How Can Therapists Handle Bias and Discrimination From A Client?
More often than not, therapists face discrimination and prejudice from clients.
There have been many instances where clients have refused to seek treatment from therapists who are black, gay, or in some cases, therapists who appear to be younger than the client.
Prejudice may not bring clients to therapy. But, clients may express their prejudices in counseling or therapy.
Many therapists have reported having experienced discrimination from clients based on age, religion, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, or physical appearance. Based on these traits, clients have faced "doubts about the ability of a therapist to treat them".
Such biases are hurtful and unfair since these do not dictate their experience, expertise, character, and level of education and training.
Instead, it drives a gap between them and causes a negative relationship that will impede any successful treatment.
But, therapists must learn how to handle prejudice from clients and ways to address such cases, since its a part of the job.
Know yourself first
There is no harm in considering your own social and cultural views. It is crucial to know what your clients, with their prejudice, bring up within you.
Be prepared for such experiences so that you understand what's happening and the reason behind your client's views. You will be in a better position to develop a good relationship with them and not project your opinions on the client.
Have an open conversation
Having an open conversation with your client on diversity issues can be daunting. It may feel like it is going to suck the air out of the room.
But, it helps to improve your ability to provide quality treatment to the client.
Your clients' concerns regarding you and any criticism from them will give you a better understanding of their vulnerability and who they are.
Getting to the core of their beliefs will allow you to explore the best way to work on your clients' views on a particular group of people.
Instead of immediately addressing your client's biased remark as offensive and insulting, it is better to talk and show them the suitable way to come to terms with their biases via therapy. It is a long term solution.
Know when to be direct and when to keep silent
Some therapists choose to confront their clients directly while welcoming their views. If their remarks during therapy offend you, then by not addressing those, you might be bothered. It might hinder treatment.
But, some use silence as a tool. Silence will make the clients question the logic behind their prejudices. It will allow you to explore the situation and resolve it.
However, there is no "right" way to act in such situations. If a client is aware of the implications of being called a racist, then a therapist addressing his prejudices will make him feel embarrassed and ashamed. But, if you choose not to bring it up and ignore it, then a client might mistake it for an acceptable outlook without any consequences.
Get to the root of their views
Sometimes working on your clients' bigoted remarks is relevant to their therapy. You may want to encourage them to think about what is driving their behavior, how they can change it, and how it may affect their relationships.
You can help them understand the reason behind their views, how have they developed it, and if it is causing stress or anxiety in their life.
Having judgments can intensify emotions and obstruct the thinking process. You can target therapy on this issue and help your client challenge their views.
Keep the focus on the client
For some clients, talking to a therapist about their biases is probably the first time they are coming to terms with their problem.
When therapists deal with multicultural clients and value diversity, they find it difficult to work with clients who express prejudices. You will have to consider the fact of whether addressing the client's bias and prejudice is relevant to his treatment?
At any point, the conversation may go sideways. Their views may make you angry, resentful, or hurt you. It may interfere with any interventions and treatment.
For example, a gay therapist has a client who openly expresses homophobic views. Such a situation is relevant to the therapist, both professionally and personally. But, if the therapist chooses to disclose his homosexuality to the homophobic client, then who will benefit from it? Will it be the client or the therapist?
It is pivotal to keep the focus on the client for an effective outcome.
Seek support and training
Your job demands you to listen and work through your client's issues, and that includes derogatory remarks from them. But, repeatedly facing offensive comments is harmful.
It is imperative to share your experiences and seek the support of your co-workers and supervisors. It will also allow you to figure out better ways to respond to such situations and figure out solutions.
There are various lectures, workshops, and training programs that can help you navigate these obstacles.
Related: Corona Anxiety: Why Therapists Need Therapy Themselves
Therapists must give options and room for clients to discuss their preconceptions considering their personal experiences.
Ethically speaking, you have to respect and accept a client's views and opinions without being judgmental. At the same time, it is your moral responsibility to promote social justice.