In this blog post I address my psychotherapist colleagues, though I believe it would also be beneficial for clients and others to take a look at and learn from as well.
I've seen discussions in online psychotherapist groups recently about current events like the Charlottesville rally and the presidential pardon of Joe Arpaio. In these groups, some therapists have encouraged their colleagues to specifically check in with clients who are people of color (POC) about these issues. This seems appropriate to me because part of our responsibility as clinicians is to broach difficult subjects, and race is certainly one of them. It doesn't matter what our particular political views are, but it does matter what our clients think, feel, and experience. White therapists in particular have a responsibility to create an environment where POC clients feel safe to open up.
I was surprised to find some other therapists in these groups disagree with the need to check in with POC clients and/or derail the focus away from race. (I was even more surprised when the administrators of one group deleted a black therapist’s thread and removed her from the group). It seems clear to me there is work to be done in our profession about how to initiate conversations on race because this is a real issue that affects many of our clients directly. The personal is political.
Recently I checked out a pop-up art installation in San Diego called Wonderspaces. One of the exhibits was Not Myself Today. It consisted of a wall of buttons with emotions written on them. The instructions invited participants to choose a button that showed how they felt at the moment. (I picked the "Awkward" button and wore it upside down, just to be cheeky.)
It got me thinking, what would it be like if we literally wore our feelings on our sleeves (or lapels)? How would we treat one another if we knew the other person was feeling sensitive or stressed that day? Would we be curious if we saw they were feeling proud? Would we be envious if they displayed their Zen status every day?
If you're someone who doesn't usually pay attention to or understand your own feelings (or even if you do), try this as an experiment: Each morning when you wake up, write down what you're feeling. You can use a journal or your phone or even a scrap of paper. If you want to, write more about what your feeling looks like, tastes like, sounds like. Get to know it and understand it.
There's no guarantee your feeling will change if you want it to, or that it will remain the same if you so desire. What you might discover, though, is you may have some feelings about your feelings. Maybe you judge them as good or bad. Maybe you judge yourself as good or bad for having certain emotions. Just notice this. Think about how you would treat someone who was wearing that particular feelings button. Would you judge them or want to help them? Perhaps you would seek to understand and connect with that person. Or maybe you'd want to give them some space. What would happen if you took this same approach with yourself? Try it and see...
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Rachel Moore, LMFT, is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapy in San Diego, CA. Rachel helps writers, artists, musicians, and other creative types overcome anxiety, trauma, and depression. She is trained in EMDR therapy.