When our love is not enough
Barriers to seeking professional bereavement support
1. Needing Permission
Bereavement support professionals who participated in developing this training curriculum report that African Americans often do not seek their services. In many cases, families worry that their church, family, or friends might not approve of their seeking outside help. They fear that going outside the church for help will be seen as a lack of faith or being disloyal. (In some cases, this is what their clergy have told them.) They also are ashamed that others would perceive them as weak.
Thus, it is important for clergy or church elders to “give permission” to families to seek outside help and to encourage it as part of caring for oneself and one’s family.
2. Lack of Professionals Who Understand African American Families
Another reason that families do not seek or use professional bereavement services is the belief that many professionals do not understand their cultural and religious outlook. Only 2% of psychiatrists, 2% of psychologists and 4% of social workers in the U.S. are African American (Holzer, Goldsmith & Ciarlo, 1998).
Bereavement support professionals of all backgrounds can have the attitudes and skills to provide good support to African American families. Some families who participated in creating this curriculum said that they actually preferred to have a bereavement support professional from a different race and background. These families shared that they were worried that if the counselor was also African American, they could not express their feelings of weakness and despair to them - they would feel a need to keep up “appearances” with another African Americans.
Some families did, however, report that some bereavement counselors they tried did not seem to respect them, seemed to be biased and/or did not support their cultural and religious values. Thus, it is critical for clergy and church leaders to learn about the resources in their community to help congregants receive help that is both culturally acceptable and appropriate or culturally competent.