Addressing Race Therapeutically in Black Relationships

Testimonials from the 2015 Psychotherapy Networker Symposium

Symposium Student Scholars

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.

Today I attended a workshop called “Working with Black Couples: Overcoming Myths and Stereotypes,” led by Dr. Christiana Awosan. During this talk, I gained immense insight on black relationships and how to create a space in therapy to have a dialogue about the challenges that occur for this population. Being an African American female, this talk was very emotional and I was able to identify with some of the stereotypes and assumptions that have been placed on black single heterosexual women in America.

My biggest takeaway was when Christiana said that the problem with black relationships is not that black men and women don’t want to stay together. It’s that they don’t know how to sustain their relationships. This information redirected my focus on the type of questions and conversations I should be initiating in the therapy room. I am a Family Therapy doctoral student and see three to four clients a week who are mainly African American families and couples. In sessions, I have gotten caught up in the bickering and arguments between couples and now I am able to see the struggle that lies deep within, that being race.

Christiana explained that race is a huge contextual factor in why black couples don’t stay together or have a hard time working through their issues. But nobody seems to be talking about this or giving voice to their oppressive experiences within society. The burden and stress of managing it alone transfers to the relationship where both parties feel like they are silenced once again. Furthermore, most black men feel undermined and black women are aware of the stereotypes or preconceived notions that are expected of them in relationships. However, once people start talking about their emotions, they’re able to embrace their partner’s struggle more fully and have a dialogue about the burden of being a black male or female in society and how those stereotypes are transmitted in relationships.

Overall, this workshop was very inspiring and I learned even more from the comments by others in the room. This presentation made me think a lot of about stereotypes and assumptions of black people and how that affects me as a therapist and human being.

Dara Winley
Drexel University

It’s the end of my first day at my first Psychotherapy Networker Symposium and my curious mind can’t stop racing. The positive energy in this space is fueling my desire to take in as much as possible from these brilliant minds surrounding me. I am currently a graduate student in Virginia Tech’s MFT program, where I have been fortunate to have exposure to both Mindfulness and Internal Family Systems through coursework and practicum. What the Symposium brought me today was a way for me to integrate the two. Jon Kabat-Zinn offered his take on being a mindful therapist in his Keynote speech, “What people really want from us is to be seen, met and heard. Not to be advised, not to be just listened to, but heard. And we can’t do that if our instrument is lost in thought, in a therapeutic agenda. What we most need to give people is the dimensionality of our presence.” This resonated so much with my beliefs and experience as a therapist thus far. I find that when I am in that “flow," I am attuned with my clients’ needs, which allows me to be at my best in serving them.

Following Kabat-Zinn, I attended Richard Schwartz’s session to discuss The Larger Self in the context of Internal Family Systems Therapy. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s concept of not getting lost in a “therapeutic agenda” can be compared to Schwartz’s work of asking our “inner parts” to step back so that we can remain ourselves throughout a therapy session. Schwartz later described being “in self” as involving the 8 C’s: calmness, clarity, curiosity, compassion, confidence, courage, creativity, and connectedness. I realized that many of the 8 C’s are present in my own meditation practice, as well the energy I create with my clients in an effort to provide them with a safe space to explore their own vulnerabilities. Although Kabat-Zinn and Schwartz have different approaches, their common thread is giving clients “the dimensionality of our presence.” Our goal as therapists is not to provide answers, but to empower our clients to see that answers come from within. It is when we can connect these various perspectives to form our own work that we use the science of therapy to create our own art.

Dina Hilaris
Virginia Tech

Want to learn more about the Symposium experience? Click here to see our workshops, presenters, photos, and more!

Topic: Professional Development | Aging | Couples | Mindfulness

Tags: add | conversation | ED | emotion | families | family | family systems | family systems therapy | family therapy | internal family systems | Jon Kabat Zinn | meditation | meditation practice | mft | mindful | Networker Symposium | psychotherapy | relationships | science | sex | SPECT | Symposium | talking | TED | therapist | therapists | therapy | Psychotherapy Networker | stress | clients | Richard Schwartz | black issues | African American | Christiana Awosan | civil rights | race | race relations

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