My mother has spent a lot of time with doctors. She’s a two-time cancer survivor, mother of four, and grandmother of 17. She learned early on the value of having the right surgeon, so she always did her homework before deciding who to hand over her life to.

Just a year after surviving uterine cancer and a total hysterectomy, my mom, Kim Hawkins Eversley, received another call that altered her identity beyond repair. “It’s breast cancer,” the doctor said. She was mid-workout, burning off calories at the local gym when she received this devastating news.

So in 2015, my mother prepared for yet another invasive surgery—a double mastectomy. It was lost on no one that this would be the end of what was left on her body that physically defined her as a woman. Going under the knife to endure more than six hours of surgery requires great trust and optimism—my mother had healthy doses of both. I’m convinced that’s what got her past her fears of dying.

The “Color” of Care

Mom and Dr. Feldman

Mom and Dr. Feldman

After hours of online research, Sheldon Feldman, MD, was hand-picked by my mother to be her breast cancer doctor. She never once considered his race. “Skin color was the furthest thought in my mind,” she told me. “All I cared about were the credentials and experience.” Her entire medical team at that time was white from top to bottom. White nurses, doctors, a white anesthesiologist, and a surgeon, too. They took wonderful care of my mother.

As of 2018, only 5% of US doctors were African American, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Can you imagine denying medical care to someone because their skin lacks melanin? Or, the absurdity of someone interrupting CPR compressions in the middle of having a heart attack to request a person of color to take over and save their life. Of course not.

Article continues below

Do you feel depressed?

Take one of our 2-minute Depression quizzes to see if you or a loved one could benefit from further diagnosis and treatment.

Take Depression Quiz Take Partner Depression Quiz

Death does not discriminate or make its cruel selections with bias. Death doesn’t care about skin color or cultural differences. When your time’s up, it’s up.

Love Is Black And White

Dr. Feldman, a white doctor at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, lost his sister when she was 37 after a two-year battle with breast cancer. This painful loss combined with the lack of empathy his sister received from her caregivers made him rethink his plan to become a cardiac surgeon. He’s been caring for breast cancer patients, and their families, ever since.

My mother’s double mastectomy and recovery from cancer is a success story thanks to Dr. Feldman. As tears of gratitude left her eyes in the post-op room, he told her graciously, “You are my sister.”

I often wondered, if my mother ever thought about—or feared–being the only Black person in the operating room. I wanted to know if race mattered to my mother or her healthcare team. Was she ever asked to specify the race of the anesthesiologist or if she’d prefer a Black nurse? Was she given the option? Did it matter?

A few weeks later I decided to explore the topic of racial disparities with her. My mother told me race never entered the conversation during doctor visits or at the hospital and that was fine with her. “What I felt most of all was love,” she said.

An Overseas Assignment And A Breakdown

Fast forward to 2019—the lowest point in my life. My family had been living in San Diego and my marriage was in trouble. My husband and I were contemplating a separation when the Navy gave us our overseas assignment. In typical military fashion, I had very little time to pack up the kids and move, again. Spain would be our home for the next four years. Packing and preparing to live in another country was a bit more complicated than previous transfers.

Article continues below

Underrepresented: How Bias Affects Millions of Black Americans

The link between race and diagnosis, treatment, and wellness is undeniable. Learn more.

Read Article
The Eversley Family

The Eversley Family in Spain

Our fairytale union was deteriorating into a vicious cycle of resentment and revenge-fueled by constant deployments and bad company—the kind that corrupts your character. Along with the three kids and the contents of our home, a suitcase packed with unresolved pain crossed the Atlantic with me, too.

Shortly after our arrival in Spain, I learned I was pregnant with child number four so my doctor weaned me off the Lexapro that had been controlling my symptoms. I hadn’t had a panic attack in more than two years. But suddenly I found myself pregnant, unmedicated, and trying hard to acclimate to life in a foreign country.

I needed help and I knew it.

My emotional suffering was starting to feel like a heavyweight champion, crushing down on my fragile soul. My mood became a pendulum, constantly swaying back and forth, gradually planting thoughts of suicide in my mind. Desperate for a quick exit, I knew my escape was just one trigger away. I wanted a vacation from myself—a gateway to peace.

Seeking Clarity

Grace intervened before I acted on my dangerous thoughts. In my darkest hour, I called Military OneSource seeking help, healing, or perhaps just a distraction.

I was asked a series of questions to confirm my identity, but one question surprised me. The operator wanted to know if I preferred a Black therapist. I thought of my mother’s experience and blurted out what I needed. “I just need someone who can help because I feel like I’m dying,” I said with desperation. “I don’t need to compare scars. I need someone who can help fix them.”

I’m very glad I called for help that day. It played a part in preventing me from the unthinkable. I did eventually get help from a very skilled therapist who isn’t Black but her skin color isn’t what makes her a good counselor.

Before I go on, I want to set the record straight.  Therapy is not for “white girl problems”. And, despite what I’ve been told throughout my life, therapy isn’t for “crazy” people either. It seems to me there’s a lot of prejudice mixed in with the cultural and mental health stigma no one likes to talk about. But the notion that white therapists can’t help Black people heal is not only dangerous but wrong.

Sadly, the world has a serious shortage of Black psychologists. They make up only 4% of the workforce in the US. The truth is many of us use the scarcity of Black therapists as an excuse to avoid getting the help we need. Many of us believe a white person could never understand the complexities and burdens Black people face. But that simply isn’t so.

If you’ve never experienced therapy, you should know that finding the right one takes time. For my husband and me, it was a two-year process.

We went from a therapist who praised Tiger Woods for being brave enough to cheat on his wife (I’m not making this up) to one who was little more than a parrot, repeating exactly what we’d just said but throwing in a nod or two for reassurance. Next! And, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the marriage counselor who tried convincing us that secrets are healthy in a marriage. Well, guess what? Not in our home! I admit we changed therapists as often as some people change their bedsheets, but I’m happy to report that six therapists later we finally landed on the right one.

What My White Therapist Taught Me About Race

We logged into our first Zoom meeting with therapist number seven, and I liked her immediately. She had coarse hair and said she was having a bad hair day—I was, too. Within the first few minutes, she made us laugh. Her warm personality eased the tension and helped my spouse open up.

As I sat in the chair beside my husband, rambling on without taking a breather, Dr. Cutshall intently scanned our body language and pointed out something I wasn’t aware of. “It’s hard not to notice your husband’s affection for you,” she said. “His arms are tightly wrapped around you; your arms are crossed and guarded.”

Whoa! This lady is calling me out! For the first time, I’m being forced to acknowledge my resistance to affection, vulnerability, and love. It’s hard but important work. Like many Black women, I was taught to be strong, and that gentleness was a sign of weakness.

Dr. Cutshall helped me see the importance of facing your feelings. Unprocessed emotion generated from trauma doesn’t just magically disappear. I learned that if you don’t acknowledge the feelings—and work through them—they can manifest in self-destructive ways. But with three kids and a new baby, plus school, and interning at a radio station, how the heck was I supposed to find time to process anything?

Her face and frizzy hair filled the whole screen as she leaned closer to the computer then said with sass, “Kimberly, it’s time to hold yourself accountable and take responsibility.” No more sob stories. Somehow, this therapist who is based in San Francisco compassionately reached through the screen and helped reconnect two Black adults from New York City. She gave me permission to release the guards and drop my strong Black woman act and that’s how the healing started!

How Zoom Fosters Culturally Competency

Dr. Cutshall has worked virtually with people all over the world. She’s counseled men, women, and nonbinary people of all ages in countries far and wide. Technology has helped her become culturally competent. Technology broadens our ability to connect and broadens our minds in ways in-person sessions can’t. Dr. Cutshall doesn’t ignore our genetic and cultural differences she talks about them. We complain about our hair texture. We share the impact of caring for our aging parents.

You don’t have to be Black to understand the added pressure of being a Black woman in America. You don’t have to be Black to treat the pain of growing up in a fatherless home. Dr. Cutshall helps me understand my dysfunctional thoughts and that my struggles with vulnerability are attached to my identity as a Black woman. She points out the hindering beliefs associated with all that, too.

Our cultural differences add grit, and grace to our sessions. I know now that I don’t need a reflection of myself to receive help. It turns out that the color of our skin isn’t what’s most important, cultural competence and humility matter much more than that.

Although I believe representation matters, for me having a white therapist is best. Dr. Cutshall challenges my family pathology, examines my fears stemming from oppression, and helps me dig into the social and cultural norms that may be holding me back. Leaving my comfort zone—with her help and guidance—has fostered real personal growth.

If you want to find a great therapist, here’s my advice. Look for the person who resonates with your soul and carries a road map to direct your path.

The second leading cause of death in the African American community is suicide. C’mon, it’s time to start asking for help and allowing therapists—even white ones—to treat us.

As we continue to encourage more Black clinicians, it’s important to remember that white therapists need us too.

Last Updated: Jul 31, 2021