Life coach and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) Jameson Mercier of —known as The Haitian Therapist—counsels clients on everything from marital problems to relationship issues to matters related to sexual abuse. Mercier’s job as a therapist is probably two-folds more challenging than that of other professionals in his field, as the majority of his clients are from a community where some often refuse to acknowledge the need to seek professional help.
Presently working on a doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy at Nova Southeastern University (he holds a Master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from Barry University), Mercier is a sought-after mental health professional in South Florida. Social work and family organizations look to him for his insights into Haitian and Caribbean culture, and clients love to talk to him because he’s able to understand them from an expert’s point of view as well as from a cultural perspective. Mercier hosts a show with his wife Herdyne called “The Power Couple” on Hot 105, a radio station based in Miami. The Miami Herald honored him as “Best in Social Work” in 2011.
How did you get interested in therapy and counseling?
I have always been interested in talking to people and learning about relationships and families. However, there were two key moments that solidified it for me. The first was the passing of my father. I was nine years old at the time and I remember struggling to understand was all this meant. No one was talking to the kids about death and the emotions and no one in my family received any sort of grief counseling. That whole ordeal stuck with me and I remember thinking that people need help with this stuff.
The second thing was working with families in the child welfare system. When I first started as a social worker, I helped families be reunified with their children. It just seemed odd to me that there weren’t any interventions until after something terrible happened. It was then I decided to work with families to help them resolve the stressors that lead to the child abuse and domestic violence.
I’ve read all sorts of commentaries as to why people won’t seek professional help…especially people of color. And about how it has to do with how they are perceived by society….
There are a number of reasons people do not seek professional help. Many people feel they can handle it on their own. Others don’t want people to know they have problems. There are individuals who think therapy is for the weak. For people of color, unless there is something tangible (housing, food, etc.) counseling is a last resort, usually at the urging of the authorities.
Within the Haitian culture, the prevailing idea is that only crazy people need counseling; and even then, the most common intervention within the Haitian community is the church or prayer. So all these things combined make it so that people of color don’t seek professional help. I think a lot of people think that their problems can be taken care of in-house. But how can a person tell whether taking care of things in-house won’t do…To be fair, there are some things that can be resolved in-house, but you must have the tools and skills. If you are stressed or overwhelmed, depending on the severity you may not need to see a professional. It may be crunch time at work due to the launch of a new project. Once the project is over, things go back to normal.
The key thing people should look out for is when there is an impairment to their functioning. This means you can’t sleep or eat. For example, if your alcohol consumption used to be limited to when you were out with friends, but now you need a drink to even get started, its time to call a professional to get to figure out the cause and receive treatment.
In regards to sexual abuse, what do you think the consensus is in the Haitian and other Caribbean communities?
Sexual abuse occurs much more often in the Haitian and other Caribbean communities than most people realize. Within those communities, it is something that is seriously underreported. Similar to sexual abuse in America, the perpetrators are usually family members or someone close to the family. The victims are scared, confused, and don’t want to talk about it. Furthermore, they wouldn’t even know who to talk to. In some instances, the victims don’t realize that what happened to them is abuse until years later.
In immigrant communities where the victims are undocumented, or may not speak the language, they feel they have no options. However, as more information gets out in the community about available resources, there is a shift and things are improving.
What’s been your experience in regards to treating those in the Haitian community about depression and mental health?
In the Haitian community, it is as if there’s no such thing as depression. What you often hear are: Mwen pa pi mal—I’m not any worse. And—N’ap brase—We are hustling/struggling—and Pito nou lèd, nou la—better to be ugly and alive.These are all indicative of a community that is experiencing or has experienced a lot of hardships. My experience of the Haitian community is that they are accustomed to neglecting themselves in exchange for survival and providing for their children and families. You hear the word resilient a lot whenever you talk about Haitians. Haitians in general pride themselves on overcoming obstacles and relying on their faith.
My experience is limited when it comes to treating depression in the Haitian community. I don’t see a lot of Haitians in my office for depression. They don’t stop to find out why they are angry or sad. To consider, even for a moment, that their mental/emotional health my be in jeopardy means that they might be crazy, and that can’t happen.
How important is communication in therapy?
Communication is the lifeline of therapy. During therapy, a lot of talking takes place. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it is necessary in order to figure out the problems and issues that people are having. Clients sometimes start out reserved and don’t say much, but eventually they open up. Other clients are less than honest, but that’s fine with me because it is relevant information. It says that there is more going on. When I see couples that are having relationship difficulties, the first thing I do is get them talking about the problem. If we talk about them, then we can resolve them.
Would you say that relationship issues…divorces and stuff are a big problem?
This is a difficult question. My simple answer is yes and no. The issues you find in relationships are not big problems. The problem is all the stuff we carry with us into the relationship. Relationships can be difficult. In a marriage where there are children to tend to, finances to manage on a limited income, and sick parents to look after, it gets really difficult. However, not everyone has problems with those challenges. It is only when there are unresolved issues around money, parenting, etc., that things get complicated.
And there’s another big one. Domestic violence…
Let me first say that while the majority of victims of domestic violence are women, men are abused also. Domestic violence is a big problem. Recent statistics show that 1 out of 3 women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Some feel it’s okay because they have an unhealthy sense of what relationships should be like. I recently with Rick Party on HOT 105 with some survivors of domestic violence and they echoed what some the research says.
There are some women who become victims and remain in the relationship because they are seeking to fill a void like love and self-worth. Some victims witnessed their parents in abusive relationship and think that it’s “normal” to be hit by your partner. I’ve heard women and men say that if you’re husband or wife isn’t jealous, then he doesn’t love you. “He beats me because he’s crazy about me”. For other women, it’s because of financial reasons. They have children and feel they are stuck and have nowhere to go.
As far as the abusers go, often times they are just as lost and broken as the victims. They too may have come from dysfunctional and broken homes. They are angry and don’t know how to deal with their anger other than taking it out on someone else. What people need to know is that domestic violence is not okay. Love don’t hurt.
Do you think part of the reason why some won’t seek help, is because they figure that problems are a part of life…that it’s cowards and weaklings who can’t take care of their own problems.
For some people, that’s part of the reason. Depending where you’re from or how you grew up, there is some shame associated with seeking help. For others, seeking help is admitting and accepting that you are a failure and that you’re weak. That is absolutely the wrong way to think about it. It’s no different from seeing a doctor for a check up or a procedure. It’s about keeping you healthy. Some problems we can handle on our own, but then there are those that require professional help.
If you know someone who could use The Haitian Therapist’s services, be sure to refer them to Mercier Wellness, and
Last Updated on August 30, 2023 by kreyolicious