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Image by Jorge Maya

When the Inner Critic occurs alongside Societal Oppression

Sometimes our Inner Critic voice is exacerbated by the negative messaging we get in society based on our race, culture, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, class, accent and so on.  It is important to not shy away from these issues but tease them out so our clients can address what is unhelpful and impacting their Inner Critic internally and externally.  Harrell (2021) states “Some of the things that I’ve found helpful with clients is helping them understand the dynamics of oppression, of racism, of heterosexism – and those topics are important to name and talk about in therapy. And again, it’s a value on that inner and outer world back and forth: that we internalize the world and the world response to who we are internally.   When the inner critic is reflecting societal oppression in some way, it is important to validate and acknowledge that that oppression really does exist.  So, talking about phenomena in the world, in therapy, I think many clients benefit from naming those things, then it doesn’t feel like “It’s just me.” It feels like “There is something going on out there that’s a problem – and how have I taken that on in ways that don’t benefit me, in ways that may be holding me back?” What’s concurrently important is exposure to affirming messages, affirming images, people’s stories that are stories of overcoming and stories of kind of rising from these kinds of internalized stereotypes – people believe the things about the negative things that our society’s messages may convey about the groups that they’re a member of” (NICABM IC Bonus video 2; 2021; 04:02).  Pluralistic Counsellors know the value of cultural resources and we may be encouraging clients to tap into those to improve their lives through connections that will hopefully positively impact the way they view themselves in society.   Where there is a negative message about a client’s identity, we can be instrumental in attending to it, calling it out and validating a client’s experience.  Support to look at their emotions that may have been previously minimised and identify ways the client can draw hope, pride, perhaps from the stories of other oppressed individuals.  Pluralistic Counsellors accept there is a political element to counselling and a sense of working to promote societal justice through research but also action (see for example, Smith et al, Sep 2021).  It is important to collaborate with clients to see how we can best support them in addressing societal oppression and its effects.  Also it is important to never minimise client's experiences.  The BACP ethical framework requires us to reflect on our unconscious biases as counsellors and work to ensure we adhere to the values. In this case, 

  • facilitating a sense of self that is meaningful to the person(s) concerned within their personal and cultural context

  • appreciating the variety of human experience and culture 


I feel Pluralistic Counselling lends itself to this process as we collaborate with clients closely, seeking to empower them, and are gently curious about their experiences.  But, as ethical Pluralistic Counsellors, we must always be self-reflecting and ensuring our own unconscious biases or preconceptions do not negatively impact the therapeutic relationship, and avoid making assumptions.

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