There are many things to look for when you are looking for a therapist or a counselor. Many people of a marginalized group know to look for someone who understands their background. However, many experts may be members of the dominant culture: straight, white, Christian Male. Beware of anyone who says they are not racist, sexist or homophobic (heterosexist). By definition, if we are born in this culture then are all of the above. If we are a member of any of these minorities then we carry an internal oppressor.
When choosing a therapist. Ask a minimum of three questions:
How have you dealt with your racism, sexism or homophobia?*
Are you willing for me to tell you when you have made a blunder?
Are you willing to learn from me?
Unless this mental health professional can answer these three questions in a way that you feel comfortable, thank them and look for someone else.
As a gay man it never occurred to me that I could be sexist, but after a long debate with a woman, I began to realize that gay or not, I am still a man. I have had unearned privileges that go along with being a man. I can walk down the street at night and feel relatively safe. I am allowed to speak when I want. In other words, in a group, I can take up space. Men tend to interrupt woman and an unaware facilitator will not notice. These are a few of the many unearned privileges that I have been given just by being born a “white” man.
There is another danger when choosing a therapist who is not aware of issues of power.
The client may easily believe that they are the source of all there problems. The American myth that all our problems are self induced continues to be perpetuated. Another important thing is to remember that the moment you walk into a therapist’s office, there is already an issue of power. The therapist is an “expert”. If the individual and the therapist are not careful, the client can be deeply hurt. Lastly, (for the moment), this does not mean that therapy is a bad thing. It means it is important to interview and find the right therapist: the therapist that is uniquely sensitive to your culture and who is willing to be taught.
*There are many other examples of oppression. What if your therapist has issues of size, age, religion. I once had a therapist who tried to convert me to Christianity. Each of us needs to look at how we might be discriminated against.