Today we talked about diversity in our class. Which is funny primarily because my class is comprised mainly (if not exclusively) of white, middle-class, able people. As it’s the case with most caring professions, our class is made up of women (and one man) and the teachers – the dispenser of knowledge and power – are mainly men.
So how can we talk about diversity? We can maybe talk about the theory of diversity and speculate about its meaning and form, but we cannot possibly hope to introduce diversity in the profession, it seems.
In the beginning…
In the beginning, was the exposure. The very beginning of the lack of diversity is exposure. To be exposed to psychotherapy and counselling, it is very probable that you come from a euro-centric or American (by all means Western) background. One must also come from a middle-class background because few are the places that offer free and low-cost counselling, and certainly, it is a recent development.
The fact that I am even aware of psychotherapy and counselling means that I come from a family where mental health is not stigmatised and where it is an option to consider seeing a therapist.
My first encounter with a psychologist as a child came about because my parents could afford it, they were not entirely against it and could choose from a pool of competent professionals.
This is not the case in many non-Western countries and certainly not an option for working-class families.
It’s in the training
Then the filtering continues. To be able to train as a psychotherapist, diversity of further homogenised. I have to have the time (I can support myself without a full-time job), the money (which is in the family) and the access (I am able-bodied and look a certain way, i.e. someone who goes to university, someone of a certain skin-colour and someone with certain clothes and way of speaking). This is not magical thinking or projection, this is true.
To be able to train, I have to be a certain way which excludes minorities and less advantaged groups of society.
And to top everything off, all we learn are texts and articles from middle-class, able-bodied, white men (I can count on my hands the number of texts that were outside this category).
It’s a diversity-free loop
So what can I offer? What can psychotherapy offer as a profession, if all we have is people who look the same, speak the same, earn the same, and know the same things?
If nothing breaks the loop, diversity will not enter the profession. Because diversity is slashed and discouraged from the beginning, we create a profession that exploits and promote privilege, which then creates and exacerbates oppression.
The other option, which is one that is available to me, is to change the system from the inside. I can educate myself, I can use my privilege, I can wake up and speak up. It is my responsibility.