The Impact of Nancy Boyd-Franklin on the Mental Health of African American Families

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In honor of Juneteeth, Therapy Brands wants to highlight Dr. Nancy Boyd-Franklin’s contributions to mental health. A single blog post would not be enough to summarize her life’s work, from her five books to her work as a professor, clinician, mentor, scholar and advocate in the field of psychology and the mental well-being of Black Americans, to her many awards. Instead, we’ll explore how Nancy Boyd-Franklin pioneered a sensitive approach to mental health that takes race and multiculturalism into account, especially through her Multisystems Models. Her groundbreaking work is more relevant than ever in today’s climate, and well worth exploring.


Why Diversity Matters in Mental Health

Before the 1980s, race and multiculturalism were largely ignored in the discussions on mental health. Even when race was brought up as a possible factor for disparities in mental health treatment, it was not uncommon for researchers at the time to attribute psychological distress felt by African Americans as a product of their socio-economic status. This was due to many factors, including the fact that the majority of mental health practitioners were (and still are) white, and maintain the unwillingness to confront the role of systemic racism in harming mental health

Nancy Boyd-Franklin not only acknowledged the impact of race on mental health but also explored how it affected the dynamics of Black families in varying socioeconomic backgrounds. Her approach is intersectional and examines how African Americans are uniquely impacted by specific issues. She created clinical systems and frameworks to address these mental health issues by using her extensive work with Black patients as well as scholarly review of professional literature. This combination of clinical research and real-life experience proved to be a highly effective approach to mental health, one that shifted the landscape of mental health treatment.


The Multisystems Models

The Multisystems Model is outlined in Dr. Nancy Boyd-Franklin’s instrumental book Black Families in Therapy: A Multisystems Approach. The model, according to the book’s review by Henry E. Edwards in the journal Psychiatry (Vol 53, Feb 1990) is a theoretical framework meant to help therapists organize complex data to plan and prioritize intervention. In Dr. Boyd-Franklin’s own words, this model should be used as “a flexible set of guidelines that can be adapted to the needs and problems of different families and can be adjusted to the therapist’s own personality style” (p. 133). As you can guess from the name, the Multisystems Model is based on the fact that a family’s issues involve multiple systems that need to all be taken into account in order to properly address them. Dr. Nancy Boyd-Franklin defines seven levels that affect families: the individual, family subsystems, the family household, extended family, non-blood kin and friends, church and community resources, social service agencies and other outside systems.

The model not only considers the complexities that shape African American families, but also the impact of history on the African American community, especially the ongoing impact of slavery, as well as the way religion and spirituality impacts people’s lives. Dr. Nancy Boyd-Franklin is also careful to highlight the diversity present within African American families and communities and the way each Black family can differ from one another. She also explains that the concept of a Black family as an entity is an erroneous one and cautions against assumptions and generalizations. Her clinical approach is perceptive and allows practitioners to focus on the humanity and uniqueness of each case to offer them the best possible care.


Please bear in mind this is a short summary. We highly encourage anyone who is interested in intersectional therapy to read the books and articles written by Nancy Boyd-Franklin in full to get the complete picture.


The future of mental health is inclusive, intersectional, and comprehensive. While we still have a lot to learn and to improve, we are standing on the shoulders of giants like Nancy Boyd-Franklin, who proved that mental health care can be both highly analytical and humane in the best way possible.


Therapy Brands will continue highlighting exceptional contributors to improving mental health in our nation and around the world. It is our mission to help providers create better efficiency in order to reach as many patients as possible. If you would like to try our Mental and Behavioral Health Software with zero risk, use this link to sign up for our 21-day trial, no credit card required.



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