Tailoring Therapeutic Healing for POC
I left UC Santa Cruz—a big liberal granola bubble—thinking I would go on to pursue a job where I would save the world. Easy right? Surely there are simple job descriptions out there like that... With my Psych and Law class fresh in mind, firing me up regarding our country’s non-rehabilitative, often exacerbating prison system or my Women’s Studies classes prompting me to confront harsh realities regarding my love for hip hop and tainted Cinderella stories… I thought it would be easy to shine a light on injustice and support the greater good. The truth is that making my mission a reality has been quite difficult to navigate and debatably anything like the straight path I supposed.
I decided that becoming a therapist would equip me to advocate for minoritized communities through providing social support (It's v powerful, ok?). Alas, I would, “be a change agent for urban communities,” as my grad school essays posed. Unfortunately after my departure from higher education, I quickly learned from my own experiences as well as those of my peers that many private practices and treatment centers often used words like “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “feminism,” as buzz words to attract clientele.
I will spare you of the unethical and, in some cases, exploitative practices that I’ve witnessed and say this much: the field needs more people of color with cultural competence. Clients do not want to—and should not have to be—teaching their therapists the importance of respecting their pronouns, yamulka’s, hair, or history of institutionalized oppression.
And yet, time and time again I hear of microaggressions that clients face. Therapy is no longer a corrective experience when stereotypes such as, “the angry black woman” or, “cheap jew,” are imposed upon clients by their therapists. Although my priorities lie in the therapeutic relationship—which like most relationships grows from talking out hurt feelings and misunderstandings—I do not think it is fair to expect clients to do all the teaching. While there is no possible way that a therapist will know every custom to every heritage, it is certainly a therapist’s job to shed themselves of their biases, lean in with a gentle curiosity, and respect their clients’ intersectionality.
A word about seeking therapy from the jump—this is often an extremely courageous step made only after experiencing days/months/years of grueling distress! The last thing a client wants is to finally admit they need help only to have their first encounter in therapy ruined by a comment such as, “Oh I didn’t realize you were black when we spoke on the phone! Come on in…”
Finding the right therapist can take time. Just as we vibe with some friends over others, we will vibe with certain therapists over others. This is a considerable truth when seeking therapy which is why I like to remind people: it is normal and healthy to shop around for a therapist that you feel comfortable with! You will ideally be sharing your deepest, darkest, most personal details with this person—which will be damn near impossible if you don’t trust or respect them. While gender or race may not matter to some clients, depending on what they are coming in for, others may find it more soothing to seek a therapist with a similar identity. This factor could lead into a natural and unspoken understanding of general cultural taboos, traditions, stereotypes, and family dynamics. Imagine a certain effortlessness when you aren’t needing to explain all of this? Perhaps even more powerful is experiencing validation through seeing someone that looks like you in a space you were made to believe didn’t have you in mind.