What Therapists Should Know About Code-Switching: An Interview with Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow
Curt and Katie interview Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow on code-switching. We explore what code-switching is, the mental health impacts of code-switching, and how therapists can support clients who code-switch.
Click here to scroll to the podcast transcript.
Click here to scroll to the podcast transcript.
An Interview with Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow
Jameta Nicole Barlow, PhD, MPH, RYT® 200, is a community psychologist, women’s health scholar and an assistant professor of writing in The George Washington University’s University Writing and Women’s Leadership Programs. With secondary appointments in the Milken Institute of Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management and the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences’ Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies Program, where she is the Director of Undergraduate Studies, Dr. Barlow uses Black Feminisms and Womanism to theorize, implement and evaluate methodologies, interventions and policies for Black girls and women, focusing on her evidence-based curriculum, “writehealing,” to uncover trauma and healing.
A Charlottesville, Virginia native, Dr. Barlow has 24 years’ experience in transdisciplinary federal government, nonprofit and academic collaborations in diverse settings throughout the world. She is the immediate Past Chair for the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Women in Psychology, Scholar-in-Residence at the Black Women’s Health Imperative, Strategic Communications and Implementation Advisor for the Council on Black Health and an active member of AcademyHealth, recently awarded the 2022 Public Voices Fellowship at AcademyHealth, in partnership with The OpEd Project, Dr. Barlow’s writings on Black girls’ and women’s health, intersectionality, health equity, healing and restorative health practices in psychology and public health research appear in various publications and she offers community-based and industry focused workshops and trainings on these topics. Dr. Barlow has been quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Essence, Shape, Insider, NBC News, OZY, mashable, the Skimm, Medical News Today, NPR, Psych Central and Healthline. She is currently curating an edited collection on Black girls’ and women’s health.
In this podcast episode, we talk about code-switching
An important conversation about code-switching for therapists. What do we need to know and what can we do to support people who need to code switch?
What is code-switching?
“Who sets the standard that this is acceptable behavior? … Maybe we can find a new way to communicate that embraces everyone’s way of knowing, everyone’s way of doing, and that allows everyone to feel like they can bring their full self into the space.” – Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow
- Shifting how one speaks or behaves to fit into the current situation
- Often occurs with people who do not look like you or are culturally different from you
- Learning to operate differently in different spaces due to being judged based on appearance, behavior, and language
- Choosing which words to use, which has additional layers for multilingual folks
- Much deeper than just linguistic shifts
- Responding to the potential for violent harm when how you typically show up doesn’t fit the current situation’s prescribed norms
- The concept of “professionalism” and who set the standards
- Needing to push back on the norms
What are the mental health effects of Code-switching?
“So, if you have a high level of stress from having to be on guard all the time, about ‘am I saying the right thing’, and you’ll never feel comfortable, or you could be punished for not saying it in the way that’s acceptable for that space? That is very stressful.” – Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow
- Anxiety and depression
- Not bringing full self into most spaces
- Hesitation, lack of learning and sharing
- Chronic health diseases connected to cortisol
- Identity concerns, unraveling of identity over time
- Fear of being found out or not being accepted
- High mental load
- Not everyone code switches
Why are people code-switching in professional settings? Or is it still happening?
- Shifts in behaviors during the pandemic
- Letting go of certain social mores on zoom
- Not having to go to work and putting on a professional persona when working remotely
What can mental health professionals due to support clients who code-switch?
- There are not enough Black therapists to see all of the Black clients, so therapists of other demographics need to make sure that they are addressing it
- Going beyond the client having to explain all of their experience or be a cultural translator
- Stay present to the story and clarify later, to allow client to stay in the vulnerability
- Being authentic yourself as a therapist, to create space for imperfection
- Providing reinforcement for the client showing up authentically, their accomplishments
- Getting to IDGAF attitude and testing it out in different spaces
How does Dr. Jameta Barlow push back against the status quo related to code-switching?
- Land acknowledgement
- Grounding in family and cultural history
- Focusing on the history and the experiences of Black women
- No code-switching or requirement for being anything but your full self
Resources for Modern Therapists mentioned in this Podcast Episode:
We’ve pulled together resources mentioned in this episode and put together some handy-dandy links. Please note that some of the links below may be affiliate links, so if you purchase after clicking below, we may get a little bit of cash in our pockets. We thank you in advance!
Dr. Barlow’s Website: JametaBarlow.com
Email: JametaWrites @ gmail.com
Information on the concept of Double Consciousness from W.E.B. Du Bois
Article on PsychCentral: Code-Switching: What it is and What it Costs Us
Relevant Episodes of MTSG Podcast:
Understanding Impostor Syndrome: An interview with Stevon Lewis, LMFT
Black Mental Health: An interview with Patrice N. Douglas, LMFT
Therapy as a Political Act: An interview with Dr. Travis Heath
Being a Therapist on Both Sides of the Couch: An interview with Rwenshaun Miller, LCMHC
Antiracist Practices in the Room: An interview with Dr. Allen Lipscomb
Therapy is DOPE: An interview with Eboni Harris, LPC, LMFT
Who we are:
Curt Widhalm, LMFT
Curt Widhalm is in private practice in the Los Angeles area. He is the cofounder of the Therapy Reimagined conference, an Adjunct Professor at Pepperdine University and CSUN, a former Subject Matter Expert for the California Board of Behavioral Sciences, former CFO of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, and a loving husband and father. He is 1/2 great person, 1/2 provocateur, and 1/2 geek, in that order. He dabbles in the dark art of making “dad jokes” and usually has a half-empty cup of coffee somewhere nearby. Learn more at: http://www.curtwidhalm.com
Katie Vernoy, LMFT
Katie Vernoy is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, coach, and consultant supporting leaders, visionaries, executives, and helping professionals to create sustainable careers. Katie, with Curt, has developed workshops and a conference, Therapy Reimagined, to support therapists navigating through the modern challenges of this profession. Katie is also a former President of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. In her spare time, Katie is secretly siphoning off Curt’s youthful energy, so that she can take over the world. Learn more at: http://www.katievernoy.com
A Quick Note:
Our opinions are our own. We are only speaking for ourselves – except when we speak for each other, or over each other. We’re working on it.
Our guests are also only speaking for themselves and have their own opinions. We aren’t trying to take their voice, and no one speaks for us either. Mostly because they don’t want to, but hey.
Stay in Touch with Curt, Katie, and the whole Therapy Reimagined #TherapyMovement:
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Connect with the Modern Therapist Community:
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Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide Creative Credits:
Voice Over by DW McCann https://www.facebook.com/McCannDW/
Music by Crystal Grooms Mangano https://groomsymusic.com/
Transcript for this episode of the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide podcast (Autogenerated):
Transcripts do not include advertisements just a reference to the advertising break (as such timing does not account for advertisements).
You’re listening to the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide where therapists live, breathe and practice as human beings. To support you as a whole person and a therapist, here are your hosts, Curt Widhalm, and Katie Vernoy.
Curt Widhalm 0:16
Welcome back modern therapists. This is the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. I’m Curt Widhalm, with Katie Vernoy. And this is the podcast for therapists about the things that come up in our practice, the things that we talk about with our clients, the ways that we go about things in our profession. And Katie and I have a long standing approach to working cross culturally and recognizing the things that come up and doing cross cultural work. And one of the aspects that we’ve been wanting to tackle for a while has been working with clients who are needing to do code switching. And this totally being something that Katie and I are not qualified whatsoever to talk about on our, we are joined today by Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow. She’s a community health psychologist and here to share with us her expertise in this area and helping to guide us and our audience on what this means, what it shows up like, how this can impact our clients and how we can do better in serving them. So thank you very much for joining us.
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 1:20
Happy to be here. Thank you.
Katie Vernoy 1:23
Dr. Barlow, it’s so great to have you here. We’re really excited about this conversation. The first question that we ask everyone is who are you? And what are you putting out into the world?
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 1:33
I love that question, right. Who am I? I do this with my students. I am a proud southern black woman. I hold those identities saliently. But I am someone who uses experience to inform my research, and my research was on black girls and women. And finding ways to work in communities and to create change in policy. And so my work in the world kind of meanders along research, building relationships with people and communities, and then taking that information and turning it into research for multiple audiences, and forming feature policy that can create change in the lived experiences of black communities.
Curt Widhalm 2:19
So let’s start with kind of a basic definition here first. Like, how was it that you define code switching?
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 2:27
Oh, there’s so many definitions out there. And I would say the way I think about code switching is the language that we speak to ourselves when it’s just ourself in the room. But it’s also the way in which we interact with others: family and friends who know us. And we even hold back then. And sharing our full embodied whole self. And then it’s how that is distinct from the language in which we express with others in society, who may look like us, who may not look like us, there’s going to be some variation, even there. So I think there are multiple levels to code switching. But in short, what most people will talk about it is this practice of altering linguistic elements in order to fit the situation. But I think it operates in multiple levels. I’ve seen it operate in multiple levels. And it’s fascinating how that operation changes people, how they stand, how they talk, how they walk, their whole body expression changes when they’re talking to people who are either in their family or in larger society.
Katie Vernoy 3:36
So some folks have argued that code switching was really more about this linguistic change. And it seems like what’s currently being called code switching is actually more global, and may better be referred to as masking. All right, I read an article somewhere I’ll if I find it, I’ll put in the show notes. But that there is a true completely masking oneself and their whole identity versus linguistically changing to fit the situation. What are your thoughts on those distinctions?
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 4:08
Well, I think it’s important to make those distinctions. So there’s a historical notion that I like to think of code switching that comes out of W. E. B. Dubois’ work on double consciousness. So for example, for black Americans being judged, I think about the history of this country with slavery with Jim Crow, my parents themselves having grown up during segregation. That having to be judged on your appearance, on how you spoke, on when you could speak, all of those details, every part of you was judged. And so you learn very quickly that this is how you operate in certain spaces. And so when I think of code switching, that’s the very basic foundation. And then you layer on people who perhaps English is a second language, and that is another way of thinking of code switching where you meander between languages, and then sometimes you don’t say certain words, or sometimes there’s no other words to say, that really captures what you’re trying to say, or how you might have the conversation in your own language, in your own space, and then turn it on in another space. And so in short, when I think about code switching, it’s more than linguistics. But I think that that is a field in itself that should be studying that. But I think it’s much deeper, given who the person that’s doing the code switching is, and where they come from, and their own history. So as I mentioned, for black Americans, I think is a unique conversation. And a lot of the research that has been done in that area focused on that really comes out of this history of segregation, Jim Crow south, and what the impact of that is on the behaviors of individuals who engage in code switching.
Curt Widhalm 5:56
So that is the representative face of being a white male here, and maybe, maybe the cultural defaults question here of unless this is spelled out, for people who don’t have that kind of a lived experience, this is much deeper and different than I talk one way with one group of friends and I talk a little bit different way when it needs to be a little bit more formal. Tell me a little bit more about the impacts beyond kind of this default position here of somebody who needs to go through this kind of a code switching in their day to day lives?
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 6:31
Oh, and I have a longer answer for that. So I love that question. Because one, I’m someone who probably did that, right. I can remember, I have a history of working in federal government. And I remember a friend of mine calling me at work and say, Oh, you have your work voice on. And I was like, What do you mean? And that’s the Hi, this is Jameta Barlow, how can I help you? It’s a very prim and proper, you know, enunciating all of your words, right? Because you know, that you’re representing not only in a professional sense, but you know that, because of my racial background, I’m making sure that I’m putting my best foot forward. That I would say is something I don’t do now. I am the same person, I don’t code switch at all. I tell my students that, but I’m also at a point in my career where I don’t really have to, and I’m in a field where I don’t really have to. And so for some people, where they’re working, how they’re performing, parts of their culture, I live in DC, and DC has a very distinct culture. And so it’s very interesting to see how people from DC, even my students who are from DC, how they will say certain words, and they’ll say that in front of me, but not other professors in the code switching that happens just in interactions. And so I want to live in a world where no one has to code switch, that they can just speak and be their full embodied self. But the reality is, we know that there are harms, sometimes violent harms, that occur to people if they don’t fit within the box of the situation. So I think about this as situational. And so you know that the same way you show up dressed a certain way for certain jobs, you should do the same with how you speak and how you behave.
Katie Vernoy 8:16
It speaks to this notion of is professionalism, kind of this notion of professionalism. Does it harm people?
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 8:25
Yeah, I mean, I tell people who said, my, this is my mom speaking, I tell people, Who said that this was professional? Like, who set the gold standard, right? And when I teach I, you know, I teach research methods in the past. And when I’m asking students, I’m like, who set the standard? What would their assumptions, what did they say that this was acceptable, and this wasn’t, right? I remember being in a job and my hair was a problem for a person, like the natural hair coming out of my head was a problem for my supervisor. Of course, that’s illegal to say, and they didn’t say it, but they said it in so many words, right. So who sets the standard that this is acceptable behavior? For that individual it wasn’t. And I think the same way, when you’re in meetings, that there’s a way that has been acceptable for how we, for example, present papers at conferences. People know that you have these slides, you wait and do these things. I intentionally disrupt spaces like that. I present differently. I do everything differently. I write some of my academic papers differently intentionally. Because I think we have to state how this information can still be conveyed. But it might not look like the gold standard that was not accepted, but rather it was imposed on all of us. And so maybe we can find a new way to communicate, that embraces everyone’s way of knowing, everyone’s way of doing and that allows everyone to feel like they can bring their full self into the space.
Curt Widhalm 9:56
What kinds of mental health effects have you seen with code switching. And you know, as I’m sure that this is easy to imagine, I’m easily imagining, you know, kind of the day to day of what this is. But how does that build up kind of over time?
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 10:11
I mean, stress and anxiety. That’s what I’ve seen at least in students or even some of the folks that I work with in communities. And you don’t even realize it’s happening until you’re in a space where you can be your full self. And that’s the part that’s very interesting. That you’re carrying what my colleague Dr. Shawna Rango-Rick says, normalized chaos. That you’ve normalized this chaotic experience that you’re managing, and she means it for other things. But I think of it in the same way as it applies here to code switching. That you’re having to practices performative behavior. And that’s normalized to you. So then when you get into a situation where you don’t have to, it’s so hard to take in. This just happened to me in office hours, I had office hours before this, and a student of mine said the same thing, said I was always told not to talk about this. I was always told that I couldn’t do this. And I said, Well, I’m giving you permission in this class to bring your full self. And so what happens when we do that? Right, it allows us to one realize, I’ve been carrying stress that I didn’t even know. I’ve been carrying anxiety that oh, my gosh, I can’t say this, because what will happen? And that takes away from the experience, their learning experience for students, the sharing and growing experience for clients. And so when I think about the effects that stress and anxiety can lead to very real chronic health disease, and I study a lot of chronic health diseases rooted in cortisol, and that’s the cardio metabolic syndrome. So hypertension, obesity, risk for stroke, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, all of those things at the center of it deal with cortisol. So if you have a high level of stress from having to be on guard all the time, about am I saying the right thing, and you’ll never feel comfortable, or you could be punished for not saying it in the way that’s acceptable for that space? That is very stressful.
Katie Vernoy 12:16
Well, I think even when we look at it, when it’s consistent, and over time, and it becomes part of how you operate within the world. I feel like there’s potential identity elements too, of what really is me? And if this is how I have to show up in most spaces. How does that impact over time?
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 12:39
Yeah, I think over time, there’s this unraveling of an identity. And we know that in identity development, right? Drawing upon the years of psychology, right, and identity development, we know especially when I look at racial identity development, how over time, you might start one place, and that you end up over here, different things that prompt that. And I think, with age is wisdom. I often find people who struggle with code switching are younger, or from a different generation. And I often think that there needs to be more research in different areas of code switching, because there’s so much we don’t know. Is it certain fields that have more code switching than others? Right. Like I mentioned, I’m in a space now where I can say what I want to say, how I want to say it. That’s something that I couldn’t do in previous jobs, or maybe I could have, but I didn’t know what the impact could be to my career. Right. And so I think that when you start looking at the different levels of what kind of jobs do these individuals have? How are they at risk, if they say things a certain way, if they do things a certain way, and how just being their natural self might not be acceptable? I think we’re seeing a change in the workplace due to the pandemic, how people interact. But I don’t know if it’s enough to eliminate the need for code switching for some people.
Katie Vernoy 14:04
Well, I just did thinking about, you know, we had a, an episode, last month, the month before last, where we were able to talk to one of our buddies, Stevon Lewis, and he works specifically with impostor syndrome for high achievers. And so when looking at, you know, folks that are maybe the only person that looks like them in a space, really highly successful in some of these really corporate environments, it seems like, there’s a lot of code switching that’s happening, whether it’s necessary or not. And to me, it feels like it becomes such a heavy weight. And if your identity is also unraveling, it just seems like there’s so many mental health effects to the code switching. Feels like it might become circular, like that the mental health effects that you’re having would also impact your code switching. It feels like it’d be cut like this chaos that you were talking about earlier. It seems like that’s the experience.
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 14:57
Yeah, no, I would think so, too. And then I also have to say that there are just some people who would not have this experience, right? There’s some people who are, it’s just their personality, this is who I am, take it or leave it. I don’t care what the job is. So I do want to mention that, because sometimes when you talk about code switching, there’s always a but I don’t do that. Right. And I think they’re just people are built differently. People going back to imposter syndrome, some people experience it, some people don’t. And they might have similar identity, similar situations. And I think that some people have different levels of confidence and are okay with the potential consequences if they don’t show up in the accepted fashion of whatever situation that they’re in. And so yeah, I think it can be this bi-directional relationship for sure. Where is what did this come from there? Did it come from the identity? Or did it come from the experience? What’s what’s happening in terms of the mental health effects? And I think the challenge though, becomes, at what point are you allowed to just be yourself? And then the thing is, is it okay, that you’re not yourself? There are some people who are okay with this compartmentalization. I’m not gonna sit here and say that you should not code switch. I’m just saying that code switching does have an effect on most people.
Curt Widhalm 16:22
This might be a naive question, but how much is code switching discussed within insulated communities? Like, is this something where out of the sight of white people, everyone’s like, Oh, I gotta I can take off my code switching voice here. Is this something that’s acknowledged a lot? Or is this something that is kind of a private burden that a lot of people carry?
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 16:45
I don’t think it’s anything that’s formally discussed. I think it’s something you just kind of socialized into it. I mean, as you were asking the question, I was thinking to myself, like, what do we say, What do we do? And, you know, I just think about things that I heard growing up, Oh, you don’t say that in mixed company? Right. There are just certain things like, you know, some people say just stays in the house, which is also dangerous for like other mental health reasons.
Katie Vernoy 17:09
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 17:10
We don’t talk about this outside of the family, but it’s more so like, keep this to us. This is how you talk in front of mixed company. And mixed company meaning someone who’s not familiar, not so much racially, but not familiar to your situations. But then mixed company can also be a reference to that. I don’t think in my experience, this is just my experience as an individual. I haven’t seen that. But I would say that there is a very clear understanding that and I think it’s rooted in the history. And I know I think about all the stories I’ve heard from my parents growing up during segregation, and there were very real consequences to how people viewed you and how people treated you. If you said certain things or did certain things. For example, my mother taught me never to say, ma’am, and sir. That wasn’t a thing that I grew up and I’m from the south. And if you know, people from the South, that’s something that they do they say, Yes, ma’am. They say Yes, sir. But for her, it was something where black women will be called girls, black men, adult black men would be called boys. And she said, it was expected that you would still say Yes, ma’am. Yes, sir. So she raised me not to do that. And so I use that as an example. While that’s not code switching. It’s an example of there are things generationally in black communities, particularly that we’ve gone through, that we do teach our children, that this is what you do in these situations. And I think with code switching, the same thing can happen. That you just kind of observed that behavior, it’s modeled to you that this is how we talk when we’re among these folks. And this is how we talk when we’re among these folks. But I don’t think there’s a formal, let’s get together and say, What we’re gonna say? I don’t think I don’t think that’s happening. And if it is, I want to be invited to the party, right? I think it’s one of those just learned behavior things. And that learned behavior in terms of Oh, you have to treat people different. It’s more about these are survival skills.
Katie Vernoy 19:19
Well, it seems like the survival skills may have changed over time or changed in some settings. And so I think there are definitely real fears of walking around in a black body in the United States. And I also think that there are different things that potentially are fears within other places where where code switching happens specifically, I’m thinking of like professional settings. What are the reasons that people at this point are code switching in professional settings would you say?
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 19:51
This is a hard question because I really think being on Zoom during the pandemic has really shifted a lot of these core practices. that I seen. I mean, you know, there’s always at least in meetings, there always was that one person, it was usually that white male in the room that could just say whatever with no punishment, would curse, etc. And that was just Oh, they’re just being very passionate. But I’ve seen more and more women, more and more people of color in different Zooms I’ve been on not just at work, but in other spaces, who felt more comfortable, being very frustrated and articulating that and perhaps cursing, and it not being viewed as a bad thing. Whereas in the past, I’ve seen that the impact was, Wow, why are they so angry or, so that I think that this time period is an interesting time period. I will agree with you that I think it’s changing, it’s definitely situational. But I think with being on Zoom, that there are some social mores that we’ve let go of. And the effect is more and more people feel like they can say what they want to say. And you can turn your video off. And you don’t even get to see my reaction after I say it, you know, you’re protected. Honestly, that happened, I was quoted in a New York Times article about checking in on your black employees. And that happened because I was being asked to give all these workshops after George Floyd was killed. And everyone was I was giving a workshop to, every one of the black employees, they were like, I’m good, I’m happy. Because I don’t have to go to work. And I don’t have to put on this persona. And I can turn my video off, do my work. And they were thriving in the sense of work. Now managing all the other stuff was another thing. But I think that speaks volumes and speaks to the fact that I don’t have to put myself in a nine to five code switching environment, that I can just be myself. And it would show up every once in a while. So maybe they were little sprinkles of code switching throughout their day.
Curt Widhalm 22:04
Helping our audience here a little bit is what can mental health professionals do to help keep this as a conversation to make it warm and welcoming, to even be able to talk about these kinds of transitions with clients who might be facing these issues?
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 22:22
I think that’s a great question. Because I think the reality is, I think it’s like 2% of therapists are black. And so we know that there is a need, right? And we, like in terms of workforce, there’s not enough. So having an answer to that question, I think, is important because you may have black or other people of color as potential clients. And I would say the one thing that I’ve heard from a lot of people is they’re already trying to manage what they’re going through. They don’t want to have to then explain little things to their therapists, because it becomes more of the therapists trying to learn about what they’re trying to explain this maybe culturally, instead of the issue that’s happening. And so I know that was a critical thing in my own therapy, finding someone who I didn’t have to explain myself to. And I could just talk about the issue. So I think ideally, that would be the gold standard for me. But then for those who don’t have access to a therapist, that they feel like they don’t have to do that technical explanation. I think it’s important that a therapist allows that person to say what needs to be said, and then maybe get the explanation later. Right? Because sometimes you can spend so much time trying to explain what happened. And you might get interrupted, like, so what do you mean that this, whatever was said, that it kind of lets go of that vulnerability that was shared, it hinders the vulnerability and that moment. And so I think what is important is to allow that person to just be themselves. And maybe it’s saying that, like, look, I may not understand all of the cultural mores of what’s happening. But we can still work through this together. And I think that’s what’s most important is that this person feels comfortable enough that they feel like they can be themselves and not have to always explain or translate, you know, become a cultural translator, because they’re there for support. They’re there for growth and understanding. And not to translate. That’s not their work.
Curt Widhalm 24:34
And one of the things that I’m hearing underneath a lot of what you’re saying is even just modeling some of your own authenticity, and providing just kind of like, hey, if we’re just kicking back who we really are, and we don’t need to put up all of these very formal ideas of what we think that we need to be that we can just not have to explicitly state this stuff either.
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 24:56
Exactly, exactly. And I think when they feel like they don’t have to be the best version of themselves when they show up. It’s like you can come in as you are, whatever that looks like for you. When you do that, and they do that I think it makes for a better experience and a better exchange.
Katie Vernoy 25:14
Well and to me, it seems like there’s a risk for especially white therapists, but I think all therapists that are kind of culturally different than their clients that that in and of itself is, quote, unquote, mixed company to a certain extent or can be. And so I always get worried when I have clients that are different than me that there will be an amount of code switching that’s happening in session, which really, you know, is not great, right? Like if someone can’t be themselves in their therapy session, I think that’s pretty challenging. And so my question actually, is, it sounds like you were purposely trying to disrupt spaces, and you’ve found your way to never code switching. And so what advice do you have for therapists, if they’re trying to help someone that is code switching all the time, or code switching so much? And it’s potentially not necessary? Like that’s a whole other question of when it’s necessary, when it’s not. But like, if someone’s really wanting to step out of this practice of code switching, and maybe the code switching is coming from a place of anxiety that potentially is warranted or not, but like, what do you recommend? What are your thoughts?
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 26:18
Yeah, and hopefully, I get to your question, because I think it’s a great question. So I’m just while you were talking, I was trying to reflect a little on just how I got to this space. I think it’s also that’s why I say wisdom. I don’t know, are we allowed to curse on here?
Curt Widhalm 26:33
Oh, it’s the internet curse away.
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 26:34
Oh, it’s the internet. Yes. So it’s always like, you get that I don’t give a fuck attitude. And so and, you know, the kids would just do IDGAF. That’s what they would say. But I mean, I think that’s part of it, right? You get to a point in your life, that you realize that you know what, I’ll deal with the consequences. I really don’t care. I want to be my authentic self. Because to me, that’s more important than anything. And I think it’s a mixture of confidence, experience, but also reinforcement. Because I’m not saying I got here on my own, I had people who reinforced that for me, right. And I think that can be a great job of a therapist that they reinforced to, like, look at all you’ve done, look at how you got here, look at how powerful you are, like giving someone that confidence, and that knowledge and skill base, that then they start to actually understand that you know what, that’s right, that is who I am. And I think when you get to that point, you feel like you can just show up however you want to show up, right. You can say whatever it is that you need to say. And I just think it’s so important, I think you reach so many people like for me what’s so important and why I refuse to code switch, is because the work that I do is for black people. The research I do is for black people, and if they don’t understand these academic papers that I’m writing, then I’m not doing the work that I’m called to do. And so that’s a major reason why I don’t really code switch. Now, when I talk, when I’m giving any kind of talk or talks like these, or even like academic writing on some of it, the words could be a little bit. You know, that’s just some of the words, but I really want to make sure that I produce work that helps people, and I want to meet people where they are, and they might be there academically, but they might not. And I never want to be in a position where they can’t. So I think for me, that’s where it came from. But I think it also came from all of these affirming experiences that I’ve had, and then also the IDGAF attitude. And it’s like, you know, what, whatever. So yeah.
Curt Widhalm 28:47
You mentioned a couple of times of points in your career where you’ve had your work voice on or you’ve had kind of this risk of if you don’t engage in the code switching. Helping, I don’t know any of our clients get to this, I don’t give a fuck sort of moments of their lives if we can help people achieve that sooner. Can you talk about that experience of like when you realized, like, you know what, I’m stopping to just give less fucks about this?
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 29:15
You know what, I’m gonna be honest and tell you as you were talking, I was like, I know when it happened, because I say it all the time now. It was President Obama and the tan suit. And I remember thinking that this man was our first black president. He went to all the right schools, he did all the right things. And the way they went in on him for wearing a tan suit. And I was just like, I don’t care. Like why should I care because you can do all the right things and still be treated a certain way. And you see that happen all the time. And so now my attitude is I’m going to do what preserves my peace. I’m going to do what keeps me healthy. So I’m not creating undue stress because life is stressful enough. You don’t have to create more stress. And so I would say that was really a major moment, his administration, but it was a pantsuit incident. And I remember that and of course, Michelle Obama’s arms came earlier. But I’m sitting here thinking like, you can do all the right things and still be treated in a way and be bad mouthed, etc. And I think about that for like, my parents generation, and so many other people who had to always dress a certain way, act a certain way, talk a certain way. And honestly, that probably didn’t make a difference. But that is what they were taught. And that’s what they taught their generations. And so I would say, for me, that moment was probably I can attribute that to President Obama and the tan suit incident, and how media reacted and how so many other people in the country, I guess, reacted to that. And so for me, it was more so about like, you can be perfect, and that won’t be good enough. Yeah, just be good with yourself.
Katie Vernoy 30:59
Yeah, that’s really powerful. I think it’s, I don’t know if this is the right way to say it. But it feels easy to get caught up in the anxiety that has put code switching is such a protective, safe thing to do. And what you’re talking about is if you can get to an I don’t give a fuck attitude around it, you end up testing it out, right? Like you test it out in spaces, and you see what the reactions are, you see how showing up as yourself allows for you to feel way more authentic. But in reading your article, it was like just the amount of mental load that’s added when you’re code switching and how less effective you are, how less productive you are. I’ve had a client where I talk with him. And it’s, you know, how many times do you have to translate to get to the exact right code switching? Like, it’s something where, you know, it’s like, what’s the space? Like, even when you were like, can we swear here? Like, it’s like, you know, how do I make sure that I’m matching this space, and just that level of vigilance, it seems like it can be self perpetuating. And so if there’s something that can break through, and get you to a point where you can get to I don’t give a fuck and test it out in different spaces. Like it feels like that could be a path forward. When you’re talking about the disruption. I want to just hit that before we have to finish up, you’re talking about disrupting a lot of spaces. Can you speak a little bit more on what that actually looks like? You said, you speak differently. You do different types of research. I want to hear all about it.
Curt Widhalm 32:22
Yeah, I’m curious about these presentations, where you’re just like doing things differently. We’ve sat through enough CE presentations, we’re looking for anything fresh here.
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 32:31
Well, you know, I’ve been doing this for a while. But now everybody’s kind of doing it, at least in presentations, I’ve always done some type of land acknowledgement that mine often, basically, I say something to the effect. I’m here to talk about the stolen land, the stolen people who work the land, and the commodities that we’re all still benefiting from many years later. So I do this whole thing, and I show it, and then I show my family. And I show the sankofa bird out of the Akan people’s culture, that really says you have to look to the past to understand the future. And I show a picture of my grandfather who made the local newspaper when he could vote for the first time. And then I talked about my oldest ancestors, known ancestors in the US. And so we can go back to 1731 and 1791, on my dad’s side, 1731 on my mom’s side, so I do a very deep grounding, not only in who I am, but like who I am in this space, where we are and giving some context of the issue I’m about to go into. So then I’m just free to talk about the issue. You don’t have to understand or guess what I’m thinking. You’ve already got this grounding of who I am. And so what I do is I center black women in my work. And so for example, I teach in health issues, I teach writing about health. And I’m teaching a course this semester on writing black girls and women’s health. And I just gave a talk earlier with students at a conference. And one of the students said this, and I think this is applicable to your question. They said, this was the first class where everything we read was about black women that they had ever taken in public health, right. And they were an English major, but interested in health. And I found that fascinating, because in all my classes, I tried to center people of color, mostly black women. And I think that’s what needs to happe. Not that the other people don’t matter. But when you do that shift, imagine if we center the most marginalized groups, I think you think about issues differently. So then what we say within black feminism, then once you address those issues you’re actually addressing issues for everyone due to intersectionality. And so that’s how I disrupt the class, that’s how I disrupt conference spaces. And even like today, I said show up how you want to I’m wearing jeans, you don’t need to wear like be comfortable, and find a way to allow your full self to show up. So that’s what I think is most important, feeling comfortable to do that.
Curt Widhalm 34:58
Where can people find out more about you and all of the wonderful work that you’re doing.
Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow 35:03
The easiest way to find me is that my website www.jametabarlow.com, j a m e t a b a r l o w .com. There you can find links to some of my other resources. I do writing and editing and workshops and yoga and meditation and doula, all kinds of things. And my email that’s probably easiest. It’s on that website is firstname.lastname@example.org. I forgot my social media. So at allaboutafya that’s a l l a b o u t a f y a. That is my handle for both Twitter and Instagram. Afya means health in Swahili. So I’m all about health.
Katie Vernoy 35:47
I love it.
Curt Widhalm 35:48
And we will include links to all of that in our show notes. You can find those over at mtsgpodcast.com. Please follow us on our social media and contribute to the ongoing conversations that we’re having. Join us in our Facebook group, the Modern Therapist Group. And if you love the work that we’re doing and want to find ways to support us, please consider becoming a patron or supporting us on Buy Me a Coffee or any of the other wonderful offerings that we do that you’ll find on our social media. And until next time, I’m Curt Widhalm with Katie Vernoy and Dr. Jameta Nicole Barlow.
Thank you for listening to the Modern Therapist’s Survival Guide. Learn more about who we are and what we do at mtsgpodcast.com. You can also join us on Facebook and Twitter. And please don’t forget to subscribe so you don’t miss any of our episodes.
SPEAK YOUR MIND