A few evenings ago, I got into a heated debate with friends regarding economics, race and class. Things seem like they are getting better (decline in unemployment rates) yet economic reports show that they may in fact be getting worse, or at the very least, not changing much at all (disparities along race and class lines are as bad as ever). What exactly is to blame for these variances? What are we supposed to care about?
As my friends and I sat and debated, it became evident that class seemed to be what mattered most. I tend to disagree. The article, A New Progressive Generation in Boston Review, brings to light the issues of race, why it still matters and the role it plays in all areas of our society: economics, socioeconomic status, education, etc. It’s undeniable that we have come a long way in this society and that we have a longer way to go, but I am not a politician, nor do I consider myself an activist, so what does this have to do with me and my profession?
As a woman-of-color, I have been exposed to elements of our society that remind me of the changes that still need to take place. As a client, I have experienced the harm that a therapist can do when he or she remains blissfully unaware or dangerously indifferent to the realities of race in our society and the stresses that can come with it. As a professional, I have been one of a handful of minority therapists in conventions that have the best intentions for their clients and the field, yet have no idea how to deal with multicultural issues or how to attract or engage a diverse group of professionals. One of the things I love most about the field is that it is one where we find the most dedicated people. They are dedicated to their own growth, to the growth of others, and driven towards a constant love of exploring, learning and understanding.
One professional said to me: I know race means something, but I just don’t know where to start. To that I say, it’s less about where to start and simply to start, but if you need a point in the right direction, I would start by reading. A quick search on Google will open you to an ever-growing body of literature addressing multicultural issues and their place in the field of counseling. Some of my favorites: Multiculturalism in Counseling Resources.
It would be a great mistake to think that when clients walk into our offices they suddenly shed their skin, language, culture, religion, gender and all of the other affiliations that make them who they are and inform the way they interact with the world. As counselors, we also do not shed the elements that make up who we are. We sit in them just as our clients sit in theirs, and we have a tall order to be aware of them and properly integrate them into practice.
A majority of the clients I see are Black and Latino male ex-convicts. We have some things in common and many more things that make us different. Being aware of the ways in which race, socioeconomic class, and gender (to name a few) informs their lives and how they play a role in my life enables us to form genuine bonds. Furthermore it allows for tailored treatment that meets needs born more from the affiliations listed above and less from pathology. The DSM does not do this for us (though it offers a few considerations in its final pages) so we must do it for ourselves and for our clients.
While this may feel like an overwhelming task, I challenge that it’s no less overwhelming than learning how to run a great group, trying the latest intervention, or earning a new certification. We are a dedicated and hardworking group; we owe it to ourselves, to clients, and to the field to understand these dynamics.
An edited version of this blog appears on CounselingInternships.com