Directory Connects Mental Health Seekers With Culturally Specific Care

Muna Mohamed. Photo Sarah Whiting

The Cultural Wellness Directory lists around 120 providers offering cultural health and wellness services, primarily based in the Twin Cities metro area. The City of Minneapolis, led by a partnership of three community- based organizations — the African American Leadership Forum, Cultural Wellness Center, and Relationships LLC — launched the directory in 2020 to support the resilience of BIPOC communities.

“Our mission is to unleash the power of the people to heal themselves,” says Atum Azzahir, founder and executive director of the Cultural Wellness Center, which lent its name to the directory.

People looking for services can narrow their search by combining provider-generated tags that range in specificity from “American Indian” to “refugee youth from low-income backgrounds” to “faith-based organizations.”

In 2016, the City of Minneapolis received a multi-year grant for the creation of its Resilience in Communities After Stress & Trauma (ReCAST) Program to support community healing following the shooting of Jamar Clark and ensuing civil unrest.

Azzahir says there is a strong need for culturally specific care for Black and brown communities. “Health care and medicine generally [are] often unable to provide adequate and effective treatment, and the disconnect is, in many cases, just white supremacy,” she says. As a result, the directory includes alternative and ancestral healing methods like yoga, talking circles, and bodywork in addition to traditional talk therapy. “Our approach is to build space so the practices of culture will be respected, honored, and considered legitimate. We wanted residents to be able to bring their cultural practices forward and [incorporated] into their treatment plan.”

Muna Mohamed, therapist and founder of Behavioral Health Alliance, lists her services on the directory. She started the Saint Louis Park–based practice in 2019 to offer psychotherapy services to underserved communities, including low-income people. “A lot of times, people come to us for specific cultural reasons, either because they are looking for a Black therapist or a Muslim therapist, or someone with an immigrant background,” she says.

That is, if they can find her.

Mohamed says there are only a handful of easily and publicly accessible mental health directories out there, and even fewer specifically list BIPOC practices or services. Outside of adept internet navigation and friend referrals, people often find providers via their insurance plans, which recommend practitioners based on proximity and whether they are in-network. Mohamed notes that a shortage of mental health providers of color compounds accessibility issues.

“Having a provider who understands your cultural background eliminates a lot of the obstacles when it comes to quality care.

As a patient or a client, you do not have to spend half of your time explaining yourself, your culture, the reason for why you hold a certain belief to your provider, so it guarantees a better quality of care.”

“It also increases the chances that you are receiving service tailored to your specific cultural needs,” Mohamed explains, adding that traditional psychotherapy is Eurocentric. “When you are a provider of color dealing with a client who is from a minority cultural background, you are [mindful about not offering] therapeutic guidance that might contribute to the person’s societal oppression.”

Minneapolis hip hop yoga studio 612 Jungle is another service listed in the directory. Owner Gabrielle Roberts described her experience feeling alienated in yoga studios as one reason she created her own space in 2018.

“When I took my first two [yoga] classes, I was the only person of color. I was a little overweight. I felt completely out of place. I was like the pepper speck in a salt jar. And it was probably one of the most alienating and uncomfortable feelings that I have had,” says Roberts. She says the yoga studio was not accessible; it was expensive and not relatable.

Gabrielle Roberts. Photo Sarah Whiting

In contrast, 612 Jungle offers lower-cost classes and employs racially diverse instructors. “I feel like some people vibe to Beethoven, and some people vibe to 21 Savage. That should not be a barrier to them experiencing wellness and mental health and working on meditation and things within their body, building self-love,” says Roberts.

Roberts appreciates the directory for helping businesses that might not have the marketing capacity of larger entities. “As a small business owner, I do not have a full-time individual for marketing and advertising. Having a directory set in place to target the people who need it is tremendous. And it is something that I do not have the reach to do on my own,” she says.

In addition to listing providers, the Cultural Wellness Directory provides training and funding opportunities for cultural care providers to develop their programming. The partnered organizations recently contracted with Ramsey County to expand the directory and training offerings.