I am deeply grateful to be a part of The Relational Center community. This month marks my one-year anniversary working as an adjunct supervisor and group co-facilitator in the Community Project.
I believe The Relational Center is stewarding an evolution in the field of psychotherapy by visioning and working to construct a clinical paradigm that integrates individual healing with radical community engagement. This re-articulation of mental health moves away from pathologizing and toward understanding human beings in their socio-political-historical and economic contexts.
The Relational Center operates from a position of seeking to create cultural change within the existing paradigms of Western Psychotherapy and throughout the wider community. “Psychotherapy as political work!” When I heard this as the title to a recent monthly training, I was floored and inspired. The Relational Center teaches its staff to bring the larger historical and cultural influences of our human experience into individual and group work and to be transparent about the organization’s values of interdependence, diversity and radial inclusion. To engage in therapeutic work is to be courageously vulnerable and radical. One example of The Relational Center’s clinical orientation is the belief that an individual’s experience of depression or anxiety is often a natural response within a culture that urges the pursuit of material success. In other words, our symptoms are generated by a distressing struggle with the conditioned myths of meritocracy. The Relational Center believes that to seek support for depression and anxiety requires an act of leadership, a brave step toward awakening and de-conditioning. I find this perspective profoundly radical and perhaps every social-justice-minded social worker’s dream.
With an eye toward cultivating a spirit of social justice and political action within the clinical field, The Relational Center not only provides sliding scale mental health care but also extends itself into the realm of Community Psychology through organizing and organizational consulting. It promotes a curiosity toward how an individual’s struggle with anxiety, depression, a fear of failure, and shame, must include the possibility of these struggles being rooted somewhere beyond the individual, perhaps reflective of the whole world’s “pathology.” I view The Relational Center’s work as essential to developing what Liberation Psychologist Paulo Freire calls “critical consciousness.” I am constantly impressed by The Relational Center’s justice framework; offering access to ongoing support for those who are not eligible for public mental health care and those who could not otherwise afford long-term treatment.
Personally, as a Social Worker who has been trained always to appreciate the “person in their environment,” I’ve struggled with notions of therapy that lean in the direction of working toward adaptation, (the person must change to fit the environment). This can often lead the individual to adjust to oppressive conditions or overlook the larger change that is needed within the system. I think we need to remember that a person is always in dynamic relationship with her environment, and health is a function of how creatively each can adjust with the other. I believe this dynamic view is very much the ground that The Relational Center is attempting to build. It seeks to untether its client-members from the cultural narratives that can depress and dispirit their self-worth, and instead promote the essential value of relationship. By cultivating relational values–interdependence, diversity, radical inclusion–The Relational Center is creating the necessary conditions for health, equality and sustainability.
In October of 2016, I began co-facilitating the People of Color group in The Relational Center’s Community Project. This is a group that not only offers a refuge and community for folks who experience consistent “otheredness,” but also cultivates the possibility of critical consciousness. Cultural critic bell hooks shares that her critical consciousness led to the “recovery of love and spirit.” According to hooks, in order to develop critical consciousness, one has to learn “the truth” about how systems of oppression operate, and learn to look both “inwardly and outwardly with a critical eye.” I am proud that The Relational Center is boldly engaging this anti-racist work. This radical perspective, in the face of discrimination and exclusion, will no doubt be even more necessary in the coming years.
Bio: With a Master of Social Welfare from UCLA, Gabrielle has worked with survivors of human trafficking (Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking), older adults with chronic mental illness (Department of Mental Health), children and families (Jewish Family Service) and with Veterans (Veteran’s Administration). She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and has recently received an MA in Depth Psychology with an emphasis in Community, Liberation and Ecopsychology (CLE) from Pacifica Graduate Institute. She is currently the Assistant Director of the National Association of Social Workers Region-H. Gabrielle has a small private practice in Mid-City and West LA.