Equity, Inclusion & Mental Health
Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) recognizes that the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work and counseling are entrenched in supremacist ideology that has caused significant harm to marginalized communities. At CaPS, we intentionally work toward the undoing of white supremacist ideology in our clinical work by actively engaging in socially-just, anti-racist practice. Read our full mission statement below.
Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) recognizes that the fields of psychiatry, psychology, social work and counseling are entrenched in supremacist ideology that has caused significant harm to marginalized communities. At CaPS, we intentionally work toward the undoing of white supremacist ideology in our clinical work by actively engaging in socially-just, anti-racist practice. We firmly believe that this form of practice is about dignity and respect for all life; creating the conditions for life to flourish and removing barriers to flourish. In all aspects of our work, we grapple with the barriers of denial and defensiveness that prevent us from looking below the surface of our biases to the deeply wounded root of ongoing rupture and inequity.
At CaPS, the therapeutic relationship is a co-constructed partnership and collaboration between the clinician and the client, one where a space is created together in order to move away from replicating toxic power imbalances and move toward creating conditions that allow for thriving. We hold that while a power imbalance might persist in the therapeutic relationship, we lean into naming it, rather than avoiding it. We consciously and intentionally identify the social locations of self and client and encourage the full expression of all intersecting identities. We move away from pathologizing our clients by grounding their stories and experiences in the broader social, cultural and communal context. In doing so, we co-create a reparative narrative, one that integrates and heals the collective trauma of our history and present.
By holding a space for one another in empathy, this anti-racist, socially-just posture extends beyond our clinical work and into our interactions with our colleagues, campus partners and community at large. We continue to witness brutality toward marginalized communities. We acknowledge, as mental health providers, the impact that racism, discrimination and systemic oppression have on the mental and emotional health of communities of color. In our everyday work, we see the additional pressures that our minoritized students carry every day and have to overcome. We see you and we stand with you in solidarity in this time of great heartache. We are here to help you bear the weight of these tragedies as you mourn these losses and provide comfort to those around you. To our students especially, CaPS is here to support you.
CaPS is aware that statements of support, like this one, are not enough. We are clear that we want to be part of progress and solidarity, not inaction. We are committed to providing care to all students who have been directly or indirectly impacted by discrimination, racism, inequality and injustice. We are also committed to supporting and facilitating these conversations within our Tartan community, recognizing that they are a vital part of fostering awareness and promoting safety.
The Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee at CaPS is tasked with upholding the values of social justice and anti-racist practices. The committee encourages the integration of these values on both an internal and an external level. Internally, the committee encourages the upholding of these values within languaging, policies and procedures, staff training and hiring practices. Externally, the committee encourages the integration of these values in all clinical and programmatic services that CaPS provides to students, staff, faculty and the CMU community at large.
While the resources provided below are identity-based, we recognize that the intersectionality of identity is nuanced and multidimensional, and that you will find yourself represented in more than one category.
Finding a Culturally Responsive Therapist
Ideally, therapy is a place where one can feel safe and understood. Despite this therapeutic ideal, the fields of psychology and mental health treatment have been slow to address issues of institutionalized racism and systemic oppression. Understandably, this leaves many black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) uncertain and hesitant to seek therapy and counseling. However, many BIPOC individuals report that working with a culturally responsive counselor can be truly beneficial and healing.
How to Start Your Search
- Research professional organizations and memberships that can provide referrals to qualified culturally responsive therapists in your area. The Psychology Today website allows you to select specific filters to identify a therapist that fits your needs.
- Check out therapists' websites and/or social media. Consider how they talk about their approach to therapy and whether they speak to issues of social justice and inclusivity within their work.
- Most importantly, ask questions. While this might feel uncomfortable given the professional nature of the relationship, you must feel comfortable with your therapist. If the therapist is unwilling or unable to answer your questions, we suggested that you consider discontinuing meeting with this individual.
Questions to Consider Asking a Therapist
This is not an exhaustive list of questions that a culturally sensitive therapist should be able to address with their clients, it is a good place to start.
- How would you describe your experience treating clients who share my [insert your racial/cultural identity here i.e.“Indigenous”] identity?
- What is your/your practice’s experience incorporating a racial equity/anti-racist lens into your treatment?
- How would you describe your knowledge of safety risks and considerations related to my [insert your racial/cultural identity here i.e. “Black”] identity?
- What training/evidence-based treatment do you/your practice have for issues that may arise related to [insert your racial/cultural identity, i.e. “Asian”] health and wellness?
- Can you share with me your/your practice’s training/evidence-based treatment for issues that may arise from trauma related to [insert “anti” and your racial/cultural identity, i.e. “anti-Black”] oppression, racism and/or racial violence?
- What kind of resources/training do you/your practice have available to remain up-to-date with [insert your racial/cultural identity, i.e. “Asian”] issues both locally and nationally so that I can avoid having to educate my provider?
- What is your/your practice’s position on the mental health impact of navigating oppression, racism and racial violence?
- What is your/your practice’s position on the impact of generational trauma as it relates to racism/racial violence?
- How would you describe your knowledge of stereotypes and/or common misconceptions of my [insert your racial/cultural identity, i.e. “Latinx”] identity — things that you might say in a session that could result in trauma/microaggression?
Questions Related to LGBTQIA Inclusion
- How would you describe your experience treating clients who share my [insert your LGBTQIA identity, i.e. “trans/non-binary”] identity?
- What training/evidence-based treatment do you/your practice have for issues that may arise related to [insert your LGBTQIA identity, i.e. “queer”] health and wellness?
- What is your position on so-called “conversion therapy” — attempts to change a client’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression?
- What kind of resources/training do you/your practice have available to remain up-to-date with [insert your LGBTQ identity, i.e. “bisexual”] issues so that I can avoid having to educate my provider?
- How would you describe your experience using gender-neutral pronouns?
- How would you describe your knowledge of safety risks and considerations related to my [insert your LGBTQIA identity, i.e. “queer”] identity?
- What training/evidence-based treatment do you/your practice have for trauma from rejection around my [insert your LGBTQIA identity, i.e. “bisexual”] identity?
- What is your/your practice’s position on the mental health impact of navigating anti-LGBTQIA bias and discrimination?
- How would you describe your knowledge of stereotypes and/or common misconceptions of my [insert your LGBTQIA identity, i.e. “lesbian”] identity — things that you might say in a session that could result in trauma/microaggression?
Questions Using an Intercultural Lens
Intersectionality, as coined by scholar and writer Kimberlé Crenshaw, is a lens through which we seek to understand how multiple forms of oppression/inequality may combine to create unique obstacles and trauma.
- How do you define intersectionality and how do you plan to utilize an intersectional lens in my treatment?
- How can you help me navigate trauma related to the oppression I have and continue to face related to my [insert your QTBIPOC identity, i.e. “Black trans woman”] identity—understanding there are multiple systems of oppression impacting my mental health concurrently?
- What is your/your practice’s position on the mental health impact of navigating multiple systems of oppression?
- What is your racial/ethnic and cultural background? How does that impact your work as a therapist?
- What is your experience when it comes to working with ________ (i.e. specific racial/ethnic backgrounds, immigrant populations, LGBTQIA, etc.)?
- How do you work with clients who have experienced racism, discrimination, or immigration-related concerns?
- What does it mean to you to provide culturally competent care? What training have you had on this topic?
- What is your comfort level when it comes to talking about topics such as white privilege, racism, discrimination or systemic oppression?
Understanding Racial Trauma
Racial trauma, or race-based stress, refers to the mental and emotional injury caused by encounters with racial bias and ethnic discrimination, racism and hate crimes. These include threats of harm and injury, humiliating and shaming events, and witnessing harm to other BIPOC individuals due to racism. Racial trauma can result from one or innumerable experiences of racism such as workplace discrimination or hate crimes, or it can be the result of repeated occurrences, such as racial profiling and microaggressions.
Although Black and African Americans encounter racial discrimination at a higher rate than other ethnoracial groups, Indiginous and people of color significantly suffer from race-based stress as well. Intersectional oppression such as racial, gender, sexual orientation, and xenophobic microaggressions contribute to the cumulative effects of racial trauma. Racism and ethnoviolence can be life threatening to BIPOC, due to their exposure to racial microaggressions, vicarious traumatization, and the invisibility of racial trauma’s historical roots. Cumulative racial trauma can leave both visible and invisible scars that impact the way individuals show up in social spaces, academic performance, relationships, intimacy and overall well-being.
Unfortunately, racial trauma carries psychological and physiological effects. Exposure to racial trauma both directly and indirectly, through media outlets, have implications for psychological health and well-being. Some indicators of racial trauma can include hypervigilance to threat; flashbacks; nightmares; avoidance; suspiciousness; and somatic expressions such as headaches and heart palpitations, among others, and are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. This can also result in heightened levels of anxiety, depression, imposter syndrome, internalized racism, devaluation of self, issues of self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. In addition to psychological and physical effects, racial trauma causes hidden wounds.
Healing racial trauma is challenging because racial wounds occur within a sociopolitical context and on a continuing basis - i.e, this is not an individual problem to be pathologized, but a collective problem that is the result of deeply embedded, oppressive forces that facilitate persistent implicit and explicit racism. Furthermore, the current definitions of trauma, traumatic stress, and trauma treatment are embedded in European perspectives. Consequently, many trauma and PTSD treatments tend to lack cultural relevance for most BIPOC. Without a clear and descriptive language to describe this experience, those who suffer cannot coherently convey their pain, let alone heal.