Deciding to open up about your personal life can be challenging, especially to someone you’ve never met. About 16 years ago, as a sophomore in college, Chris Matthews took the difficult step of seeking help at his university counseling center after his girlfriend got pregnant. The fear that can build in a young expecting father can be a heavyweight to hold. While seeking the help he needed, Matthews looked around and noticed that many people didn’t look like him. There were no males and no men of color anywhere around. Instead of complaining about the lack of connection with his very personal and stressful situation, Matthews decided to do something about it by changing his route of being a teacher and seeking to start a career in becoming a Marriage and Relationship Therapist.

Chris and Shauntay Matthews (Contributed photo)

Matthews has gone on to become a big promoter of the industry by funding two scholarships at the Pfeiffer University in Misenheimer, North Carolina, to pay the fees for African American men who have a desire to become married and family therapists. Matthews also looks to change people’s perceptions about starting a career in the field. “A lot of people have this perception that you can’t make a living as a therapist, and you’re going to make a low salary, but the field of therapy has improved when it comes to compensation,” he says.

With Matthews doing great things for progression in his industry, there were, and still are, challenges that he faces. Even after Matthews received his Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy, things didn’t happen quite as he imagined. “I got into this field thinking I’m going to service a lot of black people, you know, most of the people I see are white people,” he says. He believes that there are a few reasons for this, the first being that there are not a lot of black therapists out there. According to the site Zippia, recent statistics show that the overwhelming majority of Marriage and Family Counselors are white women. “When you don’t have the majority being those that look like you, that could be hard,” he says. Although the higher-profile figures like the Obamas and Jay-Z and Beyonce opened up about going to therapy, Matthews believes it makes a difference with the conversation becoming more prevalent.

Matthews also believes that research would suggest that the success rate of counseling depends on the alliance or the rapport you have with the therapist. “Black folk have traditionally gone to the pastor or their faith-based community for council services,” he says. Having this trust factor makes a significant difference for people that might be hesitant to share some of the most intimate details of their lives. “When you look at the governmental experiments, the Tuskegee Experiments, just medical and healthcare in general, there’s a distrust,” he says.

Another challenge is that therapy is not the cheapest route, and with the economic troubles that we find ourselves in today, it can be a significant deterrent. “Therapy is a luxury, it should not be a luxury, but it is a luxury,” he says. Matthews also mentioned that he finds a lot of couples trying to use their insurance to cover the cost of marriage therapy, only to be met with disappointment when they find out that it’s not covered. Insurance can sometimes cover therapy costs if they are diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Although mental health is becoming less taboo than in the past, there is still a stigma about having a mental health disorder going on someone’s record, contributing to couples staying away from seeing a marriage counselor.

Despite some struggles one may have when deciding to see a Marriage and Family Counselor, it is something that couples should consider. The United States ranks third in the world in divorce rate while averaging around 50%. So, even if that’s not a route a couple decides to ultimately not take, Matthews suggests, “there are so many resources now that provide a lot of value, even if you can’t afford counseling. People that can’t afford counseling still don’t even take the time to do certain things like Google searches.”

You can read Chris Matthews’ book “Finding Your Relationship Fix – The Four Reasons Couples Seek Counseling” and “Six Tips For Finding Your Relationship Fix” at https://chrisamatthews.com/.

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