AAMFT welcomes members to share guest author MFT perspectives on issues facing our world and profession today. In a continuation of the Courageous Conversations series, guest authors Danesha Deloatch and Theresa Wray explore discussing the impact of race and racism with clients.
Danesha B. Deloatch, M.S. MFT, is a recent graduate of the Valdosta State University Marriage and Family Therapy Program. Her professional and clinical interests include working with victims of trauma, as well as with Veterans. Ms. Deloatch is also dedicated to reducing stigma and improving access to high-quality clinical services.
Theresa M. Wray, MA, LMFT, is the Founder and CEO of Synergy Consulting Services where she uses her background and training as a systems thinker to help mental health professionals navigate the healthcare system more effectively and efficiently. The majority of her consulting work is with professionals and organizations who work with disenfranchised and underserved populations.
In the months since Dylann Roof attempted to incite a race war by murdering nine black people praying in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, Marriage and Family Therapists have been discussing how we can best continue to counter racism and the marginalization of black people.
Through conversations we’ve held with peers and colleagues, we’ve learned that for some, this means going deeply within, examining personally held beliefs, experiences, and behaviors. For others, this means having conversations with our peers in which we discuss issues, glean ideas, and gain support. For others still, countering racism is best done by challenging our institutions and field-as-a-whole on the ways in which they both impact and are impacted by racism and white privilege.
While we fully support and recognize the considerable value in these courses of action, we also believe that Marriage and Family Therapists have a direct responsibility to counter racism by better serving the individuals, couples, and families who present for our help -- Clients who may not have experienced overt acts of racial violence, but are assaulted by the quiet, covert ways that racism and white privilege exist within and impact their lives and relationships.
Continued Courageous Conversations
In keeping with the sentiments of Dr. Beliard, Mr. Tichenor, and Dr. Harris-McCoy in their June post (found here) we must also have these Courageous Conversations directly with our clients. We have found that this can be done best by:
- Creating space to discuss the impact that race and racism has on the individuals, couples, and families who presents for our services. As leaders in advancing social justice, we as MFTs are directly responsible for inviting clients to discuss their culture, ethnicity, and background. We cannot assume that they will bring this up if it is important to them. Just as we are curious about the concerns that bring them to work with us, we must also be curious about who they are, where they come from, and what they struggle with in relation to their racial and ethnic identity.
- Respecting their decision to either share or not share their stories with us. While some clients may want to share this piece of their lives with us, others may not - and we need to be okay with this. We should invite them to share this part of their story with us should they choose, as well as respect their decision to change their mind.
- Helping those clients who do share their unique stories with us to articulate and find meaning in them. Understanding where our clients come from is an important factor in connecting with them and developing a relationship that will foster healing and growth. Undeniably our clients’ culture, race, ethnicity, nationality, and background shape their identity, perspectives, and experiences in a way that is totally unique to them. We must challenge ourselves to capture the themes which exist in their lives while not generalizing or stereotyping across groups.
- Considering how our own racial and cultural identity may impact our clients for better or worse. Even when we share the race, ethnicity, or culture of our clients, we cannot assume that their perspectives and experiences are the same as ours. Likewise, we must remember that it often takes clients who don’t share our race, ethnicity, or culture more time to open up and share different experiences with us. Because they may feel we cannot truly relate or understand them, we must be sensitive to their pacing when inviting them to share their unique stories with us. By asking our clients questions and allowing them to help us understand their stories, we are submerging ourselves in their experiences regardless of the similarities and differences between us. Be willing to learn and experience new insights from everyone.
- Considering the stories that have been told - or not told - about our clients. As MFTs, we cannot assume that previous documents paint an accurate picture of the person in front of us today. We need to approach any assumptions we develop from documentation with caution and curiosity - especially when sections about race, ethnicity, and culture are left blank or marked “not applicable.”
So how about you? How do you foster the change you wish to see in the world?
Outside of discussions with peers and colleagues, how do you actively work to create a more equitable and socially just world through your work with clients?
As a client, how would you want an MFT to help you explore your racial identity?
We invite you to share your thoughts below and keep the conversation going!