Women of Charlottesville: Eboni Bugg
“Women must be given opportunities to explore aspects of their healing without feelings the pressure of racism or other social concerns.”
Eboni Bugg is a licensed clinical social worker practicing in the Charlottesville area — she’s also a yoga teacher, a family reunification advocate for those involved with social services, and a seriously amazing woman.
This past week, Eboni took the time out of her busy schedule to talk with SheVille about what it means to be a culturally responsive care provider in an growing town like C’ville — and how she got to be here.
Since a young age, Eboni’s been aware of the racial disparities in both the social work profession and the client-base it reaches.
“I didn’t grow up in an environment where mental health treatment and services were made available and were sought out,” Eboni describes. “It just wasn’t in our lexicon — not that people didn’t care about their mental health, it was just inaccessible.”
Eboni attended the University of Virginia, where she initially thought she’d pursue a degree in science or biology, before being called to the field of psychology and social work.
“I had an opportunity to work with the Virginia Department of Health on a study that looked at the correlates of infant mortality,” Eboni recalls. “It was one of the first exposures I had to the gross disparities in health care in minority populations.”
It was a telling start. From there, her career in social work has reflected a desire to remove systemic inequalities in mental health services. That means, among many other things, providing culturally responsive care — the definition of which is not so obvious, and very different from culturally sensitive care, Eboni says.
We can imagine that women seeking out mental health services are already struggling with the feeling of being othered, and culturally sensitive care can further isolate them. While well-meaning, cultural sensitivity usually tailors care based on rudimentary, stereotypical information about cultures outside the mainstream of society.
“Cultural sensitivity centers white dominant culture as the norm and automatically others the experiences of those who don’t fit that norm,” Eboni says.
The word sensitive inherently lacks an element of action — being culturally sensitive isn’t enough. It doesn’t equate to being culturally responsive, which involves acknowledging an individual’s unique experiences based on their identity. In other words, clinicians are called to pay close attention to the social and cultural factors influencing an individual’s perception of themselves and others.
If the feelings and effects produced by oppression are a facet of a client’s experience, then the clinician addresses those in the therapeutic relationship.
Eboni says cultural responsiveness is part of what enables her to provide targeted outreach to vulnerable groups, like low-income women of color in Charlottesville. Understanding attitudinal forces in a community and feelings of marginalization are crucial to Eboni’s goals as a clinician.
Another of which is creating a more diverse clinical labor force.
One question Eboni says she’s always trying to answer is: “How do we work as a community to ensure that there is adequate representation in the workforce that is providing these [mental health] resources to women?”
One of the great downfalls of cultural sensitivity is its lack of emphasis on a diverse mental health care profession, Eboni adds.
Increasing diversity in the mental health care field — in race, gender and sexual orientation — makes spaces which provide care feel more welcoming, regardless of if clients seek a cultural match with their therapist or not.
“What happens is when the whole agency is diverse is those people feel better about coming there period, no matter who the specific therapist is,” Eboni says.
Eboni also seeks to provide spaces specifically for minority women in the community, provided by minority women in the community. She facilitates a “Sister Circle” at The Women’s Initiative for Black women to share and receive support from one another.
“One of the most beautiful things to me about those groups is that participants go on to access the services in a much more diverse setting,” Eboni says. “It made them more likely to go on to seek out mental health services as a result of having that spring board.”
Other groups at The Women’s Initiative include a trans people of color support group and a cross cultural community healing partnership program for refugees and immigrants in the community.
Making mental health care spaces more welcoming has perhaps never felt more important to the Charlottesville community following a rather tumultuous summer.
“After August 12th, many individuals were impacted and as a result the mental health systems were overwhelmed with requests from people seeking trauma counseling and seeking a cultural match with their counselor, [but] there was a huge lack of that resource in the community,” Eboni says.
Perhaps now more than ever, Charlottesville is pressed to consider the particularly vulnerable social position of already marginalized groups.
“I’m flooded with referrals that I can’t take on my own — more than I have other [clinicians] to refer them to,” Eboni explains.
Eboni also currently works with the Mind & Life Institute, in Diversity and Inclusion, furthering her goals of addressing systemic barriers to treatment.
Mind and Life's goal is the alleviation of suffering and promotion of flourishing through the integration of science…www.mindandlife.org
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