How does being White affect clients, especially BIPOC clients?
Updated: Sep 1, 2020
Ever since the May 25, 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, it has become clear to professional therapists that we explore issues of race. For many White therapists, this is uncharted territory. The American Counseling Association 2014 Code of Ethics requires counselors to employ "cultural sensitivity", to avoid causing harm to clients, to avoid imposing our own value on clients, and to "advocate at individual, group, institutional, and societal levels to address potential barriers and obstacles that inhibit access and/or the growth and development of clients." Obviously, in order to follow this ethical mandate, counselors by definition must explore their own culture and values, and study to understand what potential barriers exist for our clients, at "individual, group, institutional, and societal levels".
As a White college student, the further I advanced in my studies (from community college to university to graduate school), my professors and my classmates became increasingly homogeneous, e.g., White students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. I felt understood and supported by my grad school faculty because, for the most part, they looked, thought, and sounded like me. As I moved into private practice, I began to come across students in counseling grad programs like mine who were *not* of the White, middle class, and had very different educational experiences than I, which resulted in them feeling UNseen, UNsupported, and Unsuccessful.
This is true of many of my colleagues who are also feeling unprepared for supporting our fellow counselors who are POC, as well as our clients. One facet that has become evident is our need to educate ourselves in what it means to be White. Like most White Americans, I was raised to think of Race to refer to *others*, and to think of White as the default. The way White people think, look, speak, study, listen to music, make Art, dance, cook, entertain, shop, exercise… is the-way-it-is-done. The books we were exposed to in school, the images we associate with beauty, the way we were taught to express ourselves in language, the history we were taught; all of these represented a White perspective and it never occurred to me to question it. Until now.
Like many White Americans, there was something different when George Floyd was killed. It probably had a lot to do with how Covid kept us all glued to our computer screens. But coming right on the heels of the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, as well as the gruesome and heartbreaking 8 minutes and 46 seconds during which we watched a White officer deliberately and impassively squeeze the life out of a human being, simply because he *could*, I knew I needed to understand more about the System that made these murders possible.
In addition to my own private practice, Counseling for Resilience, I also see clients at a group practice run by an African American woman who was very intentional about educating the therapists she brought into her practice about race. She required us to read various texts that called upon White counselors to explore what it meant to be White and to accept that White supremacy is a real thing that is invisible only to White people. She is offering anti-racism trainings that are also available to the Public, to open conversation on issues of race and encourage others to be involved in changing our society to one that provides social justice and equality. If you’re interested, I invite you to explore her website, Mindful and Multicultural Counseling, where she lists many resources that she is creating and curating on the subject of race. A recent training was written up in The Philadelphia Citizen https://thephiladelphiacitizen.org/anti-racism-workshop/.
I intend to continue to explore this issue and to grow in understanding, to be involved in the movement of social justice to move this country to live the ideals that we claim to aspire to.