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Supporting mental health inside barbershops

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Posted at 11:55 AM, Jun 16, 2022

In America, so many problems could be solved if people just had someone to talk to. 

Sam Glickman is not a therapist, but in his community, he’s not just a barber.

“Every single person who sits in your chair, you have to almost have a different conversation with, have an automatic reset with, after every single client, almost like a therapist," he said. 'We’re probably the best listeners in the world.” 

Glickman's barbershop is typically an open space with communal, unfiltered conversation.

The conversations are essential because, too often, they’re not happening elsewhere.  The National Institute on Minority Health found that African Americans are 20% more likely than white Americans to have serious psychological distress. Their symptoms are “more disabling, persistent, and resistant to treatment.” Yet, “the proportion of African Americans who need mental health treatment and get it is only half that of whites.” 

Experts say it’s partly because of lack of access but it also has to do with deep-rooted history. 

“One of the fundamental principles of counseling is trust, right? Rapport. And the barbers have this,”  said Dontay Williams, who is a licensed therapist in the state of Georgia.

Williams is the CEO of the Confess Project, which trains barbers to recognize mental health issues and become mental health advocates. 

Glickman and all of his barbers have taken the training. 

“We’re not therapists, but we get to play this role of a support,” he said.

The Confess Project has trained 1,500 barbers. Williams says those barbers have probably reached a million customers, most of whom get a haircut every week.

“Our ultimate goal is to have an impact and increase the life expectancy of men of color,” Williams said.