Is therapy broken?
Picture this: a 53 year old white male named Clive trying to aid an young woman of colour, who is an immigrant, to solve her self esteem issues. How sustainable will their relationship be?
10 % of clients on average become worse off after therapy. The number is mortifyingly higher for people from marginalized groups.
Therapy is propagandized as a one size fits all medicine - it is prescribed to anybody who has any ailment of the mind. “Go to therapy, it will fix you”. It is part of our new “woke” culture. We have created so much pressure for anybody and everybody to go to therapy and as a consequence it often becomes an added appointment to our list of hair, nail, doctors, tanning, gym, facial, physio appointments. It has become just another ‘to- do’.
Marketed so intensely, it even has pervaded our entertainment industry with shows like ‘Dr Phil’, ‘Celebrity Rehab’, ‘Couples Therapy’ and a considerably more. It can be unanimously agreed these shows are far far from real treatment.
We have almost trivialized therapy. Made light of it, turned it into a checkbox practice.
This is not to say the entire concept of therapy is a deceit. Therapy can be life saving, healing, freeing. If done right. A mighty part of the therapy experience is - you guessed it - your relationship with your therapist.
Should your therapist look like you?
A flourishing relationship between you and your therapist is indispensable. If not, your sessions become more an expensive conversation about difficult topics, less therapy.
There are the common traits that makes a therapist a “good” one: the ability to make you feel comfortable and safe, is open minded etc. There is a paramount of information on internet, here is just one list. But what other factors make a good match? Whether your therapist should look like you or not is a big debate. Too much of a sense of ‘otherness’ creates an inability for the patient to relate to the therapist and vice versa. There can be a sense of superiority that is subconsciously embedded within the more privileged one of the two. Alternatively, becoming overly attached is a risk of finding a therapist who is exactly like you.
People of colour often report that they would prefer a ‘non-white’ therapist simply for the fact that they feel as though they would better understood by someone similar to them. A “culturally incompetent" therapist is the last thing you want. So having a therapist who mirrors you in some ways is perhaps a good thing.
When you are lacking a sense of identity it can be helpful to see someone, who shares your background, model a strong sense of personal identity. For instance for queer people, feeling alienated because their therapist is straight and comfortable with their biological sex may make them wary of anything their therapist says. There is a disconnect - whether that derives from the inability of the therapist to understand these struggles they haven't experienced or the patients prejudice that a more privileged therapist could not help - it is hard to know.
It is so important that the therapist understands this lived experience of 'other' that their client has gone through. Therapy needs to be less of a monochrome practice. The difficulty in this is the majority the British therapist body is white. The key takeaway is that diversity in therapists equates to a better chanve of developing better suited therapist-patient matches.
The inherent gap
Therapists can in many cases think of issues in life as conducive to treatment, from both a philosophical and financial perspective. This perspective inherently separates them from their client. At the core of the therapist-patient relationship, the treatment somebody requires is the therapist's livelihood. Of course the would like to benefit their client and impact their lives positively but this does not deter from the fact that already there is that gap.
Gaps between the therapist and patient come in many forms but the key to overcoming this is openness, education and a willingness to understand the struggles of an individual who may have experiences entirely antithetical to theirs.