In honor of Black History Month, Two Chairs Therapist Kadrea Forte, LMFT, sat down with Clinical Manager Mariah Dillard, PsyD, to learn more about her history, experience at Two Chairs, and being a Black woman in mental health and leadership.
Kadrea: I’d love to start by getting to know more about where you came from and your history?
Mariah: I grew up in Philadelphia where I attended Quaker school and feel lucky to have been in an educational environment that emphasized equality, equity, mindfulness and empathy. When I went to college, I took social psych classes and worked as a research assistant for a PhD student researching the impact of gun violence on Black men, which was mind-boggling.
I was also surrounded by Black women getting their PhDs who served as role models and opened up the possibility of me pursuing graduate education and eventually getting my PsyD. In my higher education experience, I did a lot of work with diversity and the Black community. I did my dissertation on dehumanization and criminalization of young black girls based on their hair. All of this impacted me getting to where I am today.
Kadrea: Can you share about your experiences with racism? How do you cope?
Mariah: Growing up, I dealt with a lot of implicit racism and ignorance that was hurtful, but I am grateful that I did not experience significant trauma with more explicit racism. The experiences I did have really impacted my self-esteem, confidence and inner critic.
I went to school with predominantly White kids and White roommates and was met with ignorance. When I was younger, I often didn’t process that these were microaggressions/covert racism and let them slide. Neither my parents or I necessarily had the tools to address and process this covert racism. I did experience colorism as well, but most often I responded to it with a “freeze response.” I can think of some examples, like people touching my hair without permission or making assumptions about my privilege because I went to private school.
Kadrea: That’s interesting, because I grew up in Inglewood where I went to private Christian schools, and the majority of classmates were from minoritized identities. I never thought of that as a privilege until I left that environment. I can relate to your experiences of implicit racism, especially when I have traveled. How have those experiences changed your outlook?
Mariah: Learning about coping and going to therapy have been helpful in allowing me to process all of it, cope and learn to act in the moment rather than freeze when I can. I realize how much I walked through life either afraid or oblivious to what was happening. I now have the language and the confidence to address things when they happen. These experiences have changed the way I talk to other people of color and Black girls. I am less scared now and less likely to be a bystander.
Kadrea: What has your journey been like here at Two Chairs, especially as a Black therapist in a leadership role?
Mariah: When I first started, my Clinical Director was a Black woman, and it was the first time I ever had a Black woman as a boss. It helped to see her and other powerful Black women at all levels of Two Chairs leadership at that time. It was the first time I had seen that in mental health and in tech. It inspired me to think about if I could be in those same roles. I still find it helpful to think about what they would say and how they would support me when I experience my own imposter syndrome or doubt myself.
Because of this, it is important for me to continue to advocate for all therapists, but especially therapists of color. I feel lucky to have time with other Clinical Managers who are women of color.
Kadrea: Representation matters, for sure.
Mariah: It really does.
Kadrea: Do you have any advice for Black therapists who want to be in this field?
Mariah: We need you. We want more of you. You are so crucial to the success of our community and our country. It’s hard. There are a lot of challenges with navigating our own experiences and being in a position of providing support, and our presence means everything. It means so much for clients to have a therapist who looks like them, can meet them where they’re at, and empathize with them.
Having more therapists of color helps us to destigmatize mental health.
Kadrea: What are other ways to destigmatize mental health within the Black community?
Mariah: Acknowledging that mental health is real, connecting with others in a vulnerable way, and speaking out on harmful ideologies on mental health.
Kadrea: What is Black Girl Magic to you?
Mariah: Unapologetically celebrating, showing up, and leaning into being a Black girl and all that that encompasses. Celebrating and being happy with who you are, what you look like, and lifting up other Black girls around you. I think Black women are the most beautiful, powerful strong women out there. We need love more than anything, even within our own communities.
To learn the definitions of vocabulary related to diversity, equity and inclusion in this post, check out this glossary.