Mental health has become a growing problem amongst Americans over the last several years with more people reporting stress and anxiety-related issues. Within the Black community, mental health issues can often be stigmatized, preventing those in need of getting proper care to resolve the problem, causing the issue to worsen.
One black man wants to create a safe space for Black and other marginalized groups to seek out the help they need.
Jor-El Caraballo is the co-founder of Viva Wellness Center with Rachel Gersten. Both come from a background of working in the mental health field.
“My friend Rachel and I both shared the same vision for opening an inclusive wellness practice that treated people holistically. Mental health tends to be very focused on the medical model, focusing on pathology and diagnosis,” says Caraballo in an email interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE.
“We like to say that we ‘treat the whole person’ and don’t just focus on symptoms but more so how people experience and walk in the world and how they live with that.”
Viva Wellness Center first opened its doors in 2018 with the goal of offering affordable services and helpful resources for those dealing with mental-health related issues. Since the rise of the novel coronavirus in the U.S.—and the accompanying wave of social unrest—Caraballo has seen more clients come in with stress that is amplified by the nation’s current social climate.
“I find that I’m spending a lot of time talking with clients about the importance of self-preservation and how to cope with the state of the world right now,” explains Caraballo.
“It’s not that the focus is new, per se, but it’s particularly timely now to embrace self-care and self-preservation especially when the typical ways of coping, or sometimes distracting ourselves, aren’t as available—going out with friends, eating out, concerts, etc.”
“With so much happening in the world, from COVID-19 to the threats and killings of unarmed Black people, it’s more important than ever for us to have the tools to cope with our current circumstances,” he adds.
“I’ve spent a lot of time talking with clients about different ways to manage all the feelings that are coming up more visibly, like anger, anxiety, sadness, etc. Clients are coming into the room carrying the weight of the world’s racism on their shoulders and it’s my duty to validate and normalize those feelings, help them figure out their place in the resistance, and provide concrete skills to manage all the layered feelings in the meantime.”
Carabello says in a time when more are seeking out services to cope with the present, it is important for Black therapists to be represented so others can be encouraged to enter the field. “As a practicing therapist, I see a good number of Black clients in my practice and serving people who look like me has been a large part of my motivation to become a therapist,” he says.
“Especially as many Black folks are coping with not only repeated exposure to race-based violence, but also the sudden questions from White folks understanding what we deal with on a daily basis. These are increased burdens—it’s a lot to unpack, and therapy is a great place to get that much-needed mental health support.”