At the beginning of the year I knew it was time to see a therapist. So many parts of my life had changed and I needed to process my new realities. A serious, long-term relationship had ended. My dad had been in the hospital where his dementia worsened. He couldn’t feed or walk by himself for awhile. My job was busy and stressful. Many everyday activities had lost their joy.
I reached out to an organization I saw online that had therapists of color. I booked my first appointment and was excited to start my sessions with a Black woman. Unfortunately, that was my first and only session.
The therapist, despite our appointment, wasn’t even expecting me. She finished another client’s notes during our session and answered a phone call. She took that call in front of me to inquire about professional development opportunities at her agency. She made a judgment about my parent’s relationship (they have a 25 year age difference) and made assumptions about my story. Plus, there was loud vacuuming going on in the room next to me so I basically had to yell out why I felt I needed help. It was so bad that I almost found it comical. I dramatically retold every detail of this story to a friend who trains junior counselors. She said this therapist made every mistake in the book. I cancelled our recurring appointments and felt even worse than when I started.
Luckily, through a friend’s referral over brunch, I found another therapist who was a good fit within a few weeks. And then I did it. I snitched. I told as many people who asked about my experience with the first therapist. It was important that no one had the experience I did - many wouldn’t give therapy another try! I also went to the head of the organization and let them know what happened. They were horrified, embarrassed and promised to address it.
The need for trusted referrals to help us find health care providers is large. I’ve found this especially true for women of color. I regularly see people ask for referrals through Facebook or friend groups. I saw this post just last week: “looking for a recommendation: ISO a black female psychologist in the Detroit area”. Folks seem to most value referrals from people in their network - often those with similar life experiences, preferences or challenges as them. It’s time for a more sophisticated and scalable way to share recommendations.
While some industries do a good job of centering the customer experience, it’s still hard to know how hospitals and doctor offices fare with patients. For example, if you have a horrible experience at a restaurant you might share it online. It may even go viral or gain local media attention. At the very least you’ll receive a meal voucher to make up for your bad experience - even if you don’t complain publicly.
When it comes to doctor’s visits, though, the details of the quality of our experiences rarely make it outside of the waiting room. However, in an industry where bias and disparate outcomes can be a matter of life or death, it’s time for more transparency and sharing of patient voices.
I’m working on a solution to this very issue, The Twissel. The Twissel is a forum for Black Women to review experiences with doctors around the U.S. This is a proof of concept project. However, as folks engage and provide feedback the platform will respond and grow to their needs. I plan for it to ultimately expand and include other groups and experiences as well.
Imagine: your 49-year old aunt is a Black woman who was just diagnosed with breast cancer. The Twissel will give her doctor reviews and recommendations from other women who match her experience - whether it be by race, age or experience with breast cancer - in her city. We can more effectively navigate the health system to reach quality care and restore our health by using the expert lived experience of others.
We have to share our experiences. Let’s bring our praises and complaints out of the waiting room or the phone conversation with our girlfriends and into a space that is exponentially scalable and will help others with health prevention and care. I’m thankful for the referral to a provider that helped me during a darker time in my life and want everyone to have access to that same fortune.
Visit www.TheTwissel.com. If you’re a Black woman, please add a review of a doctor you’ve used. Anyone can subscribe and stay up to date with this project.