Naropa Alumni Bring Social Justice Framework to Therapeutic Relationship

148WebChelseaKarcher-SpencerMickaPhotography

By Amanda Hart, student in Naropa University’s Transpersonal Art Therapy program

Community Consulting & The Center for Community Healing 

IMG_1058Chelsea Karcher, MA, LPC-IT with her partner Owen Karcher, MA, LPC run The Center for Community Healing in Madison, Wisconsin. Together they have established a practice that provides a therapeutic environment informed by personal experiences, core values, and a deep understanding of what it means to work with marginalized clients in a compassionate, aware, and socially informed way. Both graduates from Naropa’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling and Transpersonal Art Therapy program, they work through a strong social justice lens, applying their understanding of oppression and societal injustice to their work with clients as well as their consulting work, where they provide necessary training to therapists on their role as ally and the importance of bringing awareness to their internal biases.

It is emphasized within Naropa’s Art Therapy Programs in particular, as well as by CACREP standards, that burgeoning therapists take required social justice and multicultural classes. The implication of these classes as required is telling, speaking to the surfacing social inequality issues within the field, and the propensity for ignorance to cause more harm than healing. Chelsea and her partner Owen hold this understanding central to their practice, welcoming clients who come to them in need of recovery from painful therapeutic experiences. To be a therapist no longer means sitting across from another person, without an understanding of their larger social context and the implications of this. Within this field, it grows more and more important to shed light on the role of therapist as an ally and agent of social change, with the expectation that they hold integrity around personal blind spots and areas of ignorance.

“We are at a historical turning point in the gender justice movement, and transgender people are in dire need of affirming and high-quality allies that prioritize their humanity and dignity. Because of this, we have provided psychotherapy and support services for over 200 transgender individuals in the Midwest. Some people travel several hours to see us because they cannot find anyone in their region that they feel safe or comfortable working with. Clinicians are shaped by the culture that surrounds them. If therapists are part of the dominant group in society, they may operate from a place of stereotypes or assumptions defined by the cultural norm.

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Most therapists lack formal education and direct experience in developing the justice-oriented, respectful practices transgender and gender nonconforming people really need. The standard trend of providing “good enough” care, well-intentioned but ill-informed, is harmful and reinforces the sense of mistrust and avoidance that keeps transgender people from seeking the treatment and support they need. Now, more than ever, transgender communities are gaining media visibility and there is a sense of curiosity and a desire to understand by the greater community. Despite progress, there is still so much work to be done to ensure the safety and security of transgender people within our society.

We developed an online training course called “The Transgender Advocacy Blueprint” for service providers seeking the knowledge and skills necessary to confidently and respectfully work with transgender people. We have also offered LGBTQ inclusivity training and anti-racism training to groups of social workers, educators, healthcare providers, state and county employees, parents, and non-profits locally and nationally.”

For those of us working in the field, and for those of us seeking license to do so, it’s important to remember the innate privilege of our profession and the immense responsibilities that come with this. Opportunities such as this, provided by The Center for Community Healing, are making training and knowledge around these issues more accessible, in hopes of making quality, compassionate, and understanding care more accessible to all of clients.

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