Race, Identity, and Psychotherapy: Insights from Dr. Stafford
Anancia Stafford, EdD completed her masters and doctoral work at Governor’s State University, where she studied the relationship between race, identity and college attrition among African American male college students. She currently works with individuals and adults in the Loop and in Hyde Park, Chicago.
I recently sat down with Dr. Stafford to explore how race and identity can play into the therapeutic process. To learn more about Dr. Stafford, or to sign up for her psychotherapy services, contact Depth Counseling today.
Q – How does identity and race play out in your patients’ lives?
Dr. Stafford: Race is just one part of who you are as a human being. Race intersects with multiple other identity markers – gender, social status, cultural norms, you name it. No one can define you by just one of your identities; the label of “woman” or “gay” or “Republican” cannot encompass the fullness of who you are as a person. Plus, it isn’t just about who you are and how you see yourself, but also how the world sees and treats you and the impact that has on a person’s life.
One of the most prominent things I’ve observed in my therapy office is the upsurge of African American men and women seeking help in the midst of transitioning into adulthood. Many have just graduated school; some are working through early career issues and those first steps into the adult world. And I have been struck by just how many will share experiences of race being a barrier to success, a barrier to being able to fully participate at school, work, and even in their relationships. People carry beliefs about what it means to be Black in America, for example, and sometimes those beliefs keep them from stepping outside of their comfort zone.
Additionally, those beliefs tend to be founded on real experiences of discrimination, aggression, and mistreatment. In a world where it is difficult to feel accepted and accept oneself, it’s no wonder that so many of these young men and women are speaking out and seeking help through therapy.
Q – How does race and identity enter the therapeutic dialogue?
Dr. Stafford: As a therapist who specializes in issues related to race and ethnicity, education, and identity, people typically seek my services specifically because they are yearning to have those conversations. If, and often when, the topic of race comes up in treatment, it isn’t a surprise and it isn’t as taboo. And, unless I have very good reasons to otherwise, I will leave it to the patient to initiate the dialogue around race and identity. We as human share so many experiences. Race simply helps us understand some of the conscious and unconscious processes, and so it gives me a starting point to understanding who you are person.
Interestingly, as an African American psychotherapist, some of my patients will make assumptions about my experience being a woman of color. Some will assume that we see the world the same way, or that our stories are the same. Instead, I challenge my patients to celebrate their uniqueness. I push them to look deeper, to be curious, and begin to champion their own identities.
Q – Depth Counseling strives to go “beneath” the symptoms like anxiety and depression to understand the person in greater depth. How does this approach differ from other approaches?
Dr. Stafford: I’ve worked in a wide range of agencies and therapy settings, and I am deeply impressed with the way Depth Counseling approaches treatment, particularly regarding providing therapy for people of color.
Other approaches are too symptom-based. In my experience, people in marginalized communities felt dismissed or unappreciated at best because they were reduced to a diagnosis, a label, and their value as a person went unseen. Additionally, Depth Counseling works hard to maintain a stance of cultural humility and understanding each patient within their unique context.
You are so much more than a list of symptoms. You are more than the problems that brought you in for therapy. You are a person with value, a person who deserves support and care just like anyone else. Depth Counseling strives to help you create a healthy identity for yourself by diving deeper into who you are – not to change you or “fix” you, but to help you become your best self.
Q – What might you say to someone who is interested in starting therapy, but feels uncertain or afraid about asking for help?
Dr. Stafford: If the thought even crosses your mind – the thought that you might benefit from therapy, that you are curious, or that you are wanting to make things better – that’s a great sign.
On some level, you may be trying to tell yourself that you’d like support, answers, or some direction. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with simply being curious about the process. You don’t have to have experienced something terrible or traumatic, you don’t have to be in the midst of crisis, because therapy can benefit anyone.
If you are interested in starting therapy, I would love for us to connect! As a therapist, one of my favorite parts of the job is in meeting new people and hearing their stories. I believe in your ability to make things better, and I want to help you get there.
Interested? Contact us today!
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To learn more about our experienced team of mental health clinicians, click on the People tab. Our providers offer specialty services in both individual and couples counseling. In addition to psychotherapy, we also offer the chance to engage in Psychoanalysis – a specific long-term and intensive treatment model. Our practice draws heavily from Psychodynamic theory, which has been shown to be incredibly effective through multiple research efforts.
It’s not just in the name – Depth Counseling is about moving beyond basic counseling techniques to understand deeper parts of your psyche. Get more out of your treatment, and experience the healing power of Depth Counseling.