When I started reading about Relational- Cultural Therapy it felt like this is what I had been trying to do all along, intuitively, though it is never total intuition, I had been studying other forms of therapy that were closely related to this model, but it felt like a great fit in so many ways, both in looking into my struggles and failures, as well as into my successes in therapy. Relational-cultural therapy is based on the premise that human beings grow through and toward connection and isolation is a very important source of suffering for human beings, both at a personal as well as at a cultural level. Through the advances in neurobiology we have learned that we are genetically programed to connect with each other even at a neurological level. Even the structures of the brain are affected in its development by our early human connections as research has shown through studies of brain imaging as discussed earlier. Through the life span we develop towards interdependence rather than separation and into increasing levels of complexity and articulation within relationships that grow in mutuality: mutual empathy and mutual empowerment and at its base is the important cognitive and emotional capacity for empathy, helping as resonate and respond to others. Mutual empathy is defined as mutual impact, mutual care and mutual responsiveness. In therapy it allows to repair the legacy of damaging relationships and the damaging expectations created in early relationship. In the words of Judith Jordan “When the client sees, knows and feels the therapist’s empathy and thereby begins to experience a sense of relational competence and efficacy” His/her sense of isolation diminishes and facilitates a movement from disconnection to connection and psychological growth is facilitated even in the presence of conflict and differences, because the therapist stays present rather than withdraw and is able to admit whatever contribution he/she may share to the conflict and disconnection. Thus, the therapist gives the client a profound respect and a mutuality of empowerment that is at the basis of RCT. This model of therapy goes beyond trying to alleviate the hopelessness and isolation on a personal level to a cultural/social level as well. In it, marginalization and stratification contribute in society to an experience of isolation and pain and create anger, disempowerment, depression and shame. So RCT includes in its concerns the experiences of racism, homophobia, class prejudice and sexism, analyzing the impact of dominance and subordination on groups. RCT tries to help the person expand and resist the constricting impact of these experiences and images coming from society. At the start of RTC in the late seventies, the roots of its development were in feminism and social justice and then it grew beyond that base to include the destructive effect of all power imbalances in society.
A great resource for studying about Relational-Cultural Therapy is the book “Relational-Cultural Therapy (Theories of Psychotherapy)” by Jordan, Judith V. Published by the American Psychological Association, 2012.
As I was reading about Relational Cultural Therapy I kept thinking about the immigrant parents and students in my old work and many memories of interactions with them came to my mind. Then, a very special memory of a presentation came to me that created a lot of turmoil in the recipients, half of them protesting irately and the other half making the first ones be quiet and let me talk, while my heart was beating fast in barely controlled fear: In 2007, at a time of numerous incidents of crackdowns and raids that were affecting our undocumented students and their families, I made a presentation to the full staff of one of the high-schools. It highlighted the effects of that kind of environment on our students. Two main ideas are contained in these two slides extracted from it, after much looking in old boxes of CDs. I was telling them: “The current raids and talks about deportation have a profound effect on our students: The student’s self is the red circle and the gray area is what he/she hears from society: “
“What they need right now from us as their teachers, administrators, counselors, etc. is compassionate awareness:”
Needless to say the next day there were quite a few people that stop saying their hellos to me, while a few others came to show their support. But, somehow we all survived and nowadays reading about RCT I feel: “How relevant”!!