Racial bias in mental health clinics: Therapists 'more likely to call back Allison than Lakisha'
- University of Vermont got an actor to call therapists using different names
- The actor got follow-ups 63% of the time using the name Allison
- She only had a 50% success rate when she called with the name Lakisha
- The findings are tipped as confirmation of racial bias in mental health
A study has unveiled evidence of racial bias in mental health clinics.
Researchers at the University of Vermont found therapists were far more likely to respond to voicemail messages from patients with a white-sounding name like Allison than a black-sounding name like Lakisha.
The findings have been tipped as confirmation that an inherent racial bias is blocking black people from crucial mental health services.
Racial bias? A study claims therapists were more likely to reject working with a girl called Lakisha compared to a girl called Allison. The findings have been tipped as confirmation that an inherent racial bias is blocking black people from crucial mental health services (file image)
'There's this dominant idea in our society that one is either a good person or racist, but you can't be both,' said Dr Lance Smith, professor in counseling at the University of Vermont.
'Our study underscores the notion that well-meaning, beneficent people - egalitarian people like mental health providers who are ostensibly highly trained in self-awareness and multicultural competence - may exhibit implicit bias towards black people.'
The study analyzed callback rates of counselors and psychologists to voicemail messages left by an actor.
She made 371 calls to licensed counselors and psychologists across the East Coast - 198 calls using the name Allison and 173 calls stating her name as Lakisha.
These names were chosen by looking at national data to find names that are commonly associated with a certain race.
Each call was recorded in advance to ensure that they were all nearly identical in vocal cadence, tone, and manner.
Only the names were changed.
Nonetheless, Allison received 12 per cent more invitations to start a treatment than Lakisha.
Allison was invited to speak with a therapist on the phone to discuss their services 63 per cent of the time - receiving 126 follow-up calls.
On the other hand, Lakisha only had a 50 per cent success rate, receiving 89 invitations to speak with a therapist.
The rest of the therapists that Lakisha contacted responded with rejection messages, saying things like 'I'm afraid my case load is full'.
The results echoed similar findings in similar studies exploring racial bias in housing, economics and higher education.
It is a crucial step towards changing the conversation on how to improve mental health services for non-whites, the authors insist.
'The purpose of this study was to shift away from the emphasis on why black individuals "fail" to seek mental health services to a focus on what counseling professionals may be doing to block the provision of services to potential black clients,' write the authors in their study.
'Although a counselor or psychologist consciously possesses an overt and strong attachment to values such as fairness and egalitarianism, they may be simultaneously in denial of subconscious biases that can be activated by a racialized name.'
Tackling the issue is unfathomably complicated, the researchers admit in their conclusion.
First, they say, it is essential to recognize that even professionals in a position of 'trust' and 'fairness' are susceptible to racial bias is essential.
The next step is to infuse social justice issues into psychology programs and training.
Students, Smith says, must be forced to tackle the 'uncomfortable work of interrogating one's subconscious biases and stereotypes of traditionally marginalized groups.'
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