Therapy should be a safe space for everyone, and queer PoC deserve therapists who see and understand us, writes Aly Laube
Four years ago, on a scratchy sofa in a dimly-lit office, I poured my heart out to my first-ever PTSD counsellor. At a rate of 140 Canadian dollars per hour (£81), I paid to see her once per week, eager to heal from a series of abusive relationships that left my self-worth and coping mechanisms in tatters.
To a certain extent, it worked. Most of the time, we drew pictures while she prompted me to talk about my emotions. She taught me to breathe, to slow down, and to stop my panic attacks from becoming unmanageable — and for that, I appreciate our time together.
Yet, during that time, I was also exploring my sexuality. My counsellor was Christian and conservative, and despite all her training and qualifications, it showed. I was telling her about a woman I was seeing and she interrupted to ask: “Do you think your attraction to women is a way of getting attention back from men?”
She looked at me with sincerity in her eyes; curiosity, even. She had hurt me, and it couldn’t be undone.
I needed someone who knows how it feels to be cast aside by old men in white coats when seeking care, and who knows how harmful that can be
I never felt I could trust her fully after that. I stopped talking about my queerness and love for women. And for a long time, I shut that part of myself out; I pushed it down into the deep, dark recesses of my subconscious, among insecurities too sensitive for the light of day.
I needed to find someone who could help me. This person needed to intuitively understand me and my experiences — not as a specimen from a diagnostic manual, but as an individual affected by the oppressive systems of the white, cis-heterosexual patriarchy. I needed someone who knows how it feels to be cast aside by old men in white coats when seeking care, and who knows how harmful that can be.
Queer- and PoC-specific healthcare is lifesaving. It frees us from the toxicity and veiled bigotry most of us have already been exposed to within the healthcare system, ensuring that we get the dedicated care we truly need. This system in itself has adverse effects on our health, too: in one study on confronting racism within the Canadian healthcare system, it was found that anti-Indigenous racism stemmed from issues like being forced to navigate a system that devalues First Nation health and wellness.1 BIPOC can’t feel heard in therapy if their therapists aren’t willing or ready to listen to them.
Within a few months of starting our sessions, I came out to myself again, accepting fluidity in my gender and sexuality that I was never able to see before
I met a queer therapist of Colour for the first time last year. We instantly bonded over the commonalities in our identities, and as they told me about their own relationship and experiences in healthcare, I felt my heart soften in a counsellor’s office for the first time since high school. It allowed me to warm and open up, giving space to conversations I had never allowed myself to have.
Within a few months of starting our sessions, I came out to myself again, accepting fluidity in my gender and sexuality that I was never able to see before. Our sessions brought me back in touch with myself in a beautiful way that I didn’t know was possible. When I cried about having my heart broken by a girl, or facing daily sexism in the streets, or human rights atrocities at Fairy Creek or Wet’suwet’en territory, she understood. She allows me to feel my feelings without invalidating or repressing them. That is life changing and transformational.
To queer People of Colour who don’t feel comfortable sitting across from a white, straight man while you pour your heart out, you’re not alone. Therapy should be a safe space for everyone, and part of that means being and feeling understood. Therapy is a space to be selfish and ask questions that terrify you, without feeling like you’re spiralling. Without that wiggle room, how else can we grow?
Finding the right therapist, or any other mental health professional, can and will revolutionise how you see your mental health. It will change your relationship to yourself and ways of seeing the world around you. And it takes the grunt work out of therapy — instead of having to constantly explain ourselves, it gives us room to simply express how we feel. That’s what therapy should be, and it’s what everyone deserves.
Featured image is an illustration of two people of colour, sitting on a sofa and speaking to each other as part of a therapy session. The colours of the LGBTQ+ flag are drawn behind them, as if connecting them together
Page last updated August 20210
- Phillips-Beck, W., et al., Confronting racism within the Canadian Healthcare System: systemic exclusion of First nations from quality and consistent care, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, November 2020, issue 17, no 22, pp 8343