We are at a precipice. Not just as a country but as a discipline, a category of theories, and most importantly as therapists. White supremacy is being called out consistently and coherently among activists and it is time to do more than just acknowledge it in the field of psychology.
I believe that family therapist are uniquely capable of addressing multicultural and contextual issues because of our emphasis on systems. We are already looking outside of the individual and at the system they exist within. Therefore that same skill and framework can be used to include looking beyond the family of origin to understand the other systems that have an impact in our clients lives.
If there exists a true desire to make therapy a safe space then there needs to be an emphasis on allowing contextual issues to be brought into the room. For example if a client is dealing with issues around documentation, refugee status, a Muslim ban and there is no conversation around the impact that it might possibly be having on their lives then there’s a silencing effect around that struggle and that silencing effect can contribute to the client not feeling safe in the room and not benefiting from therapy. It can also hamper the therapist’s ability to join effectively with the client and the therapist can become simply another arm of white supremacy. This becomes particularly important when it comes to court mandated clients.
The fact is that you can have therapeutic authority while still maintaining curiosity and being willing to be educated by your clients on their specific issues such as religion, their culture and language, their socioeconomic status, their identifications in marginalized groups and more.
Family therapy matters because we occupy a space within an often eurocentric discipline that has a potential to be truly radical.
David Keith said it well when he wrote,
“family therapy also has remained a movement, applying what has been learned about systems and families to collaborative health care delivery, qualitative research, gender issues, economic justice, culture diversity, and other issues that affect all disenfranchised members of our society.”
A key takeaway from this is the reality that family therapists already go against the grain. We fight against an individualized pathological diagnosis managed health care system to meet our clients where they are. We approach them with curiosity and genuine positive regard. We are flexible in that we are willing to take time to work with families of all types and sizes to help heal and empower our clients.
This is why it is so important for us to also meet them on issues that may seem invisible but are impacting their lives. We speak about learned helplessness without questioning the systems in place that perpetuate that helplessness. We use a DSM that only diagnoses victims rather than perpetrators. So we find ourselves at this precipice, one in which we can jump aboard the movements sweeping the nation for access to care, and equality, or we can stay in our bubble and continue to “shrink” rather than expand the narratives of ourselves and our clients.