Symposium Highlight

Addressing Race and Culture in the Therapy Room

Testimonials from the 2015 Psychotherapy Networker Symposium

Symposium Student Scholars
Addressing Race and Culture in the Therapy Room

The following are blogs from our Student Scholarship recipients, detailing their experiences on Days 1 and 2 of the 2015 Psychotherapy Networker Symposium, held in March.

As a first time attendee at the Networker Symposium, but a student who has frequented and presented at many national and international conferences over the years, I was struck by the sheer magnitude and reach that the Networker has amassed over the years. As a family therapist, I know the power of thinking relationally, collaborating, and working across difference to find the many places where we actually share similarities.

I also appreciate that the Networker seems to value and work to infuse—in some ways—the voices of those of us who are considered “newbies” in the field, with less than 10 years of clinical and/or research experience. We are valued alongside established and more seasoned professionals whom we all love to read, learn from, and emulate in our respective practices.

The presentation I want to focus on was one that I attended on Friday morning on working with Black, never married, heterosexual couples. It was a spectacular presentation delivered by Dr. Christiana Awosan, a Nigerian-American woman currently an Assistant Professor at a university in the Northeast. She was such a dynamic and engaging presenter, and had the energy, passion, and wide but focused curiosity that is such a hallmark of (relative) youth in the field. Her presentation called practitioners, researchers, and educators alike to ask about and attend to some tough investigations and questions when working with Black couples, specifically. However, this work could easily be extended to working with any historically marginalized and oppressed group. She invited us to consider the context that Black heterosexual men and women are coupling within, related to the experiences of slavery and racism, both as it was experienced over 250 years ago and also in how it still persists in our society today.

What has changed since the times of overt and covert acts of racism and what has stayed the same about it? How has, what she calls, the imposition of whiteness, been internalized into the psyches, emotional experiences, beliefs, and biases of Black individuals in contemporary society? How do internalized racial stereotypes operate within the dating and coupling experiences of Black heterosexual men and women, effectively creating distance, misunderstanding, and in-group tension between people who oftentimes really are interested in coupling and marrying one another, but experience difficulty in doing so? There are so many questions that were sparked from her data and what she presented today, and my hope is that the Networker is committed to and willing to continue to engage with some of these difficult dialogues as we are experiencing another critical and shameful time in our country, and globally, with regard to the erasure of Black bodies, Black relationships, and the work of social justice as a whole. There are truly The Colors of Tomorrow that we are living today.

Monique D. Walker, PhD, MFT
Drexel University

The Psychotherapy Networker Symposium is truly a special experience. As a student I am familiar with the process of going to a workshop with a dual purpose. You are going to fill your brain with information that you hope to use in practice, and to make connections within the field. The networker has both of these things, not only do some of the biggest names in the field come to share their wisdom, but also wonderful clinicians from all over the country, and the world. If this were all the Networker offered it would be enough, but there is so much more.

When I ask myself what this “more” may be, the first word that comes to mind is generosity. This year I have already had the honor to spend time learning from Jonathon Foust and Jon Kabat-Zinn. Both of them embodied the generosity I have become accustomed to receiving from Symposium presenters. Not only are they generously imparting their knowledge and wisdom on us, but I feel that they do this with their whole being. The energy in the room was very apparent.

Finally, I am equally grateful for the generosity of spirit I have found in my fellow Symposium goers. They are not passive sponges sitting and simply soaking in information, but active participants. Just as the presenters share their knowledge and stories of experiences, so do attendees. It is touching the number of people I feel have shared intimate aspects of who they are in exercises, while also being caring compassionate witnesses to others’ stories. I will leave the Symposium having learned information about mindfulness, but more important I will leave having practiced and shared it with others. I have struggled, toiled, triumphed, cried, and laughed in my time at the Symposium, and what is wonderful is that I did not do these things alone. I was surrounded by a family who joined the process.

Jessica Hilbert
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology