The Racist History of America’s Mental Health System & How to Find the Right Therapist as a BIPOC

February is black history month, and we are discussing the harmful experiences and roadblocks that many in the BIPOC community face when seeking mental health care. A brief glance at the history of mental health in America will show that these disparities exist because our nation’s mental health system was built to uphold a system of oppression. We hope to bring more awareness to this serious topic and provide useful information to the BIPOC community on how to find a therapist who will provide them with culturally competent care.

The dark history of racism in America’s mental health system

At the founding of the United States as a sovereign nation, inaccurate psychological “science” was used to justify slavery and racism. Respected psychologists and scientists asserted that the brains of black people were “primitive” and ideal for servitude. They claimed that black people were “psychologically unfit” for freedom. They invented many mental disorders to account for the slaves’ unhappiness in captivity and desire to escape.

This scientific racism was wielded as a tool to oppress and continue to reap profit from blacks. By convincing a religious society that black people were designed by god to be “less than,” leading health professionals enabled the justification of horrific human and civil rights violations.

While we would love to tell you that these atrocities ended with slavery, mislabeling the actions of the oppressed as mental illness continued well into the 20th century. During the civil rights movement of the 1960’s, black men were described as having a “protest psychosis” after listening to or joining activist groups. It was suggested that these men required psychiatric treatment to mitigate the damage to themselves and the social order of America.

Throughout our nation’s history, the black psyche has been portrayed by mental health professionals - overtly and covertly - as inherently unwell, immoral, and criminal. Considering our long history of systematic oppression through the field of mental health, it makes sense that racial disparities still exist in our mental health system. Racism was written into the mental health system in ways that are invisible to many today.

Recognizing the roadblocks to adequate care

In a blind study conducted in 2016, researchers found that race and socioeconomic status greatly decreased the likelihood of a working-class member of the BIPOC community to even get an appointment, let alone treatment. According to The American Journal of Psychotherapy, “A patient’s race and zip code influence care delivery more than any other variables”. These are unacceptable statistics that Medens Health is working to change through our standards of care and activism.

Why a “color blind” therapist isn’t good enough

If you’re a BIPOC searching for a therapist and come across one that claims to be “color blind,” we urge you to keep looking. A large part of a therapist’s job is to create a safe relationship that allows for vulnerability. A person of color cannot feel safe with a “color blind” therapist who doesn’t recognize that the structures of society and government dehumanize, marginalize, and discriminate against people of color.

A therapist who has not been trained in anti-racist practices can do harm by:

Without placing the challenges of racism, xenophobia, intergenerational trauma, and living in fear in context, therapists can’t effectively treat clients of color and will almost certainly perpetuate the trauma that their clients have experienced as a result of racism.

Finding a culturally responsive therapist  

As a member of the BIPOC community, here are some steps you can take that can help guide you to find a therapist who will provide culturally competent care:

Closing the gap on multicultural mental health care

At Medens, we are actively working towards changing the historically oppressive system that has harmed many minority communities. We do this by prioritizing having a diverse team of staff and providers, as well as making anti-racism education a part of mandatory training. We are transparent in our policies regarding cultural training and remain committed to providing exceptional mental health care to all, regardless of race or economic status. You can read more about our mission to provide affordable, high-quality mental health care accessible to all by visiting our cultural awareness page and inquiring about our sliding scale payment options.

If you or someone you know are a member of the BIPOC community and seeking mental health support in California or Nevada, Medens Health would be honored to provide you with the care you need. Reach out to us via phone/text (833) 624-5400 or on our website.


The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.

If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.