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A White Person Problem: Conducting White/White Treatment with a Social Justice Lens

Pages 149-172
Published online: 24 Feb 2021


In this paper, I advance the view that racism, experienced as an intrapsychic, interpersonal, cultural and socio-political phenomenon, is fundamentally a problem that white people are responsible for solving. I begin with an assumption that white practitioners, specifically those of us who strive to offer social justice-informed psychodynamic treatment, are responsible for addressing this problem by attending to the relational dynamics that unfold in the consulting room with white clients. I utilize case material from my own practice to explore ways to do this and clinical quandaries that might arise, particularly in cases where the question of race does not explicitly present as a topic of concern. I suggest that there are multiple ways to address racism, as well as other socio-political issues, including investigating how the words we use are culturally and socio-politically determined, investigating in what way our clinical interventions are operating in collusion with or in opposition to parts of a client’s social and familial context (systemic enactment), analyzing and de-centering cultural and social expressions in clients that are reflections of a larger system of racial superiority and oppression, and linking intrapsychic and relational development with racial identity formation.


1 I include here the gender-neutral version of Baldwin’s statement: “The difference between a child and an adult is that a child imagines there is some way to get through life safely, and an adult knows they’ve got to pay their dues.”

2 See Adams, D. (2015), Altman, N. (2006), Harris, A. (2019), Hollander, N. (2017), Josephs, L. & Miller, A. (2009), Layton, (2019) for notable psychoanalytic/dynamic work on race in white/white dyads.

3 I’m using “maturation” to refer to the ongoing development of general psychological/relational capacities.

4 Notably, it is only when a non-normative identity is a core component of a case presentation that politics are brought into the picture, that a case is embedded in socio-political and historical narratives and meaning-making.

5 The client on whom “William” is based has been de-identified.

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