Racial Identity, White Counsellors and Therapists

Racial Identity, White Counsellors and Therapists

Racial Identity, White Counsellors and Therapists

Racial Identity, White Counsellors and Therapists

Synopsis

This book explores the subject of racial identity and encourages readers to think freely about racial issues and to explore their own racial identity. Written from an integrative perspective, it aims to be permission-giving and to enable readers to overcome the constraints of political correctness. With a particular focus on white identity, the book challenges white therapists to develop their understanding of a relatively unexplored field. The author believes that self-awareness is an essential element of competency as a therapist, and she challenges all white therapists to be aware of what it means to be white, and how this influences the therapy process.The book is written from a practitioner perspective, and is intended predominantly for practising counsellors and therapists, counselling supervisors and trainers. Students and researchers in social psychology and medical sociology may also be interested in the sections on the theoretical and historical context of therapy. With an emphasis on white racial identity issues, the book is particularly relevant for white readers, although it may also enable readers from other racial groups to increase their understanding of racial development.

Excerpt

To discuss issues associated with race presents a dilemma. On the one hand, the notion of race is a fallacy that cannot be substantiated in biological terms. In continuing to use the term race, we run the risk of making it real and legitimizing it as a valid concept. On the other hand, race is a social and political reality in the Western world, and is a major signifier of power, position and collective experience. In avoiding any reference to race, we deny the inescapable effects of racism, and collude with the silence about racial inequality and injustice. For some writers, this tension is managed by the use of the term ‘race’ in quotation marks as a constant reminder that it is a social construction rather than a fixed reality.

To describe members of the human race in terms of black and white creates a similar difficulty. The use of bipolar categories to classify diverse peoples of varied skin shades perpetuates a false dichotomy. It also disregards the influence of other reference groups such as culture, ethnicity, age, gender and social class. Nevertheless, the significant differences in the sociopolitical history of black people and white people have had a major impact on identity formation. In denying the differences between black and white experiences, we undermine the pervasive effects of race on personal and collective identity.

These contradictions and perplexities highlight the double bind in discussing race. Recognizing that we are implicated both by our silence and by articulation, this book is written in the belief that the struggle against racial oppression requires a willingness to address the complex nature of racial phenomena. For white therapists, this calls for a thorough understanding of deeply embedded racial attitudes that impact on our work with clients. Only as we confront the unspoken assumptions about being white can we engage in the process of developing a more meaningful white identity, and work effectively with racial dynamics in the therapy room.

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