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Therapist discusses importance of mental health during COVID-19 | Black History Month

Dr. Vernessa Roberts is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a practice in midtown Sacramento.

SACRAMENTO, California — ABC10 is highlighting Black health care workers for Black History Month. As the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world, health care workers were right there to provide patients with guidance and care.

Dr. Vernessa Roberts is a licensed marriage and family therapist with a practice in midtown Sacramento. Roberts said she finds helping people improve their relationships with themselves and others as rewarding and fulfilling. She is helping couples and individuals navigate a new normal during the pandemic. 

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

Why did you decide to become a therapist? 

It was an unexpected journey. As I got to know a little bit more about how we operate as humans and, in particular, how we operate within our relationships. This can be family relationships, intimate relationships, friendships, there are so many different intricacies to our relationships. Most importantly, I feel that we need healthier relationships with those around us but also individually and internally, too. It was really nice stepping into this field, feeling that I can make a difference with some of these relationships that we surround ourselves with. They're a huge part of our daily lives, so why not make them the best that they can be. My whole focus is I can help individuals with their relationships with themselves and their relationships with others around them. That helps us in the greater society and we can function a little bit better as a society on a small scale.

How has what you do changed since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic?

I do a lot more virtual sessions now. It's that balance of being safe...but also being able to still be available for people, and being an essential service still, and so sometimes I'm still doing some office work based on what's feasible and what's best for some of the clients that I do serve. 

Also the expansion because of what the virtual world has provided, so I'm not just able to serve clients in the Sacramento area, but people in the Bay Area and Southern California are reaching out. That's actually been nice to be able to expand who I can serve. That's a tip I give people who are looking for services at this time. 

A lot of people have a preference and someone being a minority, might want a minority therapist, specifically a Black therapist, or a woman therapist. It's very hard to find in the region, so I'm encouraging people to expand their search since we're able to see clients as long as they're in the state we practice in. 

Are there any specific issues people are dealing with due to the pandemic?

Definitely. Since this pandemic, the couples I've seen have doubled. It's different for them. A lot more issues are coming up because you're around each other all of the time and you don't have work as an escape. That's been a major theme. 

Another major theme is the stress and anxiety this has created for all of us. It's so uncertain and that's the root of anxiety, and this pandemic is uncertain right now. That anxiety stress related to the pandemic and everything else that occurred in 2020 with politics and the election. It's been a major theme since last year.

Why is it important to seek out culturally competent care?

It's important to find the best fit possible with a therapist. It's already a difficult journey to start. What makes that journey easier is having someone you know you can relate to and who understands you. Will we always, despite ethnicity, race, gender, fully understand everyone? No. But having some similarities and understanding of an experience where you felt discriminated against or all the stress related to this Superwoman Syndrome, being a Black strong female, I can understand a lot of that. 

It's easier for clients who then don't try to share their thoughts and feelings and then have to explain to you what this means or looks like. We don't want to enter therapy and have to educate the therapist so much. We want to be able to talk freely and share our thoughts and feelings and know that they're going to get the majority of what I'm talking about.

What does it mean to you to be a therapist?

Super rewarding and fulfilling to wake up every day...to make a small impact into the world. Despite the stresses, as health care professionals and especially as therapists, we help people navigate so much in their lives and we're not immune to any of this. It's an extremely interesting experience to help our clients navigate something that we're also trying to navigate ourselves. We're collectively going through this together. I really value this role in really trying to help people live the best lives that they can.

Why is it important for people to take care of their mental health?

As humans, we deal with so much and we need to be able to release some of those things. This pandemic has highlighted that it's easy to use work and social events as distractions because then you don't have to think about all the other things. But when COVID hit, all of that has been taken away and we're forced to kind of sit with our feelings and it's been difficult. So, if therapy is not an option for you, we really have to lean into other self-care things that are helpful. 

It's going to look differently for everyone. It depends on what's rejuvenating for you. What can I do that provides rejuvenation to me? If that's physical exercise, having more time to connect with family and friends virtually, journaling, reading, meditation, whatever that is for you, you have to figure out what helps. I think the biggest thing is the intention that we put behind our actions. Even if it's 5 minutes a day, can I intentionally set aside 5 minutes for myself that I want to do. Trying to implement and incorporate more things that we actually want to do.

Why do you celebrate Black History Month?

I celebrate Black History Month because so much of our history has gone unrecognized and we must continuously recognize that. Our future generations deserve to know that history and what their potential can be.

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