Imagine having to over-explain your experiences of discrimination to a therapist, just to have that very same experience invalidated. It’s as though what you’ve just shared did not happen. You’re left confused, feeling misunderstood, and questioning your reality. Perhaps feeling worse than before meeting your therapist, why would you even continue?  

This surprisingly common experience highlights the importance of cultural competence—the understanding and acceptance of norms other than your own. This requires more than simply following a checklist; it requires the ability to openly embrace different ways of being, which at times, you may disagree with. In Canada, there is a clear—and striking—underrepresentation of ethnic and sexual minorities in the mental health profession. What are, if any, the practical consequences of this, one may ask? 

The Ontario Health Study tells us that mental health services are consistently underutilized in minority communities. Interview-based research gives us some insight as to why. A common thread in these studies is that many individuals encounter varying forms of discrimination (i.e., both “microaggressions” and overt discrimination) from professionals and begin to feel like “therapy is not for them”.

Mental health does not discriminate—and as unfortunate as this is, the data suggests that your care provider may. While there is an active effort to understand and teach the ability to perceive and appreciate subtle differences in the cultural experiences of any given client, at times there simply may be no substitute for shared experience. 

Demographic factors are not the only thing to take into consideration when selecting a therapist, but clients should not be made to feel ashamed if they choose to do so. By and large, most clinicians offer free consultations. Meet with them. See what they are like. Be explicit with your concerns and ultimately, you make the decision if you feel understood—whether the therapist looks like you or not.

Ola Kuforiji, M.A., is a registered psychotherapist (qualifying) at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships. He provides therapy with for individuals and couples (with a special interest in ethnocultural and sexual minorities) under the supervision of Dr. Lila Z. Hakim, C.Psych.


For many in the BIPOC community, finding the right fit with a therapist can be a difficult and arduous endeavor. There are a myriad of experiences that racialized people face and endure that may be unbeknownst to a therapist outside of their community. So often, many BIPOC-identified people struggle with being seen, heard and validated in society, so it is essential that when they do seek mental health services, that they are paired with a therapist who can support them in a safe-space where their lived racialized experiences are taken into account during treatment.  

Here are two questions to assist in your search for a therapist: 

1)   Do you operate within an Anti-Oppressive framework?

By asking a therapist if they have received additional training in an anti-oppressive framework  is important in serving some of the needs for BIPOC-identified clients that differ from other populations served.  A therapist who incorporates an anti-oppressive framework is educated on the racial and oppressive inequities that can pre-dispose a client to experiencing mental health difficulties. 

2)   What professional development have you done to work with the BIPOC community?

While it is okay to ask a therapist for their educational and professional experience in general, it is important to obtain a sense of how a therapist works with people from different cultures and/or marginalized people. For many BIPOC-identified clients, it is important that their therapist demonstrate an openness and inclusive approach to working with clients of diversity. Obtaining clarity on how a therapist works with the BIPOC community can directly inform your selection of therapist in this respect. For the BIPOC community, seeking therapy may be difficult in general; however, knowing that your therapist has received further education in working with diverse populations with an anti-oppressive approach may create less of a barrier to seeking and engaging in therapy.

Teisha Gunness, PsyD. is a therapist at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships (CFIR) in Ottawa. Ms. Gunness provides psychological services to individuals and couples using an integrative approach by using therapeutic techniques comprising of Adlerian Psychology, Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Attachment informed therapies, Multicultural Therapy, Feminist Therapy and Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) for couples. She has received additional training in Anti-Oppressive Psychotherapy™, Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy (EFIT Level 1 and 2), Relational Life Therapy (RLT Level 1) and is an EMDR certified practitioner. Please note that she is not currently accepting referrals for EMDR therapy