Embracing Both/ And


Embracing Both/ And

Race and Therapy

By Ken Hardy

November/December 1995


EARLY IN MY CAREER, I LOVED the stories of the great family therapists who, with unwavering conviction, marched into therapy sessions and applied their particular brand of intervention. When I watched tapes of the Master Therapists, I was always transfixed by the happy ending: the stone-faced father who finally cried, the controlling mother who saw the error of her ways, the phobic child who happily went back to school. Our Movie-of-the-Week version of therapy lulled me into believing that there was either success or failure for therapists, either health or dysfunction for families. But 20 years later, having experienced my share of ambiguous cases satisfying and frustrating, painful and oddly funny, disastrous and successful I now know better. Life is a messy and confusing tangle of middle ground, neither here nor there, never just black or white. I've come to believe that as important as it is for therapists to know the right intervention to end a family's emotional gridlock, it's just as important to resist the pull of polarized thinking either/or, good or evil, victim or perpetrator, pro-choice or pro-life, or any one of a million dichotomies that shape our identities and our culture.

Polarizations, both mundane and existential, have one compelling quality: they break things down into neat categories and seemingly clear choices. They are also insidiously destructive, creating a wedge between people by making their differences seem vast…

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