Nine years ago I decided to no longer use chemicals to straighten my hair. My natural hair is a daily adventure. I never know what hair I’m going to wake up to in the morning. I never know what the result of a product will be, even though I’ve used it before. I only hope for the best and make the best out of the worse. Ninety-five percent of the time you will see my natural hair in whatever form it is in that day. Sometime I will have a nice puffy pony-tail, an afro with some type of product to enhance my natural curl pattern that will vary from day-to-day. You may see me with individual braids with weave added, you may see me with my natural hair straighten using a flat-iron, or you may see me with a full head of weave down my back. Why? One reason is I live in Texas and with Texas 100 plus degree summers, protective styles such as braids and weaves are essential. The heat is not forgiving to my hair, and sometimes I just like to try new things. I’ve been seeing some of my clients for a while, so they’ve had the opportunity to see my various hair options. At one point, long 20-inch weave extensions was my hair of choice, and my entire body is roughly 64 inches! This particular day I was seeing one of my newer clients, who happen to be Caucasian and they said to me, “Oh, I didn’t realize your hair was so long.” My response was, “Oh, it’s not!” and that was the end of the conversation. That was the best response I had, we were too close to each other to pretend I didn’t hear the comment! I can only begin to imagine the pin ball machine game of confusion that was going on in her head. She probably just decided to drop the subject too.
I try to be as transparent as the situation permits also being mindful to keep “my stuff” out of my client’s therapy session. (I discussed this in a previous blog titled, “Relationships”. You should check it out!! #shamelessplug) Sometimes, I’m just caught completely off guard! Then I thought how my response could have had several negative perceptions, such as rude, sarcastic, or just plain confusing. Here my client was looking at how my hair was in an afro one week and a week later it’s literally down my back. I didn’t perceive the comment as anything, but an observation. I have another client who isn’t so new anymore, but she lives for my transformations. I believe she’s seen it all, and sometimes is completely confused by it all. I found myself not trying to change so much because it became a weekly thing, and sometimes therapy is the only consistent thing in a person’s life.
I’m trying to formulate a way to truthfully and directly respond to hair questions to my clients without “hijacking” the session, because I’m very open to talking about cultural differences with anyone who’s willing to explore their own curiosity about the topic. My clinical supervisor is a Latino male whose hair cut is pretty consistent, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t explored this topic with him, simply because he’s a guy and I think he’s sometimes just as curious about my new hair as my clients. He’s super polite, very culturally aware and probably would never say, “Hey what’s going on with these hair situations?”
How do I say to my clients, “Hey, FYI my hair may change throughout this process!” One may ask, why am I putting so much thought into this aspect, it’s because I honor and respect the relationships I have with my clients. I constantly review my interactions with them to make sure I’m always present and making whatever space I am in with them a safe space. If you feel your therapist isn’t being honest with you about very obvious things such as hair, then how do you feel safe. I know my clients will probably not discontinue therapy because of this interaction, but it may spark a conversation about my hair that I’ve never even considered when it comes to client and therapist relationships. These are topics that are not discussed in school. We are taught to be mindful of what we bring in the room, but there are some parts of ourselves that may not be present or noticeable in the room one day, but could take over the room other days. I think some therapist may choose or naturally take a more conservative approach when it comes to hair or fashion. I think I take a more conservative approach most days and then there are days I decide to step out of my box. Those days could be a little bit of an adjustment for my clients that I may have to one-day address, but then again maybe not, because there are bigger issues in the room than my hair.
Growth is a process, and in a process one may try several different things to simply see how they look and feel. I remind myself I am growing just as I would like my clients to grow. Sometimes growth produces physical changes and my hair could be a reminder. Though I may change outwardly I try to be as consistent as I can when it comes to the actual work and art of being a therapist.