About Dr. Tiffany Darby
As we attempt to absorb the shocks of protests and rioting across the country and find a constructive way forward, Global Teletherapy, one of the nation’s premier online therapy agencies, has found a unique way to contribute.
Last month, Global Teletherapy’s Lead Mental Health Therapist, Lindsey Kucich, Ed.S School Psychology, welcomed Dr. Tiffany M. Darby as a guest on her weekly SPEDTalk Facebook Live show to discuss how therapists can become a positive force in dealing with racism and social conflict.
Dr. Darby is an Associate Professor & Director of Ph.D. Field Experiences at the University of the Cumberlands – Graduate and Online Programs. She earned a Doctorate in Philosophy and Counseling and Human Development Services from Kent State University. Dr. Darby is a qualitative researcher, educator, licensed, and school counselor with supervisor designation.
Addressing Racism in the Therapeutic Setting
At the outset, Dr. Darby cautioned that tackling racism in the therapeutic setting is uncomfortable for both the children and the therapist. She had this advice: any serious attempt to confront racism must be based upon the “Three As.”
The therapist must begin by acknowledging cultural differences instead of ignoring them. And the place to start is for the therapist to be aware of his/her own biases regarding those who are different and being open and willing to change. Being open and willing to change means questioning yourself, engaging in discussions with others to hear about their experiences and perceptions, and acquiring a better understanding of Black History, which means going beyond the textbooks.
Addressing the racial differences you have with your students means going beyond merely recognizing those differences. It must lead to eliciting from your students any concerns they may have working with a therapist who is of a different color. And this discussion needs to be held with parents and caregivers as well.
Advocating against racism is not only the domain of those who protest on the street; it is a private matter as well. For example, if you hear someone telling a racial joke or saying something derogatory about someone who is black, this needs to be confronted in a firm but non-argumentative way. Such experiences are opportunities to educate.
The Price of Ignoring Cultural Differences
When cultural differences are ignored, the student may become angry due to the feeling that he/she is being ignored and isn’t important. Sometimes black children feel that, if you don’t acknowledge a black person is of a different color, you don’t see who he/she is!
This anger or the sense of being invisible may cause the student to shut down in therapy and cease to be a full participant. By not acknowledging the current protests against racism, the therapist may be sending the message of not caring about the student and may come to be seen as an oppressor. This perception could significantly compromise the therapeutic relationship and lead to early termination of the therapy.
In 2012, Jeffrey Alexander of Yale University said, ‘Cultural trauma occurs when members of a collectivity feel they have been subjected to a horrendous event that leaves indelible marks upon their group consciousness, marking their memories forever and changing their future identity in fundamental and irrevocable ways.”
The murder of George Floyd barely two months ago is such an event as it has left an indelible impression on the collective black psyche. Students have been heard to ask, “Will that happen to me?” And the unrelenting media coverage has reinforced that anxiety, especially for those students who don’t have a safe space to discuss their fears.
Dr. Kevin Nadal, a professor of psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, has spent years researching and writing books on the effects of microaggressions. He defines microaggressions as “the everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups.”
“The difference between microaggressions and overt discrimination or microaggressions is that people who commit microaggressions might not even be aware of them.” For example, something as seemingly innocuous as mispronouncing the student’s name after the student has corrected you is a form of microaggression.
If you don’t know how to pronounce a student’s name, you need to ask before making the attempt. Mispronouncing a child’s name may seem petty to the therapist, but is vital to the child. Continuing to mispronounce the name is sending a message that you are not willing to refrain from devaluing that child.
Breaking the Cycle
To break the cycle of racism, which leads to social conflict such as we see in the streets, therapists must confront their feelings and biases, and then find ways to correct their ignorance. People aren’t born biased or racist. The same way that racism was learned, for those who are committed to change, it can be unlearned as well.