Jeff Guenther on Sep 22, 2019
I love calling people out. Especially important people or big companies that I think are problematic and oppressive. It’s gotta have something to do with being the younger sibling and learning how to have a voice in my noisy family. I feel powerful. I feel strong. I feel important. I also feel nervous, scared, angry and upset. But those negative feelings add to the excitement. Calling people and companies out gives me a sense of purpose and meaning. TherapyDen was created because I wanted to call out Psychology Today and make a therapist directory that reflects our diverse communities. Calling out has mostly worked for me. But sometimes it not’s very effective and I have to think of a better way to positively influence people.
We live in a time where it’s easier than ever to call people out. It seems like that’s what social media was made for. But calling people out is feeling more and more like being an internet troll. And trolls suck. I know that there are times where I am viewed as being a troll, even though I’m trying to call out racism, homophobia or gender inequality. And even though my intentions are good, my impact can feel harsh and shaming. And it’s my impact that really matters.
More recently, activists, and people who generally care, have been “calling in” instead of calling out. Ngọc Loan Trần wrote an article about it back in 2013. With the 2020 election approaching and our political system feeling more binary than ever, calling in is being used more often. I wanted to take some time today to write about what “calling in” is and how we can use it with our fellow mental health colleagues that are doing or saying something that’s oppressive or problematic.
If there is any group of people that are naturally set up to successfully call people in, it’s gotta be therapists. Basically “calling in” is the compassionate version of “calling out”.
Ngọc Loan Trần, on Black Girl Dangerous, writes:
“I picture ‘calling in’ as a practice of pulling folks back in who have strayed from us. It means extending to ourselves the reality that we will and do fuck up, we stray, and there will always be a chance for us to return. Calling in as a practice of loving each other enough to allow each other to make mistakes, a practice of loving ourselves enough to know that what we’re trying to do here is a radical unlearning of everything we have been configured to believe is normal.”
When you’re calling someone in, you need to connect with compassion and patience. It helps to remember that we are all on the same team. When you see problematic behavior, it’s only natural to get upset and angry. And we often express ourselves out of anger when we are pointing out oppression. But as we know, most of the time, when you lead with anger, you’ll make the other person defensive. Ultimately, they may even get even more entrenched in their oppressive behavior.
For example, I recently created an “Examine Your Privilege” worksheet so that folks could understand how they have experienced certain types of privilege compared to other people in this country. When I created the first draft of the form, I asked the person filling it out if they grew up with a body that was “height and weight proportionate.”
The purpose of the question is for the person to reflect on how they were treated based on their body size and how society valued them because of it. I received a very nice email from a fellow therapist that pointed out the problem with the term. They politely informed me that “height and weight proportionate” is a dated term that presupposes there is a correct body size. And that we shouldn’t judge our bodies against an ideal body size that has been created to fit today’s beauty standards.
The therapist that was calling me in clearly understood that I was trying to do a good thing. That I was ignorant of the words I used and all I needed was someone to kindly point out that I made a mistake that might offend some folks. I thanked them and made the change. If they would have come at me with anger and disgust, I might have been defensive and dismissive. I hope that I would have still heard their message and made the correction, but it probably would have been a longer process.
A quick note: Calling out has it’s place. Getting angry has it’s place. I’m not suggesting we all become saints and only call in when something is wrong. Feeling angry and calling people out, especially if you’re part of the disenfranchised population that is being wronged, is 100% okay and appropriate in many situations. However, I am a white, heterosexual, cis gender male and that puts me in the most privileged group of all so I think it’s important for me to try and call people in as much as I can. All that said, I’ll still call people and companies out when I get upset enough. And I’m not perfect at pausing and being compassionate when I feel fired up.
Labeling sex offenders as pure evil reinforces their stigma and makes it difficult for them to heal
It’s incredibly easy to label all sex offenders as evil and bad. In this week’s episode of Say More About That, I talk to a therapist who has worked with the sex offender population and how incredibly difficult it is for them to heal, grow and find services after committing a sexual offense. I talk about my personal conflict with sex offenders and the automatic bias that I experience. Click play below or listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.
With the #metoo movement and more people being called out in public, it’s hard to find sympathy for sexual offenders. Many of them have done disturbing and horrific things to people. However, shunning them from society and labeling them as evil does not help put them on the path to recovery.
Here is an example of something you can say to a colleague that is making harsh and disturbing remarks about the sex offender population:
“Hey, the other day when we were talking, you mentioned you never work with sexual offenders in your practice. You were saying how you think they are too far gone and dangerous to be around. I agree with you in many ways. But I gotta wonder if all our anger towards this population is allowing them to heal. And what about the offenders that know they have made a huge mistake and feel immense shame? It seems like we all have a strong negative bias towards this population and I imagine it’s hard for them to find mental health services. I know it’s really difficult for them to find housing and employment because they have to disclose that they are sex offenders to everyone. It’s even harder for sex offenders to get back on their feet if they are not privileged with money and white skin. So even though I share your automatic upset when hearing about a sexual offender, I wonder if it would be better to take a step back and try to find more compassion for that population? Just a thought. I’d love to talk more about it with you. It’s a really tough topic.
Psychology Today is upholding the white supremacy and heteronormativity
So here’s one I need to get better about. And honestly, it’s a complicated one because there are pros and cons to using Psychology Today to market your practice. And that’s probably a really good reason to call therapists in since they could be really conflicted and experience cognitive dissonance.
Personally, I have called out the company for rarely ever featuring people of color on their magazine covers, for (what seems to be) tax evasion by basing their therapist directory in the Cayman Islands, and more recently for not allowing clients to filter for therapists that are non-binary. TherapyDen and a couple other Bay Area organizations started a petition and were able to influence them to add non-binary to their gender list. This is an example of how calling out worked for us.
However, calling out a big corporation is different then calling out a fellow colleague. And that’s why calling in could work better in this situation. I might say something like this:
“I signed up for a Psychology Today profile when I started my practice 10 years ago because it seemed like the first thing we should do when starting out. It’s brought me a number of clients and I’ve been really grateful for it. Recently, I found out through other colleagues that Psychology Today is problematic in certain ways. They rarely feature people of color on their magazine covers and never people in bigger body sizes. Our clients can’t filter for therapists that are in the LGBTQ community. Clients also can’t filter for therapists that are trained in non-monogamy, are sex-worker positive, believe in health at every size and so much more. I can send you some articles about it if you want. Since I have a full practice, I have decided to cancel my Psychology Today subscription because it doesn’t align with my inclusive values. I know that you’re still building your practice and it’s a harder decision for you. But I thought you might want this info so you can make a more informed decision. And there are more inclusive therapist directories out there if you want to hear about them.”
Subtly offensive language spoken by therapists
The list of words that are offensive and not okay to use anymore is growing and sometimes it’s hard for folks to keep up with it when they are not plugged in and paying attention to current events. It’s important for therapists to be up to date on what is, and isn’t okay, to say. Especially because we don’t want to offend or hurt new clients that walk into our office.
There are ways to approach this subject that are more compassionate and patient. For example:
“First of all, I know I’ve already talked to you this week about Psychology Today and sexual offenders so you’re probably like “Ugh, not Jeff again!” I totally get it. I can annoy myself sometimes. But I also want to do you a favor by bringing this up in private so that you’re not called out on it in public. And I hope you’ll do the same for me when I say or do problematic things. It’s knowing we got each other’s back. All that being said…there are a few things I heard you say recently that some folks could feel really offended by. And I know your heart is in the right place so I don’t want anyone to ever think you’re a bad person when I know that you’re not. You know how when we were kids and we used the words “gay” or “retarded” when referring to something that was dumb or stupid? Yeah, I cringe too when I think about using those words in school. Now you and I know how hurtful it is to use that language. There are other words that aren’t okay to use anymore either. I heard you call something “lame” earlier today. “Lame” is actually an ableist term and shouldn’t be used in the way you’re using it anymore. Lame was originally used to describe people with physical disabilities. And having a physical disability shouldn’t be seen as “bad” thing. So using the word “lame” to describe a bad thing is kinda messed up. Recently, I was called out on using the term “preferred pronoun”. I didn’t know it was problematic to say “preferred” when asking someone’s pronoun. I thought I was being inclusive and progressive. But I got feedback that using the word “preferred” could suggest that their pronoun isn’t actually true. They are not merely suggesting that they prefer to be a him instead of a her. They really truly are a him and that’s how they’d like to be addressed. It sounds like a little thing to you and me maybe, but it’s big thing for transgender folks. Just something to think about.
TherapyDen is a FREE therapist directory that has a mandate to challenge racism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination. Not only can a client find a therapist based on common issues, such as anxiety and relationship troubles, but they can search for a therapist that treats the unique struggles of today.
For example, users can find a therapist that specifically treats cultural and systemic oppression, immigration issues or stress caused by the political climate. Clients can also search for a therapist that is body positive and believes in health at every size. Or a therapist who has a racial justice framework and is trans-competent. The list goes on.
TherapyDen allows therapists the option to identify as a member of the LGBTQ community so that clients can find a therapist with the same identity. Therapists can display their pronouns on their profile. Clients can filter for therapists by ethnicity so they can find counselors who may better understand their cultural experiences.
TherapyDen is helping to usher the mental health industry into the digital age by allowing clients to schedule appointments online if the therapist includes a link to their online scheduler. With a click of a button, clients can toggle between search results of therapists that provide in-person or online counseling.
If you’re a therapist please consider signing up for a FREE profile with TherapyDen. Help make a difference. Sign up with TherapyDen by clicking here. No credit required. Delist anytime.
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.