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Changing the Narrative of Mental Health for Black and Brown Women with Amma Gyamfowa, MSW, RSW

Amma Gyamfowa is a Ghanaian-Canadian mental health therapist, registered social worker, writer and speaker. Engaged in the field of social work for ten years, her expertise is rooted in supporting and counseling Black and racialized communities. As the Founder and Lead Clinical Therapist of Womanist Healing, Amma is determined to create empowering holistic resources that strengthen communities’ ability to heal, thrive and connect. In this interview, Amma shares her thoughts on how Black and Brown women can reclaim their sense of confidence, own their mental health, and be intentional about practicing self-care on a daily basis.

Amma Gyamfowa, MSW, RSW

Did you always know this was the field you wanted to work in? How did you get started?

As a young Black girl, I witnessed the diverse unjust experiences that immigrant women uniquely carry in our society. I saw how racism and experiences of exclusion and gender-based violence impacted our lives, wellness, families and communities. Although at the time I didn’t have the language and often felt a deep sense of powerlessness, those moments were slowly cultivating my passion in social justice work and the desire to help and support others. Ultimately, I believe in many ways this work actually chooses you based on your lived experiences.

Many parts of how I began this journey was through volunteering. Supporting non-profit agencies in addressing reproductive health, gender-based violence, community education, as well as programs that supported people with basic needs such as food hampers and other resources.

What are some of the most common mental health issues plaguing professional women of color?

I specialize in supporting and counseling Black and racialized women, and often some of the most plaguing challenges that arise in our work together is unresolved childhood traumas; especially in connection to diverse complicated parental/caregiver dynamics that include experiences of neglect, as well as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. As a result of these early childhood experiences, I see common themes of post-traumatic stress, anxiety, and depression that impact women in their personal and professional relationships. Throughout my practice, I also consistently see high rates of burnout, fatigue, and unprocessed racial traumas.

In your opinion, what is the relationship between mental health and confidence?

Embracing confidence within ourselves allows us to operate with a sense of esteem, internal validation, and encouragement to cope when the inevitable challenges of life arise. When our confidence shows up, it offers our minds, bodies, and spirits a sense of grounding and assuredness which can help regulate our nervous system, provide a sense of calm, and decrease our anxious thinking. Confidence gifts us the ability to give ourselves a positive or helpful frame of mind that is encouraging and rooted in our beliefs, skills, and capacities. Through it, we can disprove the loud inner critic and self-talk that often negatively impacts our mental health and well-being.

Why is it important to have more therapists and mental health specialists of color?

The study of psychology and mental health were not blank slates. Even with the best of intentions the social, political, and cultural foundations of mental health therapy held bias, racism, and diverse unethical underpinnings that influence our present-day realities. The formative psychologists and theorists who pioneered the field of mental health in places like the United States, Europe, and Canada, were white men who centered their understandings in white, European Western ideologies. As a result, Black and Brown bodies have historically been excluded, misunderstood and often harmed in the field. Through having increased representation of Black and racialized mental health therapists, we begin to dismantle the narrow approach one-on-one therapy holds. We assist in providing a more culturally responsive approach that humanizes and validates the unique histories, cultures, and experiences that impact our communal mental health. It also offers us the ability to recognize how mental health challenges, symptoms, and systemic oppression show up differently in our bodies. Last but not least, it allows us to explore the nuanced healing practices that have traditionally fostered well-being in Black and Brown people that need to be upheld.

Do you think there is a link between representation and confidence (e.g. if you can see it you can be it)?

For several years I led a young Black women’s mentorship program and witnessed first-hand the multi-layered impact of representation. We are collectively inundated with harmful experiences that push us out of our school systems, careers, and even out of the dreams we might have. We are told we are not worthy, capable, or simply that certain paths aren’t for ‘girls like us.’ Representation enables us to widen the scope of how and where we ourselves in the present and future. It expands our vision of where we believe we belong. It offers the ability to try, because we have seen it to be possible for others. It is the call-in that we require so that we feel seen enough to step in boldly to places that feel intimidating and excluding to us because of our identities.

What can we do on a daily basis to cultivate a sense of self-care and mental health?

We need to remind ourselves of two things that breathe life into each other: firstly, we all have mental health. Mental wellness is not just the absence of illness. We have to consistently invest in caring for our wellness in ways that are meaningful, restorative, and sustainable. This can look like starting with the basics such as getting enough sleep, exercising, as well as creating balance in our personal and professional lives. It also means finding things that help us feel grounded and allow us to process our emotions and experiences. Of course, therapy can be a deeply helpful part of that journey. In addition, we can also make space for journaling, and finding ways to connect with ourselves, nature, cultural and spiritual practices.

Finally, we need to nurture healthy relationships that allow us to be vulnerable enough to take off the mask we might be forced to hold. We need to become a soft landing for ourselves and others. One of the most profound ways we can care for ourselves and our communities is by dismantling the harmful intergenerational ideas of ‘strength.’ As Black and Brown women we need a life of compassion and care that grounds us, instead of exhausting and stretching every aspect of our well-being.

How can we do a better job of supporting the health and well-being of black and brown women?

One important action we can take is to consistently examine and affirm how systemic racism, classism, and other forms of oppression deeply impact mental health resources and our access to caring for ourselves. By naming these ingrained barriers, we can make intentional strides that address the disparities in accessing mental health support in our communities.

Life Coach Confidence Coach for Women

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