Date of Award

December 2019

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Derek X. Seward


Black Women, Counseling, Counselor Education, Help-Seeking, Mental Health, Self-Care


Mental health is a national concern. It is estimated that 43 million adults in the United States experience mental illness in a given year (National Alliance on Mental Health, 2015). Of those 43 million adults, approximately 6.8 million people who identify as African American or Black suffer from some type of mental illness (U.S. Bureau, 2015). Black Americans experience mental health symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem at alarming rates.

When addressing the concerns of mental health within the Black community, the mental health of Black women is of primary concern. Black women are more susceptible than Black men to various forms of depression and the risk factors that stem from depression such as heightened suicidal ideations (Pieterse, Carter & Ray, 2013; Jones & Guy-Sheftall, 2015). Additionally the psychological and physical health of Black women can be impacted by the intersectional characteristics of their identities such as, race, class, gender, income, education, occupational status, religion, and sexual orientation (Boyd-Franklin, 1991; Mays, 1985; Mays, 2017; Williams, 2000).

Despite efforts within the field of counseling, Black women remain severely underserved misdiagnosed, and are the least researched within the counseling field (Borum, 2012). The purpose of this hermeneutic phenomenological study was to understand the lived experiences of Black women who have experienced mental health stress within the past year and to understand of their mental health needs, barriers to mental health care, as well as their help-seeking and self-care practices. Black women who report experiencing some form of mental health stress were solicited for participation for this study. Participants completed a demographic questionnaire, a semi-structured interview, and a post interview session with the primary researcher. Interviews were analyzed to provide insight on Black women’s experience as it relates to help-seeking barriers and resources.

Findings were summarized by four themes: Perspectives of Oppression on Mental Health, Socio-Cultural Messages about Self-Care and Help-Seeking, New Perspectives about Self-Care and Help-Seeking Strategies, and Messages about Professional Counseling. Each theme was reflective the influencers of mental health for the Black women participants and the resources they perceived as valuable to managing their mental health. Implications of this study include providing information that may assist counseling practitioners and educators to understand the help-seeking strategies of Black women. This in turn may assist them in creating culturally valuable counseling strategies that may be implemented within counselor training and practice. Additional implications include providing data to improve counselor training and practice for current and future counselors. Lastly, this study may help in the transformative care for Black women in the area of mental health as well as the creation and implementation of relevant theoretical counseling strategies employed by practitioners when serving Black women.


Open Access