My Approach to Helping
White colleagues, your Black Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) clients do not tell you the whole truth. In fact, it’s common for BIPOC who have experienced and internalized various negative societal beliefs and attitudes to feel unsafe, unwanted, unwelcomed, and unworthy in mixed race spaces regardless of your perceived intent in session, which creates an ineffective barrier that stunts treatment progress.
We already know that discrimination, aggression, injustice, prejudice, stereotypes, direct and indirect violence, and chronic and generational traumas contribute to higher Adverse Childhood Experiences and poor adult mental health outcomes. As providers, when we don’t apply a cultural lens to mental health assessments and other evaluative tools, clients identify with shaming pathologies based on illegitimizing criteria, which makes it permissible to dismiss their systemic experiences as personal failings. This is especially true for people of color who may exhibit behaviors that demonstrate the absorption of responsibility for historic power imbalances. The effects of internalizing racism include voicelessness or feelings of invisibility and may show up as self-blame, depression, anxiety, paranoia, poor self-image, impaired physical health, suicidality, truancy, relapse, low work outcomes, poor self-care, unhealthy boundaries, emotional avoidance, or an unwillingness or even inability to express vulnerability or distress. People of color may also overcompensate for their perceived weaknesses and inadequacies based on biased comparisons.
As providers, it’s important to ask people of color how their experiences with race and racism shape their beliefs, to gain a better understanding of individual perspectives, perceptions, and motivations, and to help manage and minimize the psychological stress of racism. Providers can help participants find less harmful ways to cope that work for them by coming alongside, not to change or invalidate grievances, but to acknowledge the reality of individual and collective BIPOC experiences and to help challenge sources and causes. Acknowledging the occurrence and effects of racism and working together to confront oppression improves individual and community mental health.
Let's discuss ways to increase your awareness of stigma and judgement so that you can best serve all clients.