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Jena Hemraj asks: Does a lived experience and culture matter in counselling?

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

Written By: Jena Hemraj

south asian family

What does it mean for a therapist to have lived experience? How does that connect to the BIPOC approach to counselling?

Lived experience is when someone has experience because of their life and their personal experience.

Professional therapists empathize with clients and lived experience allows us to genuinely connect through our own life experiences WITHOUT it becoming the narrative or focus of the session. It guides us to intuitively explore areas or impacts of culture, to connect on similar experiences while appreciating that it may not be the same experience our client has but at the least, relatable.

In training and graduate school, therapists learn about a lot of techniques, theories and issues - lived experience allows for a personal connection to the learning. It is the reason why many in the mental health field pursue the fulfillment of the profession.

As a South Asian Muslim woman and a child of immigrants, when I was struggling with my mental health I struggled to find someone who looked like me.

I would often spend the majority of my sessions tediously explaining cultural norms to my therapist. I felt so drained and exhausted after a session. After I switched to a South Asian therapist who was an immigrant, my relationship with my therapist felt refreshing. I noticed I felt safe in the therapy space and that I was “understood” and comfortable to express how I was feeling. It was a lot easier to share my experiences of covert racism and navigating life as a POC. This was my experience and will not be the same for everyone. Now, as therapists, we hope to create a space where those who identify as BIPOC feel safe, welcomed, heard and validated.

Can I ask my therapist about their comfort discussing oppression such as racism?

Yes. You can always discuss with your therapist your experiences of racism and feel comfort discussing oppression. It can feel uncomfortable. Feel free to collaborate with your therapist to clarify how they can best support you. In our society, it is sadly not normalized to discuss these topics with health professionals however, it is completely okay to discuss in the therapy space. If you are ever unsure- always ask us!

What if my therapist does not have lived experience?

That is okay too! It's about a respect and appreciation of the depth of the experiences you have had. Our team meets you were you are and strives to ensure you are heard, supported, validated and seen.

Therapists are trained in walking alongside clients through their challenges. If a therapist does not have lived experience it does not mean they cannot help you.

Therapy is about building a safe, non-judgmental space where you feel comfortable expressing yourself.

Having a positive relationship with your therapist is the most important so do not stress if you have not shared similar backgrounds or life experiences. It can also be comforting to speak to a therapist who does not share similar experiences. Therapists and clients both learn from each other!

Even if a therapist has lived experience, no one knows your life like you do.

Every person and client are different and use the free consultations that therapists provide to better understand if they are a fit for you.

Our team truly wants what is best for you so please don't hesitate to reach out to our care coordinator if you need anything at all!

Jena H BIPOC Counsellor
Jena H

Jena Hemraj MSW, RSW is a registered social worker focusing on providing clinical counselling for anxiety, stress, overwhelm and grief.

You can book a free meet and greet with her HERE.

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