Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Making Space for Racial Dialogue: Our Experience in a Marriage and Family Therapy Training Program

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Making Space for Racial Dialogue: Our Experience in a Marriage and Family Therapy Training Program

Article excerpt

Marriage and family therapy (MFT) training programs need to create opportunities for all students to develop cultural competency by raising their racial awareness and sensitivity. Likewise, therapists of color need to be offered space in MFT programs to voice their experiences and venues for their voices to be heard. This article reports on the efforts within a master's level, accredited MFT training program to create space, through participatory action research, for the unique experiences of therapists of color and White therapists who are deeply committed to racial sensitivity.

The field of marriage and family therapy (MFT) reflects a bias toward the dominant, European American culture in its history, theories, and membership. It is clearly problematic for a profession that strives to serve all members of society to inadequately include members reflective of the entire society, or to inadequately prepare culturally competent therapists. The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) has been criticized for failing to take effective action to increase the racial diversity of its members (Killian & Hardy, 1998). Marriage and family therapy training programs have also been challenged to recruit and retain racially diverse students and faculty (Green, 1998; Johnson, 1996; Lee, 1999; McNairy, 1996; Oliver, & Brown, 1988; Olson, 1988). Many MFT programs have made concerted efforts to support the training of students of color (McDowell, Fang, Brownlee, Gomez Young, & Khanna, 2002). Based on reports made by MFT programs to the Commission of Accreditation for Marriage and Family Therapy Education (COAMFTE), in 1999-2000, 80% of all students in MFT graduate programs in North America were European American. Students of color constituted about 18% of the student body. Two percent of the students were international students (McDowell, et. al, 2002). Although efforts to become more racially diverse need to remain a priority, there is also a need to pay more attention to the racial experience, awareness, and sensitivity of all MFT students who are currently in training to ensure racial competence (Hardy & Lazsloffy 1992; 1994: Lazsloffy & Hardy, 2000; McGoldrick, 1998).

There are those who would argue against the necessity, or even wisdom, of using the term race at all, or of continuing a racial dialogue that might inadvertently solidify the meaning of a social construct as an essential difference (Cameron & Wycoff, 1998). However, most agree that race remains a relevant and influential concept in determining social organization and privilege, that race does matter, and ideology that supports inequity relies on the perception of racial difference (Dei, 1996). In fact, to deny the concept of race or to reject it in favor of a "color blind" or "multicultural" approach is "to assume that we start from a relatively level playing field [and] that we have access to similar resources" (Dei, 1996, p. 22), ignoring the "entrenched inequities and power imbalance" (p. 23) relative to race. In addition to race, other markers of group membership. including gender, sexual orientation, abilities, country of origin, and class are reflected in the construction of individual identity and power relations in local contexts (Duesterberg, 1999), including therapy and educational settings.

Producing racially skilled and competent therapists not only fulfills our ethical and moral responsibilities, it is a professional imperative. Therapists of color who are in training as MFTs need to be offered space to voice their experiences and venues for their voices to be heard (McGoldrick et al., 1999; Wilson & Stith, 1993). All therapists in training need to be open to dialogue that encourages racial awareness, sensitivity, and competency. This is a report on the efforts of members of a master's level, accredited MFT training program to create such a space.

PROJECT DESIGN

In an earlier paper (McDowell et al. …

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