by James A. Bacon
The University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development maintains a program, Youth-Nex, that is dedicated to “supporting developmental science that is not only anti-racist but is in the service of dismantling white supremacy.”
Youth-Nex is currently highlighting the work of Natoya Hill Haskins, a UVA associate professor of counseling and lead author of an article published in Counselor Special Education and Supervision, “Teaching anti-racist counseling theories: Black liberation narrative therapy.” From the article abstract:
Counseling theories created by White theorists have traditionally failed to consider the religious or spiritual experiences of Black clients. Integration of Black liberation theology [BLT] and narrative therapy provides a novel approach to support counseling trainees in meeting the needs of Black clients. Decolonizing therapeutic strategies are presented along with counselor educator recommendations.
Write the authors:
BLT, an anti-racist theory used to understand the Black experience and its hegemonic foundations … has served as a guide to understand Black cultural narratives, oppression, and liberation mechanisms. Unfortunately, these indigenous understandings regarding the Black community have been relegated to seminaries or biblical perspectives. Yet BLT’s theoretical assumptions and strategies have implications for mental health practice.
If you can push beyond the woke rhetoric and oppressor/oppressed paradigm and actually read the article, an interesting tension emerges. In face of the aggressive secularism of the nation’s predominantly White professoriat, the authors are arguing that the spirituality of Black churches can have positive effects for mental health.
One characteristic of this institution’s adaptive role in the lives of Black Americans pertains to its influence on congregants’ capacity to utilize spiritual and faith-healing practices associated with psychological and behavioral health. Such practices typically include prayer, scripture reading, musical inspiration, and reliance on the power of God.
The authors go on to discuss how “the Black Church is in essence a protest of the white patriarchy and oppression in society” and argue the need for “dismantling oppressive religious structures.”
I love it when Black progressives decide that the therapeutic strategies of White progressives need decolonizing. I hope the patriarchal and hegemonic Whites who dominate such theorizing feel appropriately chastened.
The disciplines of psychology and therapy are indeed vulnerable to the enthusiasms of White cultural elites and they often prove useless if not counterproductive for the human guinea pigs (both Black and White) subjected to them. Haskins may have a point that such intellectual fashions are best avoided and that traditional Black religiosity may lead to better mental health outcomes. Whether embracing oppressor/victim rhetoric will help Black people overcome their emotional and mental challenges and thrive in contemporary society, however, remains to be seen.