BLACK HISTORY MONTH - OCTOBER 2021 AND THE IMPORTANCE OF DIFFERENCE AND DIVERSITY
BLACK HISTORY MONTH
In 1926, the first Black History week was marked by Carter, G. Woodson, who was a son of former slaves and who gained an outstanding amount of qualifications whilst studying at a high school for black students. From 1970, recognition expanded and by 1976, every President of the United States made February, the official Black History Month. In Europe, and particularly in the UK where I am from, we celebrate Black History Month in October (Campbell, 2020).
What is Black History Month?
It is a Month for reflection, celebration, appreciation and awareness for all of the African and Caribbean people who have contributed to British history and who have been a fundamental part of our diverse culture for centuries. Campaigners for Black History Month believe that the achievements of black people are under-reported, missed out entirely or reported incorrectly. Black History Month is a time when the impact of black heritage and culture can be shared and celebrated, especially in schools where the curriculum traditionally teaches about the events and achievements of white figures (Campbell, 2020).
How is Black History important to us as therapists?
Black History Month raises the important topic of difference and diversity and encourages us all to be aware of the variety of cultures that make up our society. It's not only people from African and Caribbean heritage who make up our society, we have a plethora of race and cultures that contribute to a proportion of our population.
It's important as therapists that we recognise any differences between ourselves and our clients such as gender, race, culture, age, etc. If we don't see the difference, it implies that we don't see the client. These differences are a point of discussion between therapist and client as it helps to create a relationship built on trust and truth. If we ignore any differences, we are essentially ignoring our client as the unique individual that they are. It can be uncomfortable to bring the differences into the room but in doing so, it says to the client, " I see you."
So how can we address difference and diversity in the room?
I'm writing this blog as a white, female from the UK and I recognise the privilege that comes with that position. It's equally important for a black therapist, for example, to be aware of their personal position and how that may differ from any client that may enter their therapy room.
Racial and cultural differences between therapist and client is one possible reason why a client may end therapy early. When entering into therapy, a client needs to feel able to open up and share their inner most concerns with someone who is able to understand the context in which these concerns come from. No-one could expect a therapist to understand everything there is to know about every culture or race and even if we did, this still does not give us access into the lived experience of the client sitting in front of us.
The same goes for every single client we have, irrespective of their race or culture - we can never know what life is like for them until they tell us.
So is it ok not to know much about the client's heritage? What can we do about that?
My simple answer is to ask the person, who can tell you their truth; the client. It's perfectly ok to share with the client that you recognise the differences between you and that you have no way of knowing what life is like for them until they tell you. This shows the client that you have an authentic interest in their experiences. It means that as therapists, we have to be very clear about our own belief system, values, biases in order to fully and authentically accept the client for who they are and recognise anything that this may raise within ourselves. This is where supervision and personal therapy play an important part in ensuring that we offer our clients the best service in terms of acceptance without judgement.
This is such a vast topic that could become a thesis in it's own right so I have have put together some useful points to consider when thinking about difference and diversity in the therapy room:
- We must consider our own race and culture and all that comes with this, both negative and positive elements.
- Similarly, we must consider the client's race and culture and both positive and negative aspects of this.
- Problems will be presented in different ways by people from different cultures.
- Similarly, problems will also be dealt with in different ways.
- We must consider our own belief system, values and prejudice/bias as this could impact the therapeutic relationship if we have not addressed these in supervision or personal therapy.
- It's extremely important not make assumptions based on our own ideas of specific cultures or race. We must ascertain the client's phenomenological reality in order to gain true insight.
- Our use of language is very important for effective communication. It's our job to know the correct terminology to use in respect to different cultures and race and if we are not sure, asking the client to confirm or clarify will show authenticity.
- It's important not to assume sameness with a client of the same race or culture as us - they will still have a very different lived experience to us.
- Are the therapeutic models, techniques, theories that we use to inform our work inclusive or are they entrenched in Western Psychology? Can we make adaptations to our therapeutic interventions to make them more inclusive?
- GET COMFORTABLE TALKING ABOUT THE UNCOMFORTABLE - some therapists may avoid discussing difference and diversity in the therapy room but this says more about us as therapists and is something that maybe needs to be explored. Why are you uncomfortable talking about it?
Campbell, A. (2020) 'Black History Month: What is it and why does it matter?', BBC News, available online at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-54522248
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