12 Ways White Therapists Can (and Should) Use Their Privilege to Help People of Color

Jeff Guenther, LPC on Nov 11, 2018

Photo by Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash

Mental health therapists are predominantly white. If you’re a therapist, then you know this. If you’re questioning it, here is a study conducted in 2013 that shows 86% of therapists and psychologists are white. If you have white skin, you have certain privileges that people with non white skin don’t get to experience. That’s called white privilege. As white therapists, there are things you and I can do in order to create more equity in our profession and the larger mental health community. Because mental health providers are predominantly white, we have a responsibility to use the privilege that comes with the color of our skin to even the playing field and help in situations where we can make a difference. To get you started, here are 12 things white therapists can do with their privilege.

1. Educate our non-white clients about therapists of color

Every white therapist has taken at least one class in grad school on cultural competency. Hooray! That was a sarcastic hooray. Taking one class in college is not good enough. We need to continuously educate ourselves so that we don’t create more harm for clients of color. In the meantime, if a person of color contacts you for therapy and all you’ve done is taken that one class way back when, you may want to provide that client with referrals to therapists of color and white therapists that can competently treat them (especially if their reason for seeking therapy is related to race).

2. Donate to the ACLU with your extra money 

Did you know that white privilege is a major factor when it comes to how much money we make compared to people of color? It’s true! Do you know what you should do with that extra cash? You should donate it to the ACLU. TherapyDen allows therapists to donate 10% of their monthly therapist profile fee to the ACLU. Feel free to follow our lead :)

3. Join TherapyDen (or any other therapist directory other than Psychology Today)

Full disclosure: I created TherapyDen as an all inclusive therapist directory that has a mandate to fight racism, homophobia, transphobia and all other forms of discrimination. 

TherapyDen launched back in May of 2018 and it’s off to a great start! TherapyDen has the ambitious goal to replace Psychology Today as the go to when it comes to therapist directories. One of the ways we are differentiating ourselves is with a focus on helping people of color and the disenfranchised find a therapist that can competently meet their needs. We also cater to the general population. So even if you’re not an expert in serving people of color, you should create a profile. The more therapists that sign up, the better chance we have to topple Psychology Today as the number one source of online referrals.

4. Stop supporting the white supremacy

If you're white, chances are you’re supporting the white supremacy. Sorry about that. But now that you’re conscious of it, there’s something you can do! Do you, or did you, work at a mental health agency that has a staff of all white people? Are the supervisors all white? Is upper management filled with white people? Is everyone white at the top of the company? Chances are there aren’t any people of color in your mental health agency. If that’s the case, or if there needs to be more people of color, then you should speak up and say something. If you told your white boss that you were uncomfortable, there is a good chance they’ll take your feedback seriously compared to if a person of color made the same complaint. So use your powerful voice for good and try to create some diversity. 

5. Be a pest and tell Psychology Today to change their magazine covers

Yes, I am fine with dying on this hill. Just a couple weeks ago, I wrote an article and made an infographic about how much Psychology Today loves white people. You should check it out and be disgusted with me. Whether we like it or not, Psychology Today magazine sits in a large percentage of our waiting rooms. And in the study that I conducted, only 6 people of color have been featured on Psychology Today’s cover since 1992. That’s staggering. Throw the magazines away and email their editor to demand a change.

6. Get back in touch with your grad school and demand better competency classes 

Colleges and universities listen to former students when they make a ruckus. Use your power and privilege to speak to your former dean and ask them how they plan on updating their curriculum in order to create truly competent classes in regards to treating clients of color as well as the LGBTQ community. And don’t stop there. Educate your former school about health at every size, being sex positive and kink friendly, counseling the neuro-diverse and any other community or group they neglect in their counseling or social work program. 

7. How diverse is your state board?

Is your state board run by old white people? Does your state board reflect the community that you provide counseling to? Does your state board have people of color? Do they have members from the LGBTQ community? Do they have a diverse group of ages and experience? Call up your state board or pay them a visit. Use your voice to ask them what they plan to do to diversify the staff. Bug them as much as you can until they start to make a change. 

8. End referrals with colleagues that don’t support equality

Do you have mental health colleagues that don’t support equality? Do you have some therapist buddies that don’t want to do the work to end their support of the white supremacy? If you do, then maybe you should tell them that you’ll stop referring clients their way until they start taking an interest in dismantling their own contribution to a racist society. 

9. Clearly state on your website and marketing materials that you have a practice that is open to all types of clients. 

Make it obvious to clients who are researching your services that you accept them and are fully inclusive and non-judgmental. Somewhere on your website you should mention that your practice is inclusive and welcoming to all genders, races, countries of origin, sexual orientations, religions, abilities and body sizes. 

If you’re a TherapyDen member (and why aren’t you when it’s free during our beta period?), you’ll get to display a badge that signifies you’re an inclusive practice.You should know that displaying the badge is not a substitute for actively creating an inclusive and safe environment in your practice. Display the badge AND accept and support all clients.

10. Hold your local government responsible

Does your local government make it easy for everyone in your community, including minorities and the disenfranchised, to access mental health care? If it does, fantastic! If not, you and your mental health colleagues should get together and figure out how to get your city council, mayor, governor or whoever to start paying attention to this issue. You can probably pretty easily rally enough mental health practitioners in your community to start making this an issue that gets resources. Be a hero. Make it happen.

11. Discuss race

Discuss race with your colleagues. Stop allowing it to be a taboo subject. We need to move through that feeling of being awkward and uncomfortable and speak up when one of our colleagues is clearly being racist. Maybe they don’t know it and they just need to be compassionately educated. Instead of standing there knowing that you should say something but not saying anything at all, be brave and speak up. Do you need help figuring out what to say? The book So You Want to Talk About Race is a great start to learning about when and how to speak up in these specific situations. Even if you don’t feel brave enough to speak up, you should read the book. Every therapist in this country should read that book. Order it now please

12. Don’t just be affirming be competent

I love that there are soooo many therapists that are queer and trans affirming. It shows that you support the LGBTQ community. But instead of just being a supportive ally, you should also learn how to competently serve the community. Being queer affirming and being queer competent are two very different things. If you’re competent, then you won’t accidentally do harm to a queer client, even though you are affirming of their identity. Take more classes. Read more books. Get up to date. And refer queer or trans or people of color to therapists that are truly competent if you’re not quite there yet. 

Okay you can start now

First off, please share this article with your colleagues. Email them the link or share it on social media. That is the absolute least you can do. The second thing you can do is sign up for a profile with TherapyDen. Even if you’re not yet competent in working with people of color or other communities, it still helps a lot if you’re a member that serves the general population. Every time someone new signs up, the directory moves up in search results and more people find help.

Next, choose at least one or a handful of the above suggestions and start putting them into practice. I promise you that you’ll feel so good doing it. Your life will feel more meaningful and be filled with extra purpose. You’ll meet wonderful people along the way that share the same vision that you do. There are truly amazing people out there fighting the good fight. Let’s do this together and start making things better. What do you say white people? Are you with me? Let’s use our power and privilege to make this world a better place.

Jeff Guenther, LPC, is a therapist in Portland, OR. He has been in private practice since 2005. Jeff is the creator and owner of Portland Therapy Center, a highly ranked therapist directory. Jeff, and his team, have launched a new progressive therapist directory, TherapyDen.

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