By Michael E. Connor, Ph.D.
Professor Alliant International University and
Professor Emeritus CSULB
When many/most folks think about psychology, they are likely thinking about clinical psychology—the branch which provides therapy and counseling. Some therapists may focus on children, others on adults, some on adolescents and others on geriatrics. The approaches, methodologies, interactions and parameters vary with each population. Additionally, some practitioners may work with individuals, some with groups; others with businesses; some with families or with an admixture of the above. A primary goal is to change thinking and activity in order to become more proficient, less stressed, more relaxed and more self-sufficient, which could result in more happiness and self-sufficiency.
A variety of techniques, procedures and processes are utilized, ranging from talk therapies to exercise to mindfulness training to medications (under the auspices of a medical doctor). The field of Black psychology has devoted itself to creating healing techniques and therapeutic practices design specifically for African American persons, families and community.
The focus on this month’s Critical Black Mental Health Issues is child and family therapy. When one considers the collective history and toxic context in which African American people were forced to live in the US, it is surprising that any of us have survived.
Yet, thousands have done so—this speaks directly of our (and our ancestors’) strengths, resolve, genius, and life lessons. However, living with constant stress and social toxicity too often results in physical and mental problems, including essential hypertension, diabetes, obesity, family violence, death at the hands of police, strokes, depression, anxiety, broken homes, the inability to care for self and others, and poor self esteem, to name a few.
All of this suggests the need for collaborative and culturally congruent healthy approaches to daily living which may include therapy.
In Black psychology the major works of Akbari, Bynum, Kambon, Grills, Myers, Parham, White, etc. provide a treasure chest of theory and practice that can serve as the basis for understanding and repairing the dehumanization of African people. As Black Psychologists, we especially want to note that in considering therapy, Black people should keep in mind that all behavior occurs in a social-historical-cultural context. Given our culture, when working with younger children (those who cannot yet engage in abstract thinking), it is important to include parents, grandparents, caregivers and other engaged adults (in this sense, for Black people, all therapy should or could be viewed as a form of Family Therapy).
In working with younger children, an approach I found most useful involved shaping and reinforcing desired behavior, using social reinforcement— while ignoring the undesired behavior (note, it is important to be aware of reasonable age appropriate child behaviors). In this model, primary caregivers are trained to observe the problematic behavior, to help determine appropriate preferred behavior and to reinforce approximations of that preferred behavior until the desired result is reached.
Along with various therapies in Black psychology, it is important in this discussion to consider the following specific issues when working with Black children:
- Establish consistency in their lives—developing and maintaining a schedule (i.e., eating at the same time, going to bed at the same time (seven days a week), getting up at the same time, etc.);
- Engage and reinforce the child’s natural curiosity (answer questions, read to them share/discuss their history);
- Try not to confuse punishment with discipline;
- Do not “treat your kids the same”—rather get to know them and treat them “who they are;”
- Remember, fathers AND mothers have important roles to play in their children’s lives—kids need moms and dads;
- If possible, have an annual physical exam for your children—keep a copy of the results (mental health and physical health are related); and,
- Consistently, model appropriate behaviors for your child
The ABPsi’s 50th Annual International Convention will be held June 27th-July 1st, 2018, at The Marriott Oakland City Center, in Oakland, CA. Come join this gathering of psychologists, university professors, educators, health care professionals, researchers, students and everyday folks and learn about children and family therapy designed for Black people.
The Bay Area Chapter of the ABPsi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.