Every time we ask a question, we are generating a possible version of life. (~ David Epston in Cowley and Springen, 1995 , p. 74)
Friends (Quakers) approach queries as a guide to self-examination, using them not as an outward set of rules, but as a framework within which we assess our convictions and examine, clarify and consider the direction of our life and the life of the community. (~ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice, page 205)
Does psychoanalytic psychotherapy as a profession make sufficient assessments of conscious and unconscious, explicit and implicit racism, sexism, heteronormativity and bias in all its forms in ourselves and others, and the destructive consequences to all parties?
Do we believe that healthy relatedness demands well-developed empathy, mutuality, and parity? Do we recognize bias in all forms, personal and institutional, implicit and explicit, acknowledged and unacknowledged as a failure of empathy, an objectification of others and as an obstacle to healthy relatedness and psychological well-being?
Do we accept that the conscious and unconscious empathic failures surrounding bias and oppression are certainly a more profound loss for the oppressed, but a loss to all parties nonetheless?
Do we consider Lacan’s and Foucault’s idea of the privileged “Gaze” of the therapist? Do we see ourselves as people who gaze out from inside a dominant narrative, a “regular” story requiring categorization or explanation from all who we see as “different”?
Do we understand the differences between individual prejudice, institutional racism, and unexamined privilege?
Do we examine the narratives of success, of health, of family, of connection, of development that are viewed as “normal” regular, ordinary, usual, and taken for granted as universal by the dominant culture?
How do we take this made-up story about who is “regular” for granted, and wittingly or unwittingly put these narratives forth as better, more important, more normal than others?
Do we examine our own participation in how “othering” or “normaling” stories get disseminated or disrupted? Do we critically examine how the institutions in our culture – media, government, schools, religious institutions, and graduate and post-graduate psychotherapeutic training institutions – inform us as to what is “regular”?
Do we advocate for inclusivity in our psychotherapeutic practice and training institutions? Do we feel an institutional environment, or our own caseloads are sufficiently diverse when in actuality very few of people of color, differently abled, or LGBT people are represented?
Do we recognize that we speak through our inaction as well as our action? ~ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice
Do we participate in panels, conferences and workshops, peer groups led entirely or predominantly by those in the dominant culture?
How have the dominant stories about race, gender, homosexuality, disability, and class determined and shaped our psychotherapeutic practices and training institutions, fee setting, size and composition of our caseloads, choice of colleagues, and our preferred psychotherapeutic models?
Do we, as psychotherapists ever place ourselves in professional, or social circumstances where we are not in the majority? How might such experiences help us to better empathize with those who carry narrative burdens, who are regularly challenged to explain, defend, or advocate for themselves within the dominant culture, and those who are on the receiving end of bias and oppressive circumstances more often than we are ourselves?
Do we cultivate relationships with adults with whom we have racial, ethnic, cultural, or religious differences outside of the psychotherapeutic setting?
Do we cultivate therapeutic relationships with clients who differ from us in identifiable ways?
What life experiences or personal characteristics, if any, have made you feel “gazed at”: forced to explain, alienated, ignored, misunderstood, distorted, or excluded by most people or by institutions? What circumstances, if any, have you found yourself in where you were instantly and visibly identified as an outsider in someway?
How might these experiences be useful in practicing psychotherapy with a concern for social justice? How might these transitory experiences offer only limited insight into what it is like for a client who lives with more chronic or different forms of oppressive, exclusive, or unjust circumstances?
Do we listen deeply without becoming defensive or competitive when clients friends, or colleagues or people online share experiences of oppression, even if we feel implicated, guilty or uncomfortable?
Are avenues for exploring differences kept open? To what extent do we ignore differences in order to avoid possible conflicts?
~ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice
Do we allow ourselves and our worldview to be changed by hearing stories of other people’s discomfort, anger, grief and pain from experiences of oppression, exclusion, bias, and prejudice?
Do we monitor ourselves for defensiveness, minimizing over-identification, excessive or non-generative forms of guilt, hopelessness and indifference?
How can racial, gender, sexual/gender identity and/or class differences between therapeutic partners affect the way they tell and hear each others story?
Do we proactively and thoughtfully confront, explore and examine biased narratives when we experience them in our office, with friends and colleagues, and in ourselves?
Do I treat conflict as an opportunity for growth, and address it with careful attention? ~ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice
What do you worry people will assume about you?
What do you hope people will assume about you?
What do we understand about our clients’ hopes and fears about the assumptions of others?
What assumptions have we made about clients that were inaccurate, injurious, or unrecognized (by us)?
How do we respond when confronted with the inaccuracy or injuriousness of our assumptions?
Am I careful to speak truth as I know it and am I open to truth spoken to me? ~ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice
Do we consider that there are parts of our client’s stories that are never given words, are essentially deleted, or never even noticed by themselves, by us, or by others because they just don’t fit in with the dominant story, or with our assumptions as psychotherapists?
How can we learn from clients and colleagues who are different from us without making them feel unduly burdened or pressured into teaching and explaining?
Are we mindful that those with experiences of oppression and narrative burden need to protect themselves from scrutiny and the unempathic Gaze of individuals, institutions and environments that are distorting, enraging or exhausting?
Do we condone or assume that narratives of privilege are healthy for privileged people? Do we remind ourselves that none of us are free unless all of us are free?
Do I examine myself for aspects of prejudice that may be buried including beliefs that seem to justify biases based on race, gender, sexual (and gender) identity, disability, class, and feelings of inferiority or superiority? ~ Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Faith and Practice
What is my psychotherapeutic practice doing to help overcome the contemporary psychologically wounding effects of past and present oppression?
Questions, and more questions, and questions as yet unformulated.
No answers please.