The most important question to ask your therapist is, “what is your experience working with people of diverse backgrounds?” Sounds easy enough, but don’t let this question fool you.
So, why is this question so important?
This question is important because, first and foremost, our psychological, emotional, physical, financial, social well-being are directly tied to our community and our status in our society. Without safety and stability in our day-to-day life, we cannot achieve internal safety. Living in a community that disregards us, dehumanizes us, and strips us of our human dignity is traumatizing, and that trauma will most likely be passed down to our future generations (epigenetics). It is therefore imperative that all therapists understand this and hold themselves responsible for providing a healing space.
It is also important that therapists acknowledge that how anyone – including ourselves – engages with their community and are allowed to engage with their community are political statements and a political reality. Thus, our work is always political.
I will explore these topics in more detail in future posts, so hang on.
What are a few problematic responses and perspectives?
- That they will rely solely on their clients to teach them about their background, culture, identities, etc.
- That they can only provide full acceptance of who their clients are.
- That their mere function is to listen or be a listening ear without judgement.
- That the modality they use works for everyone.
- That they are not political or that they choose not to be political – this is impossible!.
- That they have had diversity and/or inclusivity trainings – this is not sufficient.
- That they practice cultural competency – another impossible thing to achieve. We are never culturally competent; it is actually about our life-long process of learning and unlearning.
While these responses/work are somewhat helpful, they are not close to being sufficient in reducing harm to individuals who have been exploited and marginalized by their society.
So then, what should you be looking for from a therapist?
- That we understand our privileges as well as our identities that have been marginalized.
- How we leverage and use our privilege(s).
- How we engage with anti-oppression in our professional and personal lives.
- That we have experience working with a diverse population and engaging in social justice work.
It is about our internal work and external actions, not merely our intentions. It is about the impact we have on our clients and our community. It is about being able to center Black, Indigenous, and other people of color. It is about centering LGBTQIA+ folx. It is about de-centering bodies, race, religions, orientation, identities that have benefitted from and practice colonization.
If your therapist is a social worker, remember that social justice is a part of their professional code of ethics. Without social justice, we will end up harming even those individuals who have privileged identities and bodies.