Counseling in Photo Series, Therapist Journal

Understanding Bias Through Experience: A Day in Poverty

What do these pictures have to do with Counseling?  I went to First English Lutheran Church in Syracuse, New York this weekend to be a part of a Poverty Workshop and a Visioning meeting for the development of youth and family ministries in the Upstate New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. What was significant about First English? I could mention their 42 tons of clothing, furniture, etc. they collect each time students at Syracuse University do not want their things anymore and hold an event to give others the unwanted things. I could mention their computer lab program that is part of their computer classes. I could mention their clothes closet that gives underprivileged individuals the chance to get better clothes for themselves and I could mention that they have a food pantry that is highly active. These would only highlight a few of their ministries in the Syracuse area.

What was key for me however was the experience of going to a church that was understanding of everyone who may enter no matter what baggage they held physically or emotionally. I mean they spelt out who was welcome in their building in big bold print (check out the photo). They also hold workshops and promote events related to sexual orientation and gender issues.

You may again be wondering; what does this have to do with Counseling?

Counselors are able to be in some of these front line ministries of community service and we are also able to be the ones who let others know about the resources in the area. Either way you are helping individuals find what is important to them and getting their needs met. However, I’d like to point out that through the poverty workshop that I experienced what it was like to be someone who visits this church, walks through the food pantry, walks to another church to ask for a bagged lunch, and walks home. You will notice a picture of two sandwiches, an apple, and some oreos. We had gotten to the lunch window at the soup kitchen on a good day two sandwiches, an apple, and some oreos. The question asked “One sandwich or two?” is common here. The congregation of First English Lutheran Church serves many underprivileged individuals. I say underprivileged because they may experience poverty by not having a spiritual base, physical needs, emotional needs, or social needs.

By attending this weekend I was able to come to understand my bias and other people’s bias towards those who may be temporarily poor and those who are in poverty. That is how this relates to counseling. You need to look inside yourself and understand yourself in order to effectively help others especially in a counseling setting.

What bias do you bring to the table? What justice issues do you feel need to be fought for?


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