Caroline therapist focused on mental health of Black men | Local News - freetxp

Caroline therapist focused on mental health of Black men | Local News

Gary “Trey” Taylor was initially hesitant to pursue his license in clinical therapy.

The Caroline County native began his career in mental health services 11 years ago with Snowden at Fredericksburg and later became a crisis therapist with the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board.

But Taylor’s primary passion remained erasing the stigma of discussing mental health in the Black community, particularly among Black men.

He began a mental health group awareness called the Goodfellaz Project, where Black men would gather and discuss various issues concerning their mental health in a nonjudgmental environment.

The project started off with great success, but was forced to hold virtual gatherings after two sessions at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and enthusiasm waned.

“Obviously, the need was there,” Taylor said. “Black men were getting to the point of starting to say, ‘I need some help.’ ”

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Recognizing the lack of Black male therapists throughout the Interstate 95 corridor from Northern Virginia to Richmond prompted Taylor to pursue his license in the field.

He ultimately achieved his goal, and opened a private practice in the Ladysmith Business Park last June.

Taylor has 30 clients from across the state, with the vast majority being Black men. They discuss everything from the impact of social justice issues on their psyche to transitioning into life as a husband and father.

Taylor said the response has been overwhelming, and he’s been forced to pause accepting new clients while averaging 15 to 17 sessions per week.

“I knew it was going to get busy because I knew there was a gap,” Taylor said. “But there are points where it just comes in waves.”

Taylor said he chose to open a private practice because the opportunity to help Black men heal in a clinical fashion was too meaningful to pass up.

He said the response from the Goodfellaz Project was an inspiration. He learned that while other groups have issues as well, Black men “are a little more complex.”

He said for many, constantly witnessing the deaths of other Black men because of street violence or police brutality can be an emotional trigger. He said navigating the workforce as a minority is a challenge, as well. He’s worked to help more Black men learn how to communicate emotions despite some never having been taught that it is OK to do so.

“Then there’s the anger piece,” Taylor said. “The anger is always heavy. But the anger for me as a Black man can be a byproduct of depression or anxiety. So they might actually be depressed or having anxiety issues, but it’s coming out as anger. We also deal with grief. You pile all of that in with how it is to be a Black man in America and that’s what you’re faced with every single session. That’s why I said Black men are a little more unique because you have to attack all of that at once sometimes. It’s like, where do we start first?”

Taylor said he tries to peel back as many layers as possible in 1-hour sessions. He comes up with strategic treatment plans that address the underlying cause of mental health issues. He often begins conversations with light-hearted discussions about sports, the latest Marvel movie or other personal interests.

Taylor is a car and sneaker enthusiast, so that often prompts discussion.

“For us as brothers, it’s hard enough to get us to talk about our feelings anyway,” Taylor said. “So you’ve got to go around-about a little bit. If you come in nervous and anxious about what’s going on, I want to make sure I bring you down so you can properly talk and get stuff out … I think sometimes in this field we see people as clients and patients but I’ve always seen them as human beings who are going through some issues in life and need some help.”

Taylor penned a book titled “You Good Fam?”, addressing mental health among Black men. He has a second book, “Refresh: Journey to Find Peace” coming out in October.

His passion for mental health carries over into his role as a deacon at Oxford Mount Zion Baptist Church in Ruther Glen. Taylor said he only incorporates faith into his practice if the client takes the conversation in that direction.

His pastor, the Rev. Duane Fields Sr., said Taylor is chipping away at the stigma of mental health issues in the Black community and the church. Fields said that for any Black man seeking therapy, “it’s an added benefit when you look across the table and see someone that looks like you.”

“Mental health in the Black community and in the church has always been taboo,” Fields said. “He’s brought it to light. He’s made it an open dialogue … Whenever we have any type of conference or leadership development, we make sure we add that mental health piece in there.”

Taylor and his wife, Shauniece, oversee the Millennials ministry at their church. Taylor has also conducted mental health workshops. He proactively checks on Fields to ensure he’s in a good place mentally and not on the verge of burnout.

“I always say that mental, physical and spiritual all works hand in hand,” Taylor said. “Just because you might be depressed or anxious dealing with some type of mental health issue, it doesn’t mean that God can’t handle and deal with that. It also doesn’t mean you don’t need a therapist if you believe in God. You can do both. I know that God put therapists in place to help us. I’m living proof of that.”

Taft Coghill Jr: 540/374-5526

tcoghill@freelancestar.com

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