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In my mental health work with college students, I’ve seen the importance of focusing therapy on things that are real, present and specific. Many of my patients, especially young Black men, are wary about speaking with me because they think I’ll just talk in euphemisms and ask them about traumatic experiences from their childhood.

So we talk about what’s on their minds in the moment: their love lives, their frustrations with friends and rivals, their interests outside of school.

It may not come as a surprise to hear that doing so often helps them open up to more emotional, challenging topics. It helps that I, too, am Black.

We are in the midst of a mental health crisis; yet Black men are less likely than their white peers to seek out therapy. If we want Black men to get the help they need, we need to make it easier for them to do so, and we need more Black male therapists.

We need to build a world where accessing a Black therapist is as natural as going to the gym or getting a flu shot. We need to make use of new tools to not only connect therapists with their communities — like Uwill, which I use to connect with college students — but also help people access counseling on their own schedules, with the options to choose a therapist that looks like them and whatever communication medium (text, video, phone) they prefer.

The more that Black people talk about therapy as a natural part of our lives, the better example we set for future generations.

As a Black male therapist, I sometimes refer to myself as a “unicorn.” According to the latest data from the American Psychological Association, just 4 percent of psychologists in the country are Black. And given that the broader community of therapists is 71 percent female, the percentage of people like me in the profession is probably closer to one in 100.

I know what you’re thinking: For nearly forty years, a growing body of research has highlighted people’s desire to find therapists who come from backgrounds and demographic groups similar to their own.

That means that people whose race or gender are underrepresented in the counseling profession, like me, should have much bigger workloads than our peers. And that today, at a time when the whole country is paying increasing attention to the importance of mental health, particularly among college students (who I do a lot of my work with), I must be totally overbooked.

But I’m not. Because the problem facing Black men’s mental health is not just one of supply — it’s also one of demand. Black men aren’t just rare in mental health professions — we’re also among the least likely to get therapy at all.

Research shows that Black men who experience feelings of anxiety or depression are about half as likely to seek counseling as their white peers. There are multiple reasons proposed for this gap, from structural racism and implicit bias to the geographic and economic reality that Black people are less likely to have access to high-quality care.

That said, in my own professional experience — which I’m sure mirrors that of many other Black male therapists — I’ve developed a more straightforward explanation: For many Black men, therapy just seems unfamiliar territory. Many Black men simply turn off when someone mentions the word “therapy” to them.

And if they really need to talk to someone about their issues or concerns, they don’t want to speak with a white therapist; they would much rather talk to a Black mental health professional. There has been some growth in the numbers of Black men seeking therapy, but they still face many obstacles connecting with mental health services.

How can we change all that?

Related: OPINION: Why we need a different national conversation about mental health on college campuses

I hope that creating open discussions around this topic can help point the way toward a world in which more Black men feel comfortable getting help — which, in turn, will likely lead to Black men getting inspired to become therapists themselves.

Here’s the heart of my recommendation:

We need to talk about therapy in the context of overall wellness, and make it clear that a sound mind and a sound body go hand in hand.

We need to talk publicly and proudly, like Run-DMC’s Darryl McDaniels does, about how critical mental health is for finding your path in life.

The more that Black people talk about therapy as a natural part of our lives, the better example we set for future generations.

Just as importantly, destigmatizing therapy will have repercussions that extend far beyond the experiences of Black males. After all, people who identify as Hispanic or Latino are also less likely to seek treatment than their white peers, and across all races, men are less likely to get therapy than women.

Of course, trying to remove the stigma around counseling is just one part of the solution. Policymakers, community leaders and researchers all have parts to play as well, in breaking down the systemic barriers that prevent Black men and their families from accessing mental health support.

We need to provide educational support for would-be Black mental health professionals to complete the years and requirements needed to become licensed therapists, social workers and counselors, and we need to provide the financial resources and business coaching to help them build and sustain their practices.

We still live in a world where, for better or worse, people gravitate toward the experiences and recommendations of those who they feel a sense of connection or affinity with. As long as that’s the case, it’s incumbent on all of us to normalize being in therapy so that people of all ages, races, genders and backgrounds can see themselves in the experience.

Paul “JR” Allen is anLMFT who started his own private practice, Hue of Mental Health, in Ontario, California.

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