Why Black People Don’t go to Therapy
There is a perception that black people don’t want to go to therapy or counselling. It is true that they go in smaller numbers. And it is also true that many therapeutic interventions are not culturally relevant, so people turn to the church, or an elder to support them through family difficulties.
And as a community, we worry about ‘washing our dirty linen in public’ or are concerned about ‘what other people think of us’. Often the impetus for a person to do something about their ‘life-issue’ happens when there is a family or community crisis.
I see my approach to constellations work as a kind of ‘walk-into’ African centred therapeutic space. It can act as a snapshot, a moment to explore and dive deep, a way of reflecting on something profound and troubling, without an ongoing commitment. In a way, it can be seen as a brief therapeutic session.
The traditional counselling method doesn’t work for all people. There are financial factors, issues of building trust in the relationship and often a long-time commitment, that’s not for everyone. And there are questions about a European model and its application for people of different cultures.
Dipping in and Out
I have dipped in and out of therapy over my lifetime. Sometimes it has lasted for 6 months and at other times over two years. It took me a long time to realise that my issues, ‘weren’t just going to go away,’ I had to learn that therapy, for me at least was about living with some of the deeper traumas that are part of my life and the preceding generations.
When I started learning family constellations this all became so much clearer. It is transgenerational work, that looks at patterns of behaviours and relationships over three or four generations and sometimes even further back.
An African Centred Healing Ritual
I view my approach to constellations as a healing ritual, a form of African therapeutic work if you will. Our workshops can be seen as a community coming together in ‘sacred space’. My own perspective is that family constellations as a healing ritual can also be adapted to form a therapeutic approach that is more ancestral centred and connects us to our historical roots.
In our Ancestral family constellation workshops, the notion of ancestors is important and something that connects the past to the present. We create this through the use of flowers, water, incense and representatives for the ancestors in the form of ‘elder’ dollies. This represents those from the past that are connected to us in the present. It is not elaborate, it does not have to be named, it is just there beside us as we do the work.
Rites of Passage
Many ‘rites of passage’ take place during an ancestral constellations workshop. By ‘rites of passage’ I mean, the transition that occurs during a healing session, whether resolved or not, the movement of energetic shift and change. For these reasons, my approach is increasingly to frame the work as an indigenous counselling approach that frames the approach within a wider ancestral legacy and that includes extended family and community.
In many cultures around the world, the ritual is a part of everyday life. When there are births or deaths, the whole community is involved and plays a part. Constellations viewed as a therapeutic approach with a healing edge focuses on a community village mapping structure, rather than a smaller family dynamic process.
The aim of Constellations as ritual healing is to discover the diagnosis of the presenting problem. As a result, more constellation or therapeutic work may be an option, but so too can further healing work, which may suit people with different cultural world views. The constellations process can help to ‘identify where the flow of love has been lost’ in the family and through the action of placing people and community is the relationship to each other, start to explore how to regain it.
Maybe that’s enough for now!
Until next time
Sonya’s first published articles appeared in the Training and Development Methods and Coaching at Work journals in 2006. She returned to writing in 2019 with articles for the Systemic Constellations Journal, The Knowing Field and Counselling and Therapy Journal, Therapy Today. Sonya is currently writing a commissioned book, that explores Transgenerational Therapy and Ancestral Remembering in the African Diaspora.