Equality isn’t guaranteed in mental health care

· 5 min read

Ji-Youn Kim dedicates her time to unravelling the systemic oppression and racism that impacts North America’s mental health infrastructure through her efforts in advocacy and her clinical practice. Despite most of her education advising her to remain non-political as a professional clinician, she took a huge leap in maintaining her political voice in order to help those in difficult circumstances within the political spectrum. Ji-Youn’s focus on justice-oriented mental health care enables her to go deeper into the circumstances of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour) populations by exploring additional aspects of trauma that stem from community, culture, and nationality, and how these intersections impact the lived experiences of countless North Americans.

In our first ever podcast episode, we managed to touch the surface of what is otherwise a nuanced and complicated subject. Instead of repeating everything that was covered, we thought it would be a good idea to share three of the most interesting things we learned, and you can check out the full video found below if you’d like to listen to the entire conversation in full.

The absence of acknowledgement and understanding of trauma experienced by  marginalized demographics in session can have extremely damaging impacts on their outcomes in care. 

This is something that seems so obvious at first glance, but took us more than a moment to process. A clinical counsellor’s background and lack of specific experiences can contribute to exacerbation of trauma through the process of clinical care. There are countless professionals who are without a doubt, excellent clinicians, who are unfortunately not equipped to recognize and create effective strategies to address and unpack traumas associated with oppression, that impact marginalized communities, because of a lack of awareness and lived experience. 

This might lend itself to the next logical step, which is to make sure that there is fair representation across mental health providers in our communities. However, this doesn’t seem to be a reality today. Based on anecdotal feedback from BIPOC members of our audience and network including clinicians like Ji-Youn, most clinicians tend to be cis-hetero white folks, leading to a lack of representation and social understanding available for North America’s diverse ethnic populations. Although when reviewing the origins of clinical counselling and mental health care, it quickly became clear that this system was initially designed by wealthier cis-hetero men in colonial Europe and early North American societies. As a result, many of the realities experienced by members of the BIPOC community do not get included in the educational curriculum, and can be disregarded as a result. Although the field has made some progress since then, there are still a lot more gaps to fill. After all, how can counselling be effective for all when it is this hard to find a counsellor that understands your needs through trauma-informed care?

“For a client to go through the emotional labour of explaining [the nature of their] trauma before trauma processing - that is exhausting. I’m paying you but I have to educate you before we make any progress?”

Representation among our therapists is an important factor to consider when looking at the state of available mental health care in our communities. 

It can be tough to provide the help your clients deserve when you yourself are in the middle of processing aspects of your life. 

Ji-Youn explained how challenging this past year has been for her BIPOC clients, especially with the Black Lives Matter protests. Through the counselling process, she also learned the unique challenges involved with trying to work with clients to process their experiences and traumas while going through a level of processing collective grief and trauma herself. Processing what was happening out in the world while trying to help her clients process the exact same issues is a complicated matter - it can be challenging when that kind of overlap exists. Counsellors are still human after all.

Self-management plays such an important role in how effective she can be in session, and her perception of her own self-integrity and value.

Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of support systems currently available for clinicians to care for themselves and manage their professional development as they continue to work and grow in this field. Looking at the silver lining, COVID has shone a spotlight on the topic of mental health, and technology is slowly starting to remedy this gap.

Counsellors don’t need to know how to handle every segment of society. Pick a niche and be the best - your clients will thank you.

Too often we find clinicians taking on clients with a very wide array of needs. This flexibility can also be detrimental to the overall health of the people who need help the most. This often happens with clinicians trying to support BIPOC clients before they have delved into anti-oppressive training and best practices. Pick a subject, specialty, focus or niche - and be the best.

It’s okay to acknowledge that a potential client might not be the right fit. Build a network, and use tools that allow you to refer people to colleagues and professionals that have a complementary skill set to your own, allowing them to provide a greater level of care for the client’s particular needs. Helping people find the right help is one of the most important obligations a counsellor has, and creating more successful matches between clients and clinicians will spread a lot of goodwill in the industry, which will help to alleviate negative stigma involved with seeking help for mental health issues in our communities.

It was a tonne of fun to interview Ji-Youn and we can’t wait to share stories from other amazing clinicians we work with at Speakbox. To learn more about Ji-Youn Kim and the work she is doing, please visit her website and follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

Ji-Youn Kim

Ji-Youn Kim

Anti-oppression Coach and Counsellor

Ji-Youn Kim (she/her) is a justice-oriented therapist of Corean ancestry, residing on the unceded territories of the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh peoples, also known as Vancouver, Canada. She runs a private practice for coaching and counselling, primarily serving BIPOC and marginalized communities.

Benjamin George
Benjamin George
Co-founder of Speakbox

Co-Founder & COO of Speakbox.

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