Black Women Deserve Therapists Who Look Like Us

How unconscious bias plays a pivotal role in therapy’s effectiveness

Sylene "SylJoe" Joseph
Published in
7 min readMar 17, 2021


Photo: nappy/Pexels

Her office was always draped in heavy, dark curtains. The air was musty, perhaps because the emotional support dog frequently napped in the corner.

Where I come from, animals aren’t kept indoors, so the scent of wet dog clinging to the linens was new. The room, however, felt familiar. Maybe because it was filled with antiques, like British West Indian homes in the ’90s which were outfitted with Syrian rugs and Chinese porcelain figurines. Unfamiliar were the European-esque paintings, reminiscent of my therapist’s upbringing. The only thing missing was a painting of White Jesus, but she struck me as more of an atheist anyway.

She sat opposite me in a wide-armed chair. Her pale, friendly face was slim and sunken. She was fit despite her age, or at least I thought she was. I could have simply equated thin with fit, or White and thin with fit. I always imagined her jogging at 7 a.m. with her phone strapped to her arm, her straight blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail, swinging from side to side like a pendulum, just like on television.

Perhaps I’d begun to judge her too quickly. It had only been a few weeks ago after all. But how could I not; I was about to divulge my deepest secrets to a stranger. About to voice concerns about the systems I took issue with created by people who look like her.

She sat cross-legged with her palms clasped together resting on her lap. She jerked her chin and brows upward, expectantly, as if to ask, “Well, what are we talking about today?”

This was how most sessions began. No words, just expressions. Maybe this was her method, but I didn’t know what else to say.

We’d covered most everything: my religious upbringing, my relationships, the complications in changing careers and the magnitude of anxiety those things brought me.

There was an ongoing disconnect between us. I couldn’t describe it, and I couldn’t shake it. But the unease I felt in that office was overshadowed by the unease I felt in the real world. So I stayed and struggled in each session to help her help me.