We recently asked a majority black audience how they felt about the comfortability of going to a therapist vs. sharing their ideas, concerns, frustrations, and overall business to their hairdresser or barber. Now we'll start this off, by sharing our view before giving some highlights of what other people are thinking in regards to this issue.
First, lets make one thing clear: receiving support, love, or good advice from someone you trust is not reserved to the therapeutic chair. Advice, while some may make a career from it, is not reserved to professionals; it does not belong to them. What is true about the art of advice, is that there is "wisdom in a multitude of counselors".
From a therapists perspective, everyone, including us, can give bad advice. Advice giving is a science. Advice can't be based just on traditional or unconventional wisdom. With wisdom one must add understanding and knowledge. This is also why it alone can't just be a spiritual, or spooky message based on knowing someone or some issue in part. It is based on context clues including: an individual's history, their cultural experience, behaviors, thoughts, and lifestyle choices, just to name a few.
So imagine with us a second. Your sitting in a chair for 30 minutes to 5 hours with someone your seeing bi weekly, quarterly, or monthly. You've built relationship with them, maybe just over them giving you a service that makes you feel better. You pay them and your about your day. You get compliments from those that see you based on something they see that looks spectacular on you. Then when your tired of the current outcome, or maybe you don't look like when you did when you left that place of business; you go back and do it all over again.
Now let me ask you: Is this a Salon/Barbershop or a Therapy office?
It could be either. Yet something makes the distinction between them.
Most of your barbers/hairdressers have created an experience where when you leave them, you feel better because you look better. At times, the relevant issues of life pop up and those same individuals will tell you how it is, and even hold you accountable to them. You may leave laughing, in deep thought, or even with a strategy on how your going to end your current abusive relationship. So why even see an additional person, who is supposed to provide professional help???
We have yet to find a barber who has a treatment plan for every client they see. Better yet, we have yet to find a hairdresser who is going to show you a diagnosis and how you may better manage life beyond it. That is relegated to a therapist, clinical social worker, psychiatrist, and a psychologist. When your physical health is at risk and you need to get some help , you don't go to the barber; You go to a clinic, doctor, or at least look for home remedies (that some health organization has regulated and approved). When you need to be adjusted because you're in pain, you go to a chiropractor. When you need a word from the Lord...you get in your Word (the Bible), make sure you don't forsake the assembly of the righteous, and listen to a preacher(pastor, speaker, priest)...you get the picture.
Mental Health is agenda driven and we can understand why for our community there is still some stigma against it. Still, there is an important connection to individuals that look like you, who potentially understand your culture, and can speak to it from an educated stance. Individuals with a mental health educated background have spent years investing in understanding the mind, behaviors, and potential why's of people around them. They may be from the very community your from, but little Jimmy is not the same person you may talk to now. They aren't your barber, but they sure may help you align better to your overall goals when things aren't quite lining up cognitively.
Let's include dialogue from our audience. After checking in with several sources. Dialogue included the following:
"Overall, I think there is an intimate relationship that barbers and hairdressers create with their clients. It is also a place where you can “let your hair down” and be free. The service offered in itself is a tactile experience which is usually calming. In addition, there is a stigma about mental health professionals in the black community period. However, I think one of the underlying assumptions is that if someone really doesn’t “know you” as a person, they couldn’t possibly be of any help to you, e.g., how can a “stranger” help me figure something out when they haven’t been thru what I’ve been thru”. That’s been my observation at least."
Another person said:
"...there is a connection between looking good/self-care and your mental health. Self-esteem and confidence are boosted. When you can look at yourself and be like “ I’m glad I don’t look like what I been through”"
And yet another shared:
"Speaking as an LCSW as well as a licensed cosmetologist, my hair clients tend to be much more relaxed and don't feel like they have to be as "politically, grammatically or socially correct". They come in for a service that is not complete until I'm done. Most appointments last 1.5 hours minimum. They use that time to unwind and are often very selective about who they allow to touch their outer beauty, so they trust on a different level. On the other hand, psychotherapy clients (most, not all) usually try to cram it all in before the hour is up and often leave before they can get it all out. Some do, but don't want to spend time making small talk - they cut to the chase and want their issues heard ASAP. I often wonder why some people spare no expense dealing with the outside but count each coin when dealing with the inside."
As you can see, there are differing views varying from those that see both experiences as therapeutic or one over the other. What we can say from this, is that, it is a cultural connection to have someone who can speak to the needs, provide comfort, and make oneself feel and look better. Is it therapy? It can be. Is it professional? Most are licensed too. Thus we can't deny the power of Psychohairapy (Dr. Afyia Mbilishaka) or traditional therapy appointments. Maybe they are more integrated than we actually considered for our community.