MPA First Friday Forum: Health Disparities: The Psychological Impact of Breast and Prostate Cancer on African-American Families

On February 3, 2017, the Minnesota Psychological Association and the Metropolitan State University Psychology Department hosted a First Friday Forum titled: “Health Disparities: The Psychological Impact of Breast and Prostate Cancer on African-American Families.”  The presentation was led by Willie Garrett, M.S., LP, Ed.D.  Dr. Garrett is a licensed psychologist with over 35 years of experience working with children, adolescents, adults, and elderly clients both in urban and rural settings.  He is actively involved in MPA, and was the 2016 award recipient for Outstanding Career Achievement in Black Psychology (currently the John M. Taborn Award for Outstanding Contributions as a Mental Health Provider of African Descent).

Dr. Garrett’s presentation was very informative and eye-opening.  He provided various statistics related to breast and prostate cancer, and discussed emotional, psychological, and financial implications African-American families face as a result of this “invisible epidemic” (Garrett, 2017).  There was one statistic that stood out the most.  According to the American Cancer Society, trends in cancer death rates between 1975-2014 show that African-American women have higher death rates than White women.  What made this statistic so powerful was that African-American women actually have lower cancer incidence rates than White women.  

So why are more African-American women dying from this disease?  While this may not come as a surprise to some clinicians, it is essential that this is communicated to the impacted populations.  In order for clinicians to do this effectively, Dr. Garrett emphasized the importance of using culturally competent strategies in helping families deal with the psychological impact of this deadly disease.  He talked about how within cultural differences, there are gender differences which need to be taken into consideration when working with clients.  For example, he mentioned that African-American women are the faith base of the African-American community, and that some clients may just choose to pray and have faith in God rather than seek treatment.  In these cases, psychotherapy should include encouragement to seek support within the client’s faith or spiritual community.  Dr. Garrett also mentioned that African-American men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer often experience shame and fear, particularly regarding sexual performance.  Because they have a difficult time being open with their partners, they may use anger or criticism to keep their partners away.  Couples therapy focusing on communication and problem-solving could be useful in these situations.

Following Dr. Garrett’s presentation, the MPA Diversity Committee hosted a reception honoring Frank B. Wilderson, Jr., Ph.D., LP, with the John M. Taborn Award for Outstanding Contributions as a Mental Health Provider of African Descent.

Mariya D. Mirzoyan, M.A., is a doctoral student in counseling psychology at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota.  She identifies as a student of color and is actively involved in the MPA Diversity Committee, as well as the Student of Color Consultation Group at St. Mary’s University.  Her interests include working with marginalized communities, immigrant and refugee populations, Veterans, and victims of torture.


American Cancer Society (2017). Cancer statistics 2017 [PowerPoint slides].

Cristol, H. (2016). 10 key facts about cancer in African Americans. American Cancer Society.

Garrett, W. (2017). Health disparities: The psychological impact of breast and prostate cancers on African American families [PowerPoint slides].

Manne, S., Kissane, D., Zaider, T., Kashy, D., Lee, D., Heckman, C., et al. (2015). Holding back intimacy, and psychological and relationship outcomes among couples coping with prostate cancer. Journal of Family Psychology, 29(5), 708-719.

Penner, L., Dovidio, J., Edmondson, D., Dailey, R., Markova, T., Albrecht, T., & Gaert, S. (2009). The experiences of discrimination and black-white health disparities in medical care. Journal of Black Psychology, 35(2), 180-203.

Rivers, B., August, E., Gwede, C., Hart, A., Donovan, K., Pow-Sang, J., et al. (2011). Psycho-social issues related to sexual functioning among African-American prostate cancer survivors and their spouses. Psycho-oncology, 20(1), 106-110.

Steele-Moses, S., Russell, K., & Kreuter, M. (2009). Cultural constructs, stage of change, and adherence to mammography among low income African American women. Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, 20(1), 257-273.
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Diversity Statement

The Minnesota Psychological Association actively encourages the participation of all psychologists regardless of age, creed, race, ethnic background, gender, socio-economic status, region of residence, physical or mental status, political beliefs, religious or spiritual affiliation, and sexual or affectional orientation.Although we are an organization of individuals from diverse cultures and backgrounds, the Minnesota Psychological Association also recognizes our core unifying identities as Psychologists who practice in America. We also recognize that we may hold unintentional attitudes and beliefs that influence our perceptions of and interactions with others. Within this context of unity and self-exploration, we are committed to increasing our sensitivity to all aspects of diversity as well as our knowledge and appreciation of the unique qualities of different cultures and backgrounds.We aspire to becoming alert to aspects of diversity, previously unseen or unacknowledged in our culture. In this spirit, we are committed to collaborating with multicultural groups to combat racism and other forms of prejudice as we seek to promote diversity in our society. To this end, we are dedicated to increasing our multicultural competencies and effectiveness as educators, researchers, administrators, policy makers, and practitioners.