How Critical Social Justice Ideology Impedes the Teaching of Psychotherapy

As a professor of psychology in a West Coast University I am responsible for training graduate students who are becoming psychotherapists. I have observed with mounting alarm how Critical Social Justice ideology has been promoted and required to be integrated into all programs, specifically in the clinical psychology program.

Over the years, universities have overwhelmingly adopted Critical Race Theory (CRT) instruction, and many programs have shifted their focus on advocacy rather than educating and nurturing budding therapists on the practice of psychotherapy and its core principles of improving overall mental health, strengthening one’s internal sense well-being and personal empowerment.

This is harmful for a number of reasons. As therapists, we are trained not to take political positions. The core of our work is to support our clients without personal judgment or bias interfering. CRT is based on the belief that we are all inherently racist. One of the main points I have addressed in class is that when we assume, we are already poisoning the well of potentially effective therapy. It becomes impossible to develop rapport, trust, and compassionate relationships with clients who have different life experiences and beliefs. And these are the core components of psychotherapy no matter one’s clinical orientation.

In the program’s striving to be tolerant of all, what’s being created is intolerance of ideas that challenge the CRT narrative. This has been destructive, as debates in class become centered around politics, white privilege, white guilt, BLM, and gender issues rather than focusing on the practice of therapy. White students who speak up often use the caveat, “I know I am white so I can’t imagine what you’ve been through or how my privilege has impacted you….” before asking a question or making an observation about the material we are discussing. This is the antithesis of what the “safe” classroom environment should be. Discussions become centered around “equity of outcome vs equality of opportunity.” This disempowerment results in victimization. You’re either anti-racist or racist. An anti-racist person is defined as being part of the problem, the oppressor, and that person is responsible to “fix” the problem. And then of course, there are racist people. According to CRT, we all fall in of those two categories.  

Tied into CRT is gender issues. The fall of the biological male and female due to countless gender identifications, and the banishing of words like “man and woman” or even “family” has been destructive. “A pregnant person” rather than “pregnant woman” has become the required language. My question is, “biologically woman carry children, so how can we not assume the person carrying the child has female reproductive organs?” Double think exists everywhere.

In lower levels of education, many children are not learning about their biology. Recently, I was made aware of a 6 year old girl asking her mother, “Am I a boy or a girl? They tell us in class that we can choose.” Thorough and accepted research in the field of psychology has indicated that the brain is not full developed until the age of 25. It’s unethical to suggest that a child has “gender dysphoria” before their brains have fully matured.

As this intolerance and double-think seeps into class, the discussions in psychology courses are centered around those who are “discriminated” against because of a perceived oppression, and those who are the oppressors. Some of my white, heterosexual male students have spoken with me privately about not speaking up in class due to fear of verbal attacks and retaliation from other students or other professors.

Simply asking someone a question about their culture qualifies as a “micro aggression.” The micro aggression here is, “you should already know. I shouldn’t have to educate you.” But this is quite the contradiction. “Already knowing” means we are not actually learning about our clients’ unique experiences. We are making assumptions, which is dangerous. As a professor, debates are always welcome in my class, but only when they pertain to the practice of psychotherapy, different practicing styles, and clinical orientations.

I have posed the question many times, “what will you do if you have a client who has very different beliefs than you?” Or, “what would you do if your client voted for Trump?” I am usually met with dead silence. The students glaze over and look shocked that I would say such a thing. The reason I have not been disciplined for this comment is because I am a brown woman.

There is no acceptance of free thought and the free sharing of ideas. Hypocrisy abounds, even as the schools claim to be an open forum where we can have difficult conversations. However, if the ideology of the school is in any way challenged, those conversations are shut down. White professors are not allowed to interject in roundtable discussions about “racism,” as they “are the problem.”

In the classroom, students often apologize to the black, brown and now, Asian students. What’s even more distressing is the school’s demand that white students “apologize” to people of color for oppressing them. This furthers the victim vs oppressor narrative that many people of color actually find insulting. Many people of color discuss not wanting to get a job or be apologized to because of the color of the skin, because in actuality, it demeans the content of their character, strengths and intelligence. However, there is this clearly stated idea that whites are supposed to repair racism and understand that they are inherently born racist.

A number of professors have been disciplined for not teaching and supporting the main stream CRT narrative, and have been told on numerous occasions that our school stands by systematic racism ideology that we must incorporate into the classroom curriculum.

This has put me in a very precarious position as I once greatly enjoyed teaching.
However, I am painfully aware that language I use or ideas I bring in that do not support the main stream narrative will threaten my job. I would be at great risk of being fired. Because of this, my love for teaching has been decimated. In fact, the stress has caused me a great deal of health issues which I’ve had to take a leave of absence to address.

This is a huge disservice to professors like me who really enjoy the work and to the students who are going to encounter a lot of different ideas and beliefs systems with their clients. More importantly, the students’ own limited views of the world will leave them unprepared for what they will face. Class time that should be used for teaching psychotherapy is consumed by terms like “social justice” and “inherent racism.” When this happens, there is no learning of basic principles and theories of psychotherapy. Instead, the students must be coddled so they are not traumatized by what was said in class. Showing a video about a new model to treat addiction is overshadowed by the speaker being white. Rather than learning about this new model, its effectiveness, and the implementation of the interventions, the entire model is dismissed by the students because it was a white woman presenting the information.

These new budding therapists are easily hurt and will become easily offended by clients, which is damaging to the client-therapist relationship. One student turned in a late assignment because her professor made what she claims to be a “transphobic” comment in class and she was “traumatized” for an entire week. Two Asian-American students left their training sites because of what they claim to be “microaggressions.” These are only two examples of many. I teach over 100 students per quarter.

The field is rapidly becoming advocacy-based centered around CRT and the belief that we are all inherently racist, homophobic, transphobic, etc etc. We must elevate people of color not based on character and capability, but purely based on the color of their skin. In the meantime, students have lost compassion for some human beings because of race, color, sexual orientation, or gender. Assumptions are made, and they are not able to connect on a shared humanness and experience with those accused of being oppressors. The core of therapy is about prevailing even through life’s tribulations and focusing on an inherent sense of resilience and empowerment that exists in everyone. Treating everyone of color as a victim negates that entire idea – that they are resilient, empowered and have opportunities to be successful.

As a non-white woman of color, whose parents immigrated from the Middle East, I am the first in my family to be born in the United States. I was taught that my integrity, character, and hard work would lead to success. I was taught not to live in a victimized state of thinking, even as my parents struggled to embrace this new world, while remaining connected to their culture. My parents eventually became citizens. They raised their right hands and recited the oath of citizenry with pride and integrity. We moved from a poverty-stricken neighborhood to a middle class one. This was not due to the color of their skin, or even equality of opportunity. This was about resilience. They acknowledged the difficulties not knowing a single word of English when they arrived to this country. yet did not equate their level of opportunity and success with skin color. Nor did they slip into victim-thinking. They grabbed opportunities when they could.

Oppression exists all over the world. Racism exists all over the world. In fact, my parents who were discriminated against because of their religion, watched bombs detonated right in front of them, they saw their churches being burned to the ground and there were no police to help them. What they witnessed traumatized them for life. Yet, the irony of all of this is that if my mother stepped into my classroom, my students would automatically assume she was a white oppressor. Why? Because of her light skin.

Many Syrians and some Egyptians have light skin. Even some Persians have light skin. It certainly wouldn’t be fair to accuse them as oppressors because of their skin color. Many are immigrants themselves who escaped communist regimes and lived in unimaginable conditions, many without electricity or plumbing. But the students’ “woke” world view is limited to who they believe is oppressed and who oppressor is.

To their credit, in many cases there is a desire to belong. And this desire for young folks and adults to belong sometimes leads to subscribing to a belief system not because they inherently believe it but because they want to be a part of something greater than themselves. And at the end of the day, the people who suffer the most are the clients. I’ve incorporated the ideas that just because someone looks a certain way, you cannot assume what they have or haven’t been through. But I may be one of the only Professors who brings this into the classroom.

We are rapidly traveling down that same road of oppression and suppression we see in other countries in the world, in our classrooms. The legacy of those who came before us for freedom of speech and the chance to make a better life for themselves is being destroyed.

I don’t know where we go from here but I do know we need the courage and the strength to speak up or we will all fall down a rabbit hole that will be impossible to get out of.

C. S.

One comment

Comments are closed.