Talking about Racism with Patients

Friday, May 27, 2022 - 5:00am

Combating racism requires a multi-pronged approach at all levels of society. As we work on dismantling structural racism, we must also dismantle racism in our healthcare setting as providers working with patients. 
In late April, the American Psychiatric Association published an article by members of the APA’s Council on Children, Adolescents, and Their Families addressing the issue of exploring racism’s impact on patients and families. 
“For many, it is difficult to talk about race or racism, and some may be prevented from having such conversations by the fear of inadvertently offending the patient,” wrote Drs. Baek, Frolov, and Adam. “Yet, while each patient is different, engaging in healthy conversations about race and racism can improve the therapeutic alliance, keep patients in treatment longer, increase trust, and help them feel comfortable sharing their innermost lives with us.”
As the authors state, if we don’t broach issues surrounding racism we can do more harm than good. 
“Especially for patients from minority or underserved communities, having their experiences with racism go unacknowledged in the therapeutic setting can lead them to believe their psychiatrist is not willing to listen to them, and they will go on suffering in silence. Worse, if we exhibit our own unchallenged implicit biases while interacting with patients, they may question if we see them as whole people or if the treatment we offer is really in their best interest.”
The APA’s Council on Children, Adolescents, and Their Families created the “How Psychiatrists Can Talk to Patients and Families About Race and Racism” document to help psychiatrists actively engage patients in dialogue on racism. It includes definitions, guidelines for clinical work, case vignettes, and online resources for providers, families, and children. I encourage you to read it, have it on hand, and implement its guidelines.