Race and Culture in Therapy

Given the atrocities that have cost lives in the past few weeks (e.g., George Floyd, Breonna Taylor), race and ethnicity are at the forefront of many minds. I have been thinking a lot about racial and cultural sensitivity within a counselling space, and I wanted to take some time to share how I address both in therapy.

I am a woman of color, and in many ways I will understand and empathize with your experiences. In many ways, your experiences will be fundamentally different from mine. My understanding will then come from the openness to learn and engage in nonjudgmental conversations with you. This is not a pressure to share and talk about race and culture, but the invitation to do so. I will not presume to know what life has been like for you. I can provide compassion, but I have not walked in your shoes and lived out your years of experience. At the end of the day, our relationship grows from continued dialogue. Your healing comes from feeling the safety to share, and gaining skills to address the traumas that you have experienced. It is fostered by the knowledge that there is mutual respect and kindness between you and your therapist.

Race and cultural sensitivity in counselling
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I practice cultural sensitivity by engaging in continuous conversations of how your history has shaped you into becoming the person you are today. It’s essential in therapy to understand context. It is important to understand how your traditions, religion, culture, socioeconomic status, family values, beliefs, and other factors all work together to influence your experiences and worldview. We need to acknowledge how all of these pieces create unique benefits and barriers to accessing the life you would like to live. There is no space for judgement in therapy; whatever choices you made or actions you took to get yourself here are all moments of survival.

Race and cultural sensitivity in psychotherapy

I am always hesitant to self-disclose, whether in blogs or in sessions, because I do not want our sessions to be about me. This is your time for healing, and my job is to support. However, trust is an integral part of counselling, and now more than ever, talking about race and culture is pivotal.

So here is my story: My family and I are refugees from Sri Lanka. I came to Canada at a young age and experienced the pains and joys of being a first generation Canadian. We lived in a financially-constrained household as my parents began to build roots and security in a new country. The first time I travelled, I was shocked to experience more racism abroad than I had ever experienced in my ethnically-diverse hometown (Scarborough). I have been told that I am not Canadian-enough and picked over for a Caucasian-peer. I have also been selected for roles due to tokenism. None of these experiences feel positive. I am married to a Caucasian, and we have had some interesting times learning to grow as a couple, while also working to recognize that interracial couples are not always accepted. I also have many privileges, such as my education, having a safe home, a loving family, and being able-bodied. These are my experiences, and they are unique to me. Just like your experiences are your own.

If you would like to engage in dialogues about cultural sensitivity in therapy, or other counselling needs, please reach out.