‘Black women’ therapists' impressions of the social differences of ‘race’ and gender in the therapeutic process: a post-structuralist phenomenology narrative exploration

Baker, Susan (2018) ‘Black women’ therapists' impressions of the social differences of ‘race’ and gender in the therapeutic process: a post-structuralist phenomenology narrative exploration. DProf thesis, Middlesex University / Metanoia Institute.


“Thinking about congruence implies [thinking] about difference…If there was no difference there would be no process and [therapeutic] progress.” Schmid, 2001p218

This study uses a hermeneutic phenomenological approach incorporating post-structuralist principles to explore ‘Black’ women therapists’ accounts of their lived experience of social differences (race and gender) in their clinical practice. It aims to provide rich descriptions of the women’s experiences, which are understood as grounded in wider socio-political processes and contexts. This methodological approach was adopted to acknowledge the socially constructed nature of race and gender and reduce the reification of these terms. It allows an explicit focus on the experiences of ’black’ female therapists in their clinical interactions with white male clients, including the extent where these social differences impact on therapists’ concepts of self and the developing therapeutic relationship with white male clients.
Ten ‘black’ women psychotherapists from different therapeutic orientations and working in a range of contexts were interviewed about their experiences of working with white male clients. Three distinct but interrelated narrative structures emerged as prominent across the participants' accounts: race and gender as markers of difference; relating through difference; and finding self beyond social division. The study found race and gender, as intersecting contextual factors, could influence therapists’ ‘self-states’ and meaning-constructions within the therapeutic relationship. For most participants, race-related issues were more present than gender-related ones; participants’ accounts underlined the prominence of the internal psychological challenges they experienced when engaging with racial issues in the therapeutic process. In contrast to identity developmental model, the findings suggest therapists' identification with these categories is better understood by the use of subjectivity and positionality, concepts derived from post-structuralist discourse. Such use highlights the shifting, fluid and temporal nature of these social processes.
Participants’ accounts suggested that self-reflexivity and relational forms of reflexivity allowed them to find ‘self’ in the context of race and gender differences with clients. Highlighting the significance of these factors for ‘black’ female therapists and the importance of addressing difference related to race and gender within training. The study concludes by making recommendations for the normalising and validation of therapists’ experiences in supervision and training, so that ‘black’ female therapists can be supported to find ‘self’ beyond the social divisions they may encounter in their practice.

SBaker thesis.pdf - Accepted Version

Download (5MB) | Preview
View Item