People of Color searching for a Competent Therapist
People of Color searching for a competent therapist: I strongly urge you to ask [at initial intake/consultation] - “can you please share with me your thoughts about the psychological impact of white supremacy/racism/oppression?” Calmly wait for a response. You deserve one.
The feedback that I receive from clients who have never had a Black/POC therapist is heart wrenching. They’re elated and very emotional bc some have been in sessions w/white therapists who never bring up or inquire abt race/racial trauma/identity. This is a glaring omission.
Given how difficult it is to find a therapist [period], folks may think: “well this doesn’t feel great but perhaps bad therapy is better than no therapy at all?"
This leads to being compliant in the therapy room, minimizing ones own discomfort; tolerating microaggressions.
This ‘compliance’ is also seen in medical/healthcare fields in which a Black/PoC patient *knows* they’re not receiving quality or appropriate service/treatment yet regards the doctor as the “expert” or authority = can’t be challenged OR may not know how to be heard & respected.
It is also intimidating for some PoC to BE in therapy “what do I say/don’t say? will this therapist judge me? look down on me? what exactly is supposed to happen here? what if I don’t get better? what if I get worse?”
Therapists *should* address/normalize these fears & provide some kind of “orientation” - particularly when the client may be from a community that is pathologized, contributing to [understandable] distrust of the healthcare system. Too many white therapists fail in this regard.
For these [often well intentioned yet color-evasive therapists] race/racial trauma/white privilege doesn’t register as a mental health issue. Instead, “I’m a good person & want to help people” is the default posture; preventing the therapist from seeing the PoC & their pain.
Unfortunately, PoC find themselves in therapy under much duress & in great distress [analogy: how many finally go to the ER after ignoring some physical pain for months & months - “I’ll be fine/can’t afford no hospital bill/what they gon tell me I don’t already know?”
So imagine a PoC finally sitting in a therapy room, across from a therapist w/no awareness; who proceeds to ask intrusive Qs in a perfunctory way [“no bedside manner”], no acknowledgement of how frightening/confusing this process might be [“what if they think I’m crazy?”]
In this scenario, the unacknowledged whiteness and white privilege of the therapist sucks all the air out the room. How do you breathe and thrive in a room in which you aren’t allowed or invited to be your full self? You don’t. It’s suffocating.
To PoC: therapy should not suffocate you - you already battle so much in the world (re: identity, race, trauma) you should NOT be battling for the right to be respected in the therapy room. You deserve better. More.
A tip: if/when you experience a microaggression, give *yourself* permission to pause. Perhaps in the moment you aren’t sure what exactly feels off/hurtful (bc that’s how microaggressions work), so say: “wait, something just happened, let’s stop for a sec?” You deserve this.
This isn’t easy, I know. Believe me I know. But practice as much as you can advocating to be fully seen - by holding your therapist accountable. This can help empower you to standing up *outside* of therapy.
White therapists: please, for the love if God - work on yourself. You must strive to be actively anti-racist in your approach to therapy and LIFE. Cuz I can guarantee those 2 little diversity/multicultural courses you took in grad school? That ain’t it.
White therapist: you have NO IDEA how much DAMAGE you’re doing, how much violence you’re perpetrating against PoC when you ignore/dismiss/minimize the impact of racism & white supremacy. I would go so far as to say it is unethical for you to do this.
Not sure where to begin? A Q? I ask ALL my clients: “Is there anything else you think would be important for me to know, that I HAVEN’T asked about?” . [Because your standard intake form ain’t ask,implicit msg = “that don’t matter”] You’d be surprised by the responses you get.
Also highly recommend:
Watts-Jones, T.D. (2010). Location of self: Opening the door to dialogue on intersectionality in the therapy process. Family Process, 49(3), 405-420
“A process in which the therapist initiates a conversation w/a family about similarities & differences in their key identities, such as race, ethnicity, gender, class, sexual orientation, and religion, & how they may potentially influence the therapy process.” Watts-Jones (2010)
“The following is a typical way that I introduce the process of location of self to clients.” - Watts-Jones (2010)
Lastly: ALL therapists must follow/read psychologists, mental health professionals and scholars of color. I’ve benefited greatly from the wisdom of folks like @ejrdavid, @HelenNeville12, @DrDLStewart, @kevinnadal. There are many many more!
Attend a professional conf that centers the experiences of PoC:@FilAmPsych,@BlackMuslimPsyc,@MuslimMHealth,@1NLPA... but *please* prioritize listening over speaking, do NOT attempt to burden folks w/your tears & tiny violins.
*Footnote: having a therapist of the same race/ethnicity DOES NOT guarantee rapport, understanding & wellness. It is just 1 ingredient that can lead to a radically transformative experience for the PoC. So for folks who are chiming in w/“but what about...” this tweet is for you.
\Anecdotally: at times, clients may read my name as “ethnic” but aren’t aware that I’m Black (and Muslim). When I meet them in the waiting area & introduce myself as Dr. Kameelah Rashad, they audibly exhale. Some say “OMG I’m so happy it’s you, I could cry, thank God”.
I note their relief & explore their response to me in a gentle way. Even tho they’re incredibly grateful to finally be in a room w/a POC, it is *still* my duty to act ethically, competently, w/boundaries & sensitivity. I remain curious abt their *unique* experience.
In some ways, I have to be even more vigilant re: boundaries & my counter transference. Client: “I mean, you’re Black, I know you get it!” - I make no assumptions, we still explore. I’m also a religious minority (which is important to note in a Christian hegemonic society).