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How America's first mental health barbershop project is changing the look of therapy

barbershop movement
Posted at 4:44 PM, Jun 10, 2021

CONWAY, Ark. -- Tens of millions of people struggle with mental health every year. One group not only recognizes that, but is now catering to those people in the space they are most comfortable.

For many, the barbershop is a safe space. Lisa Lady Barbher, the owner of Crown-N-Glory Family Hair Studio in Conway, Arkansas, knows that feeling well.

“Your barber-client relationship is almost like girlfriend and boyfriend relationship. You’re not going to cheat on each other, you’re going to share different things with each other," Barbher said.

As the owner of this salon in Arkansas, she's been seeing clients for more than eight years. Many of those clients have become family. Throughout the last two years, those relationships have grown even stronger. All thanks to the Confess Project.

“I see a total difference in people," Barbher said.

As part of the Confess Project, Lorenzo Lewis started the country's first mental health barbershop.

“So we’re taking advantage of a simple visit to go get a grooming service and turning it into an impactful service to change someone’s life," Lewis said.

“The Confess Project started when I was a kid in my aunt's beauty salon. I went there every day as a child and I realized there was a powerful place there, in a beauty shop connecting with a barbershop and how people’s lives could be changed through a conversation and support.”

They are focused on building a positive culture for young men of color, boys, and their families.

“They seem to be the macho type, so they are like, 'no, nothing is wrong with me. I got this. I can handle this,'" Barbher said.

It’s something Lewis wishes he had when he was younger.

“I went through a list of my own issues, depression and juvenile incarceration," Lewis said.

The movement is training barbers like Lisa to be mental health advocates.

“I can notice different things with my clients now because they teach you to be able to pick up on signs of when they are going through something," Barbher said.

“To you, know, 'hey, what happened with this situation,' and they are like, 'you remember that?' And I’m like, 'yeah man, I wasn’t just cutting your hair, I was listening to you,' so that makes you feel good.”

This project is changing assumptions about mental health for everyone involved.

“Our research reveals now, 90% of the barbers that are involved and the clients, that they would rather receive therapy through the barber chair and in a barbershop rather than going to a therapy couch and going to a therapy clinic," Lewis said. “50% of the individuals that we engaged have been more inclined to understand mental health and more educated than they were before the training.”

In some cases, it even helps the barbers.

“The Confess Project helped me to start therapy," Barbher said." It taught me about self-care and what we need to do to become mentally healthy. I can tell them, 'well, hey, I’m not just telling them to go, I also go.' And I love it, I look forward to it.”

What started in Arkansas is now reaching other parts of the country.

“By doing that work we’ve now been able to expand to 25 cities, and realizing that this was a national problem and a global crisis," Lewis said.

“We’re in LA as far as Compton California to Long Beach, as far east as New York and Boston and as far south as Jackson, Mississippi to the Midwest of Chicago and Louisville, Kentucky.”

And it’s far from over. They are just getting started.

“We are looking now to training 1,000 barbers by the end of the year," Lewis said.

“I definitely look forward to more things that the Confess Project is going to do to help teach us how to be more aware and help more clients," Barbher said.