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Going to a therapist can be a daunting experience. It can generate enough anxiety on its own, further complicating the issues that bring patients to the therapist's office in the first place.

Making clients more comfortable in that setting and ensuring they'll go back a second time is the goal of a new book, "First Sessions with African-American Clients: A Step by Step Guide" by therapist and psychology professor Janis Sanchez-Hucles.

The book, published last month by Josey-Bass Publishers, focuses on African-American clients, who have a higher dropout rate after first visits to therapists than whites, Sanchez-Hucles said.

Chapters cover interviewing techniques, details of variability of black populations and assessment strategies.

"With demographics changing, it's key that the therapists practice with cultural competence," she said.

Sanchez-Hucles drew on her 21 years of clinical practice and research in writing the book. In addition to her part-time practice, she currently teaches undergraduate and master's-level practica at Old Dominion, as well as a graduate course in psychodynamic therapy.

Many clients' first contact with therapists is through office staff. "These employees must be sensitive, reassuring and helpful to the clients, giving good directions to the office, etc.," Sanchez-Hucles said.

The therapist's office must be inviting to diverse clientele, with an array of paintings, pictures and magazines, she added.

Therapists must also remember that black clients are incredibly diverse. They can be of Central-American or African descent in addition to African American.

Also, therapists must be aware of their own biases. If they're not aware of their own prejudices, they could do harm, she said.

Therapists must be sensitive in doing assessments, especially regarding clients referred by social services, police and schools. African Americans have been taught that information collected about them will hurt them, Sanchez-Hucles said.

"Our goal is help people understand we can help them even though they've been forced to see us," she said.

This article was posted on: December 14, 1999

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