This section is on the process in your journey. Self-love is part of the life journey. Self-love begins at birth and culminates to our last breath. We demonstrate self-love through our feelings, our actions, behaviors, and movements that impact ourselves. How we define self-love influences our self-esteem, our confidence, our inner strength, and our mental wellness. We also define our self-love is dependent on our experiences in our world, our journey’s and/or our perceptions. It will define how visions, our goals, our dreams and all that we accomplish. Self-love is critical.
Body image has defined us from birth.
Chubby babies are cute. Thin babies are unwell, unfed and tiny.
Then the stigma flips. As children grow, the thinner child is preferred over a child who appears overweight and obese. I was eight years old when the stigma of weight preoccupied my thoughts. How old were you? Nothing helps. The media reinforces beauty through ads, actors and actresses, media images and news personnel. Toys and figurines reinforce ideal body types. Males are strong, have muscles, large arms, rippled chests… Females are large chested, flat stomachs, blond straight hair, white faces, pointy nose, thin legs. Gender is binary, either male or female. Obesity is defined by weighing too much for height and weight. It is assumed that people who are “obese” have health problems. This science is always wrong.
Dove Self-Esteem Project focuses on developing healthy body image and self-esteem image specifically for youth and girls. Their website provides detailed resources for parents, children, and professionals: Dove Self-Esteem Project.
Organizations can begin implementing an anti-oppressive framework by identifying guiding principles. Furthermore, (Nzira & Williams, 2009) provide a clear achievable list in terms of what principles an agency should consider within their framework:
Respect and welcome diversity within the work place
Identify stereotypes and prejudices through gaining accurate knowledge of people or groups that differ from us in some aspect of identity
Commitment to use power and privilege to benefit others
Work to achieve communality, sharing and equality amongst others
Be aware of negative aspects of the culture and structures of the society in which we live, and try to counteract them and change them
Recognize the pervasiveness and seriousness of oppression in the world, and commit to ourselves to positive action to remedy and prevent it
Study first-hand accounts by those who experience oppression to understand its reality, nature and prevalence, and to gain authentic knowledge for tackling it (Nzira & Williams, 2009).
On a structural level, it is important to consider and develop strategies to address key practice areas in an AO framework. These practice areas include: empowerment, education, building alliance, language, alternative healing strategies, advocacy, social justice/activism, and fostering reflexivity.
Key practice areas:
Empowerment Involve service users in decisions that concern their care, from a family level to within the institutions within the organization. Family-centered practice is a step towards creating an environment where service users feel empowered in their own experiences.
In empowerment practices, service users are involved in all decisions which impact them. This include: programs, policies and agenda setting within the organization (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
Includes the views of the families and whom they wish to be included in the process (Burke & Harrison, 2002).
Use a multidimensional change strategies which incorporate the concepts of networking, service user involvement, partnership and participation (Burke & Harrison, 2002)
Direct strategies include:
Identify and develop family strengths
Identify their coping strategies and resources which help them cope
Identify their experiences of racism and oppression
Assist families to advocate for their specific needs
Support families to gain the tools to challenge power and develop a strong identity
Build relationships with families to minimize the power imbalances(Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
Education refers to the process of training which may occur for staff to build their capacity to understand and work within a culture of AO practice. Some identified strategies and objectives are:
Ensure that key staff team members, managers, Board members have a clear understanding and knowledge base of issues of race, racism and privilege.
Ensure that racism and oppression is considered when working with families who are marginalized and racialized as possible influence upon their mental health.
Provide staff with a clear understanding of their organizational culture which focuses upon anti-oppressive practice, inclusivity and equity
Ensure staff, management, and board members are provided opportunities for training and supervision to increase their learning and application of anti-oppressive framework.
Specific strategies include: defining and addressing racism, teaching the history of racism, developing leadership, and developing a multidirectional accountability(Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
Building Alliances refers to partnerships and collaborations with community partners in this process of:
Community development and practice helps to develop and build alliances with community members. This is an important focus for anti-racist and anti-oppression strategy as described by (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012). Building alliances can be powerful in numerous ways but particularly:
Provide support and political visibility
Challenge power and privileges, change perceptions and racism on multiple levels
Develop direct action and campaigns to support AO on several organizational levels(Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
Is flexible without losing focus (Burke & Harrison, 2002), which refers to developing alliances with families and learns to become more flexible as opposed to maintain allied with rigid policies which may be oppressive.
Language is considered in terms of providing appropriate language interpretation within meetings and documents to ensure the individual or family can engage at a similar level with the staff team member. Language is also considered in how relationship and trust is developed between the service provider and service user, as well as how the service provider defines the service user (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012). Some suggestions include:
Avoid the use of titles, ranks or positions which can put distance between the service providers and the family
Ensure that use of language is sensitive
Avoid the use of labels and judgements that focus on pathology, rather focusing on people’s strengths is important
Explore institutions to determine if they reinforce or resist racism within language usage
As much as possible, use interpretation professionals from the same ethno-cultural background as the service user
Ensure documents are translated for people who do not speak or read English
Be sensitive to individuals who choose not to use interpreters because of their own worries about confidentiality
Fostering reflexivity refers to the practice of engaging in critical self-knowledge and examination of oneself, developing a greater understanding of oppression and racist principles, and acknowledging the existence of institutional racism and oppression within the organization. By engaging in fostering reflexivity, people who experience racism, oppression and who are marginalized can begin to reclaim their identity and their history. Suggestions for practice includes:
Continuous self-examination and reflection in anti-oppression principles(Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
Self- assessment of how the clinician’s or workers own social identity and values affect the information they gather(Burke & Harrison, 2002).
Alternative healing strategies refers to Anti-oppressive practices shift closer to the social model to understand mental health difficulties. The medical model, used by the dominant culture, focused primarily on the individual as ill and seeks medications and related treatment modalities to treat the individual. By accepting a more holistic approach, the individual is invited to explore anti-racist mental health services. As identified using the example provided by the Hong Kook Mental Health Services organization, including discussion of the “whole person” shifts the conversation and focus upon all areas of the individual’s experiences which is impacted by their difficulties.
Suggestion for practice includes:
Consider other holistic approaches into treatment which promote and are responsive to the diversity of human experiences and worldviews (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
Gather information from the service user on what healing interventions they have used and encourage the conversation to talk about alternative methods in healing.
Advocacy, Social justice/activist refers to as service providers, there may be opportunities for one to take on a role of supporting and assisting service users who are experiencing oppression. However, there is a fine line between advocating and supporting an individual or family, between disempowering and persuading. It is further important to ensure that the service provider follows the needs of the service user. Achieving social justice is a collaborative effort between the service organization and the user, as well as collaboration with external professionals involved within the service user’s life experiences (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
Some strategies to support advocacy, social justice/activism include:
Promote policies that tackle discrimination
Resist policies that can be perceived as racist
Support critical deconstruction of the concept of race
Increase visibility of minorities in the media (this is further translated in print marketing tools, training materials, and the organization website)
Become involved in planning tables which focus upon advocacy, social justice and resiliency
Hire, train and recruit people into the organization that serve different racial groups at all levels in the organization(Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012).
Challenges and changes existing ideas and practice which is oppressive to others (Burke & Harrison, 2002)
Analyze the oppressive nature or organizational culture, as well as how these structure impact practice (Burke & Harrison, 2002).
Has a critical analysis of the issues of power, both personal and structural (Burke & Harrison, 2002).
can occur within six changes. These change avenues include:
Policy development: analysis of current policies, the development of new policies, development of a procedure to handle complaints, and a risk management policy.
Documentation: refers to the actual anti-oppressive framework, and other documents requires to support implementation. In this framework, these documents are later referred to in the context of a training curriculum.
Program development: identifying the unique needs of diverse service users and working in a collaborative model which builds alliance and fosters healthy helping relationships
Human resources: identify key strategies and attach supporting policies to ensure greater equity for opportunities offered to diverse communities
Skills and training: refers to process of developing and enhancing staff skill and expertise on AO.
Monitoring and evaluation: consists of a data collection process to identify a baseline, assess objectives and initiatives focused upon delivering culture and procedural change(Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2016), (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012) and (Fithian, 2016).
“What determines oppression is when a person is blocked from opportunities to self-development, is excluded from the full participation in society, does not have certain rights that the dominant group takes for granted, or is assigned a second-class citizenship, not because of individual talent, merit, or failure, but because of his or her membership in a particular group or category of people” (Mullaly, 2010, p. 40).
Ontario is currently undergoing transformation of children’s mental health to create better service delivery and support easier accessibility for mental health services for children and families. According to the draft report on Moving on Mental Health report, “the government is committed to improving mental health services for children and youth with mental health problems so that they and their parents have access to a consistent set of easy to identify supports and services and confidence in the people and agencies providing those services” (Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2013, p. 4). Currently, mental health services have not been accessible for all children and families, and service delivery has worked with a medical model which does not work well with many families who ascribe to a different belief and practice system. Families have experienced barriers to accessing services and to finding services which are responsive and empathetic to their families’ needs. Some families have experienced inaccessibility due to experiences of oppression, racism, inequitable practices, and cultural insensitivity. Through the Moving on Mental Health, the government assured to develop accessible and diverse children’s mental health services in Ontario which were focused upon:
• the promotion of optimal child and youth mental health and well-being through enhanced understanding of, and ability to respond to, child and youth mental health needs through the provision of evidence informed services and supports;
• provide children, youth and families with access to a flexible continuum of timely and appropriate services and supports within their own cultural, environmental and community context;
• provide community-based services that are coordinated, collaborative and integrated, creating a culture of shared responsibility; and,
• be accountable and well-managed (Ministry of Children and Youth Services, 2013, p. 5).
During this period of change within the children’s mental health services, there were also changes in how agencies conduct their businesses and ensuring that inclusive and equitable services are provided to their service users. Another key feature of changes is the Accessibility for Ontarians Disability Act, which sets legislation in place that enforces businesses and organizations to develop and follow legislation and policy which fosters accessibility and inclusive environment (Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2016).
Furthermore, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which completed a comprehensive report on the experiences of Indigenous communities in Canada promoted legislation and policy development which acknowledged racism and oppressive practices within institutions. This report played a significant role in advocating for the adoption of anti-oppressive and cultural competent practices for Indigenous communities. Some of the recommendations suggested changes to legislation would help to ensure areas of need would receive appropriate funding for their programs. Often times, agencies can respond by developing creative and innovative ways to engage in communities based upon what would work best for them.
Many organizations have responded to these significant governmental changes and to other similar events by developing anti-oppressive and inclusive practices within their organizations. It is believed that by creating sustainable and cultural changes within the organization there will become greater accessibility for diverse families and communities to receive mental health services.
Systemic racism impacts the social and cultural fabric of the city, as well as the mental health of its participants. Systemic racism can appear overt, as described in the above article with an African-Canadian youth was referred to in a hateful term. This is evident in staff room discussions or used by youth to staff. This experience can have lasting traumatic effect on the individual, their brain functioning and mental health. Systemic racism can also be easily silenced by others. This silencing can also occur within the workplace, and lead to disastrous effects upon the employee. Other times, systemic racism is embedded within the policies and practices of the agency.
Studies find that mental health awareness and psycho-education is critical within communities impacted by racism and discrimination. Research demonstrates that racism can create barriers to access mental health services (Corneau & Stergiopoulos, 2012). In all, it is important for organizations to develop an equity strategy plan to address inequities which occur in their policies and procedures, their organizational culture, leadership and employment.
Resiliency is paramountcy to building healthy children and families. Family Therapy is an integral part of the process for helping families resolve difficulties, addressing systemic issues and barriers in the family and outside, and helping families heal. Each family member is given a voice to their unique experiences within the family, which can help them feel empowered and validated. Collectively, the family seeks resources, supports, cultural and social identities that connect them together as an unique group.
Madhuri Chopra, placement student, prepared a synopsis of her review of the Family Therapy Magazine, produced by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy. Her description truly sums up the work we aim to achieve in this organization as we continue to grow and develop as a new agency, but also with the changing times people experience.
“..we learn about resilience and also we deal with clients who have [experienced difficult life experiences]. Moreover, we deal with clients with trauma focus cognitive behavior therapy. Also, we practice self care and for this special vacation off is given to us. This is given to us so, that we can spend time with self and know how the stories of others affect us. It can also help us to polish our strengths and eliminate our weakness. Not only this, We have dealt with cases of cyber bullying. And, we have explained the bystander approach in cyber bullying.
We do a lot of play and art therapy with the kids and….this help the kids the most as they are able to express themselves using this therapy. We also use solution focused trauma therapy and this helps the clients who go through trauma or grief/loss.
The family therapist have a really sensitive job. They have to understand the issues of the family and have to bond them together. Also, they have to work with each and every family member. We have to keep in mind about culture because we live in Canada and As Canada is land of immigrants. We need to learn about how to distribute power not only in country but, also in family.
The family therapist should keep in mind that whether they can work in this field or not. They should regularly do check ins and self reflection. The family therapist should know about stigma’s that they have in the society and the bias that they hold within themselves. Also, they should keep in mind what works for one person of the family may not work for the other person in the family. Dreams are very important in family therapy. The therapist needs to learn about family related feelings. Also, it is important that sharing of dreams within the family can help family foster a relationship (Madhuri Chopra, Drug and Addiction Counsellor Placement Student).
The following resources consist of articles, websites and videos on Resiliency.
Father’s need our support, our guidance, and forgiveness as they are encouraged to strive to embody what does it mean to be a father, a good father, in their child’s life.
Starting from the beginning
Let me tell you a story. My father was perfect for me. I wish I knew that my whole life. My earliest memory is enjoying the closeness between myself and my father. He was tall, strong, brave and smart. When my father smiled, the world felt his energy and his joy. They always smiled too. When he was angry, I felt as thought I fell from grace. I tried to gain his love back. It was the dance. When he left in the morning, he would leave to work at a prestigious job in the bank. He made lots of money. In my childlike mind. So much so that we lived in a beautiful home in suburbia. When he came home, I ran to greet him at the door. I was excited. I couldn’t wait to see him. On the weeknights we watched TV and slept on the couch. He always played with me and my sisters. On Friday nights he took us to Roti Hut. I will never forget our trip, the sound of calypso on the radio, the sweet taste of the polourie, the fullness in my belly from the potato roti and the union within our family. Sunday dinners were always the best. After church, we slept in, then I played make believe with my sisters, and afterwards set the dinner table. Our dinner was always amazing. I loved the food, the prayer, the togetherness, the memories, and my life. My father was not always perfect. I learned over the years that he struggled, like any other man. I didn’t know much yet about the external factors like racism, oppression, self hatred, cultural displacement, grief and loss, and that old friend trauma which played a critical role in our lives. At 40, I see it all now. But at 4, it didn’t matter. My dad was and still is my hero.
As a therapist for 10 years and a social worker for 20 years, I have observed, witnessed and contributed unknowingly to the war on fatherhood. I don’t think I truly respected the role of the Father until my own maturity stepped in. For I was apart of that war for such a long time. It may have been the messages I learned as a child. Or the stereotypes created about gender roles and gender identity. It may have been part of the systemic racism embedded within the organizations I was employed that reinforced these values.
In my personal life, my daughters father was the love of my life, or so it seemed at the time. I never really understood why he picked me, and I felt that he was a 10 and I was only a 2 in a worthiness scale I developed. I suddenly took on the role as a parent for my daughter, while he was still in the role of himself. I didn’t know what I was doing, but now I know it was what everyone woman does to men that breaks them down. It’s what my mother did. It’s what my aunties did. It’s what my friends did. My pain was real that I could tell you what it felt like to have a knife lodged into my back. I could tell you what organs the knife punctured and how the blood drained from my entire body. I also didn’t need to feel that way again. As I did, I did a disservice to my daughter. I did what every woman who’s hurt does. I walked away.
In our search to reclaim our rights as females, our men paid a price. We did not do our due diligence to re-define their roles, to create young men who could become great fathers, and to address the perils that placed our men’s lives in jeopardy.
In our society, we derived from a patriarchal society defined by men’s directions, rules and expectations. Feminists made significant progress in changing perspectives and laws about the rights of women. In our search to acclaim our rights, our men paid a price. In my feminist mind, I didn’t need a husband, a father or a man to mentor my daughter. I was capable of doing this alone. And I was. I did an amazing job, and my daughter is successful. But at what cost? Did feminism really seek to eliminate men, or was the movement more around sharing space and equity? And, can we begin to address intergenerational trauma? We did not do our due diligence to re-define their roles, to create young men who could become great fathers, and to address the perils that placed our men’s lives in jeopardy. As a Black woman, I am inherently aware that for many generations, Black men have been systematically prevented from caring for their children– from slavery, to systemic racism and oppression, imprisonment of young Black males, unhealed trauma and so much more. In some South Asian and African cultures, Western patriarchal systems became embedded as unwritten rules and laws which created a power imbalance, turning women into property. And, in Indigenous cultures men were stripped of their power, their culture, and their independence. These traumatic experiences have created and manifested circumstances that places our men’s lives in jeopardy.
We were wrong about fathers. Our children need them and so do we, as women.
Moving forward, some of the stories stay in my mind as guidance, and reflection to understand the challenges fathers have experienced in their lives as they battled with systems to spend time with their children. Other men struggling to create peace and collaboration with their children’s mother. But I have also met father’s who lost control. Fathers who made legitimate mistakes and couldn’t recover from the shame. Fathers whose past skeletons continued to haunt them. Fathers who kept making poor choices. And fathers, who throughout the experience, had limited support. So what do we expect if we continue to dishonor fathers and fatherhood?
So where do we go from here?
Stressing counselling is almost a given from a therapist. However, it is important to consider that counselling is part of a supportive platform. For women, it is important for us to find ways to heal our hurt from ended relationships, and find a way to find safety, support, and guidance to nurture a healthy relationship with our children and their fathers. In relationships where there is intimate partner violence, it is important to develop safety plans to protect yourself and your children. Other strategies are listed under the article: Supporting our children through divorce. As mothers, we can help to develop our young boys as they become men to be caring, loving, supportive and emotionally aware people. Examine and reshape your own biases of gender roles, develop emotionally secure attachments with your children, attend to and respond to their emotional needs, reinforce values and principles with your children, and teach your children to self-regulate their behavior and emotions. The article, Raising Healthy Children may also provide helpful strategies.
Support for our Fathers
For our fathers, the path towards healing may be different. Individual Counselling and psychotherapy is extremely helpful to address your emotions and learn healthy strategies. In addition, exploring systemic racism/oppression, intergenerational traumas, and childhood experiences that influence how men perceive themselves, perceive their world, understand and treat women, and nurture healthy relationships with their children. Counselling can guide fathers to identify: what happened to me? as opposed to: what is wrong with me?
Mentoring and group support can create an additional source of holistic care and healing. Mentors can provide guidance, modelling and leadership to men who may not have had their fathers’, may have had not positive role models, and may need additional fatherly support. Support groups such as, Father’s programming, Alcohol Anonymous (AA), anger management, co-parenting support, parenting classes, partner abuse programs and more can provide education, reflection, insight, and connection among men experiencing similar problems.
Unleashing ego and dealing with shame, are critical to growth for any person. However, for men, the concept of “toxic masculinity” and patriarchal society has rendered generations of men who harbor shame, self-guilt, doubt, self-blame, ego-driven, aggression, and much more. Taking the time to develop and grow emotional intelligence can help to address these identities that have developed for me. Suggestions include: journaling, reflection, and mindfulness as activities to learn how to be aware of thoughts, feelings and how they interact with behavior. A common website I suggest is: Self-Compassion Meditation. Identify: why? what happened? what are my triggers? how can I reduce my stressors? how can I react in a healthier way? how would the other person feel? how can I attend to their emotions in the moment? Emotional Intelligence encompasses four main principles: the ability to regulate your emotions, to see another’s point of view and perspective, to not take things personal and learn when someone is projecting their emotions on you, and to demonstrate self-awareness. Psychology Today produced an article on Emotional Intelligence, which provides a lay person’s way of understanding emotional intelligence. Self-help podcasts and books can also prove successful in empowering men to adopt a stronger, healthier self-identity, build their self-worth, and inspire them to become the best versions of themselves.
The power of giving back can shed it’s benefits to fathers and men. When you take time to support your community, to assist younger men in their journeys, and to sacrifice your time to support another– your heart grows. Your ability to manage stressful situations increases, as you develop values such as humility, patience, and understanding. You develop leadership skills in being able to support, guide and teach others in areas where you struggled at one point in your life. Giving back goes further than volunteerism… giving back in relationships with your partner, your children, your employer or employees, your parents, your friends, and so much can reinforce values that you are seeking to accomplish and create a loving, supportive and helpful environment for you to thrive.
Let’s move towards,Loving our fathers and creating opportunities for fathers to be successful, as well as recover from their mistakes.
Disclaimer: Research can show the benefits of children spending time with their fathers as beneficial to their emotional and attachment. Safety is critical. In areas where children can not be safe with either parent, it is critical that children are kept safe and their parents engage in supports to improve their capacity to meet the needs of their children. This article provides an overview, but does not address more complex issues that may arise within the father-child relationship. Stay tuned for more articles on this topic and many more.