BOARDMAN, Ohio – With the opening of her new agency, Gloris Griffin is aiming to reach an underserved community and work to break the stigmas around discussing mental health.
“I went on my own because I wanted to do things a different way. I wanted to give back to my community,” she said at the ribbon cutting May 26 for Gloris Griffin Counseling Serv-ices, 5500 Market St. in Boardman.
“I’m client-centered. I wanted to have a Black-owned agency that’s culturally sensitive and gives back to the community.”
Beyond individual sessions, Griffin Counseling also offers treatment for substance use disorder and group sessions.
One such meeting is aimed at increasing self-esteem and empowerment for women. While such a meeting isn’t always widely thought of as mental health, the lessons learned help clients manage their symptoms for issues such as anxiety. Griffin points to a recent session that started with a discussion about being tailgated as you drive down the road.
“You feel that pressure to go faster and not disappoint them. We talked about how to deal with that pressure and trust in yourself,” she said. “Lifting your self-esteem and understanding your core beliefs directly impacts you. As the ladies work on this and adapt through what they’re learning, it helps with their symptoms so they can better interact with other people.”
What can also aid in producing better outcomes is who sits across from clients. Griffin is a Black woman, as are some of her counselors. Having someone who understands the situation you’re in provides better counseling, said Griffin and Lynn Bilal, one of the agency’s individual counselors.
“Especially in the world we’re living in, we hear so often, ‘I just want to talk to someone who looks like me, someone who I don’t have to explain to about why the news is traumatizing,’” Bilal said. “Representation is important and it’s not what we see in counseling or in social work. It’s important to have people who look like you providing this service.”
Not spending that time explaining why certain issues are stressors, Bilal and Griffin said, allows clients and counselors to spend more time on the problems at hand and reach solutions.
“I’m not saying counseling only works if the person working with you is the same color as you,” Griffin said. “But it can sometimes make a difference to feel that the other person truly understands where you’re coming from.”
Having a Black-owned and woman-owned mental health agency is much needed, said Kelan Bilal, Lynn’s husband and owner of Excalibur Barber Grooming Lounge in the Southern Park Mall. In more than 20 years as a barber, he’s seen conversations arise naturally when people are talking to others who look like them.
“As you listen to people, you start to recognize the traumas they’ve been through and some of them are familiar to you. We as barbers see it firsthand and I know the value of mental health,” he said.
“One of the stigmas was that there wasn’t anybody around that they felt understood their back story. To have this, especially one that’s woman-based, it’s amazing. We’re taking two big, important steps: woman-owned and Black-owned. It’s rare and we need to see more of it.”
Griffin’s road to opening her own mental health practice began at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown. There, she worked as a corrections officer before moving to a position in the prison’s mental health department.
“These guys are locked down 23/7 and it was incredible to see the work clinicians did with them,” she said. “I started thinking, ‘These guys can change their lives. This is amazing.’”
She eventually earned certifications as a licensed professional clinical counselor and licensed independent chemical dependency counselor and moved on to work at counseling agencies. She left her most recent job in October to dedicate herself to starting Griffin Counseling Services.
As she built the agency and recruited counselors, she created the company’s slogan – “Breaking circles of despair, one client at a time.”
“We’re breaking these traits that we have. … In the Black community, we many times don’t seek counseling. You keep it private. You don’t talk about problems. You get told to talk to your pastor. But we all need help,” Griffin said.
“It’s wonderful to see their growth and it’s helped me grow. I’ve learned so much about myself and my community. We’re seeing people blossom and that’s wonderful.”
Pictured: Gloris Griffin wants her counseling agency’s staff to reflect the community.