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Do I Need Therapy to Do DEI? | Ask Lisa

Ask Lisa

with Lisa Greene, LPC, CACII

Dear Lisa, Do I need to be in therapy to truly implement DEI work? I find myself really wrestling with the emotions this work is bringing up, and I don't necessarily feel comfortable processing them all publicly. There's a lot of change going on at my org right now, and I don't think everyone is equally on board... It's all getting a bit uncomfortable and I'd like to have someone to talk to who 'gets it'. But I'm just not sure about eating the cost of therapy right now to be honest. It's been good to talk with my team, friends, and a couple of affinity groups I'm in. I definitely don't feel totally alone in this journey of exploring our biases and systemic issues, which is fortunate. But the personal things it's bringing up are something I think I need to explore, to meet this work with more groundedness (and less scattered worrying...). Thanks Lisa. Sincerely, Potential Couch-Sitter


🎙️ Prefer audio? Hear Lisa read her response:

Dear Potential Couch-Sitter,

Thank you for your thoughtful inquiry.  Your question posed several areas that I need to unpack in my response. First, let me say that therapy is not required for DEI work. 

In looking at the framework for this venture I would like to discuss the I – We – Us model that is utilized by LTHJ Global.

Three circles, w/ text I, we, and us, are shown with interwoven arrows leading to each other

In this model, the “I work” is the work of personal liberation, the “we work” is the work of collective liberation and doing the “us work” leads to systemic change.

Often, we see individuals engaged in this work try to jump to the “we “ work without being personally prepared, and this often leads to challenges with companies in their DEI initiative because of the individual discomfort that arises which has not yet been addressed.  

This discomfort can be linked to realizing and/or denying that racial, gender-based, ability-based and other systemic traumas are present; fear of the unknown; and the fear of being vulnerable in the workplace with your team, especially in cultures where that hasn’t been rewarded in the past. 

Having said that, your question evokes several thoughts for me.

First, beginning or engaging in a DEI initiative is a huge task.  Even the most well-meaning companies could further damage their team in the process of becoming an anti-racist organization, without proper guidance.  One possible solution for this is to outsource the DEI initiative to a company that specializes in this work.

DEI is more than talking about what is wrong and what needs to change.  Outsourcing this work would allow a company to work with your team to assess the current temperature for DEI and complete the strategic planning that is necessary for this endeavor to reach fruition, with a realistic sense of where change can best occur in your specific organizational culture.  That means each part of the DEI initiative will meet with less confusion and blowback.

There are times that not all employees will be on board with the direction of the initiative; this often leads to discourse on a team and subsequently  feelings of “being scattered.”  

There are several schools of thought on the change system for organizations.  The most popular stages of change for organizations that have identified they would like to move forward with a DEI initiative are personal, interpersonal, systemic and cultural change.  This is closely aligned with the LTHJ Global method of I – We – Us.  

In doing the “I work”, there are often times that individuals feel overwhelmed and anxious about the work that is needed to move forward.  If you are feeling that you are needing outside help then you need to identify if you need therapy or life coaching.

The following behavior responses can be effectively managed with coaching, which is an integral part of strategic planning: 

Disengagement: this is a psychological withdrawal from change. Signs of this emotional challenge show up when employees appear to lose initiative and interest in the job. 

Disidentification: this shows up when employees feel as though their identity is being threatened by the proposed change.

Disenchantment: disenchanted employees often express their reactions in the form of anger or negativity. 

Disorientation: employees who are used to clear goals and directions may become disoriented by change and begin to feel lost, confused and unsure of their feelings.

Seeking therapy is a personal decision. Below are signs that you can use to determine if this is the right approach for you, if you’ve had:

Change in eating or sleeping habits

Lack of enjoyment in life

Lack of control over emotions

Unhealthy habits that are becoming problematic

Lack of nurturing in your relationships

If you decide that therapy is the way to move forward, check with community agencies that offer a sliding scale or with your HR department to inquire about your company's EAP (Employee Assistance Program).

Once you determine the best course of action for your emotional health, you can move forward with confidence knowing that you are doing the “I work” that is necessary for you to remain in the process.

Best of luck to you, and please write back if you have any further questions.

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