These days, there are more ways to find a therapist than ever before. But, some might feel it’s important and more helpful to work with a therapist of a particular background, which can make the search more difficult. It can even be tough to make this request. If you’re in this situation, what should you do?
How Cultural Differences Can Hinder Therapy
With my own new clients, one of the things I often come across is that they’ve tried therapy before, often with a therapist of a different cultural background than themselves. For many, that experience wasn’t particularly comfortable and they found themselves educating their therapist on what they would consider the fundamental parts of their lived experience.
These experiences can vary, but often include dealing with racism and other microaggressions at work or in their personal lives. While there is some space for the sharing of nuance in therapy, it is not a client’s job to educate a therapist. A therapist must learn what racism, homophobia, transphobia or classism looks like in the world on their own time.
The challenge of differing experiences
Some clients have experienced a therapist making an ignorant or uneducated remark about their own experience as a person of a socially marginalized identity (Black, queer, trans for example). This, as you can imagine, can cause quite a disruption in the therapy process. This kind of invalidation breaks trust between the client and therapist. Understandably, some folks have a hard time investing in therapy again after having negative experiences in the therapeutic space.
In my experience, it’s a journey for underrepresented identities to simply ask for what they feel they need in therapy. As therapists are often perceived as an authority figure, it can be hard to ask for what you need as a client — particularly after having a negative experience with a past provider. This is especially true for people of color, immigrants, women, or those who have expansive gender or sexual identities. Historically, therapy hasn’t exactly invested in the collective success those groups .
Changing the Dynamic in the Therapy Space
In the greater context of society, people from these groups are often told that asking for their basic needs to be met is somehow something “extra. The default of what is offered, while helpful, may not be the best option for all people. When you’re operating from a culturally blind mindset, those requests might seem like some sort of “special” accommodation. I wish it weren’t true, but some therapists and other medical providers view this as a barrier instead of an opportunity for great healing.
As a therapist, create a positive change
One of the things that we can work on as therapists, is allowing clients the space to share their experience and advocate for their own needs. In fact, these are some of the ethics of any major counseling accrediting body. It’s our ethical duty to empower clients to do just this.
As therapists, we have to create a safe holding space for clients to share what they need and respect that. If a client says that they need to work with a trans person of color, as that’s critical to their success in therapy, and we are not a therapist that fits that mode, then we can take that as an opportunity to be more supportive and empower that potential client. We can provide a more appropriate referral to make sure the client gets what they need. Otherwise, we may be doing unintentional harm.
As a client, communicate your preferences
And as a prospective client, it’s great for you to share what your preferences are and what you need out of therapy. It’s critical to your success in therapy. When there is an intake system in place, like Talkspace offers, there’s a great opportunity for clients to be up front with the consultation team about what they need from a therapist. You might have preferences for your therapist being:
- Younger, or older
- Experienced working with Gen Zers
- A certain religion
- A person of color
There’s great opportunity for customization with this system in place.
Other services also make this kind of request easier. Services like Latinx Therapy, Lighthouse, Therapy for Black Girls and the National Queer and Trans Therapist of Color Network offer great options.
Finding the Right Match for You is Critical for Success
One of the greatest markers of success in therapy, and arguably the only one that matters, is the client’s perception of progress and success. That means that if you have a specific need to ensure that you can be comfortable and show up as yourself with your therapist, not only is it OK to ask for that, but it’s essential for your success.