Impact of Racism on Mental Health Professions

Posted on 1/19/2011 by The Bridge

In the Winter 2011 issue of Mental Health News, The Bridge’s Executive Director Dr. Peter Beitchman, who is also Board Chair of Mental Health News Education, Inc., moderated a panel discussion on the “Impact of Race and Racism on the Mental Health Professions and on the Therapeutic Alliance.” The panelists involved had all participated in the Undoing Racism Workshop training offered by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB). 

Racism is so pervasive that people of color often can’t express its impact on them because it is imprinted in their experience and is normalized. The impact of racism on mental health professions most commonly takes the form of the client’s often unexpressed feelings of powerlessness. When clients have internalized racism and come into treatment, there is an issue of hierarchy and power in the therapeutic relationship. A white therapist may be perceived as having the power because of their color, education or class. Clients will react to the same experience in therapy that they do in their normal environment, unless the clinician has the proper training and awareness.

Training, awareness and the sensitivity to these issues in the mental health professions are required for greater success in treatment. 

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