Why African-American Couples are Less Likely to Seek Counseling?

Why African American Couples are Less Likely to Seek Counseling

Much of the counseling I do is with young couples is pre-marital and marital counseling. As a certified Pastoral Counselor, my clients are aware of my faith belief and look forward to their relationship being strengthened by this infusion.  An article in Essence.com entitled “9 Interesting Facts About Divorce for Black Couples,” states that in the African-American community, counseling and marriage don’t mix. (essence.com, 2013)


Issues preventing blacks from seeking therapy are stereotypes, stigmas, and judgement. The notion that something is “wrong with me,” being labeled as “crazy,” or being “a mental case” if professional help needed.  Men shy away from therapy because they don’t believe they will win, it’s a contest of who is right and he will definitely be labeled wrong. Many resist counseling in their church community fearing confidentiality will be breached. Cost is another issue for couples struggling with finances, couples counseling is not typically covered by healthcare insurance and becomes an out of pocket expense. Other egoistic attitudes can interfere with the black community in seeking necessary therapy. Religious beliefs can play a strong role in not seeking professional therapy believing that prayer, faith and hope will change the situation and bringing in a stranger won’t help.  Relying on friends or family for advice is another avenue widely used that often results in division with other loved ones.

I have not had the privilege of working with couples of the baby-boomer generation, my own generation. In my research, I find that baby-boomer women are more likely than their partners to seek therapy. The African-American millennial couples I treat express several motivating factors for couple’s therapy: crisis management, believing they are with their true love or soul mate, a strong desire for their marriage to work, personal growth and spiritual understanding. This seems to be particularly true for those who have college degrees, children, strong family ties and religious beliefs.

Need for change

I want to encourage all couples, regardless of race, age, religion, gender orientation to seek out counseling before marrying, and continue to get regular check-ups.  We are creatures of change! We have been in change motion since we arrived and will continue until death. Our environment, experiences, jobs, schools and relationship impact us in countless ways. We can grow together or apart. The good news is with support of a counselor who is creative, competent and willing to walk with you into a deeper discovery of yourself and your partner, even what seems the most hopeless of situations can be healed. We all know the importance of annual physical check-ups…the same applies for our relationships

*Jackson, C. (2013) 9 Interesting Facts About Divorce for Black Couples, Essence.com

Jo Ann Atkins
Counselor, DMin, CPC
Dr. Jo Ann Atkins, is a certified pastoral counselor with a private practice in Atlanta, GA.
Her passion is couples therapy, her specialty is spiritual direction and positive psychology. Dr. Atkins has served in ministry all her life in Akron and Cleveland, OH and the Atlanta area. With experience in Chaplaincy, individual and group therapy, she has a wholistic approach to helping others find mental, physical and spiritual well-being, inner peace, and unconditional love for self and others.

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