The UC Santa Barbara Hosford Counseling & Psychological Services Clinic — a clinical research facility and training site for doctoral students — launched the Healing Space, a clinic providing therapy services to Black-identifying students, in December 2020.
A year into its creation, the Healing Space connects Black-identifying clients with Black therapists to offer therapy and psychological services.
The idea for the Healing Space first gained traction in Sept. 2020 when Jordan Killebrew, volunteer with Healing Justice Santa Barbara (HJSB), began talks with Carrie Towbes of the Towbes Foundation, a family foundation that provided the initial grant funding for the Healing Space. HJSB is a Black-led organizing collective with a mission to center the collective healing, uplifting and liberation of all Black people.
Killebrew identified the lack of local access to Black mental health professionals who could serve the Black community during the panel.
“One major issue that we constantly see is that there’s not enough mental health support for Black individuals. And what we mean by mental health support is Black-identifying individuals that are culturally competent and aware to then provide support to Black-identifying individuals in our community,” Killebrew said.
Simone Akila, co-founder of HJSB, noted that amidst the development of the clinic’s infrastructure during COVID-19, white mental health practitioners demonstrated increased interest in providing therapy and counseling services to Black-identifying clients following the death of George Floyd and the heightened national focus on Black Lives Matter in the summer of 2020.
“Black folks have known that racism and anti-Blackness has existed for centuries, right? But in response to the uprisings, to our Healing Justice email, I personally was seeing a lot of emails from white mental health clinicians all of a sudden saying, ‘I want to offer therapy, I want to help.’”
Though well-intentioned, Akila said that white practitioners’ lack of cultural knowledge often led to inadequate services for Black-identifying clients who were processing racial and intergenerational trauma.
“OK, this is beautiful,” Akila quipped of white practitioners’ increased desire to support Black-identifying clients. “But how have you increased your knowledge? How have you exercised your sphere of influence to actually support Black folks?”
Thus, the Hosford Clinic established the Healing Space in collaboration with HJSB.
The Healing Space provides individual therapy services to Black-identifying clients in UCSB and in the local community, and clients can choose to use the services in a hybrid format or through telehealth video meetings, which allows the clinic to provide services for individuals outside of Santa Barbara as well.
The Healing Space was originally announced as the Healing Center, but later renamed. According to Healing Space Director Alison Cerezo, the university restricts the “center” designation to institutions conducting research, criteria the Healing Space does not currently meet.
The clinicians working at the Healing Space are Black graduate students enrolled in the counseling, clinical, and school psychology program at UCSB, with there being four doctoral students who are currently practicing.
Among the Healing Space clinicians are doctoral candidate in school psychology Isabelle Fleury, doctoral candidate in clinical psychology Jason Fly, doctoral candidate in the clinical psychology program Jazzmyn Ward and doctoral candidate in counseling psychology Jacquelyn Chin.
Clients can also utilize the Healing Space’s healing circles, which focus on group-based work to provide a “community-centered space” for patients, Cerezo said. With a focus on story-sharing, healing circles provide participants with a “talking piece” that gives them uninterrupted time to share with the group.
Due to its lack of a 24-hour crisis line, the clinic is unable to provide emergency services, which Cerezo said has influenced which patients it selects.
The clinic receives patient referrals through the general community and HJSB, Cerezo said. Healing Space does not actively recruit on campus, and the clinic is currently providing 15 individual hours per week of clinical services, with UCSB students representing 10-15% of these clients.
Cerezo said that the adult clients often come to the clinic with direct or indirect experiences with police brutality and the traumas of living in a white-dominated space like Santa Barbara. Youth clients, on the other hand, experience microaggressions or racist messaging and seek therapy around developing a positive sense of identity and self.
“It’s really critical that we have Black clinicians who can do that work with them,” Cerezo said. “They can see themselves reflected in the therapeutic space and know that they aren’t going to be judged for talking about racism or talking about what it means to be Black and how incredibly diverse and complex that is.”
“It’s really important that our clinicians can help youth develop a really great sense of self and to also have the coping mechanisms and skills to not internalize racist messages that they might receive from teachers or peers or just in the community,” Cerezo continued.
HJSB provided Healing Space with $2,000 to help offset therapy costs in an effort to make therapy more affordable for current and potential clients, Cerezo said.
Cerezo said that the Healing Space also secured grant funding from the UC Office of the President and the Santa Barbara Foundation — both of which are its primary source of funding. The majority of those funds go toward supporting two new faculty members in their first year, according to Cerezo. The clinic also has two years of funding for graduate students under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
In its first year, Cerezo said that the Healing Space focused on outreach efforts to build community awareness, developed infrastructure for the clinic — including a process for receiving referrals and onboarding clients — and established a contract with a local private school to provide its students with therapy services.
However, Cerezo said that because of UCSB’s historically low Black population, providing confidential services to clients within such a small community of Black students has been difficult.
“One of the challenges that we face is that the community on campus in particular is small, and so sometimes we’ll have folks who want to come in for clinical services, but they’re dual relationships, like some of the clinicians [personally] know them already,” she said. “So we need to make sure that any services that we’re providing are confidential and anonymous for clients.”
Regardless, the Healing Space’s accomplishments within its first year of operations have not gone unnoticed, and the clinic is currently at capacity and building a waitlist for prospective clients.
“What has been beautiful is that [the clinic’s] been pretty much at capacity since they announced [its establishment],” Killebrew said.
The Healing Space and HJSB are collaborating on an upcoming event called “Supporting Loved Ones in Crisis: The Black Perspective” on Feb. 20, which will be hosted by Tamara Cummings, M.A., Ed.S., NCSP, and Jazzmyn Ward, M.A.
Thema Bryant-Davis — the incoming president of the American Psychological Association — will also be coming to the Hosford Clinic on April 12 to give a talk about Black mental health and wellness.
One important aim for the Healing Space is the retention of the graduate student clinicians, according to Killebrew.
“We’re looking at opportunities of how we can retain talent, because with mental health practitioners, it’s about building that relationship and that rapport,” Killebrew said. “It’s kind of a disservice that they have to go to a different place and not provide the services here locally. But I think with technology like telehealth and Zoom, that’s closing the gap.”
Looking forward, the Healing Space wants to hire two Black tenure-track faculty in Fall Quarter 2023 to conduct research on racial trauma and wellness in Black communities, Akila said.
“We’ve been working on recruiting Black faculty and also making sure that many different types of Blackness are represented,” Akila said. “Allison and myself have also been attending different trainings with different Black clinicians across the state just to find out what other people are doing, what other spaces and centers look like and what we can make available to folks in community here.”