Filling out educational and behavioral plans for students at the DC Bilingual Charter School in Washington, D.C., wasn’t enough for Dr. LaNail Plummer. She believed the school system’s non-traditional approach to mental health fell short in providing direct services to children. Students were not receiving the quality care they deserved, she thought, which included complete wraparound services to support families.
“ I wholeheartedly believe that children’s issues are usually a manifestation of their family and their environment,” Plummer said. “It didn’t make sense to me to continue to provide direct services to the child without complete wraparound services for the family, she said.”
Plummer believed there needed to be a different approach to care.
In 2013, Plummer created the Onyx Therapy Group forming a team of 30 Black women therapists who began providing free onsite counseling services to parents, students and teachers.
Today, the Onyx Therapy Group provides school-based therapy in eight schools in Washington D.C., Maryland, Pennsylvania and Minnesota.
“Our approach to mental health and Black mental health is unique, culturally-based and it’s collaborative,” Plummer, 42, said.
The Onyx Therapy Group provides mental health and counseling through a holistic perspective.
Care is provided based on a client’s needs. A cognitive thinker is paired with a cognitive-based therapist. But if a person is concerned about some of their behaviors and their skills, then they are paired with a behavioral therapist, Plummer said.
“So it’s transformative, first in mind and thought, then in behavior and actions,” she said.
The Onyx Therapy Group also provides educational consulting, in which it works to improve child development and equip social workers and teachers with the tools to help young learners.
Plummer’s team also created a podcast and a YouTube channel where Black counselors trained in a variety of disciplines provide content to help build and maintain mental health in the Black community and eliminate stigmas around therapy.
Last fall, Plummer did a Tedx Talk focused on, “The role of mental health of self concept.”
And this Friday, March 31, Plummer will be the featured keynote luncheon speaker for the New Orleans Regional Black Chamber of Commerce’s 3rd Annual Women in Business Conference at the Marriott in the Warehouse Arts District.
The conference theme is “Overcoming Boundaries.”
“She’s a living example of all the things that we talk about,” said Jo Ann Minor, board member and chair of the events committee at NORBCC, who said that often, breaking the glass ceiling is difficult for women of color. “We really want to spotlight the positive and the ability for women business owners to go above and beyond despite obstacles.”
A native of Los Angeles, Plummer received a bachelor’s degree from Howard University in 2002 and a masters degree in counseling from the university four years later. In 2018, she earned a doctorate in counseling and supervision from Marymount University in Arlington, Virginia.
She grew up inspired by her grandmother, “because she was my escape,” and other older Black women along the way. Plummer also admired Oprah Winfrey, “because she experienced and overcame trauma.”
As a child, Plummer remembers her teachers telling her that she talked too much, despite making good grades in school. Her personality was bold and she refused to be put into a box. She spoke up, and in that she grew up to become a public speaker, supporting young women, the Black community and members of the LGBTQ+ community.
Today Plummer, who is married, describes herself as a “proud bisexual Black woman, military veteran, mother of two and CEO of Onyx Therapy.”
“Because we’re Black women, both as clients and as clinicians, we are oftentimes told who we are supposed to be,” said Plummer.
The mission of her mental health practice is to give clients “the power to be who you want to be.” Plummer says this includes complete awareness of the factors in life that contribute to identity and mental well-being.
Women’s health is essential, says Dr. Rahn Bailey. One of the primary ways healthcare is accessed for the entire family is through a woman. They are the caregivers that set a precedent for the wellness of their families, he said.
“So when a mother, grandmother, or the oldest daughter in the family doesn’t take their own health seriously, or doesn’t focus on health, the whole family suffers,” said Bailey, head of Louisiana State University’s Department of Psychiatry.
Plummer’s passion is speaking about mental health to Black people. She is writing a book about working with Black women clients that is expected to be released next year.
“ I’m being seen for the work that I’m destined and purposed to do. So not just the transformation in the individual therapy, but there will be transformation at the conference,” Plummer said. “People will walk away feeling different.”
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