In a previous piece for Black History Month, I wrote about how therapy has evolved over the years to become a more welcoming space for People of Color. I encourage you to take a look at it before diving into this one. While I wrote about the importance of having a therapist who can and will talk about the impact of race and culture, I didn’t go into much detail.
In this piece about therapy for Black and other non-White racial/ethnic groups, I’d like to share how our licensed psychologists and therapists in Tampa work with clients of various races and cultures.
Dr. Elaine Spencer
Dr. Elaine Spencer is one of our licensed psychologists who works with children, adolescents, young adults, and families.
She thinks about culturally sensitive therapy as a space that “emphasizes the therapist’s understanding of a client’s culture, race, ethnicity, age, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and how that impacts their daily life and well-being. Understanding the client’s belief system, values, customs, and respecting and honoring the differences.”
Dr. Spencer is also sensitive to the need of recognizing both the client’s culture as well as her own. In reflecting on her work, she observed that “to provide culturally sensitive therapy, I have to be aware.
“I must be aware of my own culture, my upbringing, the messages in my family, and community. I have to be aware of how my own culture and how it’s influencing my relationship with my client because only then can I appropriately respond to a culture that is different from my own.
“It is important to listen, to believe, to validate, to read, to unlearn/relearn, to read more, and to ask questions when appropriate, but don’t expect to have issues explained to you, to be accountable, to grow.”
Dr. Spencer actively “acknowledges and challenges her White privilege.” She noted that one way she does this is through “talking about what it’s like to have a White therapist.”
“I acknowledge that my experience is different from theirs, but I am willing to be a partner with them as they explore how race, culture, gender, and more are impacting their daily lives. I try to be as aware as possible, and when I don’t know something or mess up, I acknowledge it, learn from it, and do better next time.”
For Dr. Spencer, these conversations are static or theoretical. She and her clients “use different ways to talk about race/ethnicity/culture, sometimes using social media, movies, stories clients share about themselves and their friends, thoughts, and feelings about their parents growing up in a different county or living abroad and what that is like for them, and how it impacts their school and social experiences.”
Dr. Ashley Diehl
Dr. Ashley Diehl is one of our licensed psychologists who works with children and adolescents and their families. She expressed “understanding what a huge step it can be to even seek out therapy in the first place.”
Because Dr. Diehl is “a firm believer in the importance of the therapeutic relationship and building rapport through collaboration and listening,” she says, “I understand that my background and experiences may differ greatly from those of my clients…so I believe it is important to continually reflect on my beliefs and assumptions and how they may impact and affect the therapeutic relationship.”
For Dr. Diehl, meeting the needs of her clients is of paramount importance, so she seeks out consultation, research, and professional development to help her better understand and align with her clients.
Mr. Andrew Coble
Mr. Andrew Coble is one of our Licensed Mental Health Counselors who also works with children, adolescents, and families.
In reflecting on the role of race/ethnicity/culture in therapy, Mr. Coble observed that “it is always a good reminder to be aware of my value system and cultural assumptions. As therapists, it is important to be aware of the assumptions we all make based on external cues such as names, skin color, etc. along with internal bias that has systemic roots in our own culture as we start working with clients and make a conscious effort to truly understand their cultural experience. Oftentimes, our assumptions as therapists lead to frustration and a lack of rapport.”
As Mr. Coble reflected on experience early in his career, he recalled, “I began working with the family without really understanding my own cultural bias and making assumptions about their understanding of…the entire process of counseling, as if this were something they should ultimately just know and accept because my cultural values have normalized this process.
“This assumption became evident to me as we started to work together, and from the start, we had difficulty connecting and I could see the frustration from the mom and my client. Over time, I confronted my own bias and realized that what I needed was to have an open conversation with the client about this.
“By opening up the dialogue on their culture and allowing my own bias to be laid bare, it served to reduce some communication barriers with the family and helped us come up with some ideas that were more in tune with their understanding and experiences.”
Dr. Kai Shum
Dr. Kai Shum is one of our postdoctoral residents who works with children, adolescents, adults, and families. She noted that the work of a therapist and client is an exchange of knowledge and experience.
For Dr. Shum, the opportunity to work with her clients and their families is something she describes as “an honor.” She also recalled that the clients and families from different backgrounds whom she has treated “have taught her valuable life lessons that she holds dear to her heart throughout the years.”
In reflecting, Dr. Shum shared, “I am constantly in awe of their resiliency” and that “I appreciate that I was chosen by these families to help them and their children be their best possible selves.”
Final Thoughts From Dr. Nikel
These are just a few of the examples of how we work with clients from different races, ethnicities, and cultures. Hopefully, in reading our clinician’s own words, you’re able to get a sense of one of our guiding principles: clients and their families come first at Rice Psychology Group.
That includes clients and families of different racial/ethnic/cultural groups. Also, we as a staff acknowledge and appreciate that, while we’re of a different background from our clients, we need to take the responsibility to learn more so that we can help them.
We seek that by actively educating ourselves outside of the session and openly exploring the impact of racial/ethnic/cultural identity, both inside the session and for the client in the outside world.
Hopefully, knowing that we’re already thinking about and learning how to best connect with and help clients of all backgrounds will help you to feel more comfortable should you decide to invite us to join you on your journey. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you.