A recent episode of daytime talk show Dr. Phil has gone viral after a Black guest, Treasure Richards, 16, claimed to believe she was a White woman while spewing hate speech against African-Americans. The show has not only raised questions about the truth of this young woman’s story but also about the state of mental health within the Black community.
A woman claiming to be Treasure’s sister, Nina Richards, recently told Essence that her sister, mother, Monique Richards, and brother Kendal Richards all appeared on the show for notoriety and a free trip to Los Angeles. During their segment, the family was introduced to psychotherapist Spirit, who offered the teen keen insight into what could possibly be the root of Treasure’s problem—self-hatred.
Viewers will recall the moment the Atlanta-based therapist offered her services to the teen, only to be met with disrespect, something Spirit would never allow in her own practice.
“I have never in my adult life ever been talked to like that by anybody, much less a child. She is not someone that I would see in treatment because she’s not motivated for treatment. She doesn’t believe that he needs help, she’s not interested in help and she’s not interested in changing at this point in time,” Spirit said.
While the board-certified counselor isn’t one to accept nonsense, she understands Treasure’s issues are far greater than the exaggerated insults and ignorant speech she displayed on-camera. In fact, Nina’s claims that the family fabricated the story only speak to an increased chance of there being serious mental health problems within their household.
“If she is the sister, what she’s alleging does not change the fact that there is a mental health diagnosis there, it only changes what the mental health diagnosis is,” shares the clinician. “If you get caught up in the outrageous things she says, then you miss the actual story. I never believed for a second that she actually believed she was transracial and I never believed that she hated Black people. As I said on the show, I believe she hates herself, and I believe there’s some hatred and some frustration with her mother as well. This is more about humiliation, embarrassment, control, manipulation and all these other things.”
Nina has accused her mother of exploiting her siblings and the death of their step-father for 15 minutes of fame, which if true, speaks volumes about not only mother Monique, but the entire family.
“If what the sister is asserting actually is the case, that the mother is behind this alleged scam, there’s a diagnosis of Malingering Factitious Disorder that could be possible,” Spirit infers. “I think it’s important that we use the proper terminology, especially in communities of color, because it seems like we utilize the right terms for other people and have sympathy for them, but not for ourselves. We’re just “crazy.” There are mental health reasons that lead people to do this kind of thing, and that very well may be what’s happening with Treasure’s mother. What would it take for a woman to exploit her children in such a way? If mom is sick and she’s the head of the family, then all of her children are sick as a result.”
It has yet to be confirmed that the Richards’ actually pulled a fast one on Dr. Phil and his staff. Still, the television host was immediately met with accusations of exploiting the family after allowing Treasure to speak so outrageously throughout the show. Many believe producers knew the family could possibly be lying, but chose to have them on anyway. According to Spirit, this was not the case.
“The producer who reached out to me, I’m more than familiar with her. We have worked together on previous shows together, so I had no reason to believe, and still have no reason to believe, that she was not 100% genuine in her wanting to follow this story and wanting to help,” Spirit claims. “We spent so much time before the show even aired trying to figure out how to help the family, so I have no reason at all to believe it was a stunt, if you will.”
She continues, “When she brought me the story, the production team was concerned with Dr. Phil looking like the stuffy, old White man, beating up on this young Black girl, and they didn’t want that. He is very serious about the level of production they do. The pre-production file that they sent me on this family was probably the biggest file that I’ve ever gotten from a production team. It wasn’t the kind of thing where producers are telling the family, ‘hey, come out here just to tell this story,’ and that’s it. They did their homework, backstory on the brother, backstory on the mother, backstory on Treasure, pre-production quotes, interview pieces, it was a lot. It wasn’t a fly-by-night circumstance.”
Despite chances the family wasn’t 100% truthful, Spirit sees the value in “meeting people where they are.”
“Even if they’re not being factual, everything means something in therapy.”
Spirit understands that within the Black community, the idea of counseling is often viewed as unnecessary, which couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the intergenerational traumas suffered by African-Americans for centuries make room for the possibility that we need it more than any other group.
“It’s absolutely imperative,” Spirit insists. “Mental illness does not discriminate, and there are certain illnesses that we allow to fester and exacerbate by our silence, lack of treatment and unwillingness to seek out the help that we need.
“Intergenerational trauma is a real thing, and unfortunately, since we have been in the United States, people of color, specifically African-Americans, have had to deal with certain traumas by using methods that turn into more trauma. Things like substance abuse, things like domestic violence, which breeds the possibility of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Chronic depression can be passed on genetically to your offspring. We won’t even get into family secrets, child molestation, issues in the church, all of which can play a huge role in one’s mental state.”
In addition to deeming therapy unnecessary, some shy away from the practice due to possible ridicule, something Treasure faced immediately after her appearance on the show. While making fun of her outlandish statements is the easy way to go, Spirit suggests a more positive way for the public to address mental health crises such as Treasure’s.
“It’s really about empathy and supportive encouragement. People are talking about what they would do to her if she were their child and giving her the type of attention that feeds her disease,” Spirit reveals. “A lot of her behavior is attention-seeking, because if the only father you’ve ever known died, and you never had that nurturing, loving and secure connection with your mother, what does it feel like now for her to be getting any kind of attention?
“Instead of feeding her illness in an unhealthy way and enabling her behavior, respond by saying, ‘Sister, I love you, and I hope you get some help. Sister, here’s a link to a clinic near you.’ In our community, a lot of us still don’t believe that mental illness is a thing, and we don’t know how to respond to it. When we see it, it triggers something within us. It annoys us, it offends us, it disgusts us, but then we don’t know what to do about it. We react in a way that makes us feel better but offers no healing. Then we say things like, ‘We got to do better as a people,’ or, ‘This is why no one takes us seriously,’ when we’re not taking our own health seriously.”
For those who have decided to seek professional help, the race of a counselor can often be a deciding factor, as many wouldn’t feel comfortable spilling their soul to someone assumed to know nothing about their cultural experience. Spirit understands this line of reasoning, but begs patients to consider factors closer to their specific needs.
“The race of the therapist is not as significant as the cultural competency of the therapist,” the motivational speaker asserts. “If I’m a White woman who lost a child and specializes in grief counseling and maternal mental health, and you’re a Black woman who’s coming in because she recently lost a child, I may be able to relate to you as that White therapist better than any Black therapist would be able to.
“If I was a Black male who only hung out with Hispanic people my whole life, and grew up in an area where I never associated with Black people at all, I may not know the cultural norms. I won’t have the proper context for what you’re trying to tell me. If you tell me, ‘I want a relationship like Will & Jada,’ and I don’t know who those people are, how am I going to help you, even if we’re the same color? Color is not as important as being able to connect.”
In the end, it’s about recognizing that mental illness is a reality for millions of us, and that there is no shame in seeking treatment.
“It’s a new day, and we have to take our mental health just as serious as our physical health. We have clinicians of color out here to educate, advocate, treat you and help you get better. If we don’t get that message out there, we are going to perish as an entire group.”
Spirit is currently working on implementing a nationwide mental health services program in public schools. You can reach the Psychology Today-certified counselor here for services. You can also follow Spirit on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.