3 Tips for Making Your Practice More Racially Accessible

This week, I’m so excited to introduce you to my first-ever guest blogger, Desirée N. Robinson, LCSW-C. Desiree is a Maryland based Psychotherapist and owner of Your Heart’s Desire Therapy & Wellness, LLC, specializing in the convergence of Intimacy, Sexuality, and Trauma; her personal mission of “creating a world of celebration and understanding” is reflected in her daily practice.

“You have to work twice as hard to get half as far”.  This interesting phrase can be heard in many African American Households. It’s a common mantra parents use to prepare children for how they may be treated by the world at large when they start to find and establish their identities outside of the home – under the influence and scrutiny of others.

This phrase expresses the understanding that, at first glance, your best effort, first tries, words, affect, and demeanor are usually conceived as inferior compared to those of one’s non-black peers. This may seem like an unfair message to send to a child; however, for many parents, this is an act of safety and security – two things all children need to grow into healthy adults – in a society that views Black people of color through a eurocentric and often fear-based filter. To be seen as equal in systems that were generated out of racism takes a significant amount of navigation. 

So, what does that mean for non-black clinicians or providers? The great news is that knowledge truly is power. Cultivating your awareness is the first step to creating the safety and security required in a therapeutic setting. Noticing this requires you to slow down and observe how our practice of therapy may perpetuate systemically racist concepts. Once we notice it, we change it.

Know that your client may “seem okay” …and still be struggling.

With all that is happening in the world, access to online therapy has skyrocketed significantly. I took the opportunity to find a provider, and at sessions one, two, and three, my therapist would reflect back to me “You know Desiree, I don’t think you need a therapist for this”. It was crushing. Too often Black people are not quite seen the same. It is often intimidating or admirable to be doing well. If someone seems put together, it doesn’t mean that they do not require therapeutic support; this assumption all too well demonstrates how much harder some minorities have to work to be seen. 

If a client shows up in your office, they need your support. They may or may not have the words to tell you. Conversely, your words may not adequately relate to their experiences. The crucial element is your ability to see the individual before you and to consider that they came to you, looking for support. Support means taking away what you think/feel about how the client presents in an effort to learn more about why this person who “does not need help” has reached out for it. Even if someone – especially a person of color – may seem okay, know that they are struggling and are working hard to be okay in ways that cannot be measured in the hour they spend in your therapy room.

Most of the Black people of color around you may seem like they are thriving – and they are. However, like anyone else, the demeanor cultivated during formative years does not negate the hurt of navigating an unjust world. These experiences require the unconditional regard and compassionate understanding given to anyone else.

Ask about double roles and if there is an impact of oppression.

The concept of double roles (navigating between two “worlds” and having to accommodate each one adequately) is very common in today’s language and continues to evolve based on the challenging of gender roles in our society. As you inquire about gender roles, there is also an opportunity to inquire with your folks about the different facets of being a person of color in different spaces. Consider asking simple questions: 

  • Do you feel you have to wear a “mask” at work?
  • Where do you get to just be yourself? 
  • Was there a difference at home with parents who were African/Jamaican/Trinidadian/Latino/Korean, etc, and at school with parents who may have been from the states? 

All of these are simple questions that allow the individual to express more not only about their racial identity but about their culture and the internal mantras/schemas/rules that allow them to be okay in a system that is heavily slanted towards one perspective and one version of history.

When in doubt, appreciate!

Let’s return to the concept of having to work twice as hard only to get half as far as others around you.  Whether that is in our legal system (Dylan Roof vs. Rayshard Brooks), educational system (school to prison pipeline), or in the way we view people who show up in our offices for healing and support. A small way we can all support the intergenerational healing and make our practices racially accessible is to validate and appreciate the people in front of us. Appreciate them for coming in – that took courage! Acknowledge their survival-based coping skills – that took wisdom! Validate their experiences and perspectives -that took clarity!  

Racial accessibility has many different facets and takes on many forms. I want to extend you the invitation to be a world-class provider who actively works to create a new understanding of what safety and security can mean in the therapeutic setting by acknowledging the systemic stressors present in our practices and how they impact our clients. When you take this step, you are supporting someone’s hard-working inner child and inviting them to show up as equal, just the way they are.

Setting Meaningful Goals: New Year’s Edition (Part Two)

Welcome to 2020, everyone! It’s the beginning of a brand-new year and a brand-new decade. Milestones like this can be both exciting and intimidating. They invite us to look back on the past decade, assessing experiences, successes, and failures. They inspire us to look toward the future, and imagine what we could do, and who we could become, in the future. 

To celebrate the season, I’m sharing a few more thoughts on setting meaningful goals. I know that many of us are thinking about New Year’s resolutions. I think goal-setting is an art form worthy of careful consideration. In my last post, I talked about the value of assessing the past year and envisioning who you aspire to be in the next one. Today, I’m going to talk about what you can do next, to start bringing those beautiful visions to fruition.

It’s important to acknowledge that effective goals are those that feel meaningful to you. If a goal is not alignment with your beliefs and values, you’re probably not going to be motivated enough to pursue it. Changing our ingrained habits is challenging, and you need pretty strong motivation to help you push through the inevitable setbacks; you’ll have trouble with follow-through if you’ve only chosen your goal because it’s what you think you’re supposed to want, or because someone else wants it for you. 

It’s also worth noting that, if your goal is a bit of stretch, you will probably not have a smooth road to success. You will encounter obstacles, forget your goals, get distracted or frustrated, and probably even meet with some opposition from others around you. There’s just no way around it. The key is to keep moving forward, however gradually, and keeping your eye on your own dreams and desires. If you think it will be straightforward, you might become discouraged and give up. Far better to go in with the expectation that progress will come slowly, and the process will not be linear. 

For that reason, I encourage you to start by focusing on small but meaningful steps, rather than huge leaps. Return to your hopeful Technicolor vision of the life you want, and the person you will be in that life. Ask yourself, what is one thing you can do that is a part of being that person, in that life? This should be a small but meaningful step, something you have at least 80% confidence you can accomplish. Ideally, it should also something you can feel excited about.

Next, make it real. How will you actually do it? Maybe you have a somewhat abstract goal. If that is the case, find a specific, actionable step that will lead you closer to your larger aspiration. For instance, if your goal is “I would like to cultivate compassion for myself and others,” you might resolve to carve out ten minutes at the end of each day to practice a loving meditation or to journal with a mind towards compassion, or develop a gratitude journal. Whatever your goal, whether concrete or abstract, figure out a first action step to put into practice. Following through will help you build confidence, while also creating the life you want.

Of course, your goal might be anything, but whatever it is, here are some things to keep in mind: 

  • Make sure you are 80% confident you can follow through on your action step exactly as you intend. If you’re not there yet, adjust your action step until you can actually do it. Being reliable to yourself is extremely important.
  • It’s inevitable that there will be days when you don’t follow through. That’s fine, and you should forgive yourself easily. But don’t just ignore it either. Figure out what got in the way. Did feelings get in the way? Thoughts? Inadequate self-care? Circumstances? Figure out if the thing that got in the way was in accordance with your values. If not, maybe you want to make an adjustment to how you respond in circumstances like that, so that you can do what you intended. For instance, let’s say cultivating compassion is your bigger goal, and a gratitude practice is your action step. If you don’t do it one day because you were helping a friend in need, you have cultivated compassion anyway. On the other hand, if you don’t do your gratitude practice because you’re exhausted and depleted, you will need to figure out how to manage exhaustion and depletion. Realistically, exhaustion and depletion are going to be part of your life at times, so if you want to still move towards acting in the way you aspire to act, you’ll need to consider how to cultivate compassion despite the inevitability that you will at times feel grouchy and worn down.
  • You should feel excited about your action steps. That might require a bit of a mind shift. This is what I mean: when you think about doing that thing, you should be able to connect it in your mind to something meaningful to you that comes with terrific payoff. For instance, taking out the trash might not sound fun, but if it represents being the kind of person you want to be, and you are very excited about creating that life, you can shift the way you think about taking out the trash so that it feels a little more fulfilling. Keep your focus on that connection: how do your action steps move you toward something that is wonderful?

As you practice your action step, it get easier. Eventually, it will become just a part of how you go about your life. Whenever you are ready, add another action step, or simply switch it up. But whatever you do, don’t overwhelm yourself with a list of things you have to do! That is a surefire way to prevent yourself from changing your life in the ways you want.

Setting Meaningful Goals: New Year’s Edition (Part One)

As 2020 approaches, I know that many of you are probably taking some time to assess the past year: its joys and sorrows, high points and lows, successes and failures. I know that you’re probably also looking ahead to the next year, and wondering what it will bring. Perhaps you’re also thinking about New Year’s resolutions. 

Many of us are familiar with the rinse-repeat cycle of New Year’s resolutions: choosing too big of a goal, or the wrong goal, and then falling short and being overcome with disappointment, shame, or guilt. This all-too-common phenomenon is entirely counter-productive; it’s not self-loving, and it discourages us from trying again when we falter. 

Setting good goals is an art form. It takes some real skill and self-knowledge to identify a goal that is achievable while still being a meaningful stretch. In this two-part series, I’m going to explore the topic of meaningful goal-setting, and provide some guidance for how to create an effective resolution. 

First, let me be clear: an effective goal is a self-loving goal. Often people go wrong with their resolutions because they are actually a little bit punitive. Don’t do that!! You can’t hate, shame, or guilt yourself into lasting change. Speak kindly to yourself about your dreams and desires, using a loving, playful, or nurturing voice, rather than a scolding or critical one, and see how much more effective you are at achieving your goals.

Setting a good goal starts with self-assessment. Ask yourself these questions, and answer them on paper:

  • What went right for me in 2019? List at least 5 things. Feel free to list 20 or 30. 
  • For each item on your list, add: What did I do to create this, encourage it, or not get in the way of it happening? No matter how much your successes appear to have come from outside of yourself, you did play a role. Figure out what you’re doing right.

Next, start dreaming. Write down some thoughts about these questions:

  • What do I want my life to look like in the next year?
  • What kind of person am I, in my vision of the life I want to create for myself? 
  • How do I want to feel, in my relationship with myself, others, and work?
  • What do I want to give to the world?

As you read over your dreams and desires, picture them in vivid Technicolor. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings associated with your successes, present and future. Let it feel real. What does it look and feel like to get where you are going?

Is it difficult to feel the feelings you will feel in the future, when you have succeeded at your goals? I bet you have some experience with success. Remember a moment when you felt fabulous. Call that up, make it vivid, and then sit with it. Get comfortable feeling as fabulous as you want to feel.

The first part of goal-setting is allowing your imagination to roam, and allowing yourself to feel the feelings associated with success. In part two, I’ll walk you through the next part of the process: taking small but meaningful steps, and making it real by setting achievable intentions.