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|Beyond the Consulting Room - Page 11|
Now that I've learned to do this citizen-therapist work, my mission is to teach other therapists (and like-minded professionals) to become involved in their local communities. It requires focused effort and coaching, but it's a lot easier than learning to be a therapist in the first place.
The new Citizen Professional Center at the University of Minnesota is supervising professionals in 13 projects on healthcare issues (diabetes, smoking, depression), cultural change (oversexualization and the excesses leading to childhood obesity), school-community disconnect among new immigrant groups, and even loss of group identity within faith communities in the face of rampant consumerism. Wherever there's a social pressure point in a community, there's the making of citizen initiatives catalyzed by a citizen-professional.
This work doesn't require that the therapist have expert knowledge of the problem area being addressed, at least at the outset, because his or her expertise is primarily in bringing to bear a process and working style. I knew less about diabetes than anyone else in the room when I began my diabetes work, and my kids were raised in the era before traveling soccer teams. But I learned as we went. I knew nothing about the experiences of sub-Saharan African immigrants, but I could still coach local professionals, African and non-African, to catalyze a community initiative that accesses the knowledge, wisdom, and experience of the African community.
A downside of this work is that it rarely involves financial compensation for the citizen-therapist in the early stages, although funding has come at some point for 7 of the 13 projects. For instance, our Family Education Diabetes Series with the American Indian population and our Hmong Women United Against Depression project are now supported by grants.
On the upside, citizen-therapist work doesn't require a large time commitment; it can be done in about six to eight hours per month over an extended period of time. Working much harder than that means you're overfunctioning and doing things that other citizens should be doing. Many therapists contribute this amount of time to community service work or pro bono therapy, and could shift their time to citizen-professional work.