Asian, Latinx and Black people have trouble finding therapists who look like them in the Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Finding a therapist who looks like you can be challenging for Asian, Latinx, and Black communities, an ABC7 News Data Team analysis found.

According to data from the Census Bureau, in the San Francisco metro area -- which includes San Francisco, San Mateo, Alameda, Marin and Contra Costa counties -- white people are twice as likely to find a mental health professional of the same race than Asian people. White people are also one and a half times as likely to find a mental health professional that looks like them than their Latinx counterparts.

Findings are similar in the San Jose metro area, which includes Santa Clara and San Benito counties. Mental health professionals include psychologists, counselors, social workers, and other therapists.

"I think it's fairly simple, right? When you go to talk to someone, and you bear the most vulnerable parts of yourself to that person, you want that person to really understand you," said Christina Garcia, PhD.

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Garcia has more than 20 years of experience in the field and currently serves as the CEO of Side by Side, a non-profit offering behavioral and mental health services to youth in Marin, Alameda, Sonoma, and Nama counties. She said that often means prospective clients are looking for mental health professionals who mirror their identity and understand their lived experience. But mental health professionals often see a spike in requests for service around the winter holidays, and that means BIPOC people can often find themselves on a long waitlist for a mental health clinician who looks like them.

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While there is one white mental health professional per 84 white individuals in the San Francisco metro area, there is one Asian mental health professional per 187 Asians and one Latinx mental health professional per 133 Latinx individuals.

In the San Jose metro area, there is one white mental health professional per 100 white individuals, but one Asian mental health professional per 264 Asians and one Latinx mental health professional per 127 Latinx individuals.

"As an immigrant, as a Filipina as a woman I've had multiple experiences with each of those identity group memberships," she said. "In my work as a clinician that's really helped me out not just in working with Filipinos in my community, but in other communities of color."

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"If we're looking at a client population that's diverse and that's changing pretty rapidly as we're going along, we have to be able to attend to those particular issues, and we have to be up to speed," said Dr. Konjit Page, a Professor of Psychology at Fielding Graduate University and an Oakland-based therapist.

Page said this supply and demand issue is in part because of a lack of diversity in the mental health field, which stems from barriers to accessing education. In the San Jose metro area, according to Census Equal Employment Opportunity Tabulation, there are zero male Latinx and Black psychologists. This does not include counselors, social workers, and other therapists. There are 100 female Latinx psychologists and 25 female Black psychologists. Within the same area, there are over 1,400 white psychologists of both genders.

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For the San Francisco metro area, there are 540 Latinx psychologists, 205 Black psychologists, 405 Asian psychologists, and 6,220 white psychologists.

"We don't have enough and we haven't been promoting enough and giving scholarships and funding opportunities for BIPOC Folks, students to actually get the training that they need to be able to be out there," said Dr. Page.

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This reality was recently acknowledged by the American Psychological Association. The 129 year old organization issued an apology this October to people of color for the organization's role in promoting, perpetuating, and failing to challenge racism and racial discrimination in U.S. In its apology the APA admitted to "minimizing and marginalizing psychologists from communities of color and their contributions to the field."

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"There's no trust in the system. And the reason why there's no trust is, again, there's no representation," said Mary Chestang, Outreach Coordinator with the Family Education and Resource Center serving Alameda County. "You find clinicians who don't understand culturally, what the person is facing, they don't understand financially, what that person may be facing."

Dr. Page, who identifies as a Queer Black woman, said there is a lack of representation in the field among the LGBTQIA+ community too. She stresses the importance of cultural competence and ongoing education for therapists outside of the marginalized groups they may serve.

"This is not to say that all straight therapists or all white therapists can not work with someone that is of a different demographic. It just means that there's additional training that a lot of times doesn't actually happen for that to occur," she said.

Page added that in a psychologist's six-year journey to attaining a PhD there are likely only one or two courses that focus on multiculturalism or multicultural psychology the student would be required to take.

If you are looking for a family advocate or support, the Family Education and Resource Centers offers a warm line. It can be reached at 888-896-3372. You can also visit their website here.
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