How Race Plays a Role in Therapy

How Race Plays a Role in Therapy

How Race Plays a Role in Therapy

by Anuja Patel, Psy.D.

 

When choosing a therapist, an individual may consider various factors, such as gender, age, specialty, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, race, etc. Whether it’s conscious or not, you might examine these factors to ensure your therapist understands you and won’t be judgmental of your experiences. A therapist from the same racial group might be able to understand certain nuances because they may have lived or been exposed to events similar to your experiences. Because of this, you might feel like you can say certain things without having to provide an extensive explanation and the therapist “just gets it.” As an Asian therapist working with Asian clients, it allows me to understand what my clients mean when they fear making mistakes, feel guilty about setting boundaries with their family, or are concerned about family/friends finding out that they are going to therapy.

 

However, there might be circumstances in which you might not want a therapist with a similar background, and this is absolutely valid, too. For example, if you experienced negative events or trauma from your culture or racial group, you might apply those negative perceptions to a therapist from the same group. Instead of feeling safe like mentioned above, you might actually worry that the therapist will judge or criticize you. Some individuals may also be concerned whether their therapist can hold an unbiased perspective, or if they will be influenced by these similarities. Depending on the therapist’s self-awareness of their biases and experiences, this can be totally avoidable. Therapists typically know that even people belonging to a particular group have individual and unique experiences, and we are trained to explore your experiences with the knowledge of your race/culture as a framework. Yet you can still be left feeling that a therapist from your racial background isn’t the right fit. 

 

To help understand whether the therapist’s race is an important factor for you, it can be helpful to ask yourself a few things: 

 

  1. What are the reasons I am seeking therapy for and what would I like to achieve in therapy? 

 

  1. Does it matter if my therapist has lived experiences similar to me?

 

  1. How will the racial similarity/difference make me feel safe/unsafe and understood/misunderstood?

 

Another great way to understand the role of race in therapy is to ask questions during your consultations! It’s important to know how the therapist speaks about and acknowledges racial identity in the therapy room, regardless of the similarities and differences. 


If you are looking to start/resume your therapy journey, please contact Dr. Anuja Patel at anujapatel.psyd@gmail.com.