Social Identity and Privilege in Psychotherapy

At the Counseling Center, we are aware that each person carries with them multiple social identities related to race, ethnicity, class, culture, sexuality, gender, able-bodiedness, and many other factors that influence their experiences and lives. Discrepancies in access, power and privilege can have a profound effect on a student’s experience at Hampshire College, as well as at our counseling center. Differences in culture, social identity, and power can also affect how a client and clinician experience the therapeutic relationship.

For some students, seeking out a therapist with similar social identities is an empowering and important part of their therapeutic work. For others students, similarities in social identities may be a less important factor. We believe strongly in helping students find a therapist that matches what they are looking for in our own staff or in the community. There are sometimes practical barriers to this search, but as allies to Hampshire students, we make every effort to help them find a therapist that feels like a “good fit”.

In addition, the members of our counseling staff are committed to providing the best possible therapy to all members of our community. We approach therapy with humility, recognizing that we can never be the “expert” in another’s experience. And yet we also know that excellent therapeutic work can be done, even in cases where the therapist and client have different backgrounds and experiences. Our commitment to working with clients from different social identities means a number of things, including:

  • Educating ourselves about the many social realities of our clients. We don’t rely on clients to educate us, but we remain open to all feedback clients want to give us.
  • Educating ourselves on issues of racism, classism, sexism, gender oppression, transphobia, ableism, homophobia, and other “isms” in society and at Hampshire College in particular.
  • Exploring and reflecting upon our own social identities and biases while remaining open to the idea that we may have blind-spots and assumptions of which we are not always aware.
  • Being ready for open and honest discussions with clients about the ways that social identities and power differences are shaping the therapeutic relationship.

If you have any questions about how any of us work with issues of social identity, please do not hesitate to ask!  And, if you would like help in finding a therapist outside of our clinic, please let us know.

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Health and Counseling Services
Hampshire College
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