Intersectional Communities and Therapy

Updated: May 20

What is Intersectionality?

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw originally came up with the word intersectionality. This term recognizes individuals who face discrimination based on their race, religion, nationality, culture, language, or gender. In Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics, she argues, “...Black women are sometimes excluded from feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse because both are predicated on a discrete set of experiences that often does not accurately reflect the interaction of race and gender... Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”

Many organizations formed during the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and ‘70s, such as the Third World Women’s Alliance (TWWA), the National Black Feminist Organisation, and the Combahee River Collective, played a substantial role in promoting intersectionality in the feminist movement. The promotion of intersectionality during the second wave of feminism ensured that not only white women but also women of color benefitted from the entire movement.

The organizations mentioned above played a critical role in promoting intersectionality across all aspects of work and life. Intersectionality then made its way into social justice aspects, academics, and the corporate world, which promoted the inclusion of intersectional communities in the various crucial aspects of society.

Hate Crimes Against Intersectional Communities

According to the FBI 2019 hate crimes statistics, 55.8% of the crimes committed were racially motivated, whereas 21.4% were prompted by religious bias. 62.2% of the hate crimes were classified as anti-gay (male) bias, whereas 24.5% were prompted by anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender bias.

Mental Health Concerns Faced by Intersectional Communities Several studies prove that marginalized communities suffer from deteriorating mental health due to persistent pressure from the dominant racial and cultural communities. According to research, LGBTQ+ individuals are more likely to face discrimination, resulting in detrimental mental health problems for the victim. Due to extensive stressful experiences of discrimination and social stigma attached to their identity, individuals with a minority sexual identity are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses such as anxiety, suicide, depression, and substance abuse.

Individuals with two or more minority identities, such as being LGBTIQ+ and being religious, are not only challenged with marginalization and oppression, but they are also confronted with prejudices and social stereotypes associated with their identities because none of the two identities are fully understood by either group which can lead to the minority community individuals suffering from a loss of sense of self, anxiety, and depression.

At present, approximately 14.8 black individuals are destitute and are at a higher risk of suffering from numerous mental health concerns such as a heavy trauma related to mass incarcerations, unemployment, poverty, gang violence, giving up their children for foster care, homelessness, lack of food, lack of means to support their children’s education, child welfare systems, domestic and intimate partner violence.

Therapists can implement an intersectional lens to explore the numerous factors that can help improve the mental well-being and psychological health of marginalized communities. Instead of confiding your work to a singular race, sex, religion, or disability, therapists can inspect the diverse layers of discrimination, racism, and sexism faced by their clients who embody intersectionality in their daily lives.

How Should Therapists Implement Intersectionality in their Client’s Sessions?

Intersectionality should not just play a crucial role in analyzing the faceted and multiple layered discrimination and oppression experienced by the intersectional communities, but it can also help a therapist learn about his own intersectionality and to explore the different areas of numerous cultures, races, religions, and sexes that may exist. One of the most convenient ways therapists can understand intersectional personalities is by educating themselves according to their client’s identity, either by reading books in regards to their gender, race, religion, or culture.

Try to understand what makes them who they are? What are the cultural traditions they follow? What are the religious norms they implement in their day-to-day lives? Having a basic understanding can help a therapist not to let his thinking be bound to a particular gender, sex, or race. But instead, consider the impact of multiple races, gender, or sexes.

By understanding and analyzing intersectional identities, the therapist can get a basic understanding of the system of oppression on the identity of the client, which can help the therapist in improving the mental and emotional well-being of the client. Therapists can use an intersectional lens to work with their clients on different methods they can implement to improve their well-being in various contexts without narrowing it down to a certain identity.

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