Assumption and the Culturally Sensitive therapist.
Assumptions about another, what do we mean by this? I've been thinking about this a lot during this past week. Particularly in relation to who I am as a psychotherapist, a black female and a human being.
Recent events in the U.S. have certainly stirred up lots of challenging emotions and heated discussions, all of which are taking place in an ever-changing global environment. The dreadful actions taken by that person, which had such a catastrophic outcome whereby another lost their life, could be an example of a negative assumption made about another’s race and gender. The perceived power of this man, on his believed assumption that he is enforcing the law, allowed himself to judge and assume power and superiority over the person he deemed to be a dangerous, black male criminal. The distressing actions by this law man continued for eight long minutes, despite him being challenged by others. He assumed they did not carry the power to challenge him; neither did the injured man screaming out in pain and distress, under his knee, to let him breathe. The negative assumption about this black man had a tragic and avoidable outcome. It is something that has haunted many who have since watched the incident and resulted in debates and questions about assumptions and beliefs with regards to race.
When we first encounter someone who looks different to ourselves, assumptions will be made: do we embrace, love, fear, or worse, hate? As a therapist, I sincerely hope recent racially charged and tragic events produce new and lasting change for the greater good. I have seen numerous nonblack counsellors want to reach out and understand more about those who are different to themselves and their beliefs. Listening and understanding about diverse, cultural differences is crucial in therapy, being silent or feigning ignorance can no longer be excused. Therapists should be aware not to make judgements or take actions based on what they assume about a person’s race, gender, sexual orientation and identity, culture and background. I myself am not perfect, but I strive to become culturally aware and sensitive to my all of my clients’ needs.
How do I do this in the therapy space? My training in person centred and, more recently my systemic psychotherapy within couples’ work has helped. I keep myself informed through CPD training, networking groups and of course, in regular clinical supervision. I find that reading about individual’s felt experiences really helps. It doesn’t have to be theory books: there are many news articles and social media pieces on those who have been through conflict and the traumatic experience of being seen as ‘the other’. I think it’s important that I personally do the research and education; therapists must not solely rely on the client to teach them about cultural and diverse nuances as this might not be an issue they come into the therapy session with.
As a black female, I know first-hand about assumptions (also at times known as microaggressions) about my identity and background. However, even with those clients who seem to ‘look like me’, I would never assume that I have the same, shared and lived experience as them. I have a diverse mix of clients and it is vital that in the therapy room, I give all my clients the space to be themselves. We can be perceived as ‘one human race’ and that we all ‘share the same blood’. But in the therapeutic relationship, it is vital that clients are made to feel that their therapist can actually see their viewpoint and for them to feel that their lived experiences are not homogenised according to their perceived group. As a therapist, I will try to understand their issues or anxieties and help them navigate through them. I have found it important to sit with, and not ignore, when the client becomes stuck in exploring these feelings. As therapy progresses, I see that the client will gradually become empowered. I would, however, hate for any of my clients to feel I was minimising their experiences, or worse patronising them, but this can happen with a culturally insensitive counsellor.
This week has highlighted the traumatic pain of racism and being seen as the other. It has held up the mirror, and seemingly shamed those individuals who have quietly ignored the injustices and harsh realities for those underrepresented minorities. I hope those therapists who deem themselves ‘privileged’ can continue to be more open, curious and challenge their own assumptions through cultural sensitivity and awareness development. I warmly welcome this and hope it can bring harmonious, positive and more diverse connections.
(I hope my voice can contribute to lasting change. Please feel free to share.) #blacklivesmatter #ripgeorgefloyd #blacktherapist #amplifymelanatedvoiceschallenge #therapistconnect #mentalhealth #counselling #psychotherapy #inclusivetherapist