Phrases like "anti-racist" and "anti-oppressive practice" or the concept of "decolonization" are frequently used but insufficiently explained in terms of practical implementation. This position statement not only articulates our stance on anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice as well as decolonization but also outlines some tangible methods by which we actively embody these principles. Due to the complexity, we cannot describe all practices we have implemented.
Recognizing that this is an ever-evolving journey, we commit to a yearly review of this position statement, adapting it in response to our continually expanding knowledge and evolving practices.
Decolonization is a complex and multifaceted process that involves the undoing or dismantling of Canada’s colonial systems and structures, both politically and culturally on Indigenous peoples. In the context of our organization, it means to decolonize our work as counsellors and a settler-led organization in Canada. Decolonization requires a transformative and systemic change. It requires us to prioritize and honour Indigenous perspectives, cultures and peoples in our work and to implement the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Report as well as the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Report.
Anti-racism is the active, on-going process of dismantling systems of racial inequity and creating new systems of racial equity. Anti-racism demands that this work is done at the individual, organizational/institutional, and cultural levels in order to effectively address systemic racism. Anti-racism addresses the root cause of systemic racism - i.e. white supremacy - to equalize power imbalances and misuse of power by white people. Anti-racism acknowledges that white people are in the role of the oppressor.Anti-racism is a subset of anti-oppressive practice. We put anti-racism first since we are a white led organization.
Oppression is about unjust “use of power to disempower, marginalize, silence or otherwise subordinate one social group or category” or to further empower the oppressor.
Anti-oppression is a practice that seeks to recognize and address oppression that exists in social interactions, communities, organizations, institutions and social systems by addressing the root causes of oppression to equalize power imbalances. Anti-oppression acknowledges that the dominant group is in the role of the oppressor and needs to actively dismantle their role to not misuse their power. Oppression includes but is not limited to race, gender, sexuality, nationality, immigration status, ability of the body, or language.
We recognize the deep roots of colonization and the pervasive culture of white supremacy within our society. At the core of these dynamics lies a fundamental misuse of power that creates systemic social inequities. Consequently, people within the dominant group enjoy unearned advantages due to their privilege. Conversely, those belonging to intentionally marginalized communities face numerous barriers that are absent in the lives of the dominant group.
We acknowledge that privilege acts like a blindfold for the dominant group. Consequently, they cannot see the reality of systemic oppression without additional education and intentional learning about oppression. These privileges encompass, but are by no means limited to, aspects such as race, gender, nationality, language, sexuality, and physical ability.
We recognize that inclusion can only be attained through the implementation of decolonization as well as the diligent practice of anti-racism and anti-oppression.
Overview about the culture of white supremacy
The counselling field, like any other system or industry, is profoundly influenced by the dynamics of colonization, white supremacy, and oppression. The impact extends across professional associations, educational programs for counsellors, and organizations and individuals providing counselling services. Many established counselling models were developed prior to the introduction of the human rights and social justice movements and lack systemic considerations like the social determinants of health. Just to give you an example: Sigmund Freud, often regarded as the father of psychology, lived from 1856 to 1939 - the human rights were first declared in 1948.
Furthermore, it's notable that numerous influential figures in the counseling field have been and continue to be cisgender, white, European-descent men and women. Their models often solely reflect their privileged perspectives and are rooted in the erroneous assumption of a universal "sameness," thereby disregarding the systemic injustices endured by individuals from intentionally marginalized groups. This lack of awareness frequently leaves counsellors ill-equipped to navigate the complexities of power, privilege, racism and oppression. As a result, BIPOC clients or clients belonging to the LGBTQ2S+ community experience further harm in the counselling relationship.
At Bright Horizon Therapies, we acknowledge the collective responsibility of all stakeholders in the counselling field - counsellors, organizations, educational programs, associations alike - to decolonize their work and dismantle the toxic power structures of white supremacy and how they affect our work. We firmly believe that this is a lifelong commitment and a necessary way to provide excellent counselling services.
We acknowledge that psychological safety is intricately tied to privilege, with greater privilege translating into a higher degree of psychological safety. For instance, Black or Indigenous people are less safe around white people, trans people are less safe around cis people. Given the systemic injustices at play, it is a reality that many counsellors belong to the dominant group, giving them privilege over clients from marginalized backgrounds. This imbalance places clients from intentionally marginalized groups at risk of harm when interacting with a counsellor who isn’t able to navigate their privilege healthily. Clients who belong to intentionally marginalized groups are at risk to be harmed by a counsellor with privilege towards them.
In light of this, we firmly assert that all counselors bear a significant responsibility to engage in a rigorous examination of their own privilege and develop healthy strategies to navigate it within their client relationships. This is a vital component of providing equitable and safe therapeutic spaces.
At the core of our anti-racist/ anti-oppressive practice at Bright Horizon Therapies is continuous education and self-reflection in those areas where we have privilege and a critical analysis about our roles and responsibility in the counselling field, as a business, and in our relationship with our clients.
We acknowledge that an anti-oppressive/ anti-racist journey requires continuous growth and education. We actively dedicate ourselves to deepen our awareness, with particular emphasis on drawing insights from people with lived experience and those who have more extensive expertise than we do.
Our practice is focused on three pillars - as individuals, as an organization, and in the relationship with our clients.
We believe that authentic participation in anti-racism/ anti-oppression and colonization goes beyond theoretical comprehension and knowledge; it requires practical application in both our professional and personal spheres. The foundation of anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice begins with self-examination and self-improvement.
Moreover, we firmly endorse the notion that individual healing is intrinsically intertwined with the pursuit of social justice. This process is indispensable for the conscientious and healthy application of social justice principles. By addressing and healing the ways in which we have been influenced by the abuse of power, we become better equipped to wield power in a constructive and beneficial manner.
We acknowledge the coexistence of marginalized and privileged identities within each of us. It's crucial to understand that our marginalized identities do not nullify or supersede our privileged ones; rather, they exist alongside them.
For instance, as the owner, I have marginalized identities as a non-binary individual and an immigrant in Canada. Simultaneously, I have white privilege, settler privilege and able-bodied privilege.. In the area where we have privilege, it can act as a blinder and obscure our vision and understanding. Therefore, it is imperative that we embark on a journey of self-education to systematically diminish our blind spots.
In alignment with Tema Okun's work, particularly "White Supremacy Culture - Still Here," and drawing insights from various sources, we commit to identifying the traits of a white supremacy culture within ourselves. This involves not only recognition but also the active application of antidotes to counteract these traits.
The culture of white supremacy teaches us individualism and separateness which erroneously suggests that those from the dominant group are detached from oppression (a notion we firmly reject). Our approach to countering this involves a recognition of interconnectedness: where there exists oppression and marginalized groups, there inevitably emerges a corresponding group in the social role of the oppressor. While we are born into these groups and therefore, shaped by their social norms, we also have a responsibility to unlearn toxic social traits.
Furthermore, we employ a systems thinking perspective when exploring the diverse voices within Canadian society. Key questions that guide our exploration, but are by no means limited to: Whose voices are included? What is their social position of power and their privilege? Who is excluded? How can we learn more about the voices that are excluded? And, critically, how are individuals from marginalized groups impacted by our decision-making processes and communication practices?
Right of comfort and fear of conflict
White supremacy also conditions the dominant group to assert their right of comfort, a stance that frequently impedes their willingness to take responsibility and embrace change. The fear of open conflict often stifles the emergence of meaningful conversations about racism and oppression. To counter these tendencies, we view conflict as an opportunity to grow. Additionally, we hold ourselves accountable to lean into conflict, continuously expand our knowledge and reflect on our privilege.
A central question guiding our actions is: what are our next steps in dismantling white supremacy that makes us uncomfortable? In addition, we recognize that mistakes may occur and that we have a responsibility to learn from these experiences and continually evolve.
Defensiveness and white fragility
Defensiveness and the concept of white fragility often show up interpersonal dynamics, spreading toxicity in relationships. These tendencies silence people who dare to speak up, blocking a meaningful dialogue about racism and oppression. Additionally, they further harm people who speak up.
To address these detrimental characteristics, we take a stance of accountability and actively cultivate a culture of vulnerability in our interactions.
Some traits of white supremacy play a bigger role on a systemic or organizational level. Being able to recognize them and finding ways to counter them is essential to effectively practice anti-racism and anti-oppression in organizations or to identify these dynamics when they show up in our clients' narratives.
Quantity over quality/ Progress is bigger
The pervasive social conditioning of white supremacy often steers us toward a mindset that prioritizes quantity over quality and equates progress with bigger.To challenge this perspective, we deliberately place our emphasis on the quality of our services and have implemented a system to evaluate our quality. This is exemplified by using feedback surveys with our clients, which allows us to assess the quality of our collaboration and the progress the client sees. Additionally, we conduct an annual, anonymous customer satisfaction survey. We strive to achieve sustainable growth while still providing high-quality services.
Additionally, white supremacy often teaches us to see other stakeholders as a competition and compare ourselves to others. To counter this trait, we actively opt for collaboration with our clients and other stakeholders in the counseling field while recognizing the power differential. We also strive to provide excellence in our services and focus on continuous improvement of our services.
Power hoarding/ power over
Power hoarding refers to the behavior or actions of a group or individual who possesses and exercises power in a way that is self-serving and oppressive to others. In essence, power hoarding involves the unequal distribution of power, where those in positions of authority or privilege prioritize and protect their own interests and control while actively excluding or disadvantaging others. It reinforces the existing structures of misuse of power and privilege and uses a power-over dynamic that is toxic.
We place a distinct focus on embracing a "power-with" and dismantling power hoarding. This requires that we critically analyze the power dynamics in our relationships with clients, other stakeholders and our decision making. Furthermore, we also explore the impact of our actions and non-actions on members of marginalized groups. In this endeavor, we also prioritize the voices of individuals from intentionally marginalized communities and work towards de-centering whiteness.
As an organization, we have taken the principles of anti-racist organizational change as issued by Community Wise Resource Center and tailored them to our specific context, recognizing that we function as a for-profit business and including the diverse aspects of oppression. We commit to embracing discomfort as an avenue for profound growth in this endeavor. The practice of anti-oppression and anti-racism stands as a cornerstone of our organizational value.
As our organization continues to evolve, we proactively integrate anti-racist and anti-oppressive practices into our policies and procedures. This comprehensive integration extends to critical areas such as supplier selection and HR management, underscoring our commitment to these values.
In a counselling field that frequently holds on to the misguided myth of sameness, ignores systemic influences on clients and often excludes oppression and intersectionality, our mission is to to include what is excluded: to craft articles, blog posts, and educational resources that integrate the realities of oppression. We do so with full awareness of the complex nature of these dynamics and the constraints imposed by article length, recognizing that our communications may not always capture the full scope of these complexities.
As emphasized earlier, the majority of counseling and coaching models fail to incorporate anti-racist or anti-oppressive practices, often neglecting the systemic power imbalances present in our society. Consequently, we do not unthinkingly adhere to these models but instead critically reflect upon them, with a commitment to adapting and aligning them with the principles of anti-racism and anti-oppression.
In our research, we adopt an intersectional approach. Many research articles tend to focus solely on the perspective of the dominant group while sidelining an intersectional lens. For instance, many suicide prevention workshops don’t acknowledge oppression as a major contributing factor for suicide. In our Suicide Prevention workshops, we make it a priority to incorporate research that delves into how racism and oppression impacts the mental well-being of Black individuals, Indigenous communities, People of Color, and members of the LGBTQ2S+ community. We are committed to presenting research in a manner that shields it from being wielded as a weapon against individuals from marginalized groups. Additionally, we explore the intersectionality of our research team to the greatest extent possible and, when feasible, prioritize research conducted by teams with lived experience.
We consciously integrate anti-oppressive principles into our pricing strategies, with a primary goal to maximize the accessibility of our services. It's essential to recognize, however, that our status as a for-profit business, lacking the funding options available to non-profits, does impose limitations. We understand the interconnectedness of capitalism and white supremacy, and, in response, we are dedicated to crafting a sustainable business model. Our ongoing self-reflection is aimed at resisting the adverse influence of capitalism on our pricing structure, ensuring our commitment to accessibility remains consistent.
As we pursue the integration of anti-oppressive practices, it's vital to acknowledge the areas where our capacity is currently limited. For instance, we recognize that we are unable to accommodate individuals in need of American Sign Language services at this time. In our ongoing commitment to this work, we understand that humility is an indispensable trait, as the journey toward inclusivity and anti-oppression is a continuous one, and it will never truly be complete.
The client-counselor relationship is a cornerstone of the therapeutic journey. However, effectively integrating anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice requires that counsellor and coaches do their individual work as described in Pillar 1.
Within the therapeutic relationships with our clients, we are proactive in addressing our privilege. Clients from intentionally marginalized communities are offered the option to anonymously voice their concerns. We commit to treating this feedback with the utmost seriousness, dedicating ourselves to educate ourselves, and actively changing the behavior that was not o.k.
We acknowledge the impact of colonization, systemic racism and oppression woven into our clients’ stories. These dynamics are not only not ok but frequently crazymaking, yet regrettably, they have been normalized within our society. While these dynamics are not ok and often crazy-making, they are also normalized in our society. Our commitment lies in assisting clients in discovering their own optimal means of navigating these challenging dynamics. Moreover, when working with clients who have endured trauma stemming from systemic violence, we collaborate with them to mitigate the risk of further harm.
We work with a diverse group of clients who have different intersecting identities. Therefore, it is essential to work towards increasing safety for people who face oppression. In instances where we facilitate counselling groups, we diligently implement safer space guidelines to minimize harm to individuals from intentionally marginalized groups.
We offer various programs to navigate privilege healthily and apply anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice. Discover our transformative professional development programs now!
Bishop, A. (2002). Becoming an ally: Breaking the cycle of oppression in people. Fernwood Publishing
Canada Mental Health Association (2023, February 13). Mental health within Black communities in Canada: profiles of advocates
Communitywise Resource Centre (n.d.) Anti-racist organizational change tools and resorces
Indigenousaction.org (2014, February 5). Accomplices not allies: abolishing the ally industrial complex. Retrieved from: Indigenousaction.org
McFarlane, P., & Schabus, N. (Eds.) (2017). Whose land is it anyway? A manual for decolonization. Federation of Post Secondary Educators of BC. Retrieved from: Whose Land Is It Anyway? A Manual for Decolonization
National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (n.d.) Reports
National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (n.d.) Reclaiming power and place: Report of the National Inquiry of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
Okun, T. (2021). White supremacy culture - still here.
Racial Equity Tools (n.d.) Racial Equity Tools Glossary
Turner, D. D. L. (2018). You shall not replace us! White supremacy, psychotherapy and decolonisation. Retrieved from: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/324890681_'You_Shall_Not_Replace_Us'_White_supremacy_psychotherapy_and_decolonisation