Courtesy of Pathways to Wellness

Hamden will soon be home to a new mental health and wellness center, dedicated to providing Black women with a safe and comfortable space to access necessary mental healthcare. 

Pathways to Wellness, which first launched its online mental health services in 2020, plans to open its first brick-and-mortar site on March 25. The new wellness center is the result of a collaboration between Dr. Natasha Wright and Denise Newton, two clinical social workers based in Hamden. 

Wright and Newton came together to develop a joint practice after personally experiencing difficulty in accessing mental health care as women of color themselves. They hope to expand access to care and provide spaces for women to feel comfortable and safe in utilizing mental health services such as individual therapy, yoga, meditation, expressive therapies and more. 

“Black women face significant disparities in mental health care,” Wright said. “One is access to care and access has several prongs where it is either unable to find a provider or access also being insurance issues. And then the third problem with that would be hours and availability of those said providers.”

By opening a physical site, Pathways to Wellness hopes that it will be able to better serve patients and encourage others to seek their services. With a focus on holistic and integrative care such as expressive and adventure therapies to complement more traditional mental health care programs, providers at Pathways to Wellness aim to provide uniquely tailored services to women. 

Pathways to Wellness planned to launch the women’s center when they were first founded three years ago, but the COVID-19 pandemic stalled these efforts. However, with clinical mental health services in high demand by women, Pathways to Wellness provided virtual clinical services throughout the pandemic to fill the need.

“At the end of last year, we were prompted to then begin to expand our services and begin to look at a brick and mortar home and location” Wright said. “We’re putting it in the greater New Haven area …which then allows us to offer additional services. So now we can roll out the full wellness component of Pathways to Wellness.” 

To start Pathways, Wright said she and her team had to overcome many social barriers. Wright described issues like distrust of the medical system and stigmas surrounding therapy in the communities they hope to serve. However, Wright said that her team has been able to break through these barriers because of the need for their services.

Wright also said that Pathways has received some pushback for focusing specifically on extending care to Black women, with some saying that it was “too niche.” While Wright said that it is niche, she maintained that it is necessary. There is a need for spaces designed to support the underserved, marginalized and often unseen, according to Wright.

Kenyatta Hayes, a wellness practitioner at Pathways, said that another kind of challenge that the center addresses is the many racial biases baked into modern medical practice and countering associated assumptions. 

“There’s research studies, but it’s sort of not fully acknowledged in the forefront,” Hayes said. “If just by changing the race on an index changes the whole treatment plan. That’s insane … But these are things that have just been in place for years that no one second guesses.”

Before working at Pathways, Hayes worked and grew up near Greenwich, where many of her clients did not look like her. Hayes wanted to do more to serve Black women, ultimately leading her to Pathways. 

For Hayes, this work has allowed her to help her clients, but also help herself.

“I’ve wanted to work with Black women and serve people that look like me, like take care of myself,” Hayes said. “Not only am I feeding my soul. I am healing a lot of trauma that has sat with me. I’m helping women. This is going to help their families. So it doesn’t end with me.” 

Pathways’ director of programming D’Amira Kendricks echoed the emphasis on providing value and support to the community, hoping that those who enter the center will feel that it is a space meant for them.

Kendricks also hopes that Pathway will be able to offer a new perspective on therapy and wellness that is grounded in shared experiences and will benefit their clients and other practitioners in the industry.

“I feel like being Black women, we understand what it feels like on the receiving side of the disparity of care,” Kendricks said. “That is something that we all can relate to on so many levels … It’s not a secret. We all know that the systems in place were not designed with us in mind. So we’re here to change that narrative.” 

Pathways to Wellness is located at 60 Connolly Parkway in Hamden.

Abel Geleta covers Yale New Haven Health (YNHH) for the Science and Technology desk at the News. Previously, he covered stories and topics at the intersection of Science and Social Justice. Originally from Ethiopia, Abel has lived in northern Virginia for the past 12 years. He is currently a junior in Berkeley college studying History of Science, Medicine and Public Health as a scholar in the Global Health Studies Program
Khuan-Yu Hall is the City Editor at the News. He is a sophomore in Davenport, from Hartland, Vermont, double majoring in Statistics and Data Science and Ethics, Politics, and Economics.