For People of Color...
I'll admit it. I'm reluctant to use this term--"people of color" and hesitated for a long time about putting this page up due to my ambivalence about these words. However, in a recent meeting with Leslie, my LPC-Supervisor, I learned that it is quite rare for her to have a "person of color" come to her as a client--and nearly ALL of my counseling clients would fall into this category. She remarked on this difference, and our subsequent conversation led me to go ahead and make a first attempt at writing this page. I consider "people of color" to be not only those who are obviously not of Caucasian descent, but but also those who identify primarily with a non-Caucasian ethnic identity even if they can "pass" as Caucasian (for example, a light-skinned Latina who considers herself Mexican, or a European Jew who feels he "passes" as a WASP when he isn't).
The bare fact of the matter is, when you scroll through online "choose a therapist" listings in Austin, Texas, you're going to see very few people who aren't Caucasian. People of Hispanic, Black, Arab, Native American and Asian descent are grossly under-represented in the field of counseling. (I also think we need more Goths, artists, transgendered people and performers working in the field, but those are just my personal biases!) The fact that I have so many clients of color makes me realize that even the choice to click on a counselor's photo may be heavily informed by the feeling that a person of one's own race, or at the least a similar demographic, might be more understanding of the issues faced by people of color both in everyday life and in a counseling setting. I don't know that this is true, but I do wonder about it, and if it's the same for those who identify as LGBTQ. I've had clients ask me if it's OK with me that they are LGBTQ or polyamorous or "alternative" as though I could possibly be offended or hurt by this information. Of course, I said it was in no way a problem, but I wonder if these folks have had other experiences where they were met with shaming, anger or rejection by a mental health professional when disclosing this information.
I do think that as a multi-cultural person myself, there are some strengths I bring to the counseling setting as a result. For one thing, I don't believe that just because something is done a certain way in a certain culture makes it right. I'm not afraid to challenge cultural ideas no matter where they come from. I ask a lot of questions and ask my clients to consider how much of what they believe is unconscious and how it plays into the way they see themselves and their dailiy choices. For example, I don't believe that verbal abuse of a human is OK just because that human lives in a culture where it may be a "normal" occurrence. I'm not saying I have the right answer about these things, but that I'm willing to open up the seams and ask for fearless examination and dialogue about them. If my client suffers from poor self esteem and depression and endless self-criticism, I'm going to investigate why and challenge the beliefs that lead to such patterns.
I'm going to be frank--there is not much multicultural education in counseling programs, and that which exists often seems to primarily be focused on orienting mainstream, Caucasian folks to the fact that other cultures exist at all, let alone getting into the issues that present themselves. A common complaint I've heard from my clients of color is that in previous attempts at counseling, the counselor was kind but "didn't do anything" or was "hands off," which I take to mean that the counselor was exhibiting a "sit back and listen" approach. I consider this style of approach to be very "white", since it likely evolved out of the psychoanalytic model that was developed by white European men. It's also a pretty standard form of counselor/therapist training. But it's not the only way to do things.
During my lifetime, Austin has gone from being mostly Caucasian demographically to being much more ethnically mixed. But we're still in America and still in the South and issues related to race and culture are still present in our work and relationships. On the Dating and Relationships page, there's a link to an article I wrote about online dating and how my own race seemed to affect some of my experiences. This is just one mundane example of the multiplicity of issues a person of color can face in navigating daily life. Everything from skin color to accent to choice of food to holidays to what you do with your friends and in your significant relationships is in the mix. I recently spoke to a mother, a Caucasian woman married to a Black man, who expressed her frustration about finding a counselor of color for her children. She said, "Maybe it's just me, but I have a hard time believing that someone who has not experienced these issues would be able to understand what my daughter goes through. She doesn't have a choice about how other people perceive her." I nodded.
Okay, that's all I want to say for right now. I'm sure I will continue to revise and add to this page as I continue to develop my thoughts on this topic, which are considerable.