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  • Writer's pictureChristina

Interview with the Vancouver Black Therapy and Advocacy Foundation

I was interviewed by the Vancouver Black Therapy and Advocacy Foundation, an organization that was formed by a concerned member of the Black community in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. It is my honour to have been part of the team providing funded sessions to the community at a reduced cost as part of the work towards de-stigmatizing mental health. Check out my interview and, please consider donating

Meet our Counsellor: Christina Fenton 1. Black folks are often painted as strong and resilient, so while working hard is encouraged, taking breaks is shunned on. What advice do you give to clients, especially Black clients, who are struggling with burn-out yet feel guilty for taking breaks? C.F: This is an excellent question! I usually hear this from Black women in particular and I take the time to remind them that everyone is entitled to rest. When they report that they are "tired", I usually tell them that "tired" is a blanket term for a lot of things they were never encouraged to express. I also tell them that the only cure for exhaustion is rest and that the need for rest is a human constant. 2. Is there a single cause, reason and/or motivation that drives you as a therapist? What got you into the field, and what keeps you inspired to continue supporting others? C.F: Back when I was in education, students came to me with their personal problems because they needed support and somehow trusted me. I had no idea how to actually be of help and so I decided it was time to change careers and make that jump into acquiring the skills that actually help people create better lives with higher levels of mental well being. Now that I am in practice, I am able to bring my entire self into sessions with clients and help them make sense of what they are dealing with. When I see people coming in and doing the work, I feel such fulfillment that I often wonder why it took me so long to become a therapist. 3. As the stigma of mental health has decreased over recent years, individuals have become more open to talking about mental health however, there has also been a shift where particularly young folks are using psychiatric terms for common experiences as it appears almost cool and trendy. Examples of this may include those that do not have bipolar using terms such as “manic” on social media, or individuals using the word “traumatic” to describe typical uncomfortable situations without grasping the significance of the term and/or PTSD. What are your thoughts on this recent trend? Do you find this to be a negative and/or positive shift? Do you think there is a way to find a middle ground where people are comfortable discussing mental health challenges while also refraining from glamourising it? C.F: I am conflicted on this one. On the one hand, if it starts to normalize mental health concerns, it may not be negative and that is certainly better than the use of ridiculous euphemisms that further shroud mental health in mystery. However, this is where the field of psychology is failing. We as practitioners have a duty to educate the public so that terms are not used out of context. The responsibility rests on those of us with the training to help others achieve a better understanding of what these terms are so that we can have the level of accurate familiarity with these terms the same way we do with stress, gluten sensitivity, migraines, diabetes and other common physical problems. 4. Why is it important to build joy into our lives, and how do you build joy into your life? C.F: Our ancestors who lived in chains found a way to create joy as an act of protest. If we truly want to honour their legacy, we should do the same. I tell clients that Bob Marley, the universal voice of the disenfranchised, sang not just about rising up against tyranny and Black liberation but, he also sang about love and sex (Turn your Lights Down Low, Stir it Up, Kinky Reggae). Before COVID, travel and connecting with people dear to me were my major ways of building joy into my life. Since COVID, I have learned to take pleasure in simple things like a good meal, a funny TV show and simply feeling sunshine on my face during the summer. 5. Our foundation prioritizes connecting Black folks with Black practitioners. Why do you think Black-led healing matters in the mental health field, and what do you think the value is in having a practitioner from your racial background? C.F: A lot of clients tell me that non-Black practitioners simply do not understand them. It is not a matter of bad intentions, it is actually an issue of a lack of competence. Our family structures, ethnicities, and the institutional racism we live in every day influence the way we show up in the world. White practitioners are often not able to handle the enormity of our experiences and either feel defensive or guilty. Neither of these responses is helpful. This is why Black therapists have full caseloads! Oftentimes people tell me that they feel seen for the first time as they do not have to explain the extended family structure and other elements of our normal as Black people. Let us also not forget that medical and psychological services have racism built into them so it takes us on the inside to change things to reflect the realities of our clients rather than changing the clients to suit an oppressive structure. 6. For readers looking to get in touch with you or learn more about your practice, where can they find you? Website - Instagram - Facebook -

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