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By Gina Gallagher | Citizens Bank Contributor
Mental illness does not discriminate. It affects people from all races, ethnic backgrounds, and income levels. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience some form of mental illness, such as anxiety or depression, each year.
Yes, mental illness affects us all. But as Boston psychologist Dr. Charmain Jackman has learned in her decades of experience, people of color and from different ethnic backgrounds can feel marginalized when it comes to getting the therapeutic support they need.
“There’s a lot of mistrust of the healthcare community from people of color,” said Dr. Jackman. “They want therapists who look like them, understand them, and trust they will do right by them.”
But finding that therapeutic match isn’t easy, as the Barbadian-born Dr. Jackman discovered for herself. When she wanted to find her own therapist, one of color who would understand and relate to her experiences, Dr. Jackman found the process to be more complicated and time-consuming than she ever could have expected.
“I had to search website after website to find someone,” she explained. “And when I did find someone of color, they were either not accepting new patients or the insurance I had.”
She knew there had to be a better way for people of color to quickly and easily find a therapist they can trust — and who would understand their unique cultural perspective.
“When people are going through the most difficult times in their lives,” Dr. Jackman said, “they need to know that they can easily find someone who understands them and their culture, and can help them.”
So she did what she’s done her entire career as a psychologist: worked to uncover solutions. Those solutions became the foundation of an innovative new business she created — InnoPsych, Inc. — which was awarded $10,000 after being named a 2019 Citizens Bank Small Budsiness Community Champion for changing the face of therapy in underserved communities.
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Dr. Jackman always knew she’d have a thriving business. In fact, from the time she was a young teen growing up on the island of Barbados, she had her future career all mapped out.
“I knew that I would be a psychologist and have my own practice,” she recalled.
It wasn’t that her parents were in the field or that she even knew anyone who was a psychologist. She had certainly never heard anyone talk about seeing a psychologist.
“Mental health wasn’t something people talked about in Barbados,” Dr. Jackman remembered.
There were no psychology programs at the University of the West Indies at the time, so if Dr. Jackman wanted to pursue her dream, she knew she’d have to leave and go to school in America. She decided to attend the University of Dubuque, where she double majored in psychology and business.
“Yup, I went from the Caribbean to Iowa,” Dr. Jackman joked.
After earning her degree, she was on to the next phase of her journey: graduate school at the University of Southern Mississippi, where she focused on child and adolescent care.
It was there that she first experienced doubt about the career path she’d always planned for herself. She remembered being so focused on the clinical side of her work that she couldn’t focus on the entrepreneurial piece.
“My dream of owning a business started to fizzle,” Dr. Jackman said.
One of the reasons for her discouragement? The lack of a role model to show her that her dream was possible.
“I didn’t meet any black people in the field,” she explained. “I started to convince myself that I couldn’t have a business.”
But that hurdle wouldn’t stop her from plowing ahead and working toward realizing her dream. It would pave the way for her to become a role model that other therapists of color could aspire to be.
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In 2005, following a clinical internship at Boston Children’s Hospital and a post-doctoral fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Children and the Law Program, Dr. Jackman opened her practice, Innovative Psychological Services, Inc. The practice — which she still runs today — provides clinical services, forensic psychology evaluations, consulting, and more.
But that’s just part of the work she does.
“When people are going through the most difficult times in their lives, they need to know that they can easily find someone who understands them and their culture, and can help them.”
Dr. Charmain Jackman, founder of InnoPsych, Inc.
In addition to her private practice, she serves as the Dean of Health and Wellness at Boston Arts Academy, where she supports the social and emotional health of arts students. She also participates on a number of educational forums on mental health, and is a wife and mother of two kids, ages 7 and 9.
Her busy professional and personal lives have also allowed her to see the problem with provider availability from another side.
“There aren’t enough of us in the field,” Dr. Jackman noted. “And those of us who are, often can’t take on more patients.”
It was something that troubled her greatly. She’d feel guilty when people would call her practice in need of a therapist, only for them to be turned away.
Dr. Jackman found herself taking down their information and then calling therapists on her own time to try and connect people with an available therapist.
“I was like a directory; it was taking up a lot of my time,” she said. “It wasn’t sustainable.”
So Dr. Jackman decided to do something about it. Her practice created an online national directory that people could use to find a therapist based on geographic location, type of therapy, insurance type, and, of course, race and ethnicity.
The $10,000 prize from the Citizens Bank Small Business Community Champion Award Contest went a long way in bringing that directory to life, which is hosted on InnoPsych’s website.
“It’s really about finally giving people options to choose from and having someone in their community who represents their culture,” said Dr. Jackman.
The site offers benefits for providers as well, allowing them to add their profiles to reach potential clients. When the site launched in January 2020, 60 provider profiles were added. Dr. Jackman expects that number to reach 350 by March 2020.
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Making it easier for people of color to find therapists who understand their cultural backgrounds and accept their insurance was only part of Dr. Jackman's solution to impact change in underserved communities. She knew she needed to address another pressing need: the need for more providers of color in the field.
To accomplish that, Dr. Jackman developed workshops, webinars, networking events, and other programs to not only raise the visibility of existing providers of color, but also help prospective providers build their own practices. She also offers individual and group coaching for mental health professionals of color, particularly women, looking to get into the business.
“I wish someone would have provided me with this support when I was starting my business,” Dr. Jackman reflected.
Through her work, Dr. Jackman knows she’s not just empowering successful businesswomen of color. She’s also doing her part to heal communities by providing more resources to offer the therapy they’re looking for.
“They shouldn't have to worry about finding someone who speaks their language,” Dr. Jackman said, “or have to leave their culture outside the door.”
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