Do Race and Culture Seminars as ‘Standalone’ Modules in Therapeutic Training Perpetuate Whiteness as the Norm?

I work as an art therapist; during my training ‘standalone’ lectures about ‘race and culture’ were very much a part of my experience and the norm.

Art psychotherapy theory and practice is rooted in psycho dynamic theories of the mind from a Eurocentric perspective of the duality of mind and body (Descartes 1641).  Freud, Jung, Klein are major contributors to psycho dynamic theory and practice that underpins art psychotherapy training. Freud who is considered to be the founder of psycho dynamic theories, in his early writing on studies of the ‘neurotic’ used the comparison of ‘Australian Savages’ to explore the primitive nature of the neurotic mind. In his essays he expresses his view of Australian Aborigines as ‘the most backward and miserable of savages’ (Freud, 1950). Freud continues that ‘…….there are some points of agreement between the mental lives of the savages and the neurotic’ (Freud, 1950). I do not remember any references to Freud’s attitudes being discussed when we considered his contributions that underpin most of what is taught in psychotherapy. A perfect opportunity missed to consider the impact of his views of the ‘other’ in current practice.

Although these views may seem outdated, out of step and no longer relevant, the legacy of such views and ideology inform contemporary attitudes and beliefs and practices about the ‘other’ in psychotherapy. The lack of culturally appropriate services, the low uptake of talking therapies for people from Black and Asian communities and the lack of understanding and experience of white therapists on issues of racism.

The terminology of ‘race’ and of racial identity has developed from the racist ideology of race classification. White superiority and Black inferiority was used to justify slavery. Race theory ultimately ‘racialises’ and dehumanises the ‘other’.  ‘Race and culture’ modules that I participated in within my courses demonstrated and reinforced the differences between groups of people who are ‘othered’.

Course modules on ‘race and culture’ that ignore the history of ‘race theory’ and do not challenge the concept of ‘race’ are maintaining and perpetuating  white privilege, power and myths of ‘whiteness’ being the norm (Kincheloe et al 1998).



  1. Descartes, R. (1641) ‘Meditations on First Philosophy’, in The Philosophical Writings of René Descartes, trans. by J. Cottingham, R. Stoothoff and D. Murdoch, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984, vol. 2, pp. 1-62.
  2. Freud S (1950) ‘Horror of Incest’ in Totem and Taboo Routledge and Keegan Paul
  3. Kincheloe, J. L. (1998). White reign: Deploying whiteness in America (1st ed.). New York: St.

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