might be getting a blowout, they might be doing all of these things. And you don’t have to explain that to me. In fact, I can make a comparison like, girl, I did my daughter’s hair like that last week. In fact, one of my clients sent me something that they thought my daughter might could use in her hair, and it was just, it was something that we… it was like, no explanation. I know what a lace run is. I know what sisterlocks are. I know what a updo is. I know what kinky twists are. I don’t have to be instructed and taught on that, and that’s just from, I guess, one perspective.
But so many things, like when a client tells me how important it is to think about the family as it relates to maybe making decisions, I understand that that might not just be Mom and Dad. That might mean Aunt Pookie, you know what I mean? That might be little Johnny or whatever that means, but I can look at it in the context for their family. And that’s a big criticism that I think that I have for even the marriage and family therapy programs, because a lot of them are not trained to understand that the family dynamic is a system. And again, we’re talking about our roots, like, if you had to have the head of the home, being the male, if he gets sold off somewhere, suddenly the community has to take care and take care of these children. Or if a child is getting sold at birth, never had a chance to meet their parents, they go to another plantation, they’re taken care of by the community. And because again, you’re talking about systemic issues, well, when our black men are getting shot, and when they’re going to jail, etc., then their kids are being taken care of by the community, you know, and we are missing the mark on really what that means. But I believe, as a black therapist, a lot of times we can catch it and we pick it up. We’re more sensitive to that, even though a lot of our training per se hasn’t necessarily included that, unless we did some extra training where we talked about multiculturalism, again, which is almost like an add on, as opposed to a default measure for how Marriage and Family Therapy is taught.
I’m glad you brought that up. That was kind of where I was gonna go with it, so thanks for reading my mind. Is just that idea of if this is what you’re finding in your own practice as being helpful, I’m amazed that more programs aren’t just including it in counseling techniques, or systems theory, or even just how you make a Genogram. To me, those are things that seem really important for when you enter into the field. I’m even thinking about my first couple of jobs working in Kalamazoo, predominantly African American community that I was working in and just even being able to think through like, I’m not going to maybe use slang in that same way or try to be inauthentic to myself, but just to understand, if we’re having a wraparound meeting and someone is doing her daughter’s hair, that’s not disrespectful or not paying attention to me, that’s just part of what’s kind of happening in that family. And so even just hearing you say that I’m thinking, were there times that I came in as the professional and wasn’t even aware of, maybe something that I thought was… I don’t know that I would have thought it was disrespectful, but maybe it was just, your probation officer is here in your house and they came for a meeting and you’re not prepared and all these things that definitely come from a privileged perspective. If I had just had people like yourself in my trainings in grad school, I mean, how much better of a therapist could I have been and even buy in from the client to say like, I’m here to help you?
Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah, I see that. And just with you mentioning that I’m thinking about, you can’t talk about this without also talking about, like, the social distancing measures and things that are going on. So, I’m working with a black client, you know, it’s the same exact issue. She was getting in trouble, her father was upset with her because she wasn’t listening, and she wasn’t paying attention, and she wasn’t showing up for her classes, she was a teenager. Only to find out that because the salons were closed, this black girl wasn’t able to get her hair done and she wasn’t comfortable with her peers seeing her hair in the natural state. You know, so this was like a really traumatic incident for this girl. And the father totally missed it because he sees it as, you’re not listening or you’re not showing up or you’re being resistant. No, she’s being humiliated. She’s being embarrassed, because society has taught her one thing about the natural texture of her hair. And she’s in a moment where she can’t hide that at this time.
Yeah. So when you think forward, whether it’s white practices, black practices, the field of counseling in general, what do you think will be helpful to not just remember from this time, but to continue to push into what needs to happen?
So, we are trained listeners. We have been trained for that and I’ll be honest, nothing irks me more, okay, I can take All Lives Matter and colorblind issues much more health… it’s not healthy, I don’t mean to say that, but I can handle it. But when it comes from a person… and that’s not fair, I shouldn’t have to, and I recognize that, and this movement has helped me be aware of it, but again, this is based off of the 36 years before all of a sudden racism be important, where I’ve conditioned myself that if you want to survive in this world, you’re going to have to learn how to navigate and work around and tweak around those issues. But what irks me more than anything is when the mental health professionals are doing it, so if a client comes to you and says, I’m depressed, or I’m anxious, how dare we say we’re not, or they’re not, or they’re delusional, or they’re just making this up, or it’s really not that bad, or we all get depressed sometimes. I mean, do you see how ridiculous that sounds? But I can’t tell you how many clients have come to me specifically because I am black and have expressed the same level of trauma of having worked with non-black therapists and they respond in a very undermining and devaluing way such as that. So, I will say the biggest thing is listen, listen – you don’t have to agree with it. You don’t have to understand it. You don’t even have to like it. You don’t have to like it. How many clients do you have that have other issues that you don’t like? But if they’re talking about race, and it’s bringing up something in you and you’re feeling uncomfortable and you’re feeling guilty, that’s not their problem. It’s yours.
Now, I want to kind of turn the discussion inward a little bit, and open myself up kind of transparently and say, I would love for you to kind of push back on things you’ve seen with Practice of the Practice, if there’s ideas you have that we can do better. And again, not coming from a place that you have any obligation to tell me what to do, or to teach me as a white person, I can do my own work and I do my own work. But to just say, from your perspective, are there things that you think that we can do better, that we can change, that are blind spots that you would say, this is what I would hope Practice of the Practice thinks through in the coming years? Any things come to mind in regards to that?
Right. So, as I’ve told you before, I don’t mind saying I’m a loyal listener, I’m a loyal fan. So, we can… I definitely want to start with that. And I think, again, just talking about privilege, when I reach out to get counseling resources, and to see how to be a more effective therapist, which is, by the way, how I came across this podcast, I don’t expect to see and hear and think of people who look like me. And I want… if that can sink in for a second. So I don’t really expect to get maybe the information that I’m sharing today because, as a black person, again, we’re conditioned to adapt more or less to the Eurocentric values and the norms, knowing that then we have to go behind the scenes and work with someone who might not feel comfortable about being on camera because their hair is not done. So, we have to figure out how to incorporate that. So, I appreciate, and I told you this, that you’re doing this series, I appreciate your vulnerability. I’ve never seen you as an insensitive person. I guess, you know, it would be nice to see, after this series is done, periodically, integrating some other interviews because, yes, race is a huge issue. It is a huge issue. Um, but you know, we have perspectives on things beyond race as well maybe, you know, I’m really big on working within the sexual assault community, that’s a passion of mine. There’s eating disorders, there’s so many different areas that black people can maybe contribute and have their own unique perspective. So that might be a nice area to take on it. But, Joe, I think more than anything, your vulnerability and your willingness to just jump out there knowing you’re gonna get some backlash because we’ve talked about it.
It’s already happened. Oh, my word.
Yeah. We’re coming for you.
Well, even the private messages. And that’s something that, yes, I’ve opened myself up to but I… I don’t think that you’re going to maybe even be able to answer this, but it feels like when I think of a therapist, just a therapist, I think of people that listen, that give people the benefit of the doubt, that try to encourage any steps of growth. And so for me, when I post something and then I get sometimes vicious things said to me, that aren’t questions even saying like, well, what kind of work are you doing and I could share that privately with them, that’s confusing for me because it feels like an unleashing of anger on someone that, like, yeah, I’m a white guy. Okay. I have no control over that. I’m trying to join in the fight. And not that this is a sob story for Joe, but I do find that confusing as to how parts of this audience have felt like, oh, and I don’t even know if there’s a question in there. It’s more of an observation where it’s just confusing to me because that’s not the kind of person I think of myself as being nor the kind of people that I hope that I attract.
I would agree with that. And, you know…
And feel free to poke holes in it. I mean, feel free to say, Joe, this is what you’re missing, because there may be things that I totally have blind spots on with that too.
Well, I appreciate that as well. And I think we hit it right on the head, that it didn’t just start with, I guess, I can’t remember what was the most recent, the first one in the series… I think it was Ahmaud and then Briana, and then George – I can’t even keep it straight. So I think that there’s a space in people that’s frustrating, but just like, you know, the white guilt, which speaks to the narrative that white people hold the negative feelings and perceptions of maybe some things that happened that were outside of their control, which makes it hard to talk about. As black people we’re used to being told that there’s the reason to distrust what you’re saying. And so, I think the more we can see you show up and present yourself… Like I said, you won my trust a long time ago because I value maybe some of the other things that you’ve offered, like we’ve talked about imposter syndrome. I struggle with that as well, you know, so there’s some things that I’ve had the privilege of working with you through, and recognizing that maybe in this area, there just needs to be a little bit more of it, and people are slow to change.
Yeah. What is interesting is the African American community has not been the one that’s doing that – it’s mostly been white people. And that’s what I find it really interesting is… I don’t know, I don’t want to go down that path and really dive into that as much as what you’ve already said is so important. I feel like this could take us on a tangent not worth going down. But it is an interesting dynamic to observe and to also myself say, you know, I want to defend myself but I’m not going to; I’m just going to step back and work with people like you that really want to help change, and want to partner with me, and want to get messages out there, and that we together can say we can be allies in this work. I feel like that’s where I want to put my best energy, not into people that are pushing back in ways that I think is sometimes inappropriate.
Joe, can I make a small comment on that?
Yeah, I respect that you didn’t want to go on a tangent about that, but I think it’s useful to add that what we’re not mentioning about this is the element of power. And any time a group of people who are… like, what you’re doing is you’re leveling the playground, you know what I mean? Every time you reach out and do a podcast like this and decide that you’re going to take this issue seriously and follow up, you’re taking some of that power away. And so, you’ve got people that don’t have the level of insight, that don’t have the level of wisdom or compassion really, to do that. Because you’re not taking it away just for you – you’re taking it away for white people in general, and that’s not safe. That’s scary. So please expect to be under attack, because anytime a person is willing to step out and change, and do something different and better, that comes with it, and your glory is going to come not for, as you said, the people who don’t understand you or appreciate you, but all the many people who will listen to these podcasts and who will show up in sessions with you, and just follow you on social media just to see what new things you’re bringing about that speak to them.
Yeah. I’m wondering – especially because you have a background in helping people dealing with trauma – how much do you feel that… the amount of layering of 2020, of having COVID and having Black Lives Matter and even just people being in quarantine for months upon months and being just sick of their damn kids. How much of maybe people’s individual reactions to each other, like, I’m not demeaning the protests or why we should be standing up, but even just people that I wouldn’t have expected how they’re treating each other when I even just see comments on things seems very short. Do you think people just have… like, thing upon thing has made it that it’s just harder for people to kind of take that deep breath and go into it? Or is there kind of a trauma perspective that you would add to it?
Oh, yeah, I mean, we’ve seen the domestic violence rate has increased in black and white families. The abuse against children has – this is for the first time in history, the sexual assault coalition has reported that there have been more reports of sexual abuse against children, because they don’t have the outlets that they have normally had to be able to counter some of the trauma that they’ve been experiencing.
Well, thanks for adding that. So, the last question that I always ask is, if every private practitioner in the world were listening right now, what would you want them to know?
Well, gosh, that’s a great question. I would want them to know that black lives do matter. And if you’re having a hard time with that, rather than fight the movement, and rather than resist the change, and rather than see what you don’t know as something that should be dismissed, take a moment to look internally. Figure out really what that was about. Most of us don’t even know George Floyd. God bless his heart and the people that love him and knew him, my condolences to them, but most of us don’t know him. It’s what he represents. So, if you need to remove his face, and place the face of your son, your husband, your brother in that space, how would it affect you now?
Man. Way to make it personal at the end, Connie; I gotta keep it together to do our outro. And Connie, if people want to connect with your work, if they want to follow what you’re doing, what’s the best way for them to connect with you?
I can be found on my website, which is techtalktherapy.com. We serve clients located in North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Florida. I also want to invite therapists to join my directory at Black Marriage and Family Therapy Matters, which can also be found online at blackMFTmatters.com.
Oh, so awesome. Thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice podcast. This has been amazing.
Thank you for having me. It is an honor and I’m so glad to be a part of this and congratulations for doing this. You’re doing great work and we appreciate this.
Thank you so much.
And just a reminder to all of you, we aren’t doing any sponsors during this series. Please go donate to your favorite charity that is doing work to better the world and to address issues like this. Thanks so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. Have an awesome day.
Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music; we really like it. This podcast is designed to provide accurate, authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.