The clinical psychologist and hairdresser Dr. Afiya Mbilishaka shares her attitude towards hair and uses it as a gateway to mental health. Dr. Mbilishaka’s movement is to connect within the mental health community to support their hair care experiences.
DR. Afiya Mbilishaka
Hype Hair: How did you relate to your hair when you were younger?
DR. Mbilishaka: I think I’ve always had a healthy relationship with my hair because my mom made that a priority. As an adult, I am the youngest of four. Every Sunday night my mom washed my hair and styled it for the week. And so this was our special time together. And my mother was very, very gentle. She would say, “How many braids do you want?” And I’m like two, and so she creates something with two braids. For the next week I would say seven and she would create a hairstyle with seven braids. She really used this as time for us to chat, socialize, talk about the week and what we were hoping for. I think this actually got my hair wiped because I always wanted to pretty much create the time and space to do my hair. Of course, in my “teens” I was really forced to try different styles, but I think the times when I do my hair or go to the salon that I thought of are a fun opportunity and not as painful. I am also very aware that I have certain hair privileges. How people perceive my hair texture is often supplemented or enhanced. I think this style inspired me to pay attention to how other people talk about their hair and have more positive experiences.
Hype Hair: You mentioned the hair privilege. Can you break this term down for people who may not understand it?
DR. Mbilishaka: I think there is this implicit caste system that exists in the United States and maybe even around the world where people who have a looser curl pattern tend to maybe even get certain jobs. They have access to certain educational experiences. I think there is even research that suggests that people with longer hair tend to do some research. Even political figures of our time believe that there are these associations that certain hairstyles and textures are associated with goodness or cunning. I think that influenced me. But I was more on the privilege side.
Hype Hair: Were there unhealthy hair habits that you had to unlearn as a child?
DR. Mbilishaka: I’ve had some lows, a lot of ears were burned. I think you know my forehead got burned because I was an 80s baby but grew up in the 90s. And if you think of the ’90s like Aaliyah was like my hair icon, then you know I had to take the little nosedive and that’s why I know my edges suffered in the 90s specifically to achieve this style because I was cool and i think everyone wants to look cool. And so I think that at times I had my own pains and probably used products that were really toxic. Now that I think about what was in the things we used every day. They were probably really bad for our hair and scalp. Probably our entire body system because I believe that whatever you put on your hair and skin should contain edible products, precisely in terms of how our bodies process chemicals, really try to have as few chemicals as possible.
Hype Hair: How do you care for your hair to be so moisturized and healthy?
DR. Mbilishaka: Although I like My Black is Beautiful line of hair products, my favorite hair product is water. Water is my favorite hair product when it comes to not only applying it to my hair but drinking it as well. This is the foundation for healthy hair growth, to be well hydrated, have enough nutrients, exercise, and get enough sleep. Sometimes we don’t even see the link between sleep and healthy hair. But this is a time when, as you know, our bodies are self-regenerating and lowering stress hormones that actually affect hair growth. Just like the direct things that deal with stress, they also help in growing healthy hair.
Hype Hair: Your knowledge is very research based.
DR. Mbilishaka: Yes, I identify as a researcher. It is part of my professional mission to prepare for my studies. I know there is cosmetology or trichology but to really think about the importance of hair and why we do certain things. This is really my interest.
Hype Hair: I recently saw a trailer about your first time you were braided. How was that experience?
DR. Mbilishaka: Growing up the way I shared with you, my mom was a minimalist when it came to hair. She didn’t want to put a whole bunch of things in my hair and it was often done at home. I had never professionally braided my hair or styled it into adulthood. For some reason I was very careful when it came to adding hair. I felt like you were hearing new stories about people having rashes or losing their strands of hair and that’s why I didn’t want to be a victim of poor hair care or styling. But I do realize that there are people who are braiders and who focus on hair health. I have actually found someone, Tamara Albertini, who works with ancestral strands, and her whole agenda is to be a healthy braider by doing something to her hair before applying it. She soaks it in various things. She selects hair with the least amount of chemicals and uses very specialized hair products when braiding to ensure that the hair and scalp are healthy. So, throughout history, she studied the traditional African braiding style. I want her to braid my hair. I really wanted to trust the person who did it, who had the best interest in it. I think I’m always looking for someone like my mom who is very careful and careful and doesn’t pull too tight and takes their time and creates like a beautiful end product. It sounds like you’ve found someone who suits your teaching habits, who was like a stylist, so it just worked out perfectly.
Hype Hair: Can you tell us a little bit about your hair lessons, PsychoHairapy?
DR. Mbilishaka: Professional, basic counseling techniques are often limited to therapists. But I think everyone needs to know these skills. But mostly people who work with hair because you will be spending hours and hours and hours together. Realizing that this is an important time to chat. So basically the PsychoHairapy training because someone can get certified for it. PsychoHairapy training involves teaching people about the history of hair and how hair affects a person’s health. I also teach about the variety of mental disorders someone would see in the salon or barber shop. I also train how to actively listen. So often, health professionals want to be helpful, but they may not hear the full story and really want to offer bad advice. But what makes therapy, as psychologists do, very helpful is that we are such good listeners. So there are actually techniques and strategies for listening and letting the person know that you are listening, e.g. B. summarizing or testing in a certain way that is not judgmental. Another part of the training is finding a therapist for your client. When someone is dealing with other issues, they actually need a professional psychiatrist or a person who has a psychiatrist. So, create strategies for finding therapists in the community and realizing that you can work together. I have this concept in how to match the therapists to many barber shops because that is like a point person who can help you. Such things and just realizing the role and responsibility that health professionals can have in addressing their clients’ mental health needs.
Hype Hair: It is common for people to fail to find a suitable person to be a therapist and it prevents them from returning to their therapy session.
DR. Mbilishaka: I’ve found studies that say that for the blacks who actually go to therapy, only 50% will return after that first appointment. And so I realize that there is often a mismatch between people’s expectations of therapy and what actually happens, and that culture plays a big role. I therefore recognize that we need to leverage the trusting relationship between a healthcare professional and their client to create that link with psychiatric care.
Hype Hair: I know when I choose my braider or someone to do my hair, trust is a very big factor. It doesn’t suit me if someone touches my hair or is my scalp for a long time and there is no trust there.
DR. Mbilishaka: Exactly, and that is key to mental health, having someone to share with you. Trust in the realization that sometimes it is not in a therapy office alone, but in a salon or barber shop where the community can truly care for one another.
Hype Hair: Where can readers find more information about PsychoHairapy?
DR. Mbilishaka: You can find information about PsychoHairapy on my website, PsychoHairapy.org or Instagram @PsychoHairapy. I love collaboration and connection. Because this really is a global hair and mental health movement.