Diversity Friendly Therapist
In my practice, I welcome people with diverse gender identities, diverse sexualities, diverse sexual practices (kink-friendly), diverse relationship models (poly-friendly), diverse appearances (whether by choice or medical conditions), diverse ethnicities, diverse belief systems, and diverse families (blended, poly and rainbow families).
What is Diversity Friendly Therapy?
Everyone defines for themselves what they think diversity friendly therapy is, so I only speak for myself here. For you, diversity friendly therapy might mean something else and that’s perfect, that’s diversity.
For me, diversity friendly therapy means eight key things:
- diversity awareness and respect is integrated into all parts of the service
- diversity is welcomed, celebrated and honoured by therapist, and the therapist supports the client to do this too
- clients are not judged, shamed or pathologised by the therapist, and that if/when the client does those things to themselves, the therapist is not complicit in the self-shaming/judging
- the therapist is educated about the wellbeing impacts of being outside the mainstream and understands that they are caused by cultural attitudes to diversity, not diversity itself, nor a fault or failing of the client
- therapists don’t underestimate the dangers that people face due to cultural attitudes and behaviours toward diversity
- therapists engage in their own personal work, ongoingly, to process their unconscious biases
- therapists get and keep informed about issues faced by people who identify outside the mainstream
- therapists overtly state their diversity stance rather than presuming people will know they are diversity friendly just because they’re a therapist (and therefore supposedly non-judgemental).
Diversity Informed Therapy
But it’s not enough to be diversity-friendly, therapy also needs to diversity-informed. For me, there are two parts to this: what I know about diversity and diversity issues, and what I know about myself and my own diversity and unconscious biases.
I’m familiar with many of the values, practices, and issues in kink, poly and LGBTQI communities, and I’m committed to increasing my education and awareness in this area. I’m also aware of many of the issues faced by people with diverse appearances. I read widely about the everyday and therapeutic issues facing people as a result of phobic cultural attitudes (as written by people with lived experience and/or clinical knowledge).
The therapeutic model I use (Process-Oriented Psychology aka Processwork) is grounded in a sophisticated understanding of the dynamics of socio-cultural oppression, rank, power and privilege, and how these forces impact on the well being of individuals (in both marginalised and dominant social groups).
Like most of us, I grew up, and still live in, a homogenising, dominant culture that is racist, sexist, whore-phobic, homo-phobic, poly-phobic, and kink-phobic. So while I don’t identify as any of those things, they are the cultural soup I was raised in and I benefit from some kinds oppression every day (and suffer from others).
I’ve uncovered, processed and worked through a lot of my own unconscious biases, but no doubt there is still more work for me to do, and always will be, because diversity is not a static issue and neither is my own development.
How do I understand diversity?
Diversity is not a disorder. Diversity is natural, normal, and essential to our collective wellbeing.
Diversity itself is not necessarily a cause of distress: the way we meet diversity as individuals and as a culture, is.
The pathologising of diversity is a cultural construct, not a psychological or medical fact.
The issue of marginalising diversity is not isolated to the mainstream of society. Homogenising also happens within sub-cultures and communities that form around oppression and marginalisation from the mainstream.
At every level – individual, family, community, society – a dynamic balance between collective interest and individual interest, between structure and freedom, are essential. Structure is needed for safety (for instance, I like road rules, these are an example of how a lack of diversity and freedom keep us safer). But societies and individuals also need diversity to enable growth, evolution, novelty and spontaneity.
Humans are pack animals and therefore rely on being part of a group for survival. We are forever balancing our need to fit in with the group, with our need to be true to our unique individual nature. Can I be myself and still be loved?
This is the crux of what most people come to therapy for, even though they don’t conceptualise it like this. Many are in an ongoing internal battle against their own diversity, for fear of losing love and/or power and being rejected from the group.
I also recognise that even people who don’t identify with any of the ‘big’ diversities, who feel kind of ‘mainstream’, are also incredibly diverse within that mainstream identity.
In a culture that so strongly defines what is normal, acceptable, and loveable, every part of us that doesn’t fit the mould is rejected, shamed and pathologised to some extent.
For example, your life might not be threatened because you have curly hair, but you may feel ‘one-down’ because of it, you may have been teased for it in school, you might straighten it regularly because straight hair is more ‘acceptable’.
They may or may not be issues you come to therapy for, but the harm caused by rejecting even the smallest parts of ourselves (by ourselves and/or others) cannot be underestimated; and the wellness felt when we accept our whole selves, impossible to overestimate.
And of course, being part of the mainstream certainly doesn’t protect you from traumatic experiences.