By: Jennifer Noble, PhD Clinical Psychologist
The field of clinical psychology needs more therapists who represent the various cultural backgrounds of the people they look to serve. We more diversity in psychology. There is a pressing need for more clinical psychologists to provide therapy who are male (believe it or not!), multilingual, people of color, different sexual orientations, different gender identities, different abilities and from different economic backgrounds. I received a chance to speak with someone who is trying to increase diversity in the field. Read on and be a fly on the wall during my interview with someone who wants to be a therapist!
Sequoia Thompson is a graduate of Pasadena City College and UCLA who is now pursuing her graduate degree. I sat down with her to discuss her career goals.
Q: Did you have any personal connection to a therapist or psychologist before you decided to study psychology?
A: No, I didn’t have a personal connection to therapy, but I was always interested in the constructs that make us do the things we do without knowing why we do it. I’ve always wanted to talk about that stuff – just human behavior. And when I realized I was dealing with my own mental health issues, I found it really hard to find services. I knew I wanted therapy but it was very hard to get help. In a way, they didn’t think I was serious enough of a case. I ended up having to go through many therapists to find one that I was comfortable with. I met with three therapists – none of them were people of color, and I was not sure they were trained to work with different sexual orientations. So, as a queer black female, I chose to work with a white psychologist.
Q: What were the pros and cons of therapy?
A: The pro was definitely that she was a woman. And in the beginning, I just needed help and expertise that I couldn’t get anywhere else. She gave me the tools I needed. I went back later and wanted to address deeper rooted issues that were more related to my upbringing and cultural experience. This is where I saw she was less capable. I felt I had to explain what it feels like to be black, queer, and low socioeconomic status to her first and then there were no tools she could provide besides broad ideas and concepts that really didn’t resonate with me or help me understand my own experience. The rapport was there, but the new tools and skills to help me think and understand was not. Her capacity to do that was difficult because of her lack of cultural competence.
Q: What do you wish you could see in regards to a psychologist having cultural competence?
A: First, I think just because they look like me doesn’t mean they can help me, race is not enough. She could miss the LGBT sensitivity I also need. But, at the same time, someone of the same race has a better chance of understanding what I’ve gone through. Sometimes book learning and academic theories are not enough to reach the client.
My current therapist is African American and LGBT affirmative. Her language is so familiar and she thinks and works in a way that I feel really fits with my cultural experiences.
Q: How do you become a clinical psychologist?
A: I am currently working on my masters in clinical psychology with a specialization in affirmative psychotherapy for LGBTQ folks, it’s a 2-year program. This is a good next step after finishing my undergrad degree in psychology at UCLA and also minoring in LGBTQ studies. I am a person on a path to becoming a therapeutic vessel.
My main goal is to foster an impactful dialogue that critiques and deconstructs the ideas that make people believe black and queer are mutually exclusive. I want to teach about gender power dynamics, colonial influence on understanding gender and how these things keep us disconnected from ourselves as people of color as well as other people. I want to run therapy groups because I feel group discussions can be very therapeutic. I feel the black community wants to have these discussions because we don’t have many mental health discussions at all.
This is why the stigma around mental health care and therapy is relatively high in the black community. People hold on to beliefs for safety and survival, but in groups people can share more than they would alone. I just want to bring healing back to psychology, in a way that works with culturally diverse populations.
We’ve got one person who is working to increase diversity on her path to become a clinical psychologist. I have the pleasure of meeting many students who are beginning their own journeys to become psychologists and I can’t wait to see the representation of underserved people begin to grow! Share this post to inspire someone else on their educational journey!
Jennifer Noble, PhD Clinical Psychologist, educator, and champion for all marginalized communities and the parents trying to raise their teen within them. Learn more.