Entering therapy as the client can be an incredibly intimidating thing for many people! There is often the fear of “Will my counselor understand where I am coming from?” and the nervousness around being misunderstood. Due to this, there is often the desire to find a counselor as similar to yourself as possible, which can lead to many advantages! However, sometimes finding someone like that who also specializes in what you need to address can be difficult or sometimes impossible. This is often the case with individuals of color seeking support. While there is no replacement for having a counselor who has the same background that you do, there are things that counselors can do to help bridge the gap and help encourage a positive therapeutic experience, no matter who you are.
As a white counselor, I take steps when working with those of different racial and ethnic backgrounds to increase the understanding and relationship between myself and the client. Here are some of the things I do to help give my client the best experience possible when working with me:
Acknowledging My Privilege
This is continual work and holding myself accountable in both my professional and personal life. Being able to acknowledge my experience as a white person is vital, so I can accurately call out where I might make assumptions and how my life experience is different from my clients. There can sometimes be this feeling from others that the lack of acknowledgment would lead to more of a neutral understanding. However, that lack of admission can minimize the experiences of those who have not experienced the privilege I have in life. It is not harmful to state that I have privilege, it is a negative not to identify the role privilege has played in my life and how that can influence how I show up in session. Doing this in my personal life also allows me to live in a way where I am aware of my experience and how my identities filter how I experience the world while also realizing others will experience it differently through their identity lenses.
Not Being Scared to Acknowledge the Role of Racial Background In Session
An essential part of the session is acknowledging how the client’s racial identity influences their life experience. Questions like the following are needed:
“What was your experience as a black person growing up queer in your family look like?”
“Where you were raised was a primarily white community. How has that influenced your experience related to what we are talking about?
Questions like these allow my client to know they can talk about that portion of their life and that I am acknowledging its significance when considering the presenting issue at hand. I have received training in graduate school and continued outside education on actively being a racially informed counselor when working with clients. To ignore a client’s racial experience is to ignore a significant part of their life. It would be a disservice to be “color blind” and pretend like racial identity does not matter – it does.
Collaboration With Client
A common thing I will say to any client is, “You are the expert in your life; I’m the expert in behavioral and mental health. We are working together to use our expertise to give insight into what you are struggling with.”
This statement is especially significant when working with individuals of color as I recognize I will never fully know their experience.
Going hand in hand with checking my privilege, I need to ensure that I do not make certain assumptions about life and my client’s background. Based on my continued education and learning, I have ideas of where differences may be, but it’s essential as a counselor not to stereotype clients in one role or another. Asking clarifying questions is critical in this step without asking the client to be responsible for educating me.
Continuing My Growth
Following that last statement, it is essential that I be aware of my education or lack of knowledge in any particular area and not put the weight of teaching me on that of my client. As the counselor, I am responsible for seeking out supervision and education focused on working with individuals of color to ensure I am doing my due diligence to be the professional they need. This education is a continual journey that I will be on my entire career as I seek to be socially aware and culturally competent, providing a high-quality service for my clients.
If you are interested in working with one of our culturally competent counselors, reach out today for a free consultation!