Understanding Our Identity and How It Impacts Our Clients. Start Where you Are. by Phillip Horner


The question of "Who am I?" is one that is asked so many times in life.  It helps shape our directions and who we surround ourselves with, it also draws certain people to us.  There are so many intersecting pieces that not one answer is ever going to fully define who we are, but so many of them define how people see us and our society treats us.  So, it is good for us to know as much as we can about them, because they are defining us even when we don't want them to be.  I can state that, because I am White, the world treats me with certain privileges and usually most circumstances are presented in a positive way for me.  And this is just one of my identities that grants me this privilege and how the world defines me, consciously or unconsciously.

As a psychotherapist it is important for me to understand my identities as they affect the clients I work with everyday.  They can create more power and oppression in the client therapist relationship.  The therapeutic relationship is critical and without a strong relationship between the client and therapist it may be difficult to move healing forward.  Simple acknowledgment of our own identities, with our clients, early on can open more space for conversation and create more trust.  If they are not spoken to, there is the possibility of mistrust or transference.  Broaching can be a difficult thing to do with our clients and sometimes can feel not necessary, although noticing how those identities might impact our clients will give us a good compass how important they may be to share.

To begin this process, we start by understanding our own identities and how they intersect with each other.  Some may say, "look at your privileges," but it is beyond just that, it can also be where you are from, pieces of you that are not seen, and parts of yourself that are different than others.  We look at not only privilege, but also parts that feel important to our self, along with pieces that may be marginalized.  To do this I encourage people to join groups focused on identity, read about oppression and privilege, and talk with your friends or colleagues about how you might identify yourself.  Who are you?  What feels important for people to know?  What has created who you are?  Where did your family come from? These are just a few questions that might help begin the process, which will not finish today, or tomorrow, as it is a life long.

Melissa Utz