Pilot program at Brooklyn Center to provide mental health therapy for those with racial trauma

When Kevin Dedner told his therapists about the racial trauma he experienced as a black man, he often found that they wouldn’t believe him.

Visits to therapists left him “burdened with the grueling task of convincing them of the importance of my experience in the world as a black man,” he recalls. “Imagine being in therapy … and the therapist is just looking at you in disbelief.”

That changed when he started seeing a black therapist who understood what he was going through, Dedner said in his book, The Joy of the Disinherited.

The encounter inspired her to found Hurdle Health, a Washington, DC-based provider of mental health telehealth services that takes experiences such as racism into account to better care for clients. Dedner hired that therapist as the provider’s first chief clinical officer.

“Our first clinical lead … was asking me questions that corroborated the story I was telling him,” he said. “Our therapists are trained in a technique that recognizes that they may not have the experience to fully connect with the client sitting across from them.”

Hurdle’s latest initiative is a partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota to implement this approach in Brooklyn Center—Minnesota’s second most racially diverse city and Minnesota’s only city with a black mayor and city manager. . Of the 30,000 people who call Downtown Brooklyn home, 31% are black and 17% are Asian, according to the Census Bureau.

A Brooklyn Downtown police officer shot and killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old black man, in April 2021. The city has also been hit hard by COVID, with some communities of color experiencing the highest rates of cases and deaths.

But the lack of diversity and training among therapists leaves them unable to properly treat this trauma.

Hurdle therapists approach their clients knowing they may have different experiences and ask them questions that make them feel heard, Dedner said.

Blue Cross is paying for therapy sessions and Hurdle is providing therapists.

Brooklyn Center residents have long faced mental health challenges, said Deirdra Yarbro, director of Special Services at Brooklyn Center Community Schools, a program that works with community groups to help students access mental health care. and medical and other services.

“There were mental health concerns throughout our community … before COVID, before the killing of George Floyd, before the killing of Daunte Wright, and all of those things just got worse,” Yarbro said.

The protests took place at the Brooklyn Center Police Department, which is a block away from a high school, said Seth Ryan, director of community engagement at Brooklyn Center Community Schools. Many students were forced to evacuate their apartments due to tear gas.

During the year ending June 30, about a quarter of the school district’s students visited a mental health provider, Ryan said. Forty-four of those students were new customers from last year.

Yarbro thinks the partnership will help existing mental health care professionals navigate the high demand for services.

“Minnesota, especially in the metro, is very short on mental health practitioners,” Yarbro said.

While teletherapy is useful for residents who cannot drive regularly, it will still be difficult for those with limited Wi-Fi or no Internet access.

Even though it’s been a year since Wright’s killing and the ensuing protests, Downtown Brooklyn residents are still reeling, said LaToya Turk, interim manager of Downtown Brooklyn’s Office of Prevention and Community Health and Safety.

“The images keep playing over and over in our minds, not just the killing of Daunte, but so many of our black and brown bodies across the country, that it’s a constant re-escalation,” Turk said.

Therapists at Hurdle go through cultural ethics training, which includes different scenarios, role plays and learning about aspects of their clients’ cultures, said Hurdle therapist Cedric Rashaw.

“You can’t have a one-size-fits-all counseling approach because everyone’s experience, everyone’s perspective on life is different,” Rashaw said. “Often when I meet someone from another culture, I want to learn from them. Before they tell me why they’re coming to therapy, I’m like, ‘OK, tell me a little more about who you are, your background. , so that I too can be educated.”

The partnership will include therapists from diverse backgrounds that reflect the Brooklyn Center’s demographics, Dedner said.

Community organizers’ requests for mental health care services helped get Blue Cross involved, said Bukata Hayes, Blue Cross vice president of racial and health equity.

The program is a first for Blue Cross, and no other city was in the running, Hayes said.

He hopes the size of the Brooklyn Center can allow Blue Cross to learn more about providing mental health care so it can adopt similar programs in the future.

The program started recently and Blue Cross plans to continue it for five years. Brooklyn Center residents can register through an app or online portal. Participants provide an address to prove they are residents.

This story comes to you from Sahan newspaper, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to covering Minnesota’s immigrants and communities of color. Sign up for it free newsletter to receive stories in your inbox.

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