Racial identity in psychotherapy: a study of trainee psychologists’ experiences

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Racial identity permeates psychotherapy and holds particular meaning in South Africa because of its history of racial naming, oppression and segregation. This qualitative research study set out to investigate trainee psychologists’ experiences of working with racial identity in psychotherapy during the transformative process of becoming psychologists. This process involves the negotiation of their personal and professional identity. Interviews were conducted with trainee psychologists. A relational psychoanalytic framework informed an understanding of the interview exchange as a mutual engagement between two raced subjects. Interview transcripts were analysed using Thematic Analysis (TA). Four themes were identified: the difficulty of addressing racial identity in psychotherapy; the experience of White guilt; the complexity of being Black; the process of becoming a raced psychologist and the research interview as an intersubjective encounter. Findings suggest that although trainee psychologists acknowledged the importance of addressing racial identity in psychotherapy, they experienced difficulties, resulting in either avoiding the topic, or attempting to address it unsuccessfully. This links to their inexperience and fear that talking about racial issues may potentially create ruptures in psychotherapy. It would be helpful for trainee psychologists to gain further insight into how to address racial identity therapeutically during the transformative process of becoming psychotherapists.
A research report submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology to the Faculty of Humanities, University of the Witwatersrand, 2019
Racial identity, Psychotherapy, Relational psychoanalytic