Black Mental Health

An Interview with LaNita Jefferson and

Ashley Waddington

            In recognition of Black History Month, this issue of the Mental Health Blog looks a little different. In order to gain perspective on black mental health from a counselor’s lens, I interviewed LaNita Jefferson and Ashley Waddington, the founders of Carolina Assessment Services.

Counseling different cultural backgrounds
Ashley: A big part of Ashley’s counseling journey was growing to understand and appreciate the differences between herself and others. She learned that really making an effort to empathize with those who are different from you is one of the most important things to do in the field of counseling. Ashley noted that people usually choose therapists who look like themselves. The same sex, same race, etc. So, it’s very important to be aware of differences between yourself and your therapist, so you can create an open dialogue with them that allows you to feel heard. Differences not just in terms of race or culture, but age, sex, etc. can be overcome and respected if the proper communication patterns are established.

How was it stepping into the counseling field?

LaNita: LaNita has been in the field of counseling for about 10 years, and she got her start doing work within marginalized communities. While working in this field, she experienced subcultures of different groups of people, and subgroups within them. Through this line of work, LaNita became familiar with intersectional identities. She learned that even though she might share characteristics with some of her clients, they would still have totally different experiences, privileges, and disadvantages.

How is your experience different now compared to ten years ago?

LaNita: An important part of LaNita’s journey was recognizing that even though she is a person of color, she still had some privileges. Every client she saw opened her eyes, and each one had different hopes and dreams for their futures, as well as areas where they were more or less privileged. LaNita’s experience now is that she is able to better understand that everyone experiences things and identify themselves in their own unique way. It is vital to understand who a person is from their own perspective in order to have empathy and to give them the best counseling experience possible, regardless of race.

Cultural differences and issues with mental health

Ashley: One of the things Ashley stressed the most within this question was the importance of breaking harmful generational trends and traumas in the POC community. She said one of the most important patterns to stop is the generational trend of not seeking help for mental health problems. Generational trauma is very real and has lasting harmful effects on individuals and families. She said that many of her clients are first generation therapy seekers, who are a little more hesitant to come to therapy because of the cultural pattern of keeping issues within the home.

Ashley notices that freedom is a very significant theme when she works with people of color. Freedom has different meanings for each of her clients. She has noticed her clients often seek freedom from poverty, racism, and generational trauma patterns. For some of her clients, learning to have both religion and therapy in their lives is part of the therapeutic process. Ashley wants to teach all of her clients healthy, nonviolent coping mechanisms to help them deal with the stressors in their lives.

LaNita: LaNita stressed that persons of color have the same problems as everyone else, in the sense that everyone can experience mental health problems and abuse, regardless of who you are. The big difference in the POC community is that some trauma stems from racism. This meant that these communities had to create safe spaces for themselves, and it ended up being within the family or within the church. LaNita said that just recently, millennials have created a voice that has allowed, within the American culture, African Americans and people of color to speak up and let their voices be heard in the field of mental health. At the same time, it is also helping people find a balance between religion and mental health. Just keeping things within the family is no longer sustainable and can cause a lot of mental health problems. Her observation is that the barrier between people of color and seeking mental health help is starting break down. There are still a lot of boundaries and resistance in the health care system, but those are starting to slowly change, and allow more people to seek help.

Are there any important topics you would like to touch on?

LaNita: LaNita feels that it is important to have an open dialogue about race within the therapeutic relationship. This is especially relevant if you are seeing a client who is different from you. At Carolina Assessment Services, the Ashley and LaNita would like to talk about race openly and tell everyone that even if there are differences between themselves and their clients, they are still going to work hard to help.

Ashley: Every human has intuition, they need to trust themselves, especially if they are considering seeking mental health help. Intuition is also important in deciding if a therapist is right for you. In Ashley’s opinion, being a counselor is about being with a person through their journey. It’s less about being a fixer. She also wants to let people know that if you feel your counselor is not right for you, you should discuss it with them so they can help you find someone who is better suited to help.

Being business owners

LaNita and Ashley are business owners who work together to operate Carolina Assessment Services at the highest standard of care and respect possible. Within CAS, they have created what they feel is a diverse and supportive office space that allows for the expression of experiences and opinions at all times by all employees and clients.

What have you accomplished together? What have you learned or gained from working together?

Ashley: Ashley feels that she gained a diverse workspace where people are free to express themselves about all kinds of issues, including those unique to the LGBTQ+ community and issues regarding race. She experiences a fresh perspective from LaNita, and they have created a safe, supportive space to ask each other serious questions and share serious experiences without judgement. She places a lot of trust in LaNita and expressed that she gets to learn something new from her every day.

LaNita: When LaNita was starting work, she heard from others that it would be hard to work as the only black person in a white environment. Others expressed to her that they felt they could not talk about their experiences as black persons to their white coworkers. However, LaNita feels that she can share her feelings and experiences with Ashley and feel listened to and empathized with. LaNita said she doesn’t have a hard time being herself around Ashley. LaNita also mentioned that Ashley is very good at not just listening and empathizing, but also at providing solutions. She also feels like Carolina Assessment Services has created a very diverse environment where everyone can get feedback.

Describe your practice in one or two words:

Ashley: Open Minded, Innovative

LaNita: Collaborative, Dedicated

What message would you like to send to the people reading the blog?

Ashley: In the process of not judging a book by its cover, give therapy a try for yourself to find the fit that is right for you.

LaNita: Here at CAS LLC, we want you to know that you are accepted, and we are here to hear you and see you. We want to meet you where you are. We will strive for excellence and growth.

This article was written by Caroline Sebren, a senior at the University of South Carolina and current volunteer writer for Carolina Assessment Services, LLC. Caroline is a current Psychology major with a minor in Counselor Education and hopes to pursue work in the future as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

If there are certain topics you are interested in hearing about, please email lanitaashleyad@gmail.com.

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