I can count on one hand the number of times I, as a cis-White woman, have been a minority in any space I have been while in the United States. Growing up in this way means that while I was aware of some  differences that exist between myself and my non-White peers, I never really came face-to-face with the ripple effects of this way of living until my young-adult years.

Being the Majority

My early experiences with the concepts of race and ethnicity were mostly centered around the fact that as I grew up in my Louisiana school system, I noticed that nearly all of my classmates were also White. Being in the gifted and talented program meant that myself and my peers were bussed in from other areas of the Parish to a school that was located in a neighborhood where none of us lived - a neighborhood that was primarily made up of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) folks. The kids from the neighborhood also attended the same school, but I noticed that they (or we, I'm not sure) were kept separate.

When I looked around the spaces in inhabited (whether in the classroom, at home, in my neighborhood, at church, etc.), I was surrounded by people who looked, sounded, and acted like myself. There was no challenge in belonging or in safety. I could simply be.

What little Black and Indigenous history we did learn was taught in a theoretical way - not in a present, personally relevant way. So much was left out - so many people were left out.

Being the Minority

My next experience was the result of my family moving to and living in Southeast Asia for two years. Here, I was a minority in that I was surrounded by primarily folks who were non-White, but there was still a strange privilege that came along with being White and especially with being a United States citizen. During this time, my pale skin and red hair were such an anomaly that I was considered to be good luck by some folks, who would approach me and touch my skin and hair without consent. As a deeply shy child, this was frightening and inappropriate, but looking back I notice that even in this time where I could look around and not see anyone who looked or sounded like myself, I held privilege. I was regarded as something better, if not because of my lucky skin and hair, then by my actual and perceived socio-economic status as an American living abroad.

Even as a minority, I had never experienced any rejection or disdain for my differences, and shamefully this means that I hadn't yet considered the real experiences of those folks who do experience prejudice and discrimination.

My experience in these two years overseas was incredibly eye-opening at a very crucial time in my development. Having grown up in the United States South, I had been conditioned to believe in the sovereignty and superiority of the American way of living and of the United States as a whole. We were the epitome of independence and freedom. Our way of living is the ideal. What I experienced in Southeast Asia, though, was not what I had been told I would find. I was surrounded by people from all over the world; people who looked, spoke, and lived many different ways from me - and rather than this being threatening, I found my life coming more alive. My life became richer. How could this be worse? How could this be less than?

Identity and the Therapy Process

There's a saying in the mental health practitioner world that as therapists, we are a tool for increased client well-being. Decades of research on what, exactly, helps folks to make the change they are looking for and to get better have resulted in the same findings: the therapeutic relationship is what helps people. Humans are relational beings, and it's in our relationships where we find healing. This is why finding a counselor who you connect with and with whom you feel safe is vital to doing the work in therapy. Counselors (and other mental health therapists) are not all alike, just as clients are not all alike.

What this means to me is that, as a counselor, it is my job to acknowledge the experiences of my clients in a way that gives them the space to be who ever they are, with whatever past they are carrying, and with any and all goals they have for their time in therapy.

  • It is my job to offer you safety.
  • It is my job to welcome all parts of you into the space.
  • It is my job to point out the obvious and not so obvious similarities and differences between us, and wonder along with you how these similarities and differences will show up for us in the room.
  • It is my job to continue to learn what it is to be you, both from a global and historical standpoint, and more importantly, from you directly.
  • It is my job to see you and to reflect back what I see in you.
  • It is my job to ask questions and to be curious.
  • It is my job to allow you to lead while encouraging you, supporting you, and challenging you when things get difficult.

But only if and only when doing these things builds connection, safety, and growth.

Not every problem that clients bring with them to counseling has to do with identity, and that is just as valid as issues related to identity. This, too, is my job as a counselor. I will never assume that things are the way that they are only because of how things appear from my side of the room.

I consider it to be the most essential task of every counselor to understand ourselves from a framework that recognizes the ways that we benefit and suffer within systems that are not always built for our well-being. It's this self work that has to lead the way in the relationships that I build with clients.

So here's a little bit you can count on from me:

  • I am a White woman who grew up and live currently in the United States South, and as such, I benefit on a daily basis from both the color of my skin and from my socio-economic standing (neither of which are the result of anything I have done, how hard I have worked, or how good I am).
  • I grew up deeply rooted in the Protestant Church, and as a result of different experiences and living elsewhere (especially abroad), I recognize the harm caused by religion and the peace that some people find in their faith.
  • It is my responsibility to learn about people other than myself - and thankfully, it's actually something that I also love doing.
  • I see counseling as a place where I get to ask, "what is it to be you?"
  • I live in the gray areas of humanity, which allows me to point out the flexibility that each of us deserves and the growth that comes from leaving the rigid rules of the black-and-white.
  • I learn, grow, and change regularly. This has benefits and drawbacks. I'm willing to acknowledge all of them with others.

This stuff can be very uncomfortable - after all, the topics I mentioned in this blog are some of the ones we are taught we should never talk about out loud with other people. It takes vulnerable honesty to do the hard work of counseling, and my hope is that this brief look into who I am as a counselor and as a human will be the first step in making the therapy room a place where you also feel safe to be vulnerable and honest with me.

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When We Don't Keep the Faith

When We Don't Keep the Faith

Living and working in South Louisiana, religion (more specifically Christianity) is baked into so much of our day to day life. Some of my...

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