“Praying Away” Mental Illness In The African American Community

By: Brandon L. Lowe CCSI, MS, LPC, LCAS, MAC, CSOTP

My name is Brandon Lowe, I’m a therapist and owner of a mental health agency (Knew Era Consulting PLLC) in Winston Salem, NC.  I have experience spanning over 11 years in the field of psychology and therapy.   I currently hold state licensures in the state of North Carolina as a LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) and a LCAS CCS-I (Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist, Certified Clinical Supervisor Intern).  Additional certifications/licensures are, MAC (Master’s in Addictions Counselor) and CSOTP (Certified Sex Offender Treatment Professional).

The traditional approach to mental health in the Afro-American community in America surrounds the notion of “praying away” mental health, which has caused a tremendous amount of trauma within the African-American community even to this day.  The root of the issue may be more complex than originally thought, once you have a better understanding of Black history within America.  One could easily blame the medical miss-treatment of Afro-Americans throughout history as one of the main contributors.  There has been a major mistrust between the Afro-American community and the medical world where the Black community has been maliciously used as testing samples throughout history.  Examples of mistreatment and unethical procedures would be the Tuskegee Experiment in Macon County Alabama (1932-1972) where Afro-American males who had syphilis (sexual transmitted disease) were treated with placebos (aspirin) rather than given penicillin to cure their condition.  The Black men’s undisclosed purpose wasn’t for the purpose of finding a cure, but to observe the disease’s full progression as many of the Black men died, became blind, and/or experienced severe health issues as a result.  Another mistreatment would be the sterilization of Black women (7,600 women) from 1929 to 1974 in North Carolina.  Many of the individuals were sterilized due to being diagnosed as mentally ill or mentally deficient.  Medical mistreatment of Afro-Americans are stilling being reported today in the medical world.  Many Black individuals have lost any faith or trust in man, and feel like they can only depend on the most high (God) to deliver them from their problems and illnesses.  This mindset has helped contribute to the notion of “praying away” problems and illnesses rather than seeking treatment.

Being an Afro-American therapist, my desire is to make the African American community feel more comfortable at expressing themselves by getting the treatment they need rather than thinking about the historical flaws of therapy within the Black community. Praying away the problem isn’t a bad concept, but faith without works is dead (James 2:14-26).  The works part is within therapy, via learning solutions to cope properly to the mental health issues in which present themselves.  Mental health issues may involve a chemical imbalance and/or irrational ways of resolving challenges.  Therapy is a process and it is essential that the therapist and client build a trusting therapeutic relationship.   

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