Being a Culturally Competent Psychotherapist #2

Over the last few weeks, I have been listening to podcasts and watching videos which has helped me to explore my blind spots and make an effort towards being more trauma-informed, and sensitive to the needs of BIPOC clients. My experience with educating myself has shaken quite a few notions, and confirmed others. More importantly, I know a few things I can do differently moving forward.

Below, I will share the content that I viewed and list what I believe were important takeaways. All the resources I share below are currently being offered free of cost, so if it is of interest, I recommend you go ahead and pursue it.

1] Lifting Black Voices: Therapy, Trust, and Racial Trauma (Podcast)(1 hour)
by http://www.clearlyclinical.com
This is a panel interview facilitated by Elizabeth Irias, LMFT and includes expert clinicians La Shanda Sugg, LPC, Dr. Tiffany Crayton, LPC-S, and LJ Lumpkin
You can find the link to this course here.

For me, some of the key takeaways were
Mental health stigma in the culture: Some reasons why BIPOCs do not seek therapy is because people had to suppress their pain, ‘hold it in’ to survive, which is a response that has been carried through generations. Also, the system is untrustworthy which does not validate and/or acknowledge the experience of BIPOCs thereby re-traumatizing instead of helping them manage their mental health. Therapy can also be another place where a client’s ‘internalized racism’ is reinforced especially when the therapist does not have cultural humility.
-To me, it was important to learn the difference between cultural competence and cultural humility. I learned that I cannot truly become a culturally competent psychotherapist if I do not have lived experiences, or when I am never likely to have the lived experiences that my client does. But having cultural humility, and openly acknowledging that ‘there is so much I do not know’ can create an honest, safe space for my clients to talk about their experiences.
-The idea behind this conversation is not to get an “apology” about what happened in the past (though it wouldn’t hurt), but to take responsibility at present to fix the system and help bridge the existing gap!
-other key ideas include impact of microaggressions, fear of success for BIPOCs, and the negative impact of the ‘I conversations’ when clients come with a systemic issue.

While this podcast focused on blacks, it was helpful for me on a personal level because I now understand some reasons why there is so much stigma to seek therapy among South Asians. For reasons unknown to me, I blamed our community without acknowledging the colonial burden we share and how current mental health approaches that do not acknowledge the impact of the current context and racial history that can be invalidating. My next focus will definitely be on colonization and its impact on mental health as well as a look at my own privilege and/or lack of it, while growing up in India.

2] Hey, White Therapist, Here’s Where We Start (Podcast)(1 hour)
by http://www.clearlyclinical.com
This is an interview with Frank Baird, LMFT, LPCC which was facilitated by Elizabeth Irias, LMFT. I absolutely love that this course was produced with the consultancy of compensated non-white clinicians!
You can find the link to this course here.

This is a fantastic podcast for any healthcare professionals working with BIPOCs and I believe every therapist, not just a white therapist, should hear this out. I will try to summarize concepts that really grabbed my attention and that I will be taking with me to my practice.

I learned to be more aware of the difference between
‘intent’ versus ‘impact’
(It is important to note that unintentional harm does not minimize negative impact. I also think that using the word ‘impact’ instead of ‘intent’ forces us to take more responsibility for your words and actions instead of putting blame on intent.)
‘safe spaces’ versus ‘courageous spaces’
(Safe spaces tend to avoid difficult conversations. We need spaces that value difficult, necessary conversations, and they don’t even have to be confrontational.)
‘riots’ versus ‘uprising’
(what is framed as riots by a dominant culture, is often an uprising for the minority culture).
Instead of asking, ‘Do you have any questions? ask ‘What questions do you have?’
Instead of asking, ‘Did it affect you? ask ‘How did it affect you?’
(Of course, the context matters a lot in this case, but I believe it is important that our clients know that we will hold space for them, no matter what they want to talk about.)

Other important takeaways include
-our training in mental health does not talk about addressing politics in the consultation room and the unspoken assumption is that you do not touch that topic. But for people who are the victims of systemic discrimination, it is invalidating when we see them isolated from their experience.
-to listen to my client’s stories and believe when they tell me their stories instead of undermining their experience. In short, respect their voice!
-BIPOCs are not your Encyclopedias or Google. They do not have to carry the weight of speaking on the behalf of their people or carry the weight of educating you. I have often felt I was someone’s Netflix special when they thought I owed it to them to address their racial curiosity. Honestly, I don’t owe that to anyone. I can choose to share what I want on my own time, and at my own comfort.
-‘white saviour complex’-this essentially means a person who helps a non-white person, but in a self serving manner. Why do you think this would matter in a therapeutic setting? Well, this increases the power imbalance and fosters a belief in the client that they do, in fact, need the therapist to get anywhere. We all know that is not true. Therapy is all about collaboration. It always has been.
-when someone says that they ‘don’t see colour’, that isn’t helpful. It is like erasing the experiences that come with being coloured.
-being a beneficiary of white privilege is not wrong, it is what you choose to do with that privilege after educating yourself about racism and its impact

3] Racial Injustice And Trauma: How Therapists Can Respond (Panel Discussions)(Two parts, 1 hour each)
by http://www.pesi.com
I highly recommend this as it includes a honest narration of lived experiences of people of colour both as a therapist and as a client. And this is what we truly need right now, unfiltered, honest, conversations about the experience of BIPOCs in therapy, both as therapists, and as clients.

Some important takeaways include..

-One of the most important takeaways for me from these panel discussions is that when a client shares their stories with us, believe they are true and sit with it and not divert attention away from it. We do not need them to prove to us that they are speaking the truth.
-It is important for each of us to examine our relationship to race. We cannot pretend racial issues do not exist.
-Calling out on racism is not easy, not even safe, but if we are waiting for it to be safe and easy, change is never happening.
-Do we ask clients directly about racial stress and trauma? Just like we don’t ask about trauma directly, we don’t ask about racial stress directly. We can, at best, create an environment that is safe for the client to truly express themselves. I think this is where we need to examine both our implicit and explicit bias, as well as keep track of micro-aggressive choices.
You can find the link to these panel discussions here

Once again, I invite you to share your thoughts, suggestions, and resources that you think I should explore. As I have said before, the idea is not to shame or take anyone on a guilt trip but to open a dialogue that helps all of us change. If there is something you would like to say, leave a comment here or write to me at krishnavora8@gmail.com

If you are experiencing significant distress call 911 for emergency or click here for resources in Ontario.

To book a free 30-minute consultation with me click here

Published by Krishna Vora

Krishna has a Masters in Counseling Psychology and is a Registered Psychotherapist with over 8 years of work experience in the field of Mental Health and Education, both in India and Canada. As a therapist, she believes in providing a safe space for clients to deal with their emotions, behavior, and thoughts; at the same time actively working on learning and practicing relevant skills to improve adjustment and life satisfaction. She has extensive work experience with adults with depression, anxiety, stress, and adjustment issues. Her treatment modalities include CBT and SFBT combined with elements of DBT, Psycho-education and Art. She works from a strength-based, the anti-oppressive approach enables the client to collaborate and achieve their full potential through the process of psychotherapy. During the course of her career, she has worked with children with diverse learning needs such as learning disabilities, Autism, ADHD, Gifted and Twice Exceptionality, and developed content for Teacher Training programs, Summer Camps and After School Groups for Gifted Children. Krishna believes in raising standards of achievement for her students by providing customized learning solutions in a safe and nurturing environment. Currently, she is working as a Middle School Teacher at The Study Academy. She hopes to continue working with individuals of all ages to achieve social, emotional and academic growth by drawing from best practices across different professions. Through this blog, she hopes to introduce research and strategies to help individuals improve their mental health and help their loved ones struggling with mental health concerns. *Please note that this is not intended to replace therapy or any other kind of professional help. I highly recommend you see your family doctor or physician for appropriate referrals if need be. For therapy in and around Toronto, send me a quick email for inquiries.

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