You Should Be a Multiculturally Aware Person. If You're a Therapist, You Need to Be.

Embracing the value of diverse cultures, races, religions, genders, gender identities, sexual orientations, et. al. makes society better.  Full stop.  In my opinion, life is just plain better when you open yourself up to this idea.  Without this idea, we can discuss everything from the extreme of hate crimes to the every day microaggressions as examples of what happens in it's absence.  Many may find it difficult to see through this lens, especially those of us from the majority culture, because it quickly leads to feeling unfairly blamed for the marginalization of a certain group of people.  I, myself, found it extremely difficult to open up to this way of thinking for that very same reason.  The new perspectives you will discover are daunting.  It is a journey with no concrete finish line or definable moment of achievement; and ultimately, it is up to you whether or not this a journey on which you choose to embark.

To consider yourself a good therapist, this journey is mandatory.  If you are a trained counselor or clinician in the mental health field, multicultural competency in counseling is a familiar topic for you.  Some may still grumble at the memories of what seemed like an over saturation of multicultural training that spread across every course.  For me, there was no more valuable aspect of my training than the lessons learned on this subject.  It was simply transformative.  Forget the fact that, as a white male, I had previously been unaware of the societal marginalization in every day life that negatively effects basically everyone that isn't white and male.  Most people are even minimally aware of that.  I was even tragically unaware of things like the mindset of 'you can do anything you can put your mind to' might be applicable to only a certain few.  

You mean, there are no boundaries to me and my goals other than my will to succeed?

If you agree, you may benefit from the privilege to think that way.  A black person, for instance, may find it difficult to agree with that sentiment given the underrepresentation of people that look like him or her in prominent jobs.  A sense of control over your environment can be crucial, if not imperative, to mental health.  But there was one revelation, unique to my role as a therapist, that stuck with me and has sustained my worldview ever since.

Therapists define "normal".

As a therapist, I will use my clinical training, coursework, knowledge of diagnostic manuals, assessments, and my best skills as a therapist in a session to understand what a client is going through.  Ultimately though, I define what will be considered paranoia, irrational behavior, an irrational fear, a maladaptive thought, etc.  If I'm not aware of the fact that we can have two different definitions of normal, we can arrive at some serious problems.  Does a black person's description of feeling pressured to avoid displaying anger so they are not labeled an "angry black person" qualify them with paranoia?  Does that same person's description of feeling the need to act and speak differently around white people than people of their own race qualify them with self-esteem issues?  Some therapists may think so.  This may be why people of color are tragically underserved by mental health services.  Once this window was opened for me as a therapist, I found the perspective to be much more accessible as an individual.  It gave me the chance to disarm my judgements and assessments that I might otherwise take on as a diagnostician and allow myself to truly envision the world through someone else's experience.  It allowed me to adopt a style of therapy that emphasizes the client's responsibility to define normal, abnormal, and ideal.  This freedom can create empowerment and agency in an individual that may have not been cultivated ever before.  For many, this may be a profound opportunity for a person to feel in control of their mental health.