Black clinical psychologists' experiences of race in psychodynamic psychotherapy.

Mbele, Zamokuhle
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From colonial and post-colonial periods to apartheid and post-apartheid contemporary South Africa, South Africa‘s history has highlighted the salience of race and racial identity in its society. The profession and discipline of psychology in South Africa has paid limited attention to the role of race in psychotherapy, particularly for racially diverse therapeutic dyads and for black clients and black therapists. This may be informed by the historical exclusion of black and other non-white South Africans from the profession and its services for many years. The aim of this study was to explore black clinical psychologists‘ experiences of race; with racially similar and dissimilar dyads. Three central concepts to psychodynamic psychotherapy namely; the working alliance, transference and countertransference, were identified as areas of particular interest in the study. The study investigated how the clinicians understood these concepts to be influenced by race within the clinical space. The research design used for this study was qualitative. The research method used was semi-structured interviews with seven black clinical psychologists in Johannesburg, South Africa. Thematic content analysis was used to elicit themes from the interviews. The findings from the interviews can be summarized under four themes. The theme of Race in the room refers to instances when participants interpreted race to be present in the therapeutic encounter in different ways, and how this may facilitate or hinder the working alliance at times. Transference and Countertransference addressed the clinician‘s experiences of transference and countertransference related to race. The theme of Assumptions; is informed by the clinician‘s experiences with working with their own assumptions in the room as well as their clients‘ assumption in the room. These assumptions were found to have some influence on the working alliance. Lastly Language spoke to the clinicians‘ understanding of language as a facilitator or obstacle when work with both racially similar and racially dissimilar clients. In conclusion, black clinical psychologists were found to experience race as present in the room most of the time. The race in the room seemed to influence the clinician‘s experiences of transference, countertransference and the working alliance. Difficulties and struggles related to race which frustrate the working alliance exist in unique ways when working with black and non-black clients. Race was also occasionally experienced as a facilitator in the therapeutic process, with both black and non-black clients.