Reflections on Racism, Sexism, and Oppression

I am proud and honored to serve a diverse group of clients. One of my core values–both in my personal and my professional life–is to create spaces that are safe, welcoming, and inclusive for all people. To do this, I endeavor to confront racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression when I encounter them inside of myself or in the outside world. I view these forms of oppression as systems in which we all participate, not as personal qualities or attributes. As a white cisgender gay man, I have been conditioned by these systems in ways that sometimes operate outside of my conscious awareness. Sometimes I say and do things that enact oppression and cause harm, even if it is not my intention.

As a therapist and a clinical supervisor, I try to create an environment in which my clients and supervisees can give me feedback. Too often when we find the courage to give such feedback, individuals and groups respond by defending and minimizing the oppressive behavior, by asserting good intentions, and by faulting the person giving feedback for being too sensitive. The unfortunate consequence is that oppressive behavior is maintained, and further harm is done in the process. I want my clients and supervisees to be able to trust that I will receive feedback with a willingness to listen, to try to repair the harm, and to change my behavior.

In therapy sessions, I also try to create a space in which my clients can process their experiences of harmful and stigmatizing behavior out in the world. This includes talking about microaggressions and microinsults that have been perpetrated by friends, family members, coworkers, and others. My approach is not to educate my clients about oppression, especially since many of my clients have lived it in ways I will never fully understand. Instead, I try to create an atmosphere of safety, acceptance, and validation so that clients can explore the impact of these experiences without minimizing or diminishing them. Sometimes, I even help clients experiment and roleplay with various ways they could provide feedback or elicit support from allies and trusted friends. These explorations can be powerfully healing and provide practical tools for handling these situations skillfully.