I was recently talking to a colleague about the topic of therapist self-disclosure and when it’s appropriate to reveal versus withhold certain details regarding personal information. My colleague referenced the term “broaching,” saying, “There is a difference between self-disclosure and broaching.” This piqued my curiosity, as I was unfamiliar with the term.
She explained how broaching is a vital and culturally competent tool and went on to give the following examples: Telling a person in therapy I am from the East Coast and not the South, thus there may be references to Southern culture I am not familiar with; pointing out I was born in the United States, therefore conveying I may not have a full understanding of the experience of someone who immigrated from China; or asking a black individual what it is like to work with me, a white therapist.
As she listed these examples, I was happy to realize this was a concept I was actually very familiar with and trained in. Despite not previously being aware there was a term for it, broaching is something I’ve found to be incredibly important in my work.
Broaching, as defined by Day-Vines (2007), “is more than consideration or acknowledgement of racial and cultural factors; it refers to the counselor’s explicit efforts to both initiate and respond to the sociocultural and sociopolitical concerns during treatment.”
Broaching involves the therapist mentioning their awareness of race, ethnicity, culture, and other obvious differences as a way to build rapport, invite open communication about diversity, and let people in therapy know that nothing is off the table. By broaching otherwise overlooked or unmentioned subjects, therapists demonstrate there is value in talking about all perspectives and aspects of various experiences and issues.
While I had excellent training in multiculturalism during my graduate program, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance and positive impact of broaching until I utilized the technique with someone during my internship. While working with a young African woman, I listened as she expressed frustration with an experience in trying to buy a car. She described how she felt taken advantage of by the salesman due to being young and female.
If you are a therapist who finds it difficult to use broaching or one who lacks strong training in multicultural issues, consider getting training in this area. If you are an individual in therapy and have found yourself holding back about important aspects of your life due to fear your therapist will be offended or unable to understand, take a chance and go there.
At one point in the conversation, I nodded in agreement and said, “And there may have been some racism going on, too!” Her eyes lit up and she exclaimed, “Thank you for saying that! Yes! I didn’t want to mention that because I was afraid of offending you or that you wouldn’t understand.”
This led to an important conversation about how I may be able to relate to some aspects of her experiences, but I could never truly understand it fully, especially in regard to what it is like to be an immigrant or a woman of color in our society. I invited her to always feel comfortable bringing up issues of race and our differences, and I acknowledged the reality that things like racism and prejudice are a huge part of her existence and worth talking about. It was incredibly powerful and eye-opening to see how broaching strengthened our relationship and allowed this individual to permit herself to go deeper in her work by sharing every aspect of her various experiences.
Mentioning differences and pointing out the “elephant in the room” makes uncomfortable, awkward, or taboo topics less of an issue, barrier, or obstacle in treatment. It is vital that therapists consider how cultural factors play a role in the experiences of people seeking help. While it can feel awkward to do so, it is the job of therapists to open the door for the people we work with to feel safe and comfortable enough to talk about the important aspects of their world. When done in a genuine, appropriate, and respectful way, initiating these conversations can help individuals to feel more comfortable and can lead to some rewarding interactions that further the treatment.
Broaching has the power to help individuals to feel safer, more respected, better understood, and more empowered. People tend to feel more comfortable with people similar to them, believing they will be better able to relate and understand; however, more important than sharing the same traits is the therapist’s attitude toward recognizing and acknowledging similarities and differences in things like age, generation, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, and socioeconomic status.
If you are a therapist who finds it difficult to use broaching or one who lacks strong training in multicultural issues, consider getting training in this area. If you are an individual in therapy and have found yourself holding back about important aspects of your life due to fear your therapist will be offended or unable to understand, take a chance and go there. You deserve a space where you can be authentic and 100% transparent about your experiences. If your therapist does not demonstrate an ability to handle broaching, it may be worth finding a provider who is a better fit.
Day-Vines, N.L., et al. (2007). Broaching the subjects of race, ethnicity, and culture during the counseling process. Journal of Counseling & Development, 85, 401-409.
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