Reflections on the book Clinical Interventions for Internalized Oppression: A focus on intersectionality

Lou Felipe, PhD

The idea for a book on internalized oppression started when my colleagues, Jan Estrellado and Jeannie Celestial, held a workshop at the 2019 Asian American Psychological Association Convention titled, “Unshackling Ourselves from Colonial Mentality and Other Forms of Internalized Oppression Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).” The attendance to this interactive session was incredible, far exceeding the seated capacity of the room. It was clear that the experience of internalized oppression – the process of believing the negative cognitions of oppression – was significant to the lives of many. For those in attendance to the workshop, including myself, there was an experiential understanding of the pernicious nature of internalized oppression, which has kept us and our therapy clients from thriving and embracing our full potentials. Conversations ensued about decolonized strategies for movement toward liberation, and the energy around the topic was powerful. Following the talk, Jan and Jeannie came up with the idea of creating a book to address the psychological consequences of internalized oppression. Having done research on colonial mentality among Pilipinx populations, they invited me to write a book with them, and together we created a book that gives light to liberative practices in therapy: Clinical Interventions for Internalized Oppression.

Something that I encountered when researching the experiences of racial and sexual oppression and its relationship to colonial mentality among Filipina Americans was the way in which experiences of sexism or racism cannot be teased out as being solely either sexist or racist. As women of color, Filipina Americans have intersectional experiences of racist sexualization, an intersectional experience of racism and sexism that was well understood by Black women in America and written about by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the late 1980s. Applying the concept of intersectional forms of internalized oppression seemed an essential concept to include in a book about addressing and forming interventions for internalized oppression.

The following excerpt comes from the second chapter of the book, written by me and my colleagues, Tamba-Kuii Bailey and Nayeli Herrera:

     “Culturally accountable treatment of an individual involves continual efforts to understand how a person’s unique intersections of marginalization informs how they perceive and experience the world around them. Each individual has multiple dimensions to their identity and carries a variety of social roles in their lives. For example, a person can be in a committed, heterosexual relationship, identify as queer, be a father, identify as racially Black, and have a disability, and all of these dimensions of identities inform unique and cohesive experiences. Viewing this individual only through the lens of their queerness, their Blackness, or solely through their disability does not fully appreciate their unique experiences. Practitioners who seek to understand the social or psychological experiences of an individual must avoid flattening a person’s experience by focusing on a singular aspect of their identity.”

When writing this portion of the book, it was important to me to emphasize the cohesive nature of people’s lived experiences. We often resort to reducing people’s identities or experiences by their “parts,” which fuels a misunderstanding of experiences as being similarly compartmentalized. For example, multiracial people are often described – by others and themselves – as “half” something and “half” of another race. Yet, the lived experiences for multiracial people are integrated and complete, not in fractions. Similarly, the oppressive experiences for people of multiple marginalized statuses are integrated and cohesive.

     “Individuals who are targeted by multiple forms of oppression and discrimination may experience stereotypes that are specific to a particular intersection of identities. Derogatory tropes assigned to women of color, such as ‘dragon lady’ or ‘welfare queen,’ bring to mind very specific caricatures demeaning to women with Asian or Black identities, respectively, with dragon lady carrying connotations of foreignness, deceitfulness, and promiscuity of Asian women and welfare queen describing Black women who are manipulative and mistrustful (Foster, 2008; Mukkamala & Suyemoto, 2018). Racism and misogyny intersect uniquely and painfully in these examples where the assumptions of sexism paint women as helpless, manipulative, and sexualized while racism emphasizes the ‘foreignness’ of Asians and Asian Americans and the ‘criminality’ of Black Americans…While it may be difficult to identify these combined iterations of intersectional oppression, this experience can have a devastating impact.”

As therapists and counselors, though, our work does not end with having empathy for others’ intersectional experiences with oppression. Recognizing that practice from positions of power, we are also called in to understand how we hold power in intersectional ways:

     “[M]ental health practitioners committed to dismantling the discriminatory and oppressive systems foundational to the psychic harms of internalized oppression undergo an analysis of their own constellation of privilege, power, and marginalization to give rise to a therapy practice rooted in social accountability and empowerment of the individual (Almeida, 2019; Moradi, 2017; Moradi & Grzanska, 2017; Ratts et al., 2019). It is critical for practitioners to examine their own intersectional realities of power and oppression and the interactional effect that it may have on their working relationship with individuals and their complicity in maintaining a colonial power structure. Furthermore, practitioners oriented toward justice, equity, and decolonization must consistently incorporate liberating interventions that work to decentralize the root of oppressive pains from the individual’s identity and appropriately place the roots of such pains onto the systems of oppression and dominance embedded in an individual’s lived social reality (Almeida et al., 2019).” 

Writing and editing this book for healers was a healing process in itself. The process with my co-editors, Jan and Jeannie, continually incorporated shared power and processes that worked to respect and uplift each other and our wonderful co-authors. By intentionally centering the voices of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color, as well as Queer practitioners, we elevated the wisdom that grew out of the trauma of oppression, and end result holds incredible power. A wonderful result of this project was that genuinely addressing issues of internalized oppression meant that we, as editors and authors, had to operate from a place of authenticity and power that honors our own experiences and the journeys of the people we serve. Our hope is that this book supports healing through empowerment and offers specific strategies to connect meaningfully with our clients and others who seek liberation from the harmful belief systems associated with oppression.

Clinical Interventions for Internalized Oppression is edited by Jan E. Estrellado, Lou S. Felipe, and Jeannie E. Celestial. The book was just released by Cognella this month. You can order it here.

*A Playlist Made With You In Mind*
You can enjoy our June 2022 music playlist here.

Lou S. Felipe, Ph.D. (she/they) is an assistant professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, where she provides culturally responsive, trauma-focused psychotherapy. Her research examines the intersectional identity experiences of marginalization, particularly at the intersection of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality with a unique specialization in Pilipinx American psychology.

Want to stay connected?

Join us for updates on new groups, classes, and more.
(e.g., NY)