A black-owned mental health provider focuses on the healing of souls

“Right now you may feel blocked without knowing how to deal with all the feelings that come. You can weed out anger, pain, exhaustion, even fatigue; feeling helpless. “

The statement appeared on the website of Richton Park-based mental health provider Soul Werk Cafe along with its commitment to helping clients heal.

“The therapeutic work we do is more than just helping people learn how to deal with injustice, discrimination and environmental factors that cause emotional and psychological illness,” said Shanika Ford, founder, owner and CEO. director of private practice owned and operated by African Americans. , which focuses on serving black and brown customers.

“Our work heals the soul. “The work we do comes down to the root or the ‘soul’ of things, which is the only way I think people can really find the alignment, balance and healing they want,” Ford said.

Ford, 39, is a licensed clinical social worker with a master’s degree in clinical and medical social work from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree in social work from Governors State University. She has more than a decade of experience in mental health, holistic health, trauma, grief and ancestral healing practices.

Her Soul Werk Cafe provides individual and group therapeutic consultations, and the practice sees about 200 individual clients a month, she said. Focus areas include cultural identity and affiliation. Therapists advise clients whose mental health has been affected by racism and micro-aggression – cases of subtle indirect discrimination. They also provide therapy to clients who work or go to school in mostly white institutions and experience isolation due to the lack of a diverse cultural community or the so-called “other,” Ford said.

The other is a model of prejudicial exclusion or marginalization.

Clients include people from multicultural or mixed family systems who experience isolation due to a lack of acceptance from either side or feel they have to choose a country, Ford said.

Other areas of focus include life transitions, grief and loss, anxiety and stress, depression and chronic sadness, trauma and living with post-traumatic stress disorder. Soul Werk Cafe also conducts corporate trainings and facilitates seminars to maintain mental health and emotional well-being.

Ford chose to enter the field of mental health counseling in part because of the low representation of African-American psychologists. They represent only about 5% of the country’s total, she said. She also entered the field because her life experience helped her understand that there are social determinants of mental health, she said.

“The social determinants of mental health are connectivity, poverty, the living environment, chronic and persistent violence in the community, and poor nutrition,” she said. “All of these things lead to a deterioration in mental health because these basic needs are not being met.”

People in these situations can build great levels of endurance, “but how much to end and at what cost” in terms of mental health, she said.

Due to the lack of color therapists, when African Americans and other racial groups take the step of seeking mental health resources, the group of therapists includes many who do not understand certain values ​​and beliefs in color communities and who do not understand these values ​​and beliefs. while advising customers, Ford said.

“The way we conduct therapy at Soul Werk is that we deliberately emphasize these cultural values ​​and beliefs,” she said. “We are also making room to bring in their life experiences and social determinants that contribute to (mental health) decline. This also includes racial trauma, intergenerational trauma. “

She added that Soul Werk also “makes room for people to bring their tradition of faith”.

Ford said he understands the positive role that spirituality and religion play in black and brown communities. But she noted that spirituality and religion can be detrimental if, for example, someone facing mental health challenges does not seek the necessary professional advice because she believes they can “pray” compared to their “talking and seek professional support that can work in the faith. “

At Soul Werk, which has five therapists and two therapy interns, all African Americans, “we tried to make sure our clinicians and therapists reflected the communities we serve,” Ford said.

In addition to serving black and brown communities, the focus is on serving members of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual communities and clients with non-dominant and dominant religious traditions and spiritual practices, she said.

Prior to starting Soul Werk Cafe, Ford worked in an inpatient psychiatric ward in Harvey, an outpatient psychiatric facility in Joliet in substance abuse counseling, and a community mental health site in southeastern Chicago, she said.

“The community’s mental health is great,” Ford said. “This allows you to serve the black and brown population, but there is a lot of bureaucracy.”

She started practicing privately in 2019 and joined Soul Werk Cafe in 2020. She decided to start her own practice to “create a space where people feel like community, tribe and village,” she said.

This includes respecting all the professional constraints that exist in terms of regulation, licensing and professional requirements, “but also offering therapy to people and emotional support that welcomed them where they were, but offered a vision for it. what they can achieve and show. be “, she shared.

This includes helping clients rebuild and repair basic relationships in their lives and within themselves.

“Our motto is that once you enter this healing journey and process, while you are healing, you are healing everything that is related to you,” she said.

The planning and treatment process begins with talking about values ​​and beliefs and building a community care plan.

“When people start dealing with old injuries, they need support that goes beyond what you get with me for an hour a week,” she said.

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Customers are wondering who they have in their lives who can help support you during your journey. If you tell anyone, we’re working on what it looks like and why, how it looks to fix the relationship, “Ford said.

Asked what trends she has seen among clients since the onset of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, she said anxiety and depression have prompted people to seek advice. They are worried about their work environment and what will happen if they become infected with COVID-19 and how this will affect their families and incomes.

Some people have been depressed about having to return to the office because they are returning to situations where “major repressive factors of racism, identity politics and the economy of who can stay at home and who can’t” come into play. , she said.

But she also sees a focus among customers on autonomy and self-service.

“This pandemic has highlighted where people are unhappy and they realize they have more control to change course than they previously believed they had,” she said.

Francine Knowles is a freelance columnist for the Daily Southtown.

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