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Unconscious Bias- Clearer now than ever!

America is hurting. Deep seated prejudice is being exposed and everyone is ready to look deeper. Just like therapy, a crisis offers the patient the opportunity to look within, to find out why and to ask the right questions. For it is only when there is an openness to answers and new perspectives that real change happens and progress is made. 

The truth is we all like to think that we are unprejudiced, inclusive and objective but unconsciously we tend to gravitate towards the people who look and think like us and we assume many things without question, because- it’s how it’s always been. Our decisions and choices can hurt others and impact their lives and futures. Black lives matter is not the first movement that has had bias, intended or unconscious at its core.We all have a responsibility to understand what drives our behavior, our decisions and our choices. In therapy, looking deep to find the driver for behaviors that damage happiness and health is what frees the patient from a damaged past, inscribed in their unconscious mind- many in America are doing just this, right now. 

National football league player Emmanuel Acho has launched a video series called “Uncomfortable Conversations With A Black Man”– the series aims at having open conversations about racism, educating white people about the horrendous issues that are facing black people now in America. His first guest, Hollywood actor Matthew McConaughey asked Acho what white people could do better in their everyday lives to help end racism. He asked how can I do better as a human? How can I do better as a man? How can I do better as a white man? 

Acho said a good start for him and every white person would be to acknowledge that there is a problem and to take ownership for any role that they play in it. Part of that,he said is accepting that there are “instilled prejudices that you may not even realise that you have”.

He was talking about unconscious bias- that automatic tendency we have to prefer one thing over another for no apparent  reason or even for any reason that we are aware of- just because.

Psychoanalytic psychotherapy and psychoanalysis itself is founded on the understanding that present behaviors, decisions and choices are influenced by the unconscious mind.  While Sigmund Freud thought of the unconscious as a reservoir of prohibited thought,more recently we know that it is more of  a constant processor of information, and impressions, and that it is always “on,” even when we don’t know it. We also know that it can be primed for creativity and problem solving. We know  that it can help to sell products and brands by subliminal messaging the target market.

The business world, aware of the financial cost of wrong or irrational decisions, now offers training to minimise the risk of unconscious bias.On these courses participants are challenged to look at their embedded assumptions, and to analyse the culture of the organisation that they are in. They look at ways to minimise the impact and to develop strategies and behaviors to effect change. 

In my work as a psychoanalytically trained psychotherapist, I see the unconscious present before me every day in my patients.I see the power of it as it hides from view. 

It takes courage for patients to abandon  mistaken beliefs about themselves or the world, that they have absorbed deep into their unconscious mind, but that they come to recognise as problematic- steering them to the wrong place. America must do the same, and each and every one of us can play a part as we challenge our assumptions of others.

A question I often ask patients is who says that’s the case or who says that is true? Answers lead us in the right direction, to the unconscious and the instilled presumptions that live on if never challenged..