Mental illness does not discriminate. Unfortunately, some therapists do. Finding an inclusive therapist is often a daunting mission for marginalized individuals struggling with mental health issues caused by racism, sexism, homophobia, or transphobia. Oppression in psychotherapy continues to prevent indigenous people, people of color, people with disabilities, BIPOC, and members of the LGBTQIA community to access proper and quality mental healthcare.
Modern therapy often continues to treat categories of individuals instead of treating the individual. Some clinicians still dismiss clients as being oversensitive when racism issues are raised while others continue to believe homosexuality can be fixed. The sole fact that trans people and nonbinary individuals need to base their gender confirmation surgery on a therapist’s official recommendation is a clear indication that modern therapy continues to maltreat marginalized communities and refuses to accept the complexity of our identity.
What is an inclusive therapist?
An inclusive therapist is a clinician who understands the need to include the principles of social justice and intersectionality in their work. They have acknowledged the existence of oppressive therapy practices designed to harm marginalized identities and rooted in our society’s patriarchal, racist, sexist, homophobic, and transphobic power structures and are determined to deconstruct them while keeping an open mind and heart to understand the individual – their identity, culture, experiences, and struggles. Individuals coming from marginalized communities are often looking for therapists who share their identity or culture in hopes of establishing a connection through shared values and experiences.
However, a culturally responsive, social justice-oriented therapist doesn’t always need to share the client’s identity to provide valuable and competent mental health care services. They do not need to come from the same background nor go through the same experiences to meet them at their intersections and offer the help they need to conquer their fears, embrace themselves, establish healthy relationships, and overcome obstacles imposed by a rigid society. A competent clinician who has taken the steps to acknowledge and conquer their own biases and is continuously educating themselves regarding marginalized communities, gender diversity, racial identity, and other social justice-related issues will have the right tools to know how to listen, ask, and provide feedback to their clients.
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Ask yourself the right questions
It would be wonderful if Facebook ads could guide your steps toward the perfect inclusive therapist for you. However, choosing a therapist is a mission too personal to entrust into the hands of keywords and algorithms. You need to do a bit of soul-searching and see what you truly expect and need from your therapist. Ask yourself some questions, and chances are the answers will help you find an anti-oppressive, inclusive therapist.
What do you want from your therapist?
Some black people prefer to work with black therapists, people of color may prefer therapists of color, while a religious person may choose a Christian therapist who shares their values. A member of the LGBTQIA community may be inclined to work with an LGBTQIA-inclusive therapist, and a female-identified person may feel more comfortable sharing her inner struggles with a female-identified therapist. However, this is not the only way to find a therapist. A shared identity with your therapist does not guarantee a good and well-attuned fit.
Furthermore, choosing a therapist based exclusively on their identity may rob you of your chance to work with an inclusive clinician whose professional training and expertise may resonate better with your needs and mental health goals. It is important to assess all the information before making your decision and take into consideration the clinician’s identity, as well as their training and experience.
What should your therapy experience be like?
You also need to think about your therapy sessions and the way they should be conducted. Do you want your mental health therapy session to be based on a set of questions, or do you prefer a conversational approach? Is sitting on a couch something that will do for you? Would you rather have an online session while discussing your issues with your therapist? Are you looking for individual therapy or do you need couples counseling? Is gender-affirming therapy what you need right now? Make sure your therapy experience echoes your needs and creates a comfortable space for you to share and receive advice.
Ask for recommendations
Recommendations are often a good place to start your research. Talk to people you know who can recommend inclusive therapists and see if they can give you the number of a clinician who can provide the help you seek. You can also go through directories for therapists where you can find clinicians with the training and experience you require.
If you are a member of an online community, you can always ask your fellow members if they can share any positive experience they have had with therapists who address the type of issues you are struggling with. You can also discuss this topic with local groups. For example, if you need therapy related to domestic abuse, you can try to find therapist profiles through a local advocacy organization. Make a list of the therapists who have the training and experience you are looking for, and get in touch with them.
Schedule a consultation meeting
A consultation meeting with potential clinicians is the perfect opportunity to assess the therapist’s foundational knowledge of your identity and culture and see if you “click” with them. Now is the time to ask your questions and see how the interaction flows. You could ask them if they have experience in the area you want to talk about, and evaluate their approach to the subject.
It is important to feel you are sharing your experiences in a safe space where you don’t have to continuously explain terminology, culture, and the values of your community. A competent therapist with inclusivity skills will always make you feel comfortable enough to open up about your challenges while providing mental health services tailored to your own individuality, identity, and background.
How do you know if your inclusive therapist gets you?
An inclusive therapist who gets you notices and understands your multifaceted identities. They should not only focus on you being a person of color, a person struggling with gender identity, or an individual with a drug abuse problem. Inclusive therapists should take the time to understand every aspect of identity while considering your background, community, and culture. They should also trust and validate your own understanding of your identity and help you through any life transitions you may be facing.
When you are working with an inclusive therapist that’s right for you when you don’t have to constantly defend or explain your identity to them and underline why certain aspects of your identity are crucial for your treatment. An inclusive therapist knows how to honor a client’s experience of identity and they will be open to receiving feedback from their client and allow the space for them to fully express themselves. If the client has concerns or requires therapy adjustments, the clinician should be open to discussing the necessary functional changes to help the client make the most of their time spent together.