By Deborah Schroder, MA in Art Therapy/Counseling Program Chair
I’ve always enjoyed sharing Virginia Satir’s way of working, with my students in my family art therapy course. This spring at the International Family Therapy Congress, I was faced with a belief I’ve held about congruency that was clearly formed by my own white privilege.
In a brief take on Satir’s Model, she believed that everyone had the right to show up congruently in terms of who they are and how they feel. I was enchanted with this idea because growing up in my family of origin meant showing up “fine” or happy no matter what was going on in the household. How appealing to be told that it was a healthy step to be authentic and congruent. I happily believed this until I attended an eye-opening presentation by Rachel Miller and Eunice Makunzva (both from the US).
They made it very clear that being incongruent is a necessary survival factor for anyone feeling somehow unsafe in a place, an organization, a neighborhood, a work site or a school. They discussed the fact that if one feels that for whatever reason they “don’t belong” in a place or situation, one’s physical or emotional safety may depend on being incongruent with how one actually feels.
And I understood that as a child, sadly. But I didn’t understand it as a white, middle-class, heterosexual, educated, cis-gender woman, or in other words, as a privileged person.
My deeper heartache is that I’ve listened, with tears in my eyes, to my students of color who have felt challenged to be in our graduate school, live in Santa Fe, and even be in a mental health profession. I was deaf to what they were communicating about their deep struggles with congruency.
The cost of being incongruent seems enormous. And the world desperately needs more diversity on all levels in terms of therapists’ identities. In my role at Southwestern I will work to hear, see and understand issues with more honesty and clarity. And when I share the Satir Model, I’ll also share the critique, which I hope further opens the door for students to speak about their own experiences.