Welcome to the world of therapy. I know it might look, sound, and seem scary. At times you may be unsure of yourself, uncertain of who you are and even what you can do. You may also be concerned about how you are presenting yourself to the world. It’s not easy helping people and often it can be draining, especially as a person of color.
When I first started my journey as a clinician, I would hear the term BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and I would think “what is that and how do I fit that label?”.
I know as a member of the BIPOC community, it can be challenging to see the world of therapy as a helpful guide. Historically, people in my culture see therapy as a sign of weakness and not a tool for strength. Coming from an environment where we do not talk about our problems outside of our home, trusting mental health professionals has not always been easy. There is the possibility of a level of distrust and lack of mutual connection, however I believe that with understanding, information, and representation, this can change. I can imagine you probably also dealt with the lack of trust in the mental health profession in some form or fashion. That’s part of the reason I am writing this letter: We need you. Representation is powerful. We have to show the world therapy is for all. I want to applaud you for taking on this challenge with us all.
Therapy for all is a simple statement but a difficult task.
It is not easy navigating through this world as a BIPOC therapist, just like it is not easy navigating as a person of color (POC). In this journey of helping people, I have been challenged with many different obstacles. Some of which I have overcome and some I am still navigating through. I am writing this letter so that you may learn from my experiences, and I have included a few suggestions I believe will help you navigate through this world of therapy.
As a person of color, I know that the world sees me a certain way. In a similar way, the world is also going to view me a certain way as a therapist. I know that it is important to show up not only as myself but as my true, inspirational, and authentic self. I find this aspect of authenticity most important because when I show up as myself the world gets to see me for me and not the color of my skin.
There are things that people can typically hide from the outside: political beliefs, their sexuality, educational or even religious background, but we cannot hide our race or ethnicity: we are who we are.
As humans, we wonder what others are assuming about us, this is especially true as POC. When I enter someone’s home or go to meet a client for the first time, I naturally wonder: What does this client assume about me and how does this client feel about my particular race? Is that going to be a problem? Is it going to be a complicating factor?
If I can provide the client with a different perspective of BIPOC, I have not only created a more comfortable environment, I have potentially provided them with a different viewpoint of a BIPOC therapist. I have allowed for the client to see me beyond the color of my skin right to the content of my character. Who I show up as must always be more important than the color of my skin. Remember to always let your personality shine, if you don’t their skin color biases may.
Tips For Navigating Through BIPOC Therapy:
Here are some tips I have learned and gained from others; many of which are common to all therapists but essential to BIPOC therapist:
- Always be true to yourself; this allows your client to see beyond your race.
- Continue to grow and learn; remember learning is not just for the client it is also for you
- Challenge the status quo and do not accept anything; you are here and you matter, remembering your race is important but you are more than your skin tone.
- Learn from your mistakes; don’t allow what you did or didn’t do right become who you are. Do not allow yourself to feel guilt during your learning process. Learn without guilt.
- Know what you have to offer and always offer it; know you are more than your skin tone and you can always contribute to the growth of another person and yourself.
- Do your best to stay open minded and understanding.
- Meet clients where they are at. Remember clients have experiences and you cannot always change those but you can impact how they go forward with you.
- Always protect yourself mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Life is hard and remember your mental health also matters
- Don’t be afraid to speak up when something feels wrong. Be real about yourself and how you feel. If you are uncomfortable, always make sure you say it and are genuine about it. Your intuition is valuable and important.
- Find a support circle of people who can relate and understand who you are and what you are experiencing. Finding other BIPOC therapists and supervisors who can relate helps you feel valuable and heard.
- Getting a super supervisor who is both supportive and understanding is vital to the success of connecting with and being present for your clients. You being allowed to be yourself and to talk about struggles with clients candidly to a supervisor will be so important to your success as a therapist.
I have not only used these tips in my therapeutic life; I have also used them in my personal life. I have had many people impact my life and change my perspective on how I approach my race and skin tone; some POC and some not. From those experiences I have also been able to glean a lot.
Tools For Navigating Through BIPOC Experiences in The World:
Listed below are some tips I have gleaned from others throughout my life. Tools I have received from other people in various fields of study:
- Know your strengths and weaknesses
- Know when to stand your ground and when to let it go
- Be wise in what you say and do…
- Be a positive light
- Be aware of how you show up in the world
- Know what you know but always be willing to learn
- Allow spiritual guidance in all you do
- Surround yourself with people who support and love you– we can’t do anything on own
As you can tell, the world of therapy and other fields are similar in many areas. The important thing to remember is to always show up as you. Your authentic self is always best.
Learning how we show up in the world is so important to who we will become in our practice. We are not only BIPOC, but we are simply people and sometimes we forget what that means. It is important to remember who you are so you show up as yourself and not a copy. After all, the world needs you. Have fun, be you and rock this world of therapy.
Sincerely your BIPOC therapist friend,