Mindful Educators: Is Therapy For Me?
Twenty years ago, I endured one of the most stressful, and most memorable, times in my education career. As a school social work intern, I witnessed the hardships of poverty, educational inequality, and how Whiteness and White privilege/power played out in education institutions. When that internship ended, I decided to attend a doctoral program in education. I surmised from that experience that the lack of social services was not the problem; education was the problem for Black people. Our young people inherited an education system that failed generations of families. A few months later after completing the MSW, I attended a doctoral program that fully funded my studies and where I could blur the boundaries between my obsession with culture, education for liberation, civil rights, and social welfare policy. I was fascinated with how education was both a site of liberation and subjugation, especially for the Black community.
Eventually, hired to teach in Colleges of Education, I quickly noticed the role that Black educators played in interrupting whiteness and the abuse of power in schools. After mentoring and observing Black students and educators involved at various levels of education (i.e. P-12 and colleges/universities), I began to research students', teachers', and administrators' experiences in schools and the support networks they relied upon to cope with home and work life. In short, like many other teachers, Black educators and other teachers of color, enter the profession with much enthusiasm about their craft, but experience stress related to multiple factors. However, in the face of a majority White teaching force, many young teachers of color report feelings of marginalization and exclusion, lack of authentic mentors, and professional development opportunities that do not necessarily meet their socio-emotional needs or cultural affinities (or what they believe to be best for their students of color). Since completing that school social work internship, I have become a tenured university professor of education, a licensed clinical social worker and certified school social worker, and a psychotherapist specializing in trauma, resilience and health/wellness. It is shameful that my internship experience turned me off from practicing in K-12 settings. Nevertheless, I've spent the last decade calling for attention to the socio-emotional, physical, and mental health needs of our nation's most vulnerable workforce: those people of color surviving and thriving in education (and closely aligned “helping” occupations) institutions.
Who is taking care of us while we spend most of our time teaching/coaching/uplifting/empowering/taking care of others?
Where are the highly trained mental health practitioners who can understand how the intersections of racism, sexism, classism, and xenophobia impact the overall health and coping strategies of minoritized people (as students and employees)?
How do we discuss our professional and personal health goals with those whom appear to be so distant from us culturally?
And, how do we discuss racism in the workplace and "our personal business" with cultural outsiders and strangers?
How do professionals of color, especially women of color ask for help when we have only been taught to be the help?(See: Melinda Anderson's body of work at "Teaching Tolerance" for more on race and educational equity, or my publications here on the topic.) At-risk of sounding like an advertisement (okay, I am politicking), I honestly do believe that we need therapists who, along with cultural knowledge and sensitivity, also understand the political context of education, the stress involved in the act of teaching itself, and the moral obligation to model (social, emotional, cultural, and physical) “health”. Imagine a world where we combine best practices of culturally informed therapy with what we know about professional and personal resilience. Are you an educator? How do you cope with positive or negative stress? What are your health goals? Leave comments below or at @DrVEvansWinters on Twitter. In the struggle for our humanity, Dr. Venus Evans-Winters "Not your mother's therapist, or your brother's life coach."