TJP Version 2.0

- By Stacey Prince

 TJP's leadership council has spent the last year hard at work.  Our primary goal was to find a common vision that we could all get behind and that would guide the work of TJP for the foreseeable future.  This work has been deeply engaging, informative, and difficult at times, and in fact, as we deepened the work together we discovered that we were unable to agree upon a common vision.  As we neared the end of our first year of leadership council, the three members who joined Anne, Liz and I in leadership announced that they will all be rotating off council and moving on to other work and projects.  I want to take this opportunity to thank Briana Herman-Brand, Keren Lehavot, and Nathanial Shara for bringing their presence, intelligence, authenticity, and commitment to social justice to their work with TJP.  I so appreciate the risks they took coming into a group that was already established, making their voices heard while also honoring the work that had already been done, and working across difference.

Sadly, my co-founders Anne Phillips and Liz Goodwin have also decided not to continue, due to multiple  personal and professional challenges.  This is a difficult transition since Liz, Anne and I have been the “fire keepers” of this project since we met and began working together in May of 2008, almost exactly three years ago.  I will miss them, their leadership and our TJP time together very much, but wish them and our council members the very best as they move on to other ventures.  All five of these individuals are involved in such amazing work, including Generative Somatics and the Capacity Project, People’s Movement Assembly, Leticia Nieto’s Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment curriculum, and research on health and mental health disparities among marginalized group members.  Even though we will not be in formal leadership together I hope the future will bring us continued collaboration.

The learning that has taken place in this past year has been incredibly valuable, not just in terms of working toward social justice but also in terms of leadership, collaborative process, and what it takes to run this type of organization.  I wanted to share some highlights and themes we touched on as we met one last time to get closure with one another, as I think they might be useful (and probably sound familiar!) to others working in groups.  These include:

With these leadership transitions taking place, I now find myself in deep contemplation about TJP: why I started this project in the first place, how the original vision has been transformed by the work of the past year, and where to go from here.  Though there is still some murkiness for me about this I do want to touch on some elements that I believe will be key, and that feel like a returning to the origins of this project but also informed by some new levels of analysis and learning.  These include:

1)  The place of psychology in social justice.  I am using a small 'p' here to represent psychology in general, as opposed to graduate level study and professional degree/licensure in Psychology (which I will say more about in a moment).  I continue to believe that psychology with a small 'p' does have a very significant place in working toward social justice and liberation.  I would like TJP to get back to its roots in psychology.  This does not mean that we won't continue to work across disciplines, but simply that a primary focus will be the role of psychology in supporting work toward social justice and liberation.  As we tried to do on leadership council, connecting the personal, interpersonal and systemic has always been one of my goals with TJP.  Whereas psychology has often been too individualistic, activism often doesn’t take the individual into consideration enough.  What I’ve wanted to do is to really work at that intersection.  So, for example, this includes the role of affect in doing anti-oppression work, the interplay between oppression related trauma and other psychosocial sources of trauma, and the importance of interpersonal connection in sustaining our work toward liberation.  While we may strategically want to focus more on one of these dimensions of experience than another at a given time, they are all so inter-related, and I would like TJP to continue to focus on these intersections.    

2)  The place of Psychology in social justice.   Here I’m talking about Psychology with a capitol ‘P,’ meaning graduate level work toward a doctorate, particularly a professional degree in Clinical or Counseling Psychology.  During the last year of leadership council I have been challenged to think about the elitism inherent in the profession in which I am trained - in terms of access to education in Psychology, access to treatment by Psychologists, the models of wellness and healing that are promoted by Psychology, etc.  I wholeheartedly agree that we need to make quality mental health treatment more accessible to the many people who are uninsured, don't have the means to pay out of pocket, and who we are not reaching for myriad other reasons in our traditional private practice settings.  I also agree that the extreme cost and inaccessibility for many of graduate level training is problematic.  Further, there are many ways that the academic endeavors of Psychology have been complicit in maintaining existing oppressive hierarchies, including the narrow focus of Clinical Psychology in particular on intrapsychic rather than systemic variables in mental health, adherence to a medical model of mental illness, and perpetuating norms that are more associated with dominant (e.g., white, male, heterosexual, middle class) groups.  However, I also believe that Psychology has come a long way, that there are clinicians, researchers, teachers and administrators out there who are doing amazing work, including work around effectively serving underserved populations, making graduate level training more affordable, and doing participatory, qualitative, social justice oriented research.  However, more revision and reform is needed, and I want to return to one of the original goals and passions of this project, which was to continue to infuse more of a social justice perspective into graduate level training – including clinical training and supervision, research, curricula, etc.  I know many of you share this passion.  I realize (and have had to come to terms with the fact that) this is more of a reformist rather than a transformative position – revising what we have, rather than transforming the system altogether –  but I still maintain that there is great value in this, and it can pave the way for greater change down the road.  

3)  Liberation psychotherapy.  OK, so this is perhaps the part of TJP V 2.0 that I am most excited about.  The three theoretical underpinnings that have been most influential for me as I've developed the ideas of TJP are feminist, multicultural, and liberation psychology.  Interestingly, both feminist and multicultural psychology offer many guidelines on how to do feminist and multiculturally sensitive psychotherapy.  Liberation psychology, on the other hand, offers little by way of implementation.  While emphasizing consciousness raising, understanding the societal inequities that underlie socially constructed identities, and psychosocial work to empower members of oppressed groups, it does not speak to actually implementing such strategies.  After much pondering, I have come to the conclusion that this is in fact what we are trying to develop in TJP: a model of psychotherapy that is not only non-oppressive, but also liberatory; that helps individuals understand the societal conditions that are contributing to their distress and also empowers and activates them to resist oppression.  When I look back at the blog articles we have all written and submitted over the last two years, so many of them are on this topic!  Either how do we reduce oppressive practices in psychotherapy, or how do we help clients make connections between their feelings/situations and broader social inequities, or how do we empower ourselves and clients to be agents of social change.  As I’ve talked about before, I am also very interested in the potential therapeutic value of promoting, when appropriate, clients’ engagement in activism and political advocacy.  I am (still and again) excited about this focus on anti-oppressive / liberatory psychotherapy, and hope that we can have lots of discussion and exploration regarding how many of you are already practicing this way and how we can further advance this model.  Related to this would be supervision, consultation and mentoring in a liberation psychotherapy approach.   Christy Hofsess and Agnes Kwong's Seattle Social Justice and Mentorship Program (SSJUMP) is a great example of this, and I would like to continue collaborating with and supporting their project.  I think it's all out there; I am excited about the possibility of gathering it together in one place, and perhaps coming up with a cohesive model of liberatory and anti-oppressive psychotherapy, as well as continuing to nurture each other in the work we are already doing.    

4) Systemic change.  I started out very interested in, and am still very interested in, the role that mental health professionals can play in supporting systemic change including legislation and other forms of public policy, through testifying, providing relevant empirical research, advocacy with social institutions, etc.  I hope this continues to be a key component of TJP.  Many of you are also teaching, training, and consulting to organizations regarding oppression and privilege.  I am particularly interested in developing curricula that assist organizations who provide direct service and therapy to look at the impact of privilege and oppression on the work that they are doing.

5)  The importance of community.  The retreat format for TJP meetings (originally suggested by my friend Marsha Botzer - thank you, Marsha!) has had mixed success over the years since we started in 2008.  Some have felt scattered, disorganized, and like we were trying to do too much; others have been powerful and felt full of connection and momentum.  We have not had a TJP focused retreat since January of 2010, and frankly, I miss them.  I have heard from some of you that you do, too.  One of my primary goals in forming TJP (then the Limen Group) was to provide a place of community, connection and support for therapists and healers working on social justice issues to come together.  I want us to get back to that.  Even if they are messy, disorganized, and a little unclear in their focus - I think this is an important function and one that I don't want us to lose.  So, my goal is to have our next retreat in the fall (only avoiding summer because many of us go a little crazy and can't stand do be indoors once the sun comes out).  I will send a save the date with plenty of advance notice and I hope as many of you can attend as possible.

6)  Connecting to broader social movements.  Several people in this group - Liz, Briana and Nathan in particular, as well as other TJP members who are not on council - have been connecting with broader, national social change movements, in particular the People's Movement Assembly that arose out of the US Social Forum in Detroit.  I would like to see TJP connected to this movement, representing mental health therapists and healers in the Northwest who support collective social change.  I would like us to explore this further with the guidance of those who have been more involved with PMA.

7)  Leadership structure.  So, I am still trying to integrate what I’ve learned over the past year about leadership, and what structure will work best moving forward.  On the one hand, the power of the group is incredible, and this project has been so positively influenced by so many of you, and in particular by the input of leadership council.  I don’t feel comfortable making solo decisions about this important work, and believe it benefits greatly from the collaboration of many minds with different talents, experiences, viewpoints, and so on.  On the other hand, it’s been hard to make decisions, move forward, or get anything done trying to adhere to a fully collective decision making model.  What I would like to do is to go solo for a few months, as I regroup and get my bearings, and focus on the vision as it is roughly outlined here.  Then in the fall I would like to invite interested TJP members into leadership, but with a slightly different structure – collaborative, yes, but guided by the vision I am laying out here, and maintaining my ability to call a decision when necessary.  I believe this will provide a better balance of process with implementation.

I recently came across this great quote: “Confusion is the welcome mat at the door of creativity” (Michael Gelb).  I thought it was funny, posted it on Facebook, and found it a soothing mantra in the weeks while our leadership council was slowly dismantling – but I wasn’t sure I believed it.  I was in a place of deep confusion regarding TJP, why this has been so difficult, the value of the original vision, and whether I wanted to continue - and I wasn’t confident that it would lead to anything other than more confusion.  But for once I was patient, and to my relief some sprouts of excitement have emerged that I have tried to outline here as best I can.  So there you have it - TJP Version 2.0, as far as I can see it right now.  I welcome your thoughts and input as we take this turn back, yet forward.  I will end with an invitation—to send me your comments on this update, contribute blog articles, let me know if you are interested in stepping into a leadership role some time in the future…  and if there are other ways you would like to participate that I have not named here, please let me know!