Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Working with African American Clients: Considering the "Homeplace" in Marriage and Family Therapy Practices

Academic journal article Journal of Marital and Family Therapy

Working with African American Clients: Considering the "Homeplace" in Marriage and Family Therapy Practices

Article excerpt

In this article, we discuss perspectives on the "homeplace" that are important to consider in marriage and family therapy involving African American clients. The homeplace comprises individual and family processes that are anchored in a defined physical space that elicits feelings of empowerment, rootedness, ownership, safety, and renewal. Critical elements of the homeplace include social relationships that shape individuals' and families' sense of social and cultural identity. We draw on our ethnographic and clinical research with African American families in urban and rural settings to describe typical schisms between therapists and African American clients when communicating about the homeplace. We also explore the impact of homeplace disruptions on experiences of "yearning." Recommendations for integrating a homeplace perspective into therapy practices are provided.

In this article we introduce the concept "homeplace" into the marriage and family therapy (MFT) literature. Specifically, we outline perspectives on the homeplace that are important to consider in the assessment and treatment of African American clients, but are rarely integrated into therapy practices. The homeplace involves multilayered, nuanced individual and family processes that are anchored in a physical space that elicits feelings of empowerment, belonging, commitment, rootedness, ownership, safety, and renewal. Critical elements of the homeplace include social attachments and relationships characterized by distinct cultural symbols, meanings, and rituals. In the context of a defined, physical space, these attachments and relationships shape individuals' and families' sense of social and cultural identity.

Introducing a discussion on African Americans and homeplace into the MFT literature gives rise to a critical question: Why should MFTs be interested in acquiring insights on this issue? Indeed, a powerful legacy of literary and social science discourse on the homeplace implies that it is a critical matter to consider in counseling and therapy practices with most African American clients, regardless of noteworthy within-group differences among African Americans in regional life styles (e.g., southern), skin color, racial identity, social class status, or religious affinity (hooks, 1990). This assertion is grounded in communal and collectivist perspectives about African Americans' experiences in the United States and draws attention to the lingering impact of forced geographic and cultural displacement (e.g., slavery), racism, and social and economic marginality on the necessity of homeplace in African Americans' daily lives (Franklin, 1997; Holliday & Holmes, 2003; Massey & Denton, 1993; Oliver & Shapiro, 1995).

Moreover, in our long-term ethnographic and clinical research with African Americans, the homeplace consistently emerges as a force that individuals and families must reckon with throughout the life course (Burton, Hurt, Eline, & Matthews, 2001; Stevenson, Winn, Cord, & Walker-Barnes, 2003). The homeplace has shown itself to be a source of strength and social defiance in the life victories of those who have a viable one. It also is manifested as unrealized dreams or sources of conflict, loss, and grief for those who do not have a homeplace.

The writings of bell hooks (1990) are particularly persuasive on matters of the homeplace and African Americans. In her critically acclaimed collection of essays, Yearning: Race, Gender, and Cultural Politics, she underscores the importance of the homeplace relative to the survival and coping strategies of African Americans. Recounting memories of childhood visits to her grandparents' home, hooks characterizes the homeplace as a communal experience anchored in a domestic household where "all that truly mattered in life took place-the warmth and comfort of shelter, the feeding of our bodies, the nurturing of our souls. There we learned dignity, integrity of being-there we learned to have faith" (hooks, 1990, pp. …

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