Does ethnicity affect therapy sessions?

Posted on May 31, 2016

Photo: flickr

Some may argue that the most important attributes of a therapist are extreme perceptiveness and intelligence, as well as progressive politics. Without those, clients would not have been able to feel comfortable enough to open up.

What makes for a good fit when it comes to finding a therapist? Does a therapist have to be a certain way, or have lived through specific things, to “get it”? Do they need to mirror us?

Dior Vargas, a 28-year-old Latina mental health activist, recalls a therapist in college – her second one – who she stopped going to after realizing she was “culturally incompetent”.

“She wasn’t aware of how close-knit Latino families are. That they are a part of my decision-making process. My therapist didn’t understand that, she would say: ‘No, you need to stand up to your mother.’ That felt very disrespectful to me. Maybe sometimes you do, but the way she said it made me very defensive.”

Vargas’s two positive experiences were with therapists with whom she felt she shared a piece of identity: one with a woman with the same Ecuadorian background as her, and another with a woman who was openly gay. “I identify as queer. I felt like I could trust her,” she says.

When it comes to making therapy less monochrome a practice, Vargas says the problem does not just come from a preconception that only white people seek therapy, the problem also comes from the fact that therapists themselves tend to be overwhelmingly white.

“The more diverse the workforce is in order to mirror the people they are working with, the easier it will be. I think it’s important to get what the lived experience of being an ‘other’ actually is like.”

But mirroring is not the necessary solution to encourage a more diverse and satisfied population in therapy.

Ayorkor Goba, a clinical psychologist, says that the question of feeling like your therapist “gets it” is one that speaks more to the larger issue and need for cultural competence.

“Just because a therapist looks like you doesn’t mean that they will be competent,” Goba says. Studies have shown that matching therapists and clients based on race and identity does not always lead to better therapy, she adds.

What does cultural competence look like in practice? Learning about different cultures and religions, being mindful of verbal and non-verbal interactions, and checking yourself for your own stigma, Goba explains. Being humble is also key. Even if there are similarities, there will undoubtedly be differences too, she warns.

In some instances, Goba says, it is imperative to match therapists with clients correctly. This might be the case with female survivors of domestic abuse, for instance, where having a male therapist could be “retriggering”.

To read the full article, click on the link below.


Source material from The Guardian


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