Aug 22, 2023 - News

Seattle has nation's third highest ratio of BIPOC therapists

Illustration of a Black woman's hand holding a therapy sofa.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Seattle is among the nation's top five cities for the number of therapists who are Black, Indigenous or people of color (BIPOC) relative to the city's BIPOC population, a new analysis found.

Why it matters: While finding a good fit with a therapist depends on numerous factors, some people find an easier connection with a professional who has a similar background or shared cultural experiences, mental health experts say.

  • It's not that BIPOC people can't have good experiences with white therapists, Bellevue-based psychotherapist Sam Louie told Axios, "but it's good to have choices."

The big picture: Nationally, there is a significant shortage of BIPOC therapists, according to a study by Counseling Psychology.

  • That study, which evaluated the ethnicities of therapists listed in Psychology Today's directory and compared those numbers with the population demographics of the United States, found the vast majority of therapists in the U.S. are white (73%).
  • Only 11% of therapists are Asian, 8% are Hispanic or Latino, 4% are Black or African American, and just 0.4% are American Indian or Alaska Native.
  • On average, there is one white therapist to every 307 white people in the country versus one BIPOC therapist for every 1,002 BIPOC people, per the study.

Yes, but: Seattle has the nation's third highest ratio of BIPOC mental health therapists, behind only Atlanta and Raleigh, per the study.

  • El Paso, Memphis, Milwaukee, Phoenix and Fresno have the fewest BIPOC therapists relative to their BIPOC communities.

Of note: Priscilla Lui, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Washington, told Axios a key question for Seattle is whether the higher ratio of therapists of color means more people of color are receiving adequate mental health services.

  • "I am not sure we should really be patting ourselves on the back just yet given the racial gaps in representation and persistent mental health disparities," Lui said.

Catch up quick: White Americans with mental illnesses are the most likely to receive care, with more than half of those in need receiving therapy or counseling, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

  • That's compared to less than 40% among Black, Hispanic and Asian American communities.

What they're saying: "There are times when it's helpful to not have to fill in the blanks about what it means to be an immigrant, or the first in your family to go to college, or what it feels like to have cultural shame or ethnic self-hatred," said Louie, an Asian-American immigrant.

  • "It's something different when someone has experienced it as well."
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