My Journey to Mental Wellness-Black Therapist formerly Black In Therapy Podcast

In our very first episode of black therapist podcast formerly black in therapy. Our Host Nikita Banks, LCSW discuss her journey to mental wellness. As a proponent of mental health and as practitioner it’s important to be transparent about the mental health issues that lead to me finding my passion as a therapist. Specifically as a black therapist it is my duty to make sure I combat stigma within our community about why we need to get the help of a culturally competent provider to help us navigate the tough issues we will all face in life. 

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My name is Nikita Banks and welcome to Black In Therapy. Now I’m a New York City-based psychotherapist licensed as a clinical social worker here in New York and New Jersey. Before I start the show would invite you guys to follow us on our social media platforms, that’s everything @black in therapy Twitter; Facebook; and Instagram okay thanks let’s get to the show. 

So I am still getting used to podcasting in a kind of reading from my notes of bullet points to make the show as concise as possible but I will say this, will probably be one of the longer shows because I want to tell you a little bit about how the podcast came to be and why I am doing it and a little about my journey from patient to practitioner. 

But before we get into that I’m going to give out my email address “black in therapy” com.  So you can send me show topics, ideas and reach me if you would like to be a guest on the show.  

So our usual format will be a mix of today’s mental health news affecting people of color. Discussions about specific psychological issues and diagnosis, leading treatment approaches and courageous guest who are willing to share about their foray into the business and the practice of caring for their mental health.  

But tonight is my story; I’m a little nervous and with that, I’ll just begin at the beginning.  So I am a victim of repeated exposure to trauma not unlike that of many African American children and the girls; you name it I’ve been exposed to a growing up in Bed-Stuy Brooklyn, which I love. 

I often joked that being from Brooklyn is the blood type but it doesn’t come without bloodshed. I don’t want to focus on all of the traumas that I’ve been through in my life but what I will say through a strict mental health practice and investment I have overcome a lot of what I’ve been exposed to. 

And a lot of it really affected my mental health negatively.  Like most African Americans, I thought a lot of what I was exposed to was normal. High crime exposure and domestic violence, sex abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse.  

Right, so I thought it was kind of normal and it was definitely normalized. Because I either saw it or experienced it and it was kinda impolite to talk about it. Until I went to therapy. So going to therapy was the first time that allowed me to really honestly talk about the things that I had seen. 

And it validated the fact that it was nuts and it was crazy and it was not normal even though I saw it every day, or you know everyone I knew had been through some of the things that I was going through.  

A lot of what I went through was very traumatic, betrayal, deaths just as I had a mental breakdown and I was working at the time and I was teaching at the time and I was going to work and I was like literally crying in between classes and I was not able to function and the only thing that made me really function was the fact that I had to go to work. And the fact that I had to take care of my child but besides that, I was like putting on a mask and going outside, pretending that everything was okay, and that was far from the truth.  

So you know I am a single mother but I was a single mother of a young child at the time and besides getting up to take care of him I was barely functioning. You know, now looking back as a practitioner. I have patients  (who have major depressive disorder or major depression) who cannot get out of bed I have patients who can’t even comb their hair, shower and, you know I was never that bad. 

Now I know that what I had was not (major depressive disorder) or major depression which is what I thought it was. It was dysthymia depression and I’ll get into the diagnosis and what that means in a minute.

I can’t really remember my age when I was in my thirties and as I stated I have gone through this really bad time period where I didn’t know what my purpose was. I didn’t know what I was doing I just knew that I was unhappy. And that struggle that I was going through didn’t feel normal, even though it was normalized.  

A lot of my girl friends were unhappy in unhappy relationships and in unhappy jobs and not doing what they wanted to be doing with their lives. And I just knew that there was more to it than that.

I just did not have the answers.  So that year for my birthday… I always it’s not a birthday gift,  but every year around my birthday, I go to my yearly physical. 

That year I asked my doctor for a referral to a therapist.  She referred me to the guy who I have been seeing for the past, I think seven years.  After about a year of going to him what I ended up doing was deciding well let me back up. 

 So once I started going to therapy a lot of my girl friends were kind of asking me a bunch of questions. 

I would go to therapy and they would say “what did your doctor say about so an so…” or “what did your doctor say about this,”

I would have to tell them to get their own therapist. Like why are you asking me what my doctor is saying to me about my problems as if you can, you know try it on (you) when we get home. 

No, go get your own. But after a while out of going to therapy and just kind of talking about all of these things that were too impolite (for me) to talk about.  

And talking about one of the things that maybe I was too insecure to speak to my girl friends about. Or things that I had spoken to them about, and they just didn’t have the answers or,  didn’t have any clarity on.  

I noticed that my mood shifted. My coping skills had improved immensely it helped me become a better person. So while I was in therapy and ended up watching an episode of The Oprah Show where Iyanla Vanzant was talking about her book, “Peace from Broken Pieces.” And breaking generational curses.  

I also utilized that book kind of as a workbook to work out some of my issues.  And it was kind of my homework to recognize patterns of behaviors and in things that I wanted to improve. 

 So I was able to do that with the book. And what I recognize for me as like my breakthrough was that I had allowed myself to be treated (badly) by a lot of people around me who didn’t honor me properly. 

I had learned lessons from the way I grew up and how I grew up, and how I was treated (in my family), and family stuff. That I didn’t matter and that it was kinda shameful, in a way for me to ask for the things that I wanted. 

And that became a big sticking point for me and it is the sticking point for me now. When I really (became) clear on the boundaries and the lines that I don’t want people to cross.  

**I was able to kinda utilize the book as my homework and her story and therapy in order to kind of get coping skills to deal with the life stressors that I have.  **

So I was in therapy for a little while and then after a while, I decided that I wanted to be a therapist and probably about a year into therapy.  

Because I was so excited about all of what I was learning and all of what I was feeling and the happiness that was coming in my life and I just wanted to share with my girl friends. There where some of those who were not at all happy with the shift in my mood. They were not at all happy with the boundaries that I refused to allow them to cross. 

And they were not at all happy with this new re-definition of who I was (becoming). *** I now recognize that there are people in life who want to keep you where they are most comfortable with you being. *** 

And I had to let those people go. I’ve become comfortable enough in my own skin to not need them

and be vocal about what I do and don’t want when it comes to that. 

**But I’m not gonna lie it does get Lonely, (being healthy) can get lonely. **

Pushing back on what I said was the norm which was abuse and you know verbal, mental, physical and whatever. 

Like I don’t wanna have a basketball wives lives, not like that I don’t want it lived in an episode of love and hip hop.

Growing up in Brooklyn, you know it was not uncommon for me to you know “set it off.”  And you know that’s just not who I want to be and spiritually.  I’m a lot happier so there is that.  

So generally anybody who goes to a therapist and pays money can be off the record to a certain extent.  The (medical) records that we have to maintain and things that we have to keep up with them in accordance with the standards and practice. 

However, you know it’s pretty private if you self pay.  If you’re not self-pay you have to have a diagnosis and want to be treated and that’s a requirement the health insurances make in order to provide service.  

Because they’re not going to give you psychotherapy or any kind of treatment if there’s not an “illness.” I went to my health insurance once I started therapy I’m pretty sure I had a diagnosis never ask my therapist because I just really felt like it was depression.  

What I now know is he diagnosed me with what is called dysthymia depression.  Dysthymia depression (now known as PDD) is a depression that is pervasive.  And what that means is that its kind of like a nawing headache like a dull headache that you just you have in your head all the time.  

It is kind of like a general sadness punctuated by happiness and good times.  

So what I now know as a therapist is that everyone who goes to therapy generally has a diagnosis and the reason is it’s not about labeling but it’s really about treatment.   

So you can’t go to the doctor with a collection of symptoms and expect them to treat you right.  They’re not gonna know what it is or what the problem is or how to even help you a fix it if they don’t know what it is or give it a label. 

A diagnosis is necessary for treatment and so when I went to therapy I never asked the therapist what my diagnosis is. But now that I’m a trained professional and I diagnose people myself, I have now also diagnosed myself.  I have dysthymia depression depression and I laughed at that because obviously, I frowned upon people diagnosing themselves but, I kind of think that if you have a general knowledge it’s good that you have some sort of idea of what your diagnosis maybe when you go to seek treatment. 

Because it does help us immensely if we know what we’re looking at. It helps us pinpoint what your issues are, or what we need to look at when you come to us for treatment. 

It also makes helping you a lot easier if you have (at least) an idea.  So for me, I thought I had depression which is kind of what I had.  

But it was a certain type of depression and that’s what my doctor was able to ascertain because he had more information about the diagnostic criteria than I had.  When I just knew what my symptoms were that he was able to put that information together with the diagnostic criteria and help me out. 

and I don’t know either I won’t say that I’m not depressed anymore 

I definitely do not have (the same symptoms of ) dysthymia depression  and I know that I have a lot more coping skills than I used to have. And I definitely know how to deal with issues as they arise. 

Now that I didn’t know before, so a later date I definitely want to do more talking about depression as a diagnosis and all of the diagnoses that are under the umbrella of depression and mood disorders.

Okay, though and I don’t want to get too far into dysthymia depression at this point but I just wanted to kinda give you a little history about what my diagnosis, is what my treatment history was and on how I ended up becoming a therapist.

So, I guess it was after about a year in therapy I had decided that I felt so damn good. I kind of wanted to give (that feeling) it away to other people. 

 And as I stated previously my black girl friends were and all that on some of them were not all that supportive of the changes that were happening in my life. 

And I get it, you know one of the social work principles is that you meet people where they are and I was going I was changing.  

My mind was expanding. I was learning all these new things and I wanted to come home and share.  Let’s face it, you know when you’re not in a happy place sometimes happy people are annoying.  

For some of my black girl friends, I think they were not able to take me, in that moment.  And I get it I’m not for everybody but I was just so happy and I wanted to give that away to other people.

I started to look in my surroundings my family history and the miserable people that I knew and I was like if therapy makes you this happy why don’t more people do it?

 So I’m going to get into a show

probably my third show about why more black people don’t go to therapy and there are a number of issues. 

Why we don’t do it but (the) stigma is a really big thing.  As well as they are not a lot of black therapist or practitioners.  So I had a conversation with my psychotherapist about maybe doing what he does. 

And he was like I think you’d be great at it.  I don’t know I just I think mostly, I just put my pedal to the metal and I was enrolled in NYU and I was getting my masters in social work and soon as I graduated I got licensed. Soon as I could go for my advanced license, which allowed me to go to private practice. 

I took that test in bada bing bada boom here I am.

**  And so part of what I really wanted to do and why I’m doing the podcast, as well as, telling a story is to let people know that you can beat this.  

Mental illness is manageable even though I had a diagnosis. I don’t really see myself as being mentally ill. I know that I’m somebody who will for the rest of my life have mental health issues.  

As we all well know there’s a statistic out that one in five people have mental health issues. 

That’s a lie every single person on this planet has mental health issues. Somebody will die, somebody will leave you, relationships will end, and you will have distress, there will be traumas. 

 ***But it’s really about learning coping skills and mechanisms to help you get through those times and family…oh family family family we all that family stuff, okay and family can be a mental illness and an issue all once.  Because I know that mines can be, at sometimes but you know you going through treatment is a blessing. 

And it’s something that I think more or less need to do and it’s definitely something more of us need to invest in and that’s why I’m doing this show. ***


 So I want to thank you for listening to our first episode.

Please subscribe if you liked what you heard.  Follow us on Twitter Instagram and our Facebook fan page at “black in therapy” also we’re on SoundCloud at “black in therapy”  for now because this is my first broadcast I’m gonna just throw it up on Soundcloud subscribe to our mailing list [email protected]

to be up on the news that I have going on with this to show in my practice and everything alright. peace out thanks for listening

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