Have you been thinking about what can you do during these times? How can you be a leader? How can you talk about issues such as racial justice and inequality with your clients?
In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks to Dr. Chinwé Williams about moving forward from here: lessons to learn from this moment.
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Meet Dr. Chinwé Williams
Chinwé Williams, Ph.D., is an EMDR trained, Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Board Certified Counselor, and a Certified Professional Counselor Supervisor (CPCS). She earned a master’s degree in Counseling from the University of Georgia and a doctorate in Counselor Education from Georgia State University.
Her 19 years of professional experience include work in school systems, community mental health, hospitals, and university settings working with a range of trauma survivors, including combat veterans and clients who have been physically and sexually assaulted in childhood and adulthood. Clinical specialties include trauma resolution, adolescent and young adult concerns, and women’s wellness.
She is the owner of Meaningful Solutions Counseling & Consulting and Co-founder of Southeastern Counselor Training Institute (SCTI).
In This Podcast
- Therapists as leaders
- Dehumanization and leadership
- How to talk about racial justice and equality
Therapists as leaders
We, as therapists, are advocates for change. We can be a voice for healing.
Through the pain and ugliness, there is an opportunity for therapists to move beyond therapy and become leaders. It starts with having conversations with yourself and exploring your vulnerabilities and fears.
For Dr. Williams, she began exploring these topics and posting about what was going on through her social media. She also started blogging for organizations, drawing from her experience and expertise to become a thought leader – and you’re invited to do the same.
Just based on our education, right, we’re probably gonna be more knowledgeable than anyone else in the world around some of these mental health topics, that are of course right now at the forefront.
As a therapist, you also have the skills to bring calm to a room and regulate your own emotions and the emotions of your clients, in order to explore uncomfortable topics. These are strong leadership qualities necessary for affecting positive change.
Dehumanization and leadership
Research suggests that part of what we’re seeing in things like police brutality is dehumanization. During times of high stress, humans don’t see each other as human, and that police brutality may not even be direct racism but rather dehumanization due to the heat of the moment and their own fear of a perceived threat.
For minorities – especially black people – the adjectives used to describe them as children suddenly change the older that they get. People (mainly white people) begin to view them as a threat, and when this happens dehumanization starts.
As therapists and leaders – especially white therapists – there is an opportunity to break this culture of silence around issues of racial injustice and put an end to dehumanization.
How to talk about racial justice and equality
Any form of grief requires something, but we can’t always put that ‘something’ into words. For Dr. Williams, when the protests started around racial injustice and police brutality, her fellow white therapists and friends were silent on the subject. Yet, what she needed was a clear message to say that her humanity mattered to them. This spurred her to write this blog.
Conflict is necessary when addressing problems of racial justice and equality, as it is required for true transformation to occur, something you may say to couples or parents battling with their teens.
Conflict has to be understood and embraced as part of the process.
1) What to do on an Individual Level
Just because something is uncomfortable, doesn’t mean that it’s unsafe.
You may have to battle with your ‘heroes’, and often it’s your family and friends, to challenge stereotypes and racist thinking. Share positive stories of people who your family/friends would perhaps show bias towards.
2) What to do in the Therapy Room
It’s hard to broach the subject of racial identities with your clients, but try using lines (if you’re of color) like: ‘I can never really know what it’s like to be a white person experiencing all of the social unrest in our nation, but if it makes sense for you I hope our time together will make you feel safe enough for you to bring up your experience.’
This gives your clients the opportunity to share their thoughts and for you to introduce topics for them to think about. Often, this builds a deeper connection between you both.
We tend to think of therapy as just focusing on individual variables, and that’s a part of it but multi-cultural counseling, social justice awareness teaches us that what is happening externally does impact clients.
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Meet Joe Sanok
Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.
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This is the Practice of the Practice podcast with Joe Sanok. Session number 493.
Welcome! I am so glad you’re here. You know what? We are fast approaching episode 500. 500! Oh my word, I’ve done this a long time. Dang, it’s crazy. You know, if you want to leave us a voicemail about the impact this podcast has made or to congratulate us on episode 500, I would love for you to go over to practiceofthepractice.com/voicemail. Leave us a voicemail, do it in like 20, 30 seconds, say who you are, where you’re from, and maybe quickly just how this podcast has helped you. We are so excited to be approaching Episode 500 and we may include your comments in Episode 500.
Well, today, we are talking about moving forward from here, lessons to learn from this moment, and I’m just, you know, at the time of this recording, we are about to hit the road on an epic road trip where we are going to quarantine in national parks. By the time this goes live, we should be in Colorado ready to kick off Killin’It Camp. So if you haven’t got your tickets to Killin’It Camp, grab those at killinitcamp.com. But, you know, we got this camper, we are launching a podcast called Leave to Find, a family adventure podcast. You know, I think that I loved this conversation with Dr. Williams. She really helped bring together just so many things that have gone on over 2020 and kind of where we can go from here. So, without any further ado, I give you Dr. Williams.
Well, today, on the Practice of the Practice podcast we have Dr. Chinwe Williams. Chinwe is an EMDR trained licensed professional counselor, board-certified counselor, and a certified professional counselor supervisor. She earned a master’s degree in counseling from the University of Georgia and a doctorate in counselor education from Georgia State University. Her 19 years of professional experience include work in school systems, community mental health hospitals, and university settings, working with a range of trauma survivors, including combat vets and clients who have been physically and sexually assaulted in childhood and adulthood. Clinical specialties include trauma resolution, adolescent and young adult concerns, and women’s wellness. She’s the owner of Meaningful Solutions Counseling & Consulting and co-founder of Southeastern Counselor Training Institute. Welcome to the Practice of the Practice podcast.[CHINWE]:
Thank you, Joe. Thanks so much for having me. [JOE]:
Yeah, I forgot to ask you before we got going – do you prefer to be called Chinwe or Dr. Williams. [CHINWE]:
Chinwe, please. [JOE]:
Okay. I usually ask before we get rolling, but I didn’t, and I’m like, hey, just gonna ask right now. So, welcome to the podcast. We just spent, like, 20 minutes just chatting it up before we got started, it was so fun to just kind of hear about your world and everything. Today, we’re talking about moving forward from here, lessons to learn from this moment. And, you know, summer is behind us, and we have been through a lot in 2020, it’s not even over yet. So, let’s just start with, you know, what are you seeing kind of in your clinical work, in the work that you do outside of your practice, like, frame out this discussion a little bit for us? [CHINWE]:
Yeah, absolutely. And thank you so much, Joe, for really providing the platform for these discussions. I’ve been listening to your podcasts really for years and this past couple of weeks, I’ve been really honing in on the black therapist leadership leader series, and I just want to commend you for providing the space for all of these conversations. So, I have been seeing a lot, and probably similar to the therapists that are listening right now, there’s been a ton of anxiety. For some of my more anxious clients, the beginning of all of this with COVID, they were kind of like, “We’re good, like, you guys are starting to kind of get a feel of what we experienced in terms of anxiety”. And so, of course, some of my introverted clients were fine being at home and really preferred it, and then I found that probably a month ago, everyone sort of hit a wall. Folks that were extroverted and were really sort of itching to connect socially, and then folks that were really happy being at home, started to notice that they missed those connections.
So, seeing a little bit of everything on the clinical side, certainly, a lot of trauma related to COVID, related to the social and racial unrest that our nation has been experiencing and, as we talked about earlier, Joe, what has been kind of neat for me is being able to do a lot of speaking engagements, a lot of training, a lot of consultations, virtually. So it’s awesome because I’ve got, you know, a family, I’ve got small kids, it’s great not to have to kind of, like, you know, spend a lot of time traveling. So, what I’ve been seeing in the consultation space, in the training space, are a lot of requests from faith groups, from schools, colleges, universities, for-profit, nonprofit entities, around really two areas, anxiety about COVID health issues and also about reopening. A lot of people, just depending on where you are in the country, are tackling that.
And then, I’ve also been talking to a lot of staff just in helping different teams process through the stress of the last few months, a lot of talks around change and transition, and of course, helping groups and organizations think through how they can specifically kind of dismantle racism and different systems of discrimination and oppression within their organizations, and how they can be leaders or agents of change by facilitating a more inclusive work environment. So, and you and I talked about this, I actually see this time, with the pain, with the ugliness, with the stress, as a real opportunity, especially for therapists who are doing clinical work, for therapists who are consultants who want to sort of move beyond the therapy room, as a way to really be advocates for change and be a voice for healing. Because let’s face it, over the past two to three months, it’s pretty clear that returning to ‘business as usual is not going to be good for business.[JOE]:
Right, right. You know, one question that I often get, and we don’t have to go too far down this path, but people that want to be consultants, you know, they have their doctorate or they’re highly skilled, and they know that it would help a school system, a hospital, a business, but they can’t kind of crack the code to get in there. How did these organizations find you? How did you position yourself to be able to take on more consulting during this time? ‘Cause I think a lot of people have the skill set but they have no idea how to kind of get into those organizations. [CHINWE]:
Yeah, that’s a really good question. And for me, it really started off with having a conversation, doing some mirror work, Joe, having a conversation with myself about putting myself out there. So, I have been pretty confident in most areas professionally and personally, but I’ve gotta tell you, it was really difficult for me to kind of put myself out there, especially when social media, kind of, like, the wave of social media, I was one of the later sort of adopters of, you know, posting different aspects of your personal life. And so, when I started doing that, things changed. So, a couple of things that I would share with your listeners – blogging, and I know you guys talk about this too. I started blogging, and not only for myself, but for different organizations, and different media groups and publications, really short, it doesn’t have to be really long or lengthy but just brief statements around anything that’s mental health-related, that really puts you out there, it puts your work out there, you become a thought leader.
And then I also would just sort of say ‘yes’ to anything, any requests that were offered It could be a rotary group, it could be a women’s group, it could be a church group, looking for information around stress and anxiety and how to manage life transitions, how-to, you know, deal with the adolescent years. So, those are things that I felt comfortable with, being a former school counselor and also working in mental health for many years, so I really started kind of leaning towards those opportunities whereas, initially, I think I was a little bit more kind of hesitant, thinking that the therapy room is sort of like my home base, and that’s my safe space, but we as therapists have so much value to offer. And you’ve talked about this before, Joe, that just based on our education, right, we’re probably going to be more knowledgeable than anyone else in the room around some of these mental health topics that of course, right now, are at the forefront. So I would say, say ‘yes’, do things for free initially – that won’t always be the case, but that’s a way for people, you never know who’s going to be in the room that’s going to resonate with your style of presenting or the topic and will tell someone else about you, and then that person will be willing to pay you. So, that’s kind of how I got started.[JOE]:
And I think that it then perpetuates itself. So like how you can come to this podcast and say, “I’ve worked with these organizations and here are trends that I’m noticing”, it then makes you a better consultant to say, “Hey, we are leaders, we are leaders in this sense”, and then you get those experiences, and now you have a reference point to keep going back to and it kind of perpetuates itself once you get doing more of that work. [CHINWE]:
Oh, absolutely. And again, just posting, I was really shy about that, Joe, I was like, is that sort of like, you know, I don’t know, being too self-promoting to say, “Oh, I just spoke with this, you know, this last app, I just spoke with the school district, you know, who cares? Does anybody really care?” But people do care because people are looking for therapists who have the credibility to speak on these different topics, and that is a way to kind of expand your reach and really share your knowledge and talk about those things that you’re passionate about. So, absolutely, it builds on itself. [JOE]:
Yeah, and I want to dig into that a little bit more into kind of counselors and therapists as leaders during this transition time. So, you know, moving forward from here, maybe talk a little bit more about us as leaders. [CHINWE]:
Yeah, absolutely. So, again, the statement that kept swirling in my head in the past couple of months, and especially, you know, since George Floyd’s murder is, you know, we, as therapists, are advocates for change, we can be a voice for healing. So, right now, collectively, and especially right after George Floyd’s murder, I would say, just from a trauma perspective and a brain perspective, our amygdalas were on fire, right? My girl friends, who are therapists, we joke sometimes and say, you know, our prehistoric brain needed to go to the bathroom, like, it just was so much going on, and we were offline, and so was the nation. But we’re well-equipped because of our training, because of our background, because many of us have temperaments, especially if you work with trauma, if you work with couples, we have the ability to bring calm into a room and the ability to regulate our own emotions, first of all, and then the emotions of our clients and our consulting clients.
And so, that’s kind of, that was my thought, like, yes, some of us are traumatized by what we’ve experienced in the last couple of months, but we do have the skill base, we do have the knowledge, to get ourselves back online, to engage with our loved ones, to eat, you know, in healthy ways, to move our bodies so that we can feel more regulated to do this type of work. And people need us, kind of going back to our conversation around organizational consultation, you know, people are looking for us to kind of see what’s happening within their staff, like, how do we track staff engagement and satisfaction? How do we recognize where there are disparities? And how do we sort of help organizations to have a collective understanding around how stress or race or racial injustice impacts their work, but we aren’t able to do that effectively if we aren’t working from our frontal lobes.[JOE]:
Yeah, so I do think that we’re well equipped to be leaders. [JOE]:
Well, and I think that there’s a tendency almost like, “Well, I’m a therapist. I probably don’t need to do as much of that work”, and, like, I think people oftentimes feel like they don’t reflect back the skill set to themselves, like even just yesterday, I was dealing with a business that dropped the ball in a bunch of different areas and it’s setting us behind in a very frustrating way, and I was making dinner for the family and I just realized that I was super P.O.’d and annoyed at the situation, it was unnecessary, it was just bad business, and I knew I would probably snap at my kids or my wife, and I just finished my dinner quickly and I’m like, ‘I’m gonna go for a walk because, family, I feel like I am going to just like lose my mind and it’s nothing you’ve done, it’s entirely this other thing, and I’m going to just go for a walk”. And I’m putting on my shoes, my little five year old who, tends to be more resistant to hugs and kisses and we give her that space, she comes over to me and she gives me a little hug and gives me a little kiss on the cheek and is like, “I hope you feel better, Daddy”. And then it’s like, I go for this walk and kind of reset and think through things and stop thinking about things and, you know, I came back and I was more grounded. And I think that that then teaches my kids, it teaches my wife, it teaches myself just that I need to be responsible for my emotions when I’m feeling off, and that’s a micro version of, you know, all the major things going on in the world, but, to me, it’s those daily decisions to help myself stay grounded so that I can have the clarity to be a solid leader because that stuff’s just going to get in the way if I don’t do that personal work. [CHINWE]:
Oh, 100%. And it takes really small steps, right? And that’s what we know, as therapists, is that it’s not really groundbreaking information on how to kind of get ourselves back and regulated, but we know it. We know it in a way that the general public doesn’t, but we also need to be reminded of it, that we have the information, we have the training. I’m the same way, Joe, like, I just need, for me nature’s very grounding. [JOE]:
If I’m outside, close to trees and preferably water. [JOE]:
You’d love Northern Michigan, ‘cause we’re two blocks from one lake and two blocks from another. [CHINWE]:
I knew you were gonna say that. Actually, a marketer contacted me recently, and we have a relationship, we’ve actually had lunch together and we’re becoming pretty good acquaintances. She emailed me out of the blue and she said, “Do you want to go paddleboarding?” and I go, “Yes!” and then I told my husband and my husband goes, “Do you know how to paddleboard?” I go, “No, but Joe Sanok talks about it all the time!” [JOE]:
I just went on Monday. It was awesome, it was with my friend Marty. Yeah. [CHINWE]:
So I think I’m gonna be learning how to. And I said, like, “I don’t know how to do it but I’m really excited about it” and she said, “We can socially distance and all that,” she goes, “Yeah, it’s much easier on a lake” and that’s where we’re going to be going. [JOE]:
Oh, yeah. My biggest piece of advice is if there’s a boat that you see go by, even if it’s like a quarter-mile away, pay attention to its waves, because if it hits you sideways, you’re going to totally get bonked around, but if you go nose first into it, it’ll be way easier to manage. And keep your knees bent a little bit. [CHINWE]:
Okay, now I’m nervous. Thank you, Joe. [JOE]:
No, no, I mean, if you just plan on getting wet, it’s like, “okay, so, I fell off, it’s no big deal, like, I’m a little bit wet, so what?” [CHINWE]:
But yeah, I’m so excited about it. [JOE]:
That’s awesome. [CHINWE]:
So we know about that stuff, right? We know what’s calming. [JOE]:
Yeah. Well, so I’m not sure the best kind of segue into this, but I know that you and I were talking beforehand a little bit about kind of dehumanization. And so, yes, we’re leaders on one side, but we’ve got this whole society and online world and just, like, vilification of other people’s thoughts and, like, not even being able to have discussions oftentimes, without it becoming heated and dehumanizing. And I just want to kind of put that out there, because I know that you have thoughts on that. Tell us how that kind of connects with leadership? [CHINWE]:
Yeah, no, absolutely. I have a lot of thoughts about that, and I know I’m not the only one. We’ve been seeing it for quite a bit, so many people sort of point to social media and just, you know, the cyberbullying that’s been going on – not just with kids, but with parents and with adults in general – and then if we sort of, like, look at what’s been happening with this discussion around police brutality, I just want to bring up a study – I’ll have to get it for you for the show notes, Joe, I don’t have the citation in front of me – but there’s research that suggests that part of what we’re seeing with police brutality is that there is a dehumanization, so it’s not even direct racism, so it’s not that any individual or a specific individual always has hate in their heart, it’s that in that moment of high, high stress and tension, sometimes we just don’t see each other as humans.
And the research that’s coming to mind right now is several studies, not just for police but for people in other professions, that suggest that when we look at a black boy, for example, who’s 10 years old, and we look at a white boy, who is 10 years old, we tend to, as people, and especially white people, we tend to look at that 10-year-old as if he’s 3 and a half years older. So we look at him like he’s 13, or maybe 14, but we see the same age boy who happens to be white, as 10, or maybe even younger. So, if you think about a 15-year-old male, he is often looked at, especially when there’s, you know, a sense of fear or threat, he’s looked at as almost 18. And so, that’s something that we have to pay attention to, because initially, when kids, you know, are younger, across the races, most people will think of a younger child as innocent, and we have all of these adjectives to sort of describe the child; playful and curious and, you know, enjoying life. But as they get older, especially for minority kids, for black kids, those adjectives begin to change, and as they get older and taller and bigger, we tend to think of them as a threat, and when someone, anyone, poses a threat to our system, we don’t see them as humans.
And so, where that sort of connects with therapists and leaders, I kind of want to go for therapists as leaders, I kind of want to go back to a blog that I wrote, again, I think it was probably a week or two after George Floyd’s murder, and I have a practice that’s split down the middle – 50% black clients, 50% white clients – and there was just a lot going on. A lot of trauma, a lot of pain, I was holding space for a lot of pain, I was experiencing my own pain as a mother of two black sons. And I wrote the blog just calling on my white colleagues, my white therapist friends, on sort of breaking this culture of silence that we have around race. So I’m part of a Listserv of, I can’t tell you, thousands and thousands of therapists in a statewide Listserv. During COVID, that Listserv was on fire every single day. People were trying to make the decision around, ‘Do I go back into the office?’ You know, ‘How do I do telehealth?’, ‘What platform works the best?’… such, you know, a flurry of conversation that was really helpful. Right after George Floyd died – radio silence. And if I’m being honest, there probably were, I remember, two posts from therapists who were minority therapists, and that’s it. So I felt that and I tend to be pretty regulated, but I felt that.[JOE]:
Wait, tell me, what did you feel there? [CHINWE]:
Yeah, thank you for asking. I was confused, so I waited, and that’s the regulated part of me, like, let me just wait a while. People are in shock, I’m in shock. I’m not writing, I’m not posting, so let me sort of pay attention to what happens. And then I live in Atlanta, Joe, so Atlanta was not only figuratively but literally on fire, downtown Atlanta, you probably remember that well. So I had clients that lived in condos, you know, very expensive condos in the midst of all of this, and they were afraid to leave their house, and they were in tears because… a lot of cases were very, very peaceful protests, in some cases, there was violence that erupted. And so, I’m experiencing this with my clients, I’m watching it, I live in this area, and then I go to the Listserv that we’re on every single day, talking about a host of different issues around trauma, around, again, different video platforms and portals and insurance – nothing. So, confusion set in, and then I experienced a myriad of emotions. I started feeling a lot of distress, anxiety, anger, outrage, not towards my therapist friends, but just towards everything that was happening around me. And then sadness, because there was virtually no mention of things that were happening right around us that impact our clients. And so, you know, I went through a lot… [JOE]:
Can I jump in there? [CHINWE]:
Yeah, please. [JOE]:
So, like, if you could say to the white therapists that were in that Listserv, like, what would have been helpful? What would have been reassuring? What would have been a way to join you at that moment that would have just joined you in that? [CHINWE]:
Yeah. Thank you for that, and I will answer that. Before I do, I want to say that these are a lot of people whom I greatly respect and have had different forms of relationships with, have collaborated with, and so there are a few that kind of jumped, you know, that my thoughts sort of centered around, and I was thinking like, “How dare they not speak up at a time like this?” And then I was foggy, admittedly, and then the fog cleared, and I remembered my years of trauma training, that kicked in, and I realized that they’re probably scared, overwhelmed, uncertain about what to say or do, and those private messages started trickling in and I recognized that everybody was at a different place. But what I really needed was a clear message that my humanity matters to you.
So, I don’t know how to, you know, put that in specific language because, as we know, Joe, as therapists with grief, right? Any form of grief or loss requires something, but we can’t always put that something into words. And oftentimes, we’ll share with people that, you know, the words don’t really matter. Of course, there are things that you can say that are harmful, there are things that you can, you know, you can say that isn’t as helpful, but it’s not so much what you say when people are in pain or when they’re grieving, it’s your presence. It’s your presence. And so how, and of course, some of us, we’re socially distanced, and it’s so much more difficult to connect, and definitely connect physically, but even a text that says, “I stand in solidarity with you”.[JOE]:
Yeah. “How are you coping?”, “My heart hurts”. And by the way, those started to trickle in. Not from the Listserv, that took a while… but the private messages, I can’t say enough about that. So, anything that really conveyed genuine connection and support was so welcome. [JOE]:
Thank you for sharing that. Now, I know, before we got rolling, there were kind of three areas that you wanted to kind of dig into, to kind of talk about some actions we can take. Would it be best to kind of transition into that now? Or was there more? Because I kind of interrupted you and your thought process. [CHINWE]:
No, no, you’re totally fine. Yeah, I do, I want to dig in. And so, just sort of related to what we just talked about, and I’m actually really glad that you asked about that and made it personal because I think that’s also part of the healing, right? It’s kind of reflecting back on what hurts, and what could have been helpful, and also, now that I’m in my, you know, my right brain, I can say, you know, what, these things actually happened and it felt really comforting. And so there were, I’ll be honest, I had a couple of my white friends and colleagues send food over to my house, I was like, “This is awesome”. And not just, you know, we’ve talked about guilt and all of that and how that’s unproductive… It didn’t feel like it was coming from a place of guilt, what it felt like, and actually, there was a message on the card that said, “I know that you’re caring a lot for other people. Let me take care of you in this way so you don’t have to cook for your family” and so, she had some food delivered, a meal. So, I loved that, so that did happen.
But I do want to say that conflict, just something to remember about conflict, and we therapists know this really well. Conflict has to be understood and embraced as part of the process. And Joe, I know you’ve shared your experience being open and vulnerable, and it got ugly, it got ugly. And even my blog post, there were a couple of people that said, white therapists, you know, well, you know, Jewish people have gone through these types of things, and just because I’m quiet, it doesn’t mean that I’m not listening and learning, and that’s valid, and some people might view that as conflict. And so, I think that conflict is not only incidental but I think it is required for true transformation to occur. And we say that couples, you know, we say that to parents who are struggling with their preteens and their teenagers, that kind of conflict can be actually really meaningful, really productive. And we, as therapists, really understand that that is change trying to happen. So I kind of wanted to go ahead and share that off the top.
But a few things that I’ve been thinking about in terms of just key areas that therapists are uniquely qualified and equipped for when we talk about racial justice and the quest for equality, is we’ve got to do our work individually, and it goes way, way beyond cultural competence. But that’s the best part of it, too. We know that change has to first occur on an individual level. So I guess I’ll mention the three areas initially. So the first is, on an individual level, we need to focus on doing things a little bit differently in the therapy room, and I think we also have to step outside of the therapy room and really think through what we can do for the community and within our sphere of influence. So, this is a time where we have to really sort of, like, have conversations around how we can change our industry, you know, and determine the path forward. What can our industry look like, sound like, behave like in the future?
Currently, you know, I don’t know… The last stat that I saw was like 83% of therapists are predominantly white and female. And so I think about 83%, and so I think that that can be… It is what it is, it’s a reality. It can be problematic when we acknowledge that therapists of color, black therapists, are holding space for black clients who are choosing to only go to black clinicians, and that’s tough because I know why clinicians who are amazing, empathic, they are social justice-oriented, they’ve been doing this work for years. And so, there’s enough of us to come together and have a dialogue in order to set a new standard, like, how can we serve and support not just our clients, but the community, in this fight against racial injustice? And can we agree that we lose out when we don’t hear diverse perspectives and viewpoints? Can we agree that social justice, which has been, like, this term that’s politicized but really just means ‘equality’? Can we agree that social justice is integrated with holistic health and well-being?
So, I think new conversations need to happen. So, individually, the work starts with confronting our own biases, our own assumptions, about people, our own white fragility. If you’re a black clinician, internalized racism is a real thing. And then we have to begin to form intentional relationships with people who not only have vastly different experiences but simply have a different skin color. And I think we do that when we travel, we do that when we engage in mission trips, and we think that that is enough. But there’s work to be done right here in our own neighborhoods, around connecting with people who look different from us.[JOE]:
Yeah, yeah. No, when you think about that personal, kind of in the therapy room, and then kind of in broader society, what are maybe just a couple ideas of ways that people could take action? So maybe personally, like, ‘here are some questions to consider, or with clients, like, ‘here’s a couple actions’ that maybe you’ve utilized. I know we aren’t going to capture even the tip of the iceberg with it, but just some kind of practical action items under each of those three categories as we start to wrap up the interview. [CHINWE]:
Sure. So, on the individual level – this part is hard, we as therapists understand family dynamics – we have to consider going to battle with our family members and our friends. And I know that sounds really, really harsh. [JOE]:
Let me just tell you, when I did the black leaders matters series in June, I had an opportunity to go to a battle with one of my family members. It was like the universe said, “Alright, Joe, you want to do this work?” And they said something and Christina and I – I was proud of Christina because she had been doing a lot of work, my wife Christina has been doing a lot of work, too – but it was a conversation that for years we had wanted to have, and it was just like, they said “All Lives Matter” and we then said, you know, like, we had a conversation about that. But holy cow, that’s hard. So, I just wanted to jump in there and say that. [CHINWE]:
I’m glad you did. [JOE]:
Yeah, but, yeah, it’s the idea of going to battle with your family to try to help change this is scary, but it’s so necessary. [CHINWE]:
It’s so necessary. And sometimes that means you’re going to battle with your heroes, right? Your grandparents, or people that you’ve respected in a leadership role, and that is really, really hard. It’s one thing to, you know, challenge a stranger online, which we’re good at, but it’s another thing to address those family and friend dynamics which are really, really complicated. I actually had the same thing, I’m wondering what day it was that you and Christina had this conversation, because I promise you… My son, the community that we live in is majority white, and his school doesn’t have a black teacher, and I was having a conversation with his teacher. School ended early and abruptly, he had some items that were left in his cubby, she said, “Let’s meet at the Kroger” – I don’t know if you guys have that in Michigan, but it’s like a grocery store. [JOE]:
We met at the parking lot and she handed me his stuff and she said, “Chinwe, I just, you know, the world is on fire, and so much is going on”. And she said, “I wrote All Lives Matter on my Facebook page, and I got attacked”. And she said, “What do you think?” And I was like, “Ay ay ay, I really thought this is gonna be a quick trip”. But we had to have a conversation and my kids were present, and so I think that also was pretty challenging in modeling, staying regulated, really understanding her perspective, which she shared and I listened intently, and then I shared mine, from a couple of different levels, not just as a therapist, but as a black woman. And she said that it was eye-opening, she actually posted something. But it started off with “All Lives Matter”, so we are gonna have to engage in those conversations and recognize that, again, conflict is part of the process, and just because something is uncomfortable doesn’t mean that it’s unsafe, right? And so, leaning into those conversations and with those family members – you asked for, like, a specific example – can you share positive stories that you’ve had with people of color? With black people specifically?
It’s interesting, and I’m probably kind of going down a rabbit hole, but my husband, and he actually gave me permission to share this, I’ve shared it a couple of times already, he worked with a woman, an Indian woman, Southeast Asian, and she shared with him that when she came to this country in her 20s, she’s now in her 40s, she was petrified of black people. And Joe, the reason why was, right before she got on the plane to come here for school, to come to the United States, her mother said, “Please stay away from black men. They’re dangerous, and they’re criminals”, and she said to her mother, “Mom, you’ve never met a black man”, and her mom said, “Well, yes, but I watch the news and I watch the shows”. And she shared this with my husband, who happens to be a black male, and she said that that scared her for a number of years, just that thought swirling around in her mind that black men, in particular, were dangerous, until she started working with black people. And she worked with my husband for several years, and they really leaned on each other and they were allies for each other, supported each other in the corporate world wholeheartedly, and when she would go away – she became a manager – she would put my husband in charge. And she shared that, you know, she’s so glad that she realized the stereotypes were just that, stereotypes, and that she was able to really engage with different people of color and she was able to share those positive stories and experiences with her family back home. But she had to really, you know, battle that and dismantle those thoughts and those things that she learned from her mother whom she loved dearly. So, that is that as part of the work, and that’s going to look differently for each of us. In terms of the therapy room… Is it okay to keep going?[JOE]:
Yeah, keep going. [CHINWE]:
Yeah, we’ve gotta break up the silence, so that is what prompted me to do my blog. I don’t think I’ve ever written about anything related to, like, calling out therapists, my blog’s about anxiety and adolescence and trauma. So that’s what prompted me to speak out, and speak out, you know, pretty directly but with compassion, and I think we need to do more of this in the therapy room, but it’s hard. It’s hard, Joe, and I’ve talked to my white therapist friends, I’ve even talked to clients who’ve brought this up, my white clients who brought this up in the therapy room. It’s hard to broach the subject of race, so issues of race tend to sort of fade to the backdrop for many white people, and many of my white clients don’t feel equipped to talk about race. But what if, again, we as therapists, as leaders, initiated these discussions and broached them some thoughtfully? So, one example would be, in the intake, yes, there’s information about demographics. There’s, you know, race, address, all of these things, age. But can we add a question about racial identity? So, during that first session, can we help our clients to explore what it means to be white? Many of them are going to look at us like we’ve got three heads, like, “what do you mean?”, you know. Our black clients are probably going to be more receptive because that’s something that they think about all of the time. But just bringing that up, even if your clients don’t have a well-thought-out response or if they’re sort of thrown off a little bit, what you’re doing is that you’re modeling that these discussions can be had. So asking, what does it mean to be white? What does it mean to be black? How does race impact you? And of course, if there’s like a huge issue that’s happening in our nation, we, as therapists shouldn’t be afraid to say, “Wow, I don’t know-” and this is something that I say, “-I can never really know what it’s like to be a white person experiencing all of this social unrest in our nation, but if it makes sense for you, I hope our time together will feel safe enough for you to bring up your experience”. And you can leave it at that. And that gives them, you know, the opportunity to share if they feel comfortable sharing. [JOE]:
Wow, I’m just thinking about what a shift that would give for clients, to maybe even think through things that they didn’t come into the therapy session for. And I think a lot of therapists will have the perspective of, “Oh, I’m supposed to kind of really have it be client-led, client-centered”, you hear all that, but then there’s also a certain point when you, as a professional, can introduce things for them to ponder, for them to think. I mean, we do that all the time. You know, it’s not like someone comes in and says, “I want to know about mindfulness” if they don’t know about mindfulness, you know. So, we introduce the idea of mindfulness to someone who, you know, wants to become, you know, a less anxious person, for example, even though they didn’t come in and say, “I want to do that”. So, it seems like this would be kind of that same modality that we’re doing where we’re introducing something new, that maybe they didn’t intentionally come in for, but then it helps them grow as a person. [CHINWE]:
Right. And I think it helps you, as the therapist, connect on a deeper level with your client, whether they’re black, white, or brown. And so, what I discovered, again, these are sort of lessons that have been coming up for me while we’re going through all of this, what I discovered was that my clients, white and black, were sort of waiting for me to say something, and that’s what I wrote about in my blog. They wanted me to be the leader. And let’s face it, the leadership on a state, you know, state and national level has been inconsistent at best, right? Non-existent, at worst, right? Or harmful. So, we are the leaders, and so, they sort of looked at me like, “Oh, my gosh”, and some of them tried to take care of me, I said, “You don’t have to take care of me, this is your space”. So like, “How are you doing? I’ve been thinking a lot about you”. But some white clients ended up using that entire session, Joe, to talk about how these events were impacting them, and I think it’s a beautiful thing because we do tend to, it’s sort of a paradigm shift. We tend to think of therapy as just focusing on individual variables, and that’s a part of it, but multicultural counseling, social justice awareness teaches us that what is happening externally, does impact clients’ mental health and well-being. [JOE]:
Chinwe, the last question I always ask is, if every private practitioner in the world were listening right now, what would you want them to know? [CHINWE]:
Yeah, I love that. Keep listening on issues of racial justice, and social justice, and humanity, right, focusing on humanity, and not what we’ve been dealing with dehumanization, is keep listening, keep reading, keep learning, keep talking. Leverage your gifts, your power, your status. Expand your thinking. And Joe, you and I talked about this a little bit ago. I would love, love, love to share with your listeners a word, and share a little bit more about what this word means. So this is a word that’s used in South Africa, and the word is ubuntu. And it’s spelled U-B-U-N-T-U, ubuntu. And it’s a word that describes the very essence, really, of what it means to be human. It describes someone who’s generous, who’s compassionate, who’s connected. And so, it’s a word that drives many Africans, specifically South African Black, to forgive, rather than sort of demand retribution of their oppressors, and just saying that, there are going to be some clinicians, black clinicians, and white clinicians, who are gonna say, “No, we should demand retribution”, right? Like, there’s some people who don’t like the term ‘racial reconciliation and I’m not here to change your mind, I just want to share this concept with you. It is ubuntu that led Nelson Mandela, on the day of his inauguration as president – in a country, by the way, where he was a political prisoner for 27 years – that word enabled him to invite two of his prison guards to sit with him and chat and have a conversation. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in his memoir entitled No Future Without Forgiveness, describes people with this concept ubuntu as those who have an understanding that they belong in a greater whole, they’re connected to other people, and are actually diminished when other people are diminished or humiliated or oppressed. So, at the core of this term or this concept ubuntu is a true understanding of the fact that we are better together and we are connected on so many different levels, and it translates, by the way, as ‘I am, because we are’. [JOE]:
Man. Wow. Dr. Chinwe Williams, if people want to connect with you, if they want to follow your work, what’s the best way for them to connect with you? [CHINWE]:
Absolutely. I’m pretty active on Instagram, and it’s just @dr.chinwewilliams, and I also have a website, meaningfulsolutionscounseling.com. [JOE]:
Awesome. Well, thank you so much for being on the Practice of the Practice podcast. [CHINWE]:
Thank you so much for having me, Joe. I’ve enjoyed our discussion. [JOE]:
All right, we’ve got October, November, and December left in 2020. The final quarter. It’s the final countdown, doo doo doo doo… And you know, what are you going to do from here? Like, how are you going to make your practice better? How are you going to be a better clinician? How are you going to level up? How is 2021 going to be better, different, less lockdown, hopefully, than 2020? What are you going to do that you have some power to change? I wanna kind of challenge you in that area. As well, if you’re still doing your own billing, you’ve got to reach out to Practice Solutions. Head on over to practicesol.com. Practice Solutions is the best biller we have found. There are an amazing couple that owns the company, and they have over 20 billers that will work with you to get the money that you already should be getting from insurance companies. So, make sure you check out Practice Solutions. They are amazing. And thanks so much for letting me into your ears and into your brain. In the next episode, we’re actually going to be talking with a physical therapist and how Dr. Robert Moss has optimized his PT business, which is a little different than what we started talking about, but some of the things he said just are awesome. So make sure you check that out on the sixth. I’ll talk to you soon, bye.
Special thanks to the band Silence is Sexy for your intro music; we really like it. This podcast is designed to provide accurate, authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. It is given with the understanding that neither the host, the publisher, or the guests are rendering legal, accounting, clinical or other professional information. If you want a professional, you should find one.