Dr. O: Hey, Hey, Hey, welcome to the Black Marriage and Family Therapy Matters Podcast where we connect black families to black therapists. Today’s guest is Mr. James Harris.
James Harris: Hi, James.
Dr. O: Hey, what’s going on? Thanks for having me.
Hi. I’m doing great. And thank you for being here. All right, let me tell you a little bit about Mr. Harris. So Mr. James Harris is the founder of Men to Heal. He is a licensed mental health professional and holds a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling. At age five, James lost his father and was placed into the Virginia foster care system. As a ward of the state he was required to attend counseling sessions. However, he found those sessions unengaging, typically run by white therapists who sat on the couch, James felt that they cannot relate to the emotional and cultural issues he faced. As a result, counseling wasn’t a service he took seriously. So he wasn’t able to benefit from it. This unfulfilling experience, follow James into his adult life, James deploy to the Iraq and Afghanistan and upon his return, he again tried therapy, and the experience was the same. In 2018. James created men to heal a movement to bring awareness to the stigma surrounding mental health among men and underserved populations. James is an army veteran, serial entrepreneur, and community advocate. His recent ventures include co ownership of Brewers Waffles, and the well art gathering, and the opening of the Healing Hub in 2019, a wellness center to operate outpatient therapy, yoga, mindfulness and financial resources to the community. That is amazing, James.
James Harris: Thank you. Yes.
Dr. O: So you just kind of do it all. You start from when you were a child, and you needed counseling, probably, but didn’t find it very effective to being an adult and opening your own counseling business amongst other entrepreneurial things. How did you use your pain to find your purpose?
James Harris: I mean, that’s exactly what I did. I just had a certain level of resilience and a certain level of committedness that I wanted to overcome what I’ve overcame. And I didn’t want to be in a process of, you know, being like, I experienced what it is to be hungry or homeless, I never want to do that again, so I just use my tenacity to ensure that I was able to, you know, support myself, and not only me, but of course, the people around me, my community and stuff like that, just give them outlets and you know, be a model to let them know that you can overcome any situation that’s placed upon you.
Mm hmm. Wow, that is awesome. Um, so you obviously work with black families as well. Um, would you say that, have you had your own counseling experience that wasn’t very culturally relevant has been like, a leading force into that decision? So did you hear my dog?
Dr. O: It’s okay! You got to have an animal to keep the peace, keep us relaxed.
James Harris: I so pretty much I work with anybody that needs services. My area is pretty heavily African American focus. However, I definitely do think it is a difference between cultural competency and being from the culture. So for me, to ensure that I display and provide a certain level of empathy support for the demographic that I work with. But being myself again, being able to be that model, and a positive influence as African American male, I think is definitely important. So when I was in therapy, yes, it wasn’t a cohesive and build an experience, like they were poor wasn’t there at that age, because of cultural reasons, whether that was his age, or whether he was his ethnicity, but we weren’t able to establish a fundamental relationship, to give me the assistance that I thought I needed. And then of course, fast forward later, same thing occurred when I was in services again, for you know, the two deployments that I had. It just wasn’t a fulfilling experience with that therapists either. So the last experience was the veteran experience. And that’s pretty much why a lot of veterans don’t want to seek services tend to want to go to the groups because it’s more identifiable, like people, you know, is that shared experience. So, for me, I just took that approach, like I want to ensure that I’m giving people a shared experience. I’m giving people an experience of therapy that they can relate to, that they can build upon and proud First, because one I am you, you know, your position, whether you was the veteran or the young adolescents, that was unrelatable. to somebody, and I want you to know that, you know, you’re not being judged. You know, it’s no hierarchy, you know, we’re establishing this thing together to better assist you. So I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do that. But I definitely think it’s because of the competency and being in a position to display a certain level of empathy based around my own situation.
Dr. O: You know, as you say, that I just, I can’t help but just see what it’s like to be in the room with you. I don’t think I’ve ever had a black male therapist, but I certainly have black males in my life. And I know that when they’re vulnerable, and I hope this isn’t passed in a bias. But I know it’s very hard. Like, I feel like for me, as a woman, I’m able to like, even if, let’s say I have a fight with my husband, worst case scenario, I could go out, even if I’m not talking about my husband, you know, I could go out with my girlfriend, I could say, oh, I’ve had a bad day, you know, we can have lunch, not too much of that right now, because of COVID. But it’s more socially acceptable. And even if I have to go to a therapist, and that there’s some stigma there as well. But I just think for black men to be able to say I’m depressed, or I’m frustrated, or I’m, you know, heaven forbid, angry, which, you know, there’s a stereotype there in itself. I feel like it’s so hard. Do you find that you see that a lot in the men that you serve? And if so, how would you like to what would you like to tell men that are struggling men and boys, black men and boys who might be struggling, but they just can’t seem to connect to a therapist.
James Harris: Sure. So it’s not uncommon is for that to occur, everything you just identify highlighted is, you know, those reactions that happen, not only for me in session, but of course, and community, a lot of people feel specifically men that they can’t express a certain emotion, whether that’s from a societal standpoint of feeling vulnerability, and weakness, or that’s just from a standpoint of being raised based on a certain criteria of not wanting to appear soft or weak, or whatever the case is. But using your example of the depression situation, I would encourage that guy, so pretty much what I do, to be honest with you, is re educate men on different symptomology. So if we use depression that you spoke up, you know, I just educate them on men and women both experienced depression, you know, it just looked differently, how it’s displayed. You know, men tend to be depressed, depressed, and they display like the anger, the aggression, the sadness, the irritability, and, you know, of course, the those symptoms be overlooked and turned into something else like, oh, he just mad. You know, but no, he’s dealing with unresolved question. A lot of people don’t know that. So yeah, what I do is tend to educate that that man or that family on what depression is. So from there, you know, at just pretty much explain to them like, depression affects their ability to feel they can handle like daily activities, I break it down. Not so much in a clinical sense, but I break it down in a relatable way. So that male can understand. So pretty much like think about it, like you probably know the criteria of depression that you got to have a different symptomology for a period lasting beyond a two week time frame.
Dr. O: Right.
James Harris: For this man who’s in my office or in my presence, I’m telling him like, hey, how’s your appetite? You know, are you When was the last time you had a full course meal? You enjoyed it? You know, how’s your sleep schedule? Are you able to fall asleep on time? Are you staying asleep at night? Lost inches of pleasure, man, how you feel about sports, you still have all I can use to write you know, you’re still drawing like you used to or you find these things interesting as they once were. And then from there, you know, like I’m asking Are you isolating yourself used to hanging out with teammates are you by yourself these days? And you know, of course based on that answers, I’m like, right?Oh, you know, hey, that’s depression.
Dr. O: Right?
James Harris: Now that we know what it is we can treat it but you know, Hollywood painted this picture on what depression is yes, I feel that they have to just stay in bed all day and not answer the phone and that want to move like that. That’s a good depiction for Hollywood but in actuality it can be all those other things surrounding it. Um, you know, so again, it’s also the fifth the physical signs and symptoms of it of course that I would like to mention so different guys to of course, you know, you got those aches and pains those things can derive from depression A lot of people don’t know that like, and reckless and risky behavior that men tend to engage in those things can stem from depression as well. And a lot of people tend not to correlate the two, you know, for a long time, doctors and pretty much everybody else thought the man and body was separate. But now we know that they join could you know they work together, right, such as your gut digestive issue. And the number one killer right now among African American man is heart disease, you can have heart to heart disease from untreated depression and like high level of stress, all of those things can correlate to having depression. And of course, we know the use of alcohol and drugs and you know, those things can lead to depression. So again, when I break it down like that, they can tend to understand and be like, Oh, man, like I’m interested to hear more. And then of course, I tell them about the the factors and ways that you can be exposed to depression. We know that genetic factors, of course, the family history, environmental stress can definitely be onset of depression, whether that’s been natural loss or loss of a loved one, or issues at work and stuff like that in the workplace. And of course, the illness, like just think about the repeated images of the African American man being killed by police right now. Depression for a young man to constantly watch those things and, and be anxious and have anxiety just trying to figure out like, hey, am I next is that going to happened to me?
James Harris: Am I going to be a victim, or just looking at those numbers of COVID, steady rising, or just thinking about how I’m going to provide for my family, if I can’t work, well, what if I get it and stuff like those things tend to lead to depression. So I definitely, like employ them to develop a strong support system, you know, identify that triggers, figure out ways to reduce that stress levels, whether that’s in the home, or the community, or the work environment, right, you know, hang with positive influences, like your peers, your teammates, you know, your siblings, just a strong foundation, and reduce, like, the negative impacts of it, like, Don’t be so angry, if somebody actually what’s going on, like, try to try to be as supportive as you can. So that person has given you support, but of course, that person who’s offering support has to have patience, and encourage them, you know, they have to listen, without judgment, because even with the men, like women tend to say, hang around with you.
Dr. O: Right, right…
James Harris: Or… you know, like I dealt with, or you can deal with it type thing. So all of those things like impact the stigma,
Dr. O: It does.
James Harris: Yeah, to you to, to pound up on the stigma based on those things. And guys tend to, you know, cause bodily emotions based and surrounding those things, right. So definitely want to have them, you know, bad physical outlets, whether that’s running, push ups, and so on, you know, just just help them get back to grounded within themselves, mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises. But for the most part, again, I tried to re educate men on those symptoms of depression. So they can be better not only for themselves, but of course, was I found the communities and stuff like that. But that’s what I found it to be like a lot of ignorance to what it is because a lot of men still think it’s a female diagnoses or feminine diagnoses. Not to the sense of Yo, you’re impacting yourself, not only me, but physically, right, if you ignore this thing, you know, like, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had big athletes, football players and basketball.
Dr. O: Yeah.
James Harris: Say like, I ain’t depressed… that;s for cheerleaders.
Dr. O: Right, right.
James Harris: Right, right. Right. Of course, when I break it down the way I just broke it down to you.
Dr. O: Yeah. I get it. Yes, yeah.
James Harris: I mean, I haven’t been interact with my teammates, or I’d be tossing and turning at night, or, you know, I found myself I, you know, they started breaking it down to themselves once they realized, like, yo, is criteria, it’s based on, you know, different criterias. And that specifically set for any gender, it doesn’t discriminate. You know, so once I break it down like that, they tend to understand it.
Dr. O: Yes, I mean, that just, that’s perfect. That is perfect. Because, yes, we do hear the word depression, and we want to run. But when you break down the symptoms and stuff, we realized, no, this is a clinical issue. And when you look at it from that perspective, it’s very helpful. Something else you touched on, and I just, I mean, I know because I thought about it, and I know my audience will be thinking about it as well. And that is, what can we women do, because I’ll be honest, and I consider myself passionate about black men especially, and what’s going on right now. But you know, it’s easy for me if I see a black man and he’s angry, it’s easy for me to just put it in a compartment, and not even associated with the fact that no, maybe he’s depressed. You know that. And I know this clinically that a lot of times anger is a symptom of depression, as well. But how do we deal with? How do we support it? How do we help men? What can we do to help black men feel more comfortable being vulnerable?
James Harris: So it all depends to be honest with you, because I wouldn’t want the young lady or you any other support system to put themselves in a home where harm’s way, you definitely want to ensure that your safety is… If you’re in a situation, trying to help and trying to extend yourself and this person is harming you emotionally or physically, then you definitely want to adjust that situation.
Dr. O: Right?
James Harris: It’s okay to support and encourage from afar if that is the case. But if it’s not that drastic, and you are just trying to offer support, because you recognize some signs or symptoms, or just want to encourage them, I would definitely suggest you know, being that ear being, being that shoulder listening without without judgment, having some type of compassion. And don’t use this information against them. In the future, like though back in his face, once you do open up this ability. And of course, they can go to my website, you can get that right guys, there’s a resource page, perfect articles on my website, www.mentoheal.com You know, so those are some of the things that you could do. But of course, never ignore the signs or comments that they’re making about not only depression, but potentially suicide or harming themselves, you know, just pay attention. And most importantly, I would say, be patient with them. But again, not so much to where your start to harm yourself, whether you, you know, overly worrying or having your own issues from the issues lingering with with that male that you’re trying to help. You know, be a resource, like help them find research on depression, or help them identify those symptoms have let them know what you’re saying differently than what you used to see from them. And of course, you can give them my book too, it’s a great way for you guys exchanged dialogue and he do a couple pages, he give it back to you and process those pages. It might be that he wants to open up and articulate to you he just don’t know how to and the way that he he’s, the way that he’s accustomed to opening up is, you know, of course, that detrimental way as in being angry or aggressive or displaying reckless behavior and stuff like that.
Dr. O: All right, Love it. Love it. Love it. We’re definitely going to talk about your book at the end, because I definitely know that we’ll have some listeners who find it very helpful. I have a question, again, to piggyback off of something you said. And that is about, you know, when how, again, I want in you know, I’m sure you do this in your your practice all the time. And I know it’s all relative, but you said don’t throw things back up in their face. What about things that are? I know, like, for instance, money issues are sensitive, right, especially for man who takes a lot of pride in the fact that he is being a provider. So I found I don’t even mind being a little vulnerable here. I might say, Man, turn the lights off the light bill is high. I feel like that if it strikes the wrong nerve, you know to be in I might not even be thinking that that’s something that maybe it’s coming across, like I don’t think, you know, whatever he can manage to bill or something like that, like, how do we work around things. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that like with the want, like with women, like you can’t talk about our weight for instance. It’s like we just we make that very, very clear. A lot of times we don’t know. So sometimes we unintentionally, I think put down then, but don’t understand that we’re doing that.
James Harris: Yeah, so I mean, again, I think it was all depends on the type of situation, but not throwing it up in his face and holding him accountable is very different. So in this in this case, I think accountability is important because you’re letting them know like, Hey, listen, you’re not you’re not the same. You’re displaying certain actions that you didn’t display when we first started dating or when I first met you or whatever the case is, what’s going on? Where is that person? Or how can we get back to that person? I think that’s very different than saying, Well, last week, you told me that she wasn’t going XYZ or, you know, using it as a weapon. I think those things are two very different distinct things. So again, counter accountability is definitely needed and vital in the situation. But if you’re using a derogatory situation to make him feel or This is a certain spot, did not think that is detrimental to him wanting to be vulnerable with you again.
Dr. O: That’s really important to say to emphasize I’m glad you did that. Thank you. So what type of advice would you give a young black man who wants to start therapy?
James Harris: I would, I would definitely suggest, man, it’s definitely good that you want to start therapy, which is a good thing, continue to grow, continue to build. And it’s definitely important that you are aware of that situation. And that fact that you want to do that, because myself or any other therapists aren’t able to pretty much assist you, if you didn’t recognize that within yourself. And if you don’t want treatment within yourself. So I would definitely say continue to grow within yourself, continue to process it, do your research, find a therapist that definitely looks like you and definitely is pretty much one that you want to process things with, you do have a say, in a manner. A lot of people don’t think that they can, you know, interview different therapists or get different consultations, but you can. So I would suggest you do that. So you get better right fit opposed to just going with any therapist and being turned on by the situation. And they’re casting doubt, thinking that all therapists are like the one that you had a bad experience with. You know, because that tends to happen, like, Oh, yeah, one, one bad experience. That’s added therapists. Yeah, you know, no, you have to ensure that you find somebody who is one in which you won’t, so I could do your research, and find one that’s compatible and relatable to you whether that means culturally, ethnicity, age wise, you know, all of those things, you definitely want somebody who is able to assist you the way you want it to be Assistant, what is your process. You gonna be better for?
Yes, very good. And we might I just want to add on to this, I don’t know what your perspective is on it. But we have to also look at it as an investment. You know, a lot of times we want to go with maybe the one our EAP provides or our insurance provides, and that’s good. And if you financially cannot afford it, please, I’m not judging, I’m not knocking you. But I think people also need to understand that, you know, a lot of times you pay for what you get, and if you really want somebody who’s qualified to connect with you, and has this education, you know, you might want to think about is this something I look, I know, people who will spend money on some Jordans, high name brand stuff, you know, as soon as it drops, but then they’ll have some disease symptoms that you’re talking about for years, but to go on address, so I just think it’s worth you know, thinking about if you haven’t been able to invest in it, if it’s something that affects you?
Dr. O: Yeah. James, what are three resources that you have, or even a couple, you don’t have to give me three, but resources that you think you could tap into are offered to black families, specifically black men, to help them to heal? One of them is your book. So maybe you can start with that one? How can that help black men?
James Harris: Sure. So that can help all men by pretty much assessing them in ways to identify the areas in which they want to articulate not only for themselves, but of course, but our partner that children and stuff like that. And it’s a healthy way for you guys exchange dialogue. It’s a healthy way for you guys to process that the things like the man can get this book and learn some incredible techniques about himself, he can identify as triggers, he can identify ways to cope, he can build resilience, he can understand, you know, symptomology, of certain areas in which he displaying certain things. So the book is phenomenal. It’s a tool for him to also grow with, he can do this book at 10 years old, and come back to it when he’s 12. And see if he’s still triggered by the same things that he wants to trick about, or see where he need to improve it, or just processing and charges growth. And of course, if he’s an emergent situation, he can do a couple of pages, he can give it to his wife, and they can process it together over dinner, they can have these tough conversations in the setting because it’s an assignment and it doesn’t feel like a chore, you know. So that’s one of the ways that the book can be helpful. Not only the individual man or the adolescent boy, but of course in couples setting. But another resource that makes sense, man is pretty much getting back grounded man understanding and trying to identify ways to learn about deep meditation and mindfulness. Those things are served to. A lot of people don’t know how to breathe or don’t take time to breathe and They can, it can be very beneficial. So, go to YouTube, download some white noise, just sit back and pause and think get centered within yourself. And I think it will definitely do you some justice
Dr. O: I love it.
James Harris: Yes. And another the last one would probably be ignore the perception of others that can be so detrimental to the growth, especially when people try to prove or classify what masculinity and manhood should be, like, stay away from those perceptions because, you know, it’s hindering your growth, you’re not as open or as vulnerable with your children or your partner. Because you don’t want to get that perception of being weak or soft, or whatever the case is. But if you ignore those outside perception, you can have that authentic, self authentic view, and know who you are. And you know, of course, you’ll be happier, healthier for the people around you will be vicariously happy to help you for because it’s you you’re not in the shell, you’re not in this bubble of trying to be somebody else or not. You know, being your true self and who you are. Those are the three.
Dr. O: I love it. I love it. Can you give me a myth about therapy and black man and then debunk it?
James Harris: Um, a myth?
Dr. O: Yeah. Oh, no one on to. Okay. What about something like, black People don’t go to therapy, they go to church?
James Harris: Well, I mean, historically and proudly, as a meme, that sounds about right. You know, African Americans tend to want to pred away or have been told to just prayed away. So I would, I would say, it is a myth. But I also would say a lot of African Americans are definitely engaging in the ability to find outside healing sources, whether that is yoga mapping is meditating, you know, being holistic now, then they previously were based on those myths and stereotypes. But of course, as far as the stigma and it is still there, but I definitely would suggest you find Jesus and a therapist because they both work, you know, we…
Dr. O: Yes.
James Harris: Therapists are the entities place to you know, like, we’re given certain criteria and certain abilities from your higher power. So it still will work. It can, you can have both, like you don’t have to choose either or, and I think that’s what people are confused. But I definitely think both are, you know, interchangeable, they can work.
Dr. O: And you mentioned something really important. Earlier, you said that heart disease a lot of times is created by stress. But I don’t hear a lot of people saying I’m not going to go to the cardiologist because that’s against God. But you understand that a cardiologist was created by God, to help you learn to deal with your heart. But a lot of times people don’t understand that’s the same God that creates the therapist, to help you to work with your mental health.
James Harris: Yeah, that’s definitely it.
Dr. O: Um, is there anything that you want black families, particularly black men to know, that you haven’t addressed yet?
James Harris: Um, yes, continue to grow within yourself continue to grow with the families of their community as much as possible, whether they’re full of resources, whether that growing together, just trying to get back centered and grounded within the funding, lack of resource and a lot of people stay away from things like that, because they got their individual concept, the individual man set, but we go farther together and as we grow together, so those things have been official, to the next generation is definitely important that we do that and set the example for the upcoming generation.
Dr. O: Thank Very good, very good. Okay, now it’s time for a segment that we call “What’s Good.” So “What’s Good” is a part of the show where we apply the information that you’ve ever revealed into what could be a real life scenario for our listeners. Okay. Are you ready? All right, meet Tyshawn. Tyshawn is a 15 year old African American male teenager growing up in a lower income area of Chicago. He has dark skin, a heavy bill and stands approximately six foot four inches. He’s really gentle, but due to his size, people often judge him. He is perceived to be more threatening than he is. And with everything going on in the Black Lives Matter movement, he’s scared How can Men to Heal help him.
James Harris: So pretty much I can assist him with being comfortable with who he is you know don’t have that the negative derogatory perception of himself based on the views of others. Definitely continue to be gentle continue to be understanding and compassionate with who he is and use his size and strength as a tool and not as a weapon that is that they’re pretty much putting that depiction so you know, so continue to grow within yourself continue to uplift and encourage your community and I know living in Chicago he’s probably painted as a target more often than somebody who is that actually gentle and you know, he collected person right, hopefully he can benefit from just being himself and understanding his ability to assist others.
Dr. O: Very good. I love that love that thank you so much change. So James, so listen, thank you for coming to the show. I’ve been so inspired by what you have to say I know my listeners will as well. Why don’t you tell them where they can find you and get more information in case they want to work with you or follow you online?
James Harris: Sure, yeah, definitely can go to my website www.mentoheal.com. Again, it’s an info more information about me My book is on there. My book is also on Amazon Barnes and Nobles target. Wow. You know those places and also it’s a link to my YouTube page on my website. But if you want to go directly to YouTube, you can type in men to heal me and to to heal ACL and check out those videos because it’s a video on man and depression. It’s a video on trauma, grief, you know, just different videos that can be resources to the man in your life. And to the women for that matter. You know, they can process these things or send them to that guy friends, or whatever.
Dr. O: Very good.
James Harris: Of course you can find me on Instagram Men_to_heal
Dr. O: Awesome. Awesome. That’s amazing. Well, thank you again for coming to the show. Listen, you are doing great work. And I know you are touching people out here who really need to hear from you. It’s an honor that you chose to chose to share that gift with us today. We know that it’s been helpful. We appreciate you for being here. And thank you for coming.
James Harris: Hey, thanks a lot for having me. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. Have fun. I definitely appreciate you and I wish you continued prosperous success.
Dr. O: Take care. Bye