black people holding hands

For me, this is the beginning of an exploration, a path I’m trying to shape for myself. I’ve accepted that if I’m going to be forced to produce under capitalism, I’ll at least try to disrupt where I can. Recently, I’ve been spending time thinking about what Black Feminist Therapy looks and feels like in praxis.

How I got here

Last year, I read the book Feminist Theories & Psychotherapies. Before then, I had not imagined that the field of psychology that gave us Freud and CBT would have people in it talking about feminist anything. Reading this book helped me unlock a whole new way of thinking about being a therapist. I now more easily imagine how to insert my authentic self into my contributions to the field. With that, I bring a Black Feminist framework I was already very much familiar with.

What do I mean by Black Feminist Therapy?

I’ll start with a definition of feminism as described by bell hooks: a commitment to eliminating all forms of oppression, including racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism. Feminist therapy uses this lens to understand problems. Feminist therapists do not subscribe to counseling people to simply adjust to adversity. Often this means acknowledging that societal structures often oppress us into “pathology”.

Taken from the article Developing a Black Feminist Analysis for Mental Health Practice: From Theory to Praxis: The use of a Black feminist therapeutic perspective represents an intellectual and practical effort to use racial consciousness to place the authentic reality of Black women at the center of the therapeutic process. Inserting a black feminist framework into the therapeutic process reconceptualizes what “normal” is. 

Historically, psychology has been shaped by white men who have intentionally removed themselves from the experiences of peoples who are not like them. Psychology is born out of the age-old effort to normalize whiteness as the standard. Thus, people of color often find themselves being labeled in such a way that unnecessarily stigmatizes them. 

“Black feminist therapists propose theories and practice interventions that assist Black women in discerning their personal struggles from the structural constraints of racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia, thereby moving their life situations from models of pathology to those of wellness.” (Jones, 2019, p.1)

Sister Outsider

Reading Sister Outsider grounded me in the reasons why I’m pursuing licensure in the mental health counseling field. Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, but more usually we must do battle where we are standing”. I think about this as I contemplate my place in the therapeutic space. This is where I choose to fight from. 

“What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of then, still in silence?” –  This quote reminds me of why I first started blogging many moons ago and why I continue to sometimes be the lone voice pointing out harm. Silence does not move us forward. 

“I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self”. This is why a Black feminist framework must inform the therapy I facilitate. As a client, sitting across from someone who seems to only be comfortable with certain aspects of who you are is … not productive. At worst, it’s invalidating and can be a setback for your process. All Black people should be able to bring their full identities into the therapy room. Tell me we’re supposed to get to the root of what a person is dealing with, without exposure to their total self?

How We Get Free

How We Get Free: Black Feminism & the Combahee River Collective. In the Combahee River Collective Statement, they assert: “Our politics evolve from a healthy love for ourselves, our sisters and our community which allows us to continue our struggle and work”. The sentiment of this statement guides my work as a clinician in training. I wouldn’t be doing this work if not for wanting us to embark on healing journeys. I am also aware that what many of us need is a fundamentally different societal context to thrive. The personal is political. Much of what shapes our daily lives needs to be dismantled for us to thrive. That understanding exists alongside whatever I pull out of my traditional therapist toolbox.

In the book, Demita Frazier said something about the work the collective was doing that I really loved. She said that they could have very well been speaking into a void, people ain’t rock with them. But clearly, they did what they set out to do anyway. And what I internalized from that was DO IT ANYWAY. As I wrestle over what’s important to say on here, I remember that I’m doing something meaningful just by putting it out there. I don’t have to worry about who is trying to hear me or whether I said it the right way. It’s important. It doesn’t have to be huge, and it doesn’t have to last forever. The moment should occur regardless. 

Further Reading

Reenvisioning Therapy with Women of Color: A Black Feminist Healing Perspective. (Written by the person I quoted earlier on what Black feminist therapy is). “With the goal of assisting therapists in developing foundational culturally responsive intervention skills, Lani V. Jones presents key elements and proficiencies critical to Black feminist therapeutic philosophy, theory, and practice. Through numerous anecdotes and case studies, Jones takes a person-centered, politically informed perspective that positions therapy within a cultural context, privileging race, gender, sexuality, and so on. She also provides insight into key paradigm shifts, such as moving the field from deficit models of psychosocial competence to culturally relevant methods that focus on resilience, strengths, and spirituality.” (Full description at NASW Press)

Capitalism & Disability. I started it, but had to take a pause on leisure reading once the school semester started. I’m looking forward to picking this back up sometime soon. “Spread out over many years and many different publications, the late author and activist Marta Russell wrote a number of groundbreaking and insightful essays on the nature of disability and oppression under capitalism.” (Full description on Goodreads)

Black Feminist Thought. If you want to know more about Black Feminism, this is a good start. Patricia Hill Collins continues to be cited in conversations on Black feminism. Her book, Black Feminist Thought is a lengthy, but a good one. “In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins explores the words and ideas of Black feminist intellectuals as well as those African-American women outside academe. She provides an interpretive framework for the work of such prominent Black feminist thinkers as Angela Davis, bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde. The result is a superbly crafted book that provides the first synthetic overview of Black feminist thought.” (From Goodreads)

A Feminist Counselor Looks at African Daughters in the New World: Some Differences for Mental Health Professionals to Consider. I’ve only read the abstract, but this article seems pretty interesting. I’ll be taking some time to read this as well.

Questions I’m currently exploring in my reading:
  • What should Black Feminist Therapy feel and sound like?
  • What would be the guide? Guiding principles? 
  • How do practitioners articulate this to potential clients and the community at large?

Chat Black Feminist Therapy with me!

I have ideas, I’d like to connect; I want to read all the things to inform my Black feminist therapeutic perspective. I’ve been pouring through social media, trying to find anyone as actively engaged with this concept as I am. If you know anyone that considers themselves a Black feminist therapist, I would love if you could share their information! I’m also looking for books & article suggestions that would contribute to the knowledge I’m trying to build at this moment. I’m committed to soaking up what will continue to energize me about black feminist praxis in the therapeutic relationship.