The Importance of Queer Therapists and Therapists of Color

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There exists a misconception that therapy should be a place where the patient receives advice about improving themself and fixing their emotional and interpersonal problems. However, therapy can be for obtaining validation, which the patient may lack at home or at a societal level, as much as it is for getting counsel. Just as a client may benefit from being told that the abuse they suffered was wrong, a person of color or a queer person may seek validation that the discrimination they face is indeed racist or queerphobic. While White or cisgender straight therapists can certainly offer that, their understanding of such topics, on the account of their privilege, is compromised. It can only come from literature consumed on the subjects, and not lived, first-hand experience. So, while a White therapist, for instance, might agree that racial prejudice is wrong, a therapist of color might reiterate that since racism is so deeply woven into the fabric of American institutions, a critique of racism ends up being a critique of America. In her Teen Vogue article titled “Why I Need a Woman of Color Therapist”, Gloria Olapido says:  

“Trying to communicate my daily problems to my white therapist, many of which involved racism, [reminded me of] the power dynamics that I had to actively encounter with white women all my life” 

This means that even if a therapist is truly unprejudiced, their ignorance can make for awkward situations and stir feelings of distrust when the patient is supposed to be vulnerable. Besides, a minority therapist can open up about their own experiences to bond with the patient and make them feel less alone. A therapist of a majority and privileged group is unable to do that, potentially making the patient feel more alienated. The power of community and solidarity cannot be underestimated.  

Then there is the possibility that the therapist is bigoted, even if covertly. Racism and homophobia are rife in American healthcare. When it comes to the mental health field, these harmful preconceptions do not suddenly disappear just because therapists and psychologists are supposed to be kind and open-minded. On the contrary, another 2016 study shows that Asian Americans are underdiagnosed with alcohol abuse disorders due to the model minority¹, while transgender clients face gender repairing, which refers to conducting psychotherapy as though a transgender identity is a problem that ought to be fixed². How is therapy supposed to be a safe space to share one’s fears and trauma when there is a legitimate concern that the therapist on the opposite end of the room is bigoted?  

So, the solution is to find a therapist whose aspects of identity matches yours, right? No, it is not so simple. In 2020, it was found that 86% of psychologists are White³. The issue, of course, is not to fire the White or cisgender straight therapists, but to encourage people of color and queer folks to apply to the mental health field, and remove obstacles that prevent them from doing so.