Houston-based therapist creates safe spaces with nonprofits for Black men to seek therapy

A Houston-area therapist has paired with non-profit organizations to help men of color in a meaningful way. 

RELATED: Texas ranks as worst state for mental health care, says Forbes Study

Femi Olukoya is a licensed psychotherapist at Sandcastle Pysch, who joined the U.S. Navy at 17 and was shipped to Iraq immediately. 

"The day of boot camp was when 911 hit," says Olukoya. " I was on an aircraft carrier, and a lot of my shipmates couldn't handle being out to sea that long. There were a lot of suicidal attempts. People would jump off the flight deck, and we would have to do battle stations to recover them. After I got out [of the Navy,] I was intrigued by how the mind works." 

For that reason, he helps to create safe spaces for men to gather, talk, and deal with the emotions they may never share with others.

In collaboration with non-profit organizations 82 Purple and the Black Man Project, Olukoya leads free group therapy sessions for Black men and men of color in Houston. 

SUGGESTED: Where to find mental healthcare services, including for the uninsured

Their latest session, titled "No Retreat," offered food, massage therapy, and yoga in addition to counseling. 

"We're trying to break the stigma to a community that looks just like me," says Olukoya. "So people can go out their way to say, "Maybe I do need a therapist...maybe I do need to work on my mental health."

The statistics on Black men and therapy for their mental health are staggering. According to the American Counseling Association, out of the Black male population that deals with anxiety and depression, only 26 percent of them seek therapy. When they search for Black therapists, the selections are scarce - as Black therapists make up only 4 percent of that industry. It can make seeking therapy even more difficult for them. 

"In our society, vulnerability is a weakness," Olukoya says. "You have to be hard instead of communicating your emotions. I tell my clients that it's OK to be vulnerable. Even in the military, showing vulnerability is a liability. We don't always have to be the strong Black man."  

RELATED: US veterans in suicidal crisis now eligible for free emergency care at any facility

Suicide rates in the Black male population are also alarming. 

In a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide rates rose in 2021 after declining for two years. That report also revealed suicide rates increased by 19.2 percent among Black people and by 5 percent among BIPOC adults. Suicide rates have also risen in communities hit the hardest by the pandemic. 

"The mind is very dangerous when you're sitting at home, and there's nothing to do," says Olukoya. "You get to thinking about different stuff, you know, you get to spend more time with your significant other and your kids. Then you get to realize what your relationships are really like. It made me realize that our society, especially our demographic, really didn't utilize healthy coping skills to deal with anxieties and depression. There are good coping skills and there are bad coping skills." 


Olukoya encourages men to be observant, and check on their friends as much as possible. 

"When it comes to being your brother's keeper, just randomly check in," says Olukoya. If you meet somebody and think he's a cool dude, it doesn't hurt to just check in. It takes 5 seconds out of the day. We have to do better about sitting back and thinking about our friends, our family, and our community. It's not always about the hustle and grind because that's always going to be there." 

Here are a few resources for you, a friend, or a family member if therapy or immediate help is needed: 

Psychology Today is a great free resource to find a local therapist. There you can find a licensed counselor in your area and customize preferences that best fit your clinical needs and preferred costs for treatment. 

SUGGESTED: Hotlines, resources for suicide prevention, crisis support

According to its website, the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in the United States. You can dial the number '988' and receive help immediately. 

To learn more about Olukoya's work with 82 Purple and the Black Man Project, check out their linked Instagram pages. You can also follow Olukoya on Instagram, here.