By Brelaun Douglas via SWNS
An organization in the US is training barbers to be mental health advocates for boys and men of color.
The Confess Project Barber Coalition aims to encourage African American males to talk about their emotional health, while in the comfort of the barbershop.
“It’s a place where people congregate," said Lorenzo Lewis, 32, founder and CEO of the Confess Project.
"We know people can thrive and see the best version of themselves through healthy relationships.”
Barbers are trained in active listening, validation, positive communication and stigma reduction to help clients with their emotional wellbeing.
Lewis noticed that many barbers have had similar life experiences to their clients, and they naturally create a "judge-free zone" in their barbershops.
“We’re just making sure the barbers realize the superpowers that they already have, and that’s helping people,” Lewis said.
The goal is not to substitute licensed mental health professionals but to train barbers to be advocates for their clients and assist them on their journeys of self-improvement.
“A lot of the work is rooted in advocacy, we’re not training them to be experts."
Before COVID-19, the organization trained barbers in their shops during business hours, or used training rooms and event spaces.
Now they also offer virtual training sessions.
Once a barber finishes training they receive a certificate stating that they are a mental health advocate and are put into a private Facebook database that also provides networking opportunities.
Getting barbers to sign up was not an easy process initially. Some doubted the process or feared they would loose business hours while training.
Lewis said: “We got a lot of denial upfront from barbers who were really nervous because stigma is a real thing.
"We had a lot of issues around that.
“We got film and get media involvement to show that we were trying to save lives and that this isn’t going to take away from the workspace, but can be done during work."
While the program is geared towards helping clients some of the barbers are finding that the process has improved their own mental health.
Lewis said: “We had a barber out of Kentucky who had faced trauma and after we became engaged he was able to go into treatment, get onto medication and realize how sleep deprivation and stress tied into his regular life.
“Because of his journey of wellness he has been able to better help his clients.”
The project recently partnered with Gillette which Lewis says will improve their outreach to more barbers across the country.
Lewis was born in a prison and incarcerated as a juvenile.
He believes his personal and professional experiences with behavioral health and juvenile crime make him well-suited for his mission.
“It takes someone who knows both sides," he said.
“That’s the gap, most [mental health] professionals either haven't had those experiences or they're shameful to tell it."
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