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Talking About Racism In Therapy

So us BIPOC are acutely aware of racism. It’s in our face all the time. Yet sometimes, my clients feel like they’re using racism as an excuse for not being able to do/achieve what they want.

So, is racism real? Or is it an excuse holding us back?

Well, YES, RACISM EXISTS! Of course it does! If you’ve read anything else that I’ve written, you know my stance is VERY CLEAR about this.

It’s very interesting (and messed up) that a lot of my clients has felt that their past therapist was blaming them for the racism and racial trauma that they experience.

But I’ll be blunt here; sometimes, we DO use racism as an excuse. But that doesn’t mean that racism doesn’t exist. It just means our psychological defenses has decided to use our experiences of racism in a not-so-empowering way.

Racism is Hard to Prove

Let’s look at two examples:

Jace is an Asian man looking for love. He recently got rejected by a white women. Feeling hurt, he blames her for being racist.

Chandra is an Asian woman looking for a work promotion. However, her boss decided to promote her white colleague instead. Feeling angry, Chandra blames her boss for being racist (and maybe also sexist).

So, did the white woman who rejected Jace a racist? Is Chandra’s boss a racist? Erm…maybe? It’s possible. But it’s hard to confirm, until we start analyzing the patterns of these two people.

And that’s the challenge that everyday racism and microaggressions poses. It’s hard to say definitively that the other person is racist.

“Racism” Will Blow Your Mind

Racism is hard to prove. And we are gaslit by our racist society to believe that we don’t experience racism. So, when we first learn about structural racism and microaggression, it blows our minds.

Once we learn these words and concepts, it helps explain and validate our experiences of racism. It all feels so right. And instead of the self-criticism and self-shaming, we can now externalize all the blame towards structural racism and microaggression.

That’s why it feels so empowering to learn about structural racism and microaggression. It helps us to stop blaming and shaming ourselves.

Racism Explains Everything…Right?

When we first learn new concepts and terminology, it becomes a new psychological tool for us. I know when I first learned about it, it blew my f*king mind. It justified my existing anger, and it helped me channel my anger towards activism and community work.

But then, I started using this psychological tool for everything. Essentially, I was given a hammer in my toolbox, and I started using that hammer for everything.

Same thing with Jace and Chandra. They were both given a hammer, and they apply the use of that hammer everywhere. Why did Jace get rejected? It must be racism. Why did Chandra not receive the promotion? It must be racism.

And mind you, it is very possible that it was racism. But also, what if I told you that Jace makes very misogynistic jokes because he feels insecure about his masculinity? What if I told you that Chandra never shares her ideas during team meetings because she is scared that other people would judge her ideas as stupid and laugh at her?

Even then, racism could still be involved. But there are also personal traumas that Jace and Chandra deals with, that also contribute to their problem.

Sometimes, our minds subconsciously tell us that all our problems are due to racism, because that is the only tool we have, to deal with our self-blame and self-shame. So anything that makes us feel blame or shame, we end up labelling as racism.

But racism is such an overwhelming force that it often leaves us feeling helpless. So, over time, this psychological tool starts to make us feel helpless and powerless.

Racism and Other Traumas

When I work with clients, I make my stance very, very clear. Yes, racism exists. It’s a very real part of our experience. And let’s also look at other things getting in your way of success.

For Jace, racism is definitely something he experiences that is a barrier for him to find meaningful romantic connection. But we also have to resolve his traumas related to masculinity.

For Chandra, racism is definitely something that she experiences that limits her career opportunities. But we also have to resolve her traumas related to her fear of judgment and rejection.

We’re not going to solve structural racism today, tomorrow, or next month. That work is a marathon, not a sprint. So, in the meantime, let’s focus on something that you have control over that you can change. And there’s a lot more you have control over than you think.

As a therapist, I can help you identify where those changes lay, to simultaneously develop tools to give you a robust toolbox, while digging deeper into trauma healing.

And when you start building a sense of control and empowerment within your surroundings and relationships, you are actually better able to address the racism that you experience. Because you’re coming at it from a confident and secure internal state, and not an emotionally triggered state.

Racism has already taken so much away from us. Don’t also let it stunt your growth and your healing. Find a therapist who can help you tame the racism beast in your therapy sessions, so you can focus on your healing.

Hey there, my name is Harry, and I’m an Asian therapist here to support your search for health and authenticity. If you are open to weekly self-care FUN-ctivities, subscribe to my “Happy Chemicals Club.” If you enjoy podcasts, you can check these out.

Harry Au

Therapy for Asians

MSW, RSW | he/him

I help Asians go from feeling trapped to becoming self-liberated.

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