Diversity In Clinical Practice: Reducing Cultural Offenses And Repairing Relationships With Lambers Fisher

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Lambers Fisher | Diversity In Clinical Practice

 

Helping without reservation is a beautiful concept that speaks to the depths of human compassion. But that concept will only be possible for therapists if they help and serve diverse clients without making cultural offenses. In this episode, Tina Fornwald welcomes the licensed marriage and family therapist into the show to share his insights into navigating the complexities of working with diverse clients. Lambers Fisher dives into the pages of his book, Diversity In Clinical Practice: A Practical And Shame-Free Guide To Reducing Cultural Offenses And Repairing Relationships. As Tina flips through the page, Lambers reveals his goal of addressing microaggressions. Tune in to this episode, for it will reveal the depths of human compassion through helping your clients diversely.

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach. I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide

Watch the episode here

 

Listen to the podcast here

 

Diversity In Clinical Practice: Reducing Cultural Offenses And Repairing Relationships With Lambers Fisher

Our guest is Mr. Lambers Fisher. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, clinical supervisor, adjunct instructor, author, and national speaker on the topic of multicultural awareness and diversity. For twenty years, Lambers has counseled individuals, couples, and families for a variety of cultural backgrounds in private practice, nonprofit, as well as a ministry environment. Lambers utilizes his marriage and family therapist experience to bring a positive, shame-free, empowering, and relationship-focused approach to equip helping professionals in various fields to increase their cultural self-awareness, reduce frequent and unintentional cultural offenses, as well as repair relationships damaged by cultural offenses.

Lambers’ Diversity Made Simple training has equipped over 15,000 helping professionals around the country to feel more comfortable, competent, and confident in their ability to meet a greater variety of needs for whomever they have the opportunity to serve. Lambers is also the author of an award-winning book, Diversity in Clinical Practice: A Practical & Shame-Free Guide to Reducing Cultural Offenses & Repairing Cross-Cultural Relationships.

This is a book that we’re going to talk about now. Not only is it about diversity in a cultural workplace, it is going to give us some tools in a diverse way so we can support people who are grieving. If you are the one who is grieving, you can share this show with someone who is struggling on how to support you, or you can use some of the things that we talk about in this discussion to articulate what your needs are to the people that love you and want to be in this space with you. Let’s get into the conversation now.

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Lambers Fisher | Diversity In Clinical Practice

 

Hello, Mr. Fisher.

Hello, Tina. How are you?

Good, and yourself?

I’m doing pretty good, thanks for asking.

Thank you for sharing your book with me. As you can see, I have a few things that I want to talk to you about for the Widowhood. Since they do not know who you are, I want to read something from the very beginning that talks about the author. It said, “Lambers Fisher is a licensed marriage and family therapist who received his professional training at Fuller Theological Seminary, a full-accredited school of psychology alongside a school of theology.” You guys got to get the book to read all of it. I’m just reading the highlights that I want to snag you into. I’m skipping down a little bit, but when you get your copy, you’ll be able to know where I was.

It says, “Fisher offers balanced yet effective services to those who need it, but who would, for various reasons otherwise not receive it. Over the past eighteen years, Fisher has had the pleasure of providing counseling services in a variety of different environments, including urban and suburban environments, nonprofits and for-profits, small group practices, large mental health agencies, and secular and Christian environments. He currently supervises aspiring therapists as an adjunct instructor and provides training for mental health professionals across the country. He has the pleasure of providing counseling services to a large variety of individuals, couples, and families.”

I wanted to read that part because that is not the topic of this book, but that is some of your background. I wanted to spend a little bit of time in your knowledge in this area, particularly speaking to people who are widows and widowers. We have people tuning in to this discussion who want to know how to support friends who are widows and widowers. I wanted to talk about family stuff. The first thing that I wanted you to tell me are some things that you find people don’t talk about but they should.

One of the things that stands out to me with a question like that is what our needs are. A lot of times, it seems like that should be the thing that’s most often talked about. People want to talk about it but don’t know how to. Sometimes it’s a matter of acknowledging someone else’s need to say, “I don’t want to ask directly what their needs are because what happens if I can’t meet them? If I invite them to share and then I can’t meet it, then I’ll be disappointed and they’ll be disappointed, so it will be better if I just not ask. Maybe I’ll guess. Maybe I’ll hope. Maybe I’ll try to meet the need on the side and hope that it meets it, but not to overtly talk about it.”

Sometimes it’s that clear communication that makes the biggest difference, but it works the same way on the flip side as well. Sometimes I don’t want to share my needs because what if they reject it? What if they say, “Good to know but no, I don’t want to put myself out there,” so I’ll hope that they meet it. I hope that they figure it out. I’ll hope that they do it,” but it’s not until we’re clear about expressing our needs, learning to express our needs, or learning to hear other people’s needs, especially those whom we care about the most, that will have an exponentially improved chance of meeting those needs and getting our needs met.

I never would’ve thought that that was going to be the answer. How do you come to the conclusion that people have not expressed what their needs are, whether it is in a romantic relationship or a family environment?

It’s often a reverse engineering of people’s frustrations, disappointments, and anger even sometimes. Whether it be sadness or anger at their unmet needs. As a marriage and family therapist, I get a chance to meet with one partner or both depending on what the situation is. The common factor amongst a lot of them is that their partner isn’t meeting their need. When it comes to why that isn’t the case, a lot of times, it’s because the other partner never knew that it was a need in the first place. They never expressed. The other person says, “How could you not know?” It is as if it should be obvious.

When you reverse engineer that, you can say, “If we are clearly expressing our needs now, at least they have a chance.” They may not have the ability instantaneously to do it, but they can learn. They can take time to figure out what’s within their power to control and what’s not. At some point in time, there are going to be times when I appreciate you sharing, I don’t know how to do that, I’ve tried, and I may not ever be able to meet that need, but learning to figure that out and learning to express that.

Sometimes being able to see your partner trying, learning, and meeting the limits of their potential still can make you feel special. It still can make you say, “Maybe I have to find some other way to meet that particular need, but I appreciate the needs you’ve been able to meet along the way.” That effort to be pursued and to be tried, in that sense of the word, can go a long way to meeting those unmet needs that are often the source of divorce. Whether it be withdrawal within the relationship without getting divorced. That unmet need can be devastating.

What I hear is communication is key in a relationship. Not just talking but making yourself vulnerable. Saying things that are clear, taking time to aggressively listen to when someone is speaking. That may be turning down the technology. It may be in a space where you’re not going to be disturbed that I am making you the focal point of what we’re about to speak about.

A lot of times people get tired of hearing, “What’s the most important thing? Communication.” You hit the nail on the head. It’s not just talking for talking’s sake. We communicated about our day. We communicated about all the things that made me mad. It’s the totality of communication, but it’s that vulnerable sharing. It’s showing you the true parts of myself, my hopes and my fears, my met needs and my unmet needs.

Communication is a two-way street. A lot of times, people think communication is just talking. I said that a million times. That’s not the same thing as also, have you listened a million times? Have you heard their responses? Is it, “I said it, and either you met that need or you didn’t, so I stopped listening.” It’s two ways. It’s a skill that is to be learned, not just talking. If we learn it together, if both people are vulnerable and willing to risk that, then you can be on a journey that can be amazing.

Listening is a skill to learn, not just talking. If we learn it together, and people are vulnerable and willing to risk that, you can be on an amazing journey. Share on X

Thank you for sharing that. I have a therapist who I see for my own personal mental well-being. My husband has one. We see them. I’m going to have a therapist like I have a dentist. I want these teeth right and I want my mind right because I don’t know how to maintain my teeth. I think people underestimate their ability to maintain their mental well-being, even especially in our community, I’ll leave it like that. I say that to ask, do people come to you for premarital counseling or when the marriage is on the rocks? Do people see someone like you as a maintenance of their relationship or is it just in emergency?

People come to counseling, thankfully, all across the spectrum. I love premarital counseling. When people say, “I’ve seen a lot of marriages go well. I’ve seen a lot of marriages not go well. I want to get off to a start. We want to get off to a great start and give ourselves the best chance possible.” Does this stop every argument from happening? No. Sometimes it’s a matter of learning how to argue and still love each other. It’s a great thing to get started in a good way. Other times, there’s a financial challenge, child-raising challenge, and external families’ influence on our household challenge. Within the marriage, that’s a challenge. Other times it’s, “I’m one foot out the door. If you can’t help us, then I don’t know what will.”

What’s challenging in a great way, because I will take every challenge available, is I have an appointment with a divorce lawyer next Thursday, unless you can help us with counseling. I don’t know what the word for that is, but from the very beginning to the very end, that is hopeful for me because you could have made the appointment, but one last ditch effort maybe, and I’ll say our perspective can help.

Not because a therapist knows me better than I know myself. Not because a therapist can teach me about who I am, but because an outside perspective might help me see things I hadn’t seen. It might help me understand things that my partner might be trying to tell me that I didn’t understand. It might help me express things that I wanted my partner to know but never knew the words to express it. Maybe a person who this is their profession or this is what they do can help me do that best because that’s what they’re skilled at doing.

Sometimes that’s all it is. I’m not the expert on everybody else’s life. I’ll never claim to be, but if I can help someone express themselves better to each other, then I help them get those skills, help them get that self-awareness, and then I back up and let the magic happen. That’s where we can be of benefit all across the relationship spectrum. It’s a great honor to be welcome to the people’s vulnerable spaces to do so.

This question may not have a real answer, but this is what comes to mind. Why do people think their spouse should know stuff? They go, “They should know that.” Where does that come from? That’s why I said it’s a broad question that the answer may suit different men and women. In general, why do people think that idea? They get upset because their partner didn’t do the thing that they never communicated to them, but they knew they should have known that like their telepath.

That is so common. My last comment is part of the challenge. There are two main things that I’ve seen that contribute to that. Neither one of them is an expectation that the other person read their mind. It seems like that when it’s all said and done, but it’s less often than that. One is often a genuine desire to not have to do the work of expressing. We have our feelings, but that doesn’t mean we have the vocabulary to put those feelings into words. There are so many feelings and words available out there beyond happy, mad, sad, and afraid.

We start off with those, and then we challenge ourselves to expand our emotional vocabulary. Not everybody’s emotional vocabulary has the words to describe what they are feeling. I genuinely hope my partner, the person who knows me the best, would know. When they don’t, it’s disappointing because I don’t have the words to express, but I genuinely want you to know. There’s that hope that they’ll be able to bridge that gap magically because love will do that. That genuine hope often gets us in trouble.

The other thing I see so often, it’s related but also different, is the idea that sometimes we think our way is the way. We think how we think about things is the only way to think about things. A lot of times, people say, “You think your way is the best way.” No. Until you said it, I didn’t think there was another way. When I saw it this way, it was so obvious. Why would I find the right way to say it? There’s only one way to say it. Why would I find the right way to see it? There’s only one way to see it. It’s not until you’re confronted with alternative ways. You’d be like, “How could you see it that way? What planet are you from? Everybody knows that.”

Whenever I hear that, the conversation is over. Whenever you think that you’re speaking for everybody and your partner is the odd one out, then we’re not having the conversation. When we can own, “Our way. Our feelings are legitimate. My partner’s way. My partner’s thoughts are legitimate.” We can bring it together, “How can I express to you what’s in my head?” Learn what is in your head and let’s meet in the middle and say, “I love you, you love me. I give you grace, you give me grace.” Between those two things, that covers most relationship challenges right there. It all boils down to a vulnerable challenge to say, “How can I understand you? How can I help you understand me?” If we’re both doing that, then what we discover determines the rest of our relationship.

When you were saying that, it made me think about my late husband. Our daughter, Catherine, was about 2 or 3. That means we had been married for about five years. I was in the Army reserves and Mark was getting Catherine’s school clothes ready. She went to a private school, preschool stuff. I think I had to go away for like a week or two. When I came back, he had ironed all of her clothing and had it in the closet. When I ironed her clothing and put it on the hanger, it looked like she was wearing it. It looked cute to me.

When I went to the closet and I was trying to get her stuff around, everything looked backward. It was like her shirt was there and the jumper. I’m calling Mark and I’m like, “Where’s her stuff at?” He said, “Since you were gone, I realized it took too long to do it.” He put her stuff on the hanger in the order of her getting dressed.

First of all, I was mad because you’re up in my world and you didn’t change stuff around, but then I said, “Hold on for a second. Let me understand why he did it this way.” Don’t you know? I had to eat that. I was like, “We got ready faster.” From then on, her clothes were in the order that she got dressed. At the bottom of the hanger was her little tie. The jumper was there and then the shirt was on top. It looked horrible in the hanger. Believe me. When I looked at it in the closet, it didn’t look as cute as mine, but it was functional. It was better timing.

It made me realize that we had a child together, but I need to make sure that I am engaging him in the parenting process. Letting him make those decisions and not change them. When you do something and somebody comes behind it because your way is better, it’s the way you’re used to doing it, you devalue them. You make them feel like what they’re talking about is not important. When I didn’t have the skill to do that, I realized Walmart was open 24 hours. I would get in the car and take myself and walk the aisle of Walmart because he needed to do what he was doing as a parent. I needed to take myself out of the equation. If I couldn’t close my mouth, I could leave because I wanted to be productive.

There you go.

With all the things you could have done with your degree, what led you to family counseling and to do that?

My road to marriage and family therapy is pretty clear. For those who I know from a younger age when my parents divorced, I was in middle school. I remember the day. I remember getting on the bus. The morning after learning about it, I was crying and my fellow classmates were looking. They’re like, “What’s wrong with you?” “I found out my parents are getting divorced.” They’re like, “That’s it? You’re late. Everybody else’s parents are divorced.” I was like, “Wait, what?”

After that point, I started looking around in a way that I never looked around before looking for intact relationships. Married or not, intact relationships that I can model after because if I couldn’t find that in my home now, and I knew I wanted to eventually have a relationship that lasted, who was I going to model after? Who’s going to show me the way? I realized there were not nearly as many as I thought. There were either relationships that got divorced, relationships that never made it to marriage in the first place, or everywhere in between.

Eventually, after scouring relationships in families, communities, and everywhere, and finding a very small percentage, I discovered that there’s a whole career field called marriage and family therapy that could teach me the skills to have a long-lasting and happy marriage. Along the way, in exchange, I’d have to help other people along the way to do it. I said, “Great, that’s an awesome deal. Sign me up.” I’ve loved it ever since. Not only learn things that I can put into place in my marriage but also help others learn that skill because there’s a genuine desire to have that.

Nobody goes into a marriage expecting there to be a trap door to have an out. They go into a hoping, but then common traps get in the way. It wasn’t me doing something better than somebody else. It’s me doing something along with everybody else. Come along on this journey. I’m learning it right along with you. There are ups and downs. There are challenges. I’m human, we’re all human, but let’s learn to avoid some of the common traps and learn to personalize them to our relationships. Twenty years later, I still appreciate the opportunity to be welcomed into the couples that I’ve been able to help, the premarital couples. We wouldn’t still be here if we didn’t come to counseling couples. I look forward to seeing whoever I can help along the way.

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Lambers Fisher | Diversity In Clinical Practice

 

As you mentioned about your own wife in the Acknowledgements, she is the first person that you thank. It says, “To my wife, for her continued support and belief in me.” Look at you smiling when I read it. That’s what I’m talking about. Did you meet your wife before you had this knowledge or as you were learning this? Where did you meet her on the road to what you’re doing?

I met my wife. She was probably the second or third person I met when I went off to college. It’s very early on. It confused my family. The first person you meet, you’re locked up for life? I was like, “Yeah, but you all haven’t seen her.” We met in college. I left Chicago and came out to the University of Minnesota to go to undergrad. Outside, she was catching my eye instantaneously. When she opened her mouth, it got even better. We learned early on that not only were we both I’m a family guy and she’s a family gal thing. Our family met the most to us, but there was a similar relationship interest, interpersonal relationships, not just rom-com interests, but strengthening relationships in some way.

We had a similar interest. We did different things with it, but over the course of psychology classes, that strengthened it. Over the course of projecting our future, we ended up taking a similar path such that we are both licensed marriage and family therapists. From the very beginning, we both pursued similar paths. We never worked at the same place, but whereas I have a little bit more of a focus on couples.

The marriage and family therapists, she had a focus historically on the families as in the children’s side of therapy, play therapy, and that type of thing. We cover the whole spectrum. I focus on the parents. She focuses on the kids in our different organizations. It’s great. She’s the person I can always count on. I get to teach classes, I get to train other therapists, but when I get stumped, she’s the one I go to saying, “I’m stumped on this.” She’s like, “Why don’t you try this, that, the other.” I’m like, “Hold on. I need notes. I need to get some paper.” She is the one.

I always say, “I’ll marry her.” I’m grateful. The fact that she’s the one who I can be the most vulnerable with. She’s the one who knows me the best whenever I’m feeling like no one understands me. Sometimes she doesn’t understand me either. If anyone who’s going to get close, it’s going to be her. In turn, I want to be the one to understand her and help her to feel understood, help her to feel known, and feel seen. When we have that to fall back on. We have our misunderstandings like everybody else. We have our challenges, my preferences, and her preferences, but when the world gets stressful, to come home and say, “I know I have my person,” then we’ll figure it out together. That’s what it is.

That is the part that makes working the relationship worth it because you can be vulnerable and they can strengthen you. To my surprise, to have remarried and not just remarried, but to have someone who loves me and someone who I can be vulnerable with and encourages me even with this effort that I’m doing, keeping my late husband’s memory alive, my husband now is my biggest cheerleader encouraging me to be in spaces to help other people. It does take us being vulnerable in those conversations to let people in. If someone wanted to work with you, do you do virtual or in person? How do you work with couples and families?

I do virtual and in person. It’s the way the field of marriage and family therapy works, which is a national and international field. We are limited to working with the people who are in the state in which we’re licensed. We’re working on that across the country. People get licensed in multiple states. I would only be able to serve people who are in the state of Minnesota where I’m at right now. I can do training. When I do my diversity training, I can do those all over the country. When I see couples, I can only work with those who are in Minnesota.

For those who are outside of Minnesota, I’m trying to help direct people to either people I’ve networked with, people who I know, or other sources of directories and things like that to find people where they’re at because you find somebody locally that’d be a little bit more accessible. Although virtual offers a lot more options as far as not having to go into the office. One of the things with virtual is great with what I’m seeing couples is because when they come to the office, they have to get babysitting for the kids and things like that.

When COVID blew up telehealth sessions, it was convenient because the kids could be in the other room or we could be in the office over a Zoom session. It’ll offer up a lot of opportunities. A lot of people have to drive far away, even within the state, but hours within the state. Right now, I’m limited to those who are in Minnesota by virtual and in-person sessions. A handful of people across the country doing my training. I might be able to direct other people elsewhere whenever possible.

Mentioning training, and you guys got to get the book because I’m skipping some things, in the Acknowledgements, you say, “To the mental health professionals and colleagues who have attended my national seminars.” What are your national seminars and what does that look like?

The most common one is my Diversity Made Simple Training. It’s my effort to acknowledge that a lot of people don’t go to counseling. Some of those reasons are because they don’t feel like the therapist can understand them. We spoke about couples being vulnerable with each other, but counseling is a vulnerable space to be able to share your feelings, but you don’t share with anybody else, to explore the past, which you hopefully try to avoid, and to express your fears about the future, which are uncertain. It’s a vulnerable space.

Sometimes their cultural barriers get in the way and people say, “Not only is counseling not something we do in our community.” There are a lot of communities that say that, “but that therapist who doesn’t look like me can’t possibly understand my experiences, can’t possibly understand where I’m coming from. They don’t get it.” Big sweeping statements. As much as anyone’s difference could be a barrier, there are oftentimes when that is verified by experience that that’s validated. I understand it. There are a lot of times when there’s a misunderstanding that goes both ways.

The potential clients feel like, “You can’t understand me. You don’t want to see me. You don’t want people like me coming to your office.” There are therapists saying, “I would love to help whoever comes in the door, but I don’t know how to help those people. Their experiences are too different. I’m scared of messing up. I’m scared of doing or saying something wrong.” Both sides need each other, but they’re scared to bridge that gap. Being only one person and being able to only see a certain amount of people in a day or a week, there are a lot of times when I get emails and calls and say, “I’m looking for African-American therapists.” It’s like, “That’s great. My schedule is full. I don’t know when I’m going to have an opening again. I will only see you.”

The number of therapists of color nationally is less than 10%. Let alone many of the many varieties with therapists of color, if that’s a priority. The goal is less of a reverse racism thing. Only you’re good. Everybody else is bad. As much as “I’m looking for somebody who can understand me and I have reason to believe that you might understand my experience those other people won’t.” Although I can try to increase the amount of therapists out there, which would take years to accomplish, “Go into the field. Get your degree. Get multiple degrees. Get licensed.” In the meantime, I can equip the therapists who are out there to bridge that cultural gap. The therapists who are in the thousands, who are saying, “I want to help whoever comes in, I just don’t know how.”

I can help you increase your cultural competence so that you can help those who look like you and those who don’t look like you. Not only when they get the door, but you can advertise. You can word of mouth. You can network. You can let people know, “I understand more needs than you think I do. I can meet different needs. I can help you improve. Even though we’re not the same in every single area, I’m learning more and more every day. I will not make you responsible for my learning. I can pleasantly surprise you with what I can understand.”

I go around the country training mental health professionals to increase their cultural competence and helping them avoid the fears that are stopping them, bridge the misunderstanding gaps, and be the leader in the room to be able to pleasantly surprise anyone willing to give them a chance that they can meet those needs as well. To date, I think I’ve crossed over 20,000 people who come to my training. It’s a great honor, coast to coast, east to west, north to south.

What’s great is I’ve encountered a lot more pleasant surprises than opposition. A lot of times people ask me like, “How does it feel to have to force people to do that diversity stuff, to have to pressure people into increasing their cultural competence?” That hasn’t been my experience. My experience has been a lot more people saying, I want to, I don’t know how. When they leave, they say, “I know everything there is to know about everybody, but you’ve given me the tools to not only have the confidence to believe that I can, but you give me the confidence to know some things that can help me with my client that I’m seeing tomorrow, and then I’ll keep on learning as it goes.”

That helps me feel like I’m helping people in communities everywhere have a better chance. If they take the leap, if they say, “Life is getting too stressful, I got to take the leap anyway.” Maybe I’ll go see one of those therapists who don’t look like me and it won’t be in vain. It won’t be that big of a risk because they’ll be like, “I thought it was going to be more painful, but you understand more than I thought you would. Even though you don’t look like me. Even though we don’t come from the same place. Let’s see how far this goes.” They then can use many of the tools they already have, but to bridge those gaps.

That’s why I call it Diversity Made Simple because it’s demystifying diversity. It’s a practical and shame-free perspective. That’s why I title that part of the book to say it’s not about shame and judgment because that makes people do less. It’s not about being polarizing who’s left or right, black or white, or everything in between. No matter what similarities or differences we have, we can work together in a healthy way. A lot of people have resonated with it. A lot of people are being helped around the country, which is great.

Thank you for sharing that. You always hear me talking about your mental well-being. In case you haven’t figured this out, I’m having this conversation with Mr. Fisher because I want you to see it from a therapist’s perspective. I want you to get the inside scoop because when we are struggling with grief and that rolls into a deep depression, that can roll into so many other things that can make our life spiral out of control. I don’t want that for you. I want you to have a healthy way of being able to manage your grief.

Sometimes that requires having a partnership with a mental health professional who can give you those coping skills. Sometimes the only time we’re talking to them is about grief. I want you to get the inside scoop from a clinical perspective and understand what they’re doing. It’s like you’ll meet a Mr. Fisher in your area or your walk with life and what they’re being trained and taught. You may be going, “Why are they talking about this?” It’s because I want you to be in the know.

That was an excellent segue into your book. I thought it was very interesting and I’m taking my little tabs off one by one. In the introduction, you said, “What makes this different from other books on diversity?” People do have a lot of preconceived notions as far as what they’re going to get into. When they see a book with the word diversity on it, and what they’re supposed to get out of it. I want to read a little bit of this.

“Many individuals have expressed a desire to attend training on the topic only to find the material presented in a way that created feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. Others have expressed that the information presented was so deep and focused on the history of various cultural groups that they left with an appreciation for people different than themselves, but they only felt more incompetent. As the information simply highlighted, how they did not know. In light of such experiences, the goal of this book is to offer a balanced, practical, and applicable perspective on the topics, and to help you feel more confident and competent on matters of multicultural awareness and diversity.”

I don’t even know if you have anything else to say after reading that and what was written because to me, I think people need to know the level of effort people are going through to try to meet them at their place of need and recognize what they don’t know and try to fill that information so they can be helped.

One of the most common comments I get in my live training, I do them online as well, but when I’m in person, I get to fly somewhere and have a conference hotel room. On one of the breaks of a full-day training, somebody comes up to me and says, “So far, this isn’t like those mandated diversity training my employer has me go to.” I conspiratorially look back at them and say, “What was that like?”

With the radio voice saying, “What was that like?”

They spent the whole time saying, “I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but. You should already know that, but. If you’re not doing this, how can you consider yourself a professional?” It’s shame and judgment. If you don’t do this right, then these are the policy and procedures. The consequence is like, “Ouch.” It’s all about what you’re not supposed to do. It’s all about the bad consequences. As opposed to embracing the opportunity to learn about other people, inviting people to strengthen relationships, and inviting people to better interactions with their coworkers. Highlighting the things that we can accomplish and how we can do it together as opposed to doing this or else.

That’s not what motivates them. That makes people do less out of fear as opposed to lean into things that can be better policy and procedure, and better interactions one-on-one with the people they care about the most. It’s the same things that work for colleagues, bosses, and people you lead. I don’t know whether it’s in one of the tabs you have, but as it relates to the previous conversation, I do not consider myself a policy and procedure professional. This isn’t coming from some business-minded thing. It comes from my foundation as a marriage and family therapist because I’ve helped couples learn how to love each other despite their inconvenient differences. Despite their, “Why would you do it that way?” Despite the “That’s not how it was done in my household.”

When you take those same lessons learned and you superimpose them on, “That’s not how we do things in my culture. That’s not how we do things where I’m from.” In the business world, in universities and colleges, and in nonprofit organizations, it’s a lot of those same lessons that need to be learned. Your difference doesn’t make you a bad person. The inconvenience. What needs do you have that stem from your community of culture of origin that is different than what we needed in my culture of origin? It’s like a lot of those same needs are benefited from some of those same skills.

That’s one of the other reasons why a lot of people resonated with my training. It’s not teaching the same lessons that the HR department is doing. It’s not saying, “These are the policy and procedures. These are the types of emails you have to send. These are the type of documents, the meetings you have to lead.” As much as how can you understand your colleagues better? How can you meet their needs and invite them to meet yours in a way that is not punitive? It’s the same lessons put into practice in this big, deep, often scary topic of diversity in a very positive and shame-free way. So far, it’s changing interactions, it’s changing relationships, and it’s awesome.

When you said that, it made me think about how each person grieves differently. They may be having a grief journey or grief experience, but it is different for each person. It could be two people who lost their spouses. That grief process is different because those two people are not the same, their marriage was not the same, and how they cultivated their relationship is not the same. It’s amazing to me how we all look different, but we expect us all to act the same. I think that’s bizarre. One of the things I wanted to talk about this and I want to go one by one a few of these and go along to the same thing is what this book is not. It is not a history lesson.

I’ve never read history, watched a documentary, or read a book and instantly felt compelled to do anything differently. It was good to know. It’s good context. I’m going to turn off the TV and the documentary, I’m going to close the book, and go back to leading my life the same way. A lot of times, what’s needed is some type of way to bridge that gap. How do I take that history, the lessons learned, and give me some practical tools that can improve my relationships today? If I can do that, then history matters in a practical way. History matters in the grand scheme of things about how things came to be, but how is it going to matter today? How can I learn that lesson?

A lot of times, people have gone to trainings that are just history lessons. “We’re going to teach you about the history of this group and the history of that group. Bye. Go do something with this.” You haven’t taught me. You haven’t equipped me on how to do it. The book isn’t a history lesson. It’s a practical guide. It honors history and it acknowledges the influence of history, but it is very practical. It isn’t a history lesson.

It is not a political debate.

Absolutely not. One of the things that I’ve cultivated as a marriage and family therapist is I need to be prepared to help empower and equip every couple who comes into my office. Not just the ones who voted the same way as I did. One of the greatest compliments I’ve ever gotten is not a testimonial I can put on my website. One of the best compliments I’ve gotten is, how do I confidentially say this? After one of the recent elections, we had a number of elections, I saw a couple in the morning and they came into my office.

The first thing they said when they walked into the room was, “Whoa. What does that mean for me and my family now?” What they were saying was that they went to bed thinking they had one set of neighbors. They woke up with things spray painted on their driveway to let them know they did not have the neighbors they thought they had because the people who won the election made them feel emboldened to express things that they didn’t feel as emboldened to say the day before.

I had to help them sit with the devastation of what that meant for them and their family. Hours later, that was in the morning. In the afternoon, same day, another couple came into my office and they said, “Whoa.” Start off the same way. First thing they said. What they finished that sentence with was, “Whoa, we pulled that one out of nowhere, right?” As if to say their desired candidate had won. They were encouraged by that and what that meant for their relationship, their community, and their country.

The interesting thing is both of them felt comfortable coming to me that day. It wasn’t, “I feel comfortable coming to my therapist because I think you voted the same way as me.” No. They felt comfortable because I had created a safe space that no matter how they voted, that place was dedicated to understanding them, and their needs, and helping them move forward. Not to decide the candidate or judge or whoever else is getting voted on, but to help them.

I want to empower anyone who reads my book or comes to my training, I want to train you to be able to support the people who are like you. If you have a question about something on a different political spectrum and you feel like it’s similar or different, we can do so in a healthy way. Similar or different political parties, I want you to be able to have healthy conversations with people who are on a completely different spectrum because you learn how to value and respect them as a person, even if you both know we’re voting for different people.

Why? I want what’s best for this country. Me too. I want what’s best for this state. Me too. I want what’s best for the community and my family. Me too. We have different guesses as to which candidate is best suited to make that happen. Neither one of us can predict the future to know who’s the best candidate for it, but we both are doing what’s best for those we care about. Why debate about that when we can work together?

It is not a cultural guilt trip.

I alluded to that earlier. A lot of times, people try to guilt people in exchange. One of the things I’ve learned, not only as a partner, and as a spouse but also as a parent, a lot of people are motivated by guilt. “I feel bad, so I’ll do differently.” We have to acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of people in this world or this country are motivated by guilt. Hundreds of thousands of people are not motivated. You guilt them and they sit down. It is almost like my daughter going into a corner and pounding. I was like, “I’m yelling at you to spur you on like a jockey, hitting a horse, but I’m verbally hitting you.” Some people like the horse say, “Okay, I’ll move.” Other people curl up in the ball. I don’t want to make people curl up in a ball.

I don’t want to guilt people into doing less. I want to empower them to do more. Not some arbitrary more that I created, but whatever more is within their power to control. I want people to meet the limits of their potential and I can’t determine what that potential is. I can encourage other people to find out what their limits are because they feel hopeful, not pressured or guilted or judged into it, but hopeful that they can do more than they think they can do. If I can help people do that, then we all win.

I’m going to read this section. Some of this, we covered in your dialogue, but it stood out to me. I’ll read all of these and let you give a recap of this particular section. It says, “What you can expect from this book. Increased understanding of diversity and competence. Increase knowledge of self and others. Enhance perspective and empathy for other cultures. Increase competence. Increase knowledge base.”

As a whole, one of the things that I say often is that you can never know everything about everyone all the time. Any training, any conversation, any meeting, and any HR policy that expects you to know everything about everybody all the time is doomed to fail from the very beginning. Instead, we can have a guiding principle to learn as much as we can about each person we encounter one day at a time to acknowledge, “I don’t know everything. I have to accept that I won’t know everything. Just because I don’t know everything doesn’t mean I know nothing. If I acknowledge that I don’t know everything, value the knowledge that I do have, and intentionally learn more one day at a time, then I’m empowered.”

You don’t know this. “You’re right. I don’t know. Now that you brought that to my attention, you let me know the next thing I need to learn. Thank you.” You thanked me for telling you that you don’t know stuff? “Yes, because you empowered me to learn something new.” If every day you are learning new things, then the impact we can have on others will be great. Not only that, but when other people are confronting, not all the time, but a good majority of the time people are confronting, expecting retaliation. When they say what you don’t know and you say thank you, and they’re like, “Wait, my expression of frustration wasn’t in vain? Did you appreciate it? In that case, I got some other things that you might want to know too.”

It becomes a shared effort because they know it benefits them. You’re making it work to their advantage. It benefits you because you’re learning. We all win. Less confrontation and more wins. What if somebody else is upset? I give responses to how you can diffuse situations before they start practical and very relational. Not policy and procedure but very relational goals that can be strengthened to one relationship at a time.

Very well said. That was, I would say, the broad strokes of the book in getting that reader warmed up. What I will say, and then I think you’ve alluded to that already, the book of diversity spurs off of what you learn from the relationships. Those relationships are still some of the things that people use when they’re supporting someone who is grieving. You are taking time to understand, “This person may be grieving for twenty years. This person may be actively grieving for one year.”

Holding that space with someone and validating that their feelings are real. Sometimes it requires you to ask questions instead of making assumptions because there are things we don’t know. There’s value in something you said about someone realizing that you are trying, that you are working, and that you have not silently quit the relationship.

Too often people who are actively grieving, sometimes people in their life, because they don’t know how to be there, will disappear. That person who is grieving not only has lost their loved one, but now they are losing living relationships because we don’t take the time to invest in people and see what they’re doing is different and sit with them in that process. There are a lot of crossover skillset and soft skills that you can take from this book and apply in a lot of different ways. Even though this is meant more for clinical or HR, this is a people book. This is a book with everyday skills that people can use to show up in people’s lives and to look at it from a different perspective.

The skills are so transferrable. A lot of times, people think diversity is about race and ethnicity, but that’s a starting point. Diversity means being different. We can be different ethnically. We can be different politically. We can be different socioeconomically. We can be different in our family roles. A couple who has only known being parents has to learn how to interact healthily with couples who are not parents and say, “When are you going to start a family?” “Actually, we are a family, the two of us. If we expand our family, that’s our choice. No, we’re not waiting to start a family.”

That’s a conversation that some people can have confidently and some people don’t. A lot of times people don’t even realize the impact of some of the things they say. It’s not about right or wrong, but it’s recognizing, “I never thought about how somebody else could be experiencing me.” When you add in different widow experiences, “What does that mean for you and how do you experience family relationships in the same way that you used to differently? How a new relationship will be compared to an old relationship?”

If you only have one experience, that’s not how marriage is supposed to go. Your new partner says, “That’s what marriage will affect between the two of us because I have different needs. Are you willing to be in a relationship with me and learn my needs or only try to meet the needs you learned to meet before?” It’s the same transferable skill. It is not easy. It is not easy to learn something new and to acknowledge that there is another way that may be worth learning.

When you show that you genuinely care about the other person, it’s a good skill to learn. You don’t have to be perfect at it, but like I said before, you try to learn something new. Help me to see things from your perspective. I haven’t had to learn. I didn’t learn that perspective growing up. I didn’t learn that perspective from my first spouse, but I’m willing to learn about you. If you are patient with me, I’m willing to learn one day at a time. I appreciate it if you could learn about me too. Can you be patient with me and I’ll be patient with you?

That is a great gift to give. It is the same lesson. When you narrow it down, then it’s not working all the time. It’s me learning the same skills. I’m applying it at home. I’m applying it at work. I’m applying in the community. It makes it a lot less work in the “work sense” and more a skill that can benefit you every day of your life. That’s what makes it worth it.

There are two sections of the book that I like to dive into because I do see the transfer of so many different areas of our life. Part one is the relevance of cultural competence. Why should we increase our cultural competence? You say the world is changing.

It’s getting harder to stay stuck in a polarizing perspective. Us and them. Black and white. Rich and poor. These are hard lines that for a while seem to be easy. Different sides of the track. There is so much variety in the world these days. It’s harder to make those distinctions or at least stay in those distinctions because no one is just one thing anymore. We all have a variety of identities.

 

 

A lot of times, we use identify as only talking about sexuality, gender identity, and sexual orientation. How do you identify financially? How do you identify as being a part of a blue-collar career field or a white-collar career field? How do you identify politically? How do you identify in your family roles? We are all so many things. We have to learn to value variety within a person as opposed to, “Tell me the one thing about you that’s the most important thing.” Well then, you’re deleting so many other aspects of me and nobody values that in that way anymore.

If you intend and desire to interact healthily with those whom you care about or even with strangers, then it’s best for you to learn the skill of seeing them as more than just one thing. Learning to express appreciation and value for more than one thing. Not only that but it’s more than just avoiding the inconveniences. A lot of times, people are inconvenienced by differences. “That’s more things I need to learn. It’s so much work.”

Yes, but if you look at it, you can have inconveniences and conveniences. You can have pros and cons of both. Picture it this way. It’s inconvenient to be different. Sure. It is more for us to learn, but it’s inconvenient to be the same sometimes because brainstorming is very boring. If we all come from the same experiences, have the same background, and have the same life experiences. It’s like, “That’s the same idea I had. Anybody else got any new ideas?” No.

It’s inconvenient to be different. It’s inconvenient to be the same. It’s convenient to be the same because I don’t have to explain everything to you all the time. It’s convenient to be the same. It’s also convenient to be different because we can all come from different perspectives and make things better if we have creative collaborations that we never would’ve thought of before.

There are pros and cons of conveniences and inconveniences, except that reality is the first step. Learning how to navigate all four well can significantly improve a relationship and can change a relationship, personal, business, and community as a whole. We are almost forced to accept the reality of it in a coping sense these days. Learning to master it and to lean into it can separate you from a lot of other leaders or colleagues in your community and allow you to strengthen relationships as opposed to polarize them.

Relationships are so much a part of everything that we do. Like you said, the workplace. It’s not limited. It’s home. It’s the person you meet at the grocery store. It’s your Uber or Lyft driver. It’s your barista. Showing up and seeing people authentically who they are is an investment. It’s also a choice that we make. One of the other things you said about why we should increase our cultural competence. Cultural competence decreases the likelihood of inaccurate evaluation, incorrect diagnosis, and poor treatment outcomes.

 

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Lambers Fisher | Diversity In Clinical Practice

 

From a marriage and family therapist perspective, it’s easy to misunderstand people and let the implications of that misunderstanding go down a rabbit hole. Practically speaking from a diagnosis perspective, I have a very practical view of diagnosing in general. I don’t view diagnosing as an etch on somebody’s forehead label of who they are, as opposed to it’s just a word that’s used to describe the symptoms that are getting in the way of you living your best life. Whether we call it depression, it isn’t who a person is. It describes the list of things that are making it difficult for you to function at your highest capacity.

For us to diagnose and assess things medically, mentally, or whatever the case may be, we have to identify the symptoms correctly. We identify the symptoms, consult the medical and diagnostic checklist of things and instant diagnoses. If we misunderstand the community that they’re coming from, if we misunderstand expressions or how the symptoms are done, then we might be saying, “That is not normal.” That thing right there that you’re describing is normal in their environment. You’re pathologizing something that’s normal for them because it’s not normal for you. You are diagnosing something as not functional because it wouldn’t be functional in your environment, but it’s very functional in their environment.

Let’s narrow down the things that are limiting their functioning. Not, “It would be limiting if it was in my environment.” For the professionals, whether it be medical doctors, psychiatric nurses, or mental health professionals, if we increase our understanding of cultural uniqueness and differences, then we can say, “It may be fine in my community, but I see how it’s not in yours. It may be fine in your community even though it’s not fine in mine. Help me to meet you where you’re at.”

Diagnose appropriately and not get the label over your forehead, because the only purpose of the diagnosis is to identify a path forward to improve. If I do that, then I want to find ways to evaluate and assess based on your experiences, not based on mine. The only way I can do that is to increase my understanding of more experiences outside of mine.

We’re in part five, addressing microaggression. A reasonable professional responsibility. A regular look for abrupt changes in rapport.

My goal for addressing microaggressions is to avoid the cancel culture tendencies of, “We found another person who messed up. Get them out of here.” A lot of times, the reason why we get trapped into this cancel culture mindset is because we have to protect ourselves from perceived threats. Sometimes the only way I feel I can protect myself from a perceived threat is to remove the threat altogether. Your existence is a threat to me.

One way of addressing microaggressions is to avoid cancel culture tendencies. Share on X

As opposed to the other alternative of learning how to address the potential threat and reduce the likelihood of it being a danger to me. To do that, we first have to acknowledge, “I see something that feels uncomfortable. Is this what I said?” Especially, if I’m on the receiving end of it of somebody accusing me of microaggression or of offending someone else, I want to have an eye on it. I want to catch it before they catch it. I want to catch it as soon as it happens. I want to say, “There’s a disturbance in the force. We were talking before and you got real quiet. We were interacting before and all of a sudden you withdrew. Was there something I said?” I want to acknowledge, “Maybe I said something that makes you feel like I don’t care.”

If I lead in with, was there something I said, then maybe you might be willing to share with me because I may have said something that gave you the sudden impression that I don’t care. I want to lean into it. if I do that, then I might get more responses than I thought. I think back to one of those things that a lot of people have said, but my mother said it to me a long time ago. She’s like, “What? You are waiting for a personal invitation.” Exactly. Sometimes that’s exactly what somebody’s waiting for, a personal invitation. If it’s important to them, then I offended them, it’s their responsibility to tell me.

If you offended them and they don’t think you want to hear it, so you invite them to say, “If you look for abrupt changes in the rapport in the relationship, then they might say, “I wasn’t going to say nothing. I was going to wait until you got done talking and then leave and never come back. If you are a glutton for punishment, if you want to know, then when you said this, I was offended.” You then can say, “Wait, no, that’s not what I thought.” You then can address it. You have to first start by seeing what their concern is.

The next word in this section is resistance. Also, you talk about non-compliance, withdrawal, and early termination. You touched all those in what you said there, but I want to see if there’s anything else you want to add there. It also says to own the impact of microaggression innate healing to the relationship.

Resistance is often that pushback. A lot of times, if you experience pushback and you don’t think you did anything wrong, then you don’t see the back, all you see is the push. You’re more likely to say, “Wait, why are you being aggressive with me? I didn’t do anything wrong.” Not realizing that they think they’re reacting to something you did. I always encourage people that if they feel pushed, ask themselves whether it’s pushed back by something they didn’t realize they did or an impact they unintentionally had on them.

All you see is the push, not the back if you experience pushback and don't think you did anything wrong. Share on X

We don’t have to waste time defending ourselves against, “That’s not what I meant to do.” We can have an undesired impact without the intention. That’s why I speak of resistance. The last time you get resistance, it’s pushed back. If you see a disturbance of the force, then say something. It’s okay to say, “I’m sorry for something I did.” A lot of times people get real cautious with “I’m sorry” because why should I say “I’m sorry” if I didn’t do anything wrong?

That’s fair, but you don’t have to be sorry for a bad intention. You can be sorry for an unintentional impact. “I’m sorry that something I said caused you pain.” No, I didn’t intend to, but if you only say I didn’t intend to, then it makes it seem like that’s the most important thing. “You hurt me.” “I didn’t intend to, so you feel better, right?” “No, I don’t feel better. I need you to acknowledge you hurt me.” If you see something, say something. Own the impact, not the cause. More important than whose intentions it was, initiate healing.

Say, “I see something was wrong. I had an undesired impact that I didn’t intend to. I’m sorry for the impact that I had. How can I make it better? Regardless of whether I intended to or not, you felt hurt for me. What can I do to reassure you I am not the threat that you fear that I am moving forward? I want to show you. This is not going to be a repeated experience. You don’t have to go all out. You don’t have to cancel me to protect yourself. I’m on board working with you to protect yourself from future harm. I happen to know that it was accidental. I happen to know I’m not a threat intending to hurt you. How can I reassure you in action moving forward that I’m not the threat that you fear that I am?”

Leading with that often diffuses some of the defensive protection efforts. It’s not, “How do I combat the fight?” It takes the wind out of their sail because they are ready for a fight. They attack, you defend, and they get offended by the fact that you invalidated their hurt downward spiral. As opposed to, “I hate it when you did that. Sorry. Thank you. It takes some of the wind out of the sail, and then you can work together to have a healthy relationship moving forward. It’s a beautiful process.

It’s the last tab here. We are on social justice and finding your role. Know your role as an advocate.

A lot of times people view advocacy as only one thing. Either we’re an activist with picket signs and a bullhorn. A lot of times people say, “That’s not me. That’s not my personality. I don’t go on the riots or the protests,” which are not the same thing by the way. “I’m not one of those vocal people who’s going to do that thing. I’ll sit off to the side and do nothing.” As if those aren’t only two options. It’s either inaction, completely passive, doing nothing, or leading the charge. There’s a lot in between.

You can have direct activism, which is advocating and speaking up on behalf of somebody else. That’s great, but you can advocate in indirect ways. You can have a role. Sometimes if you think active protests, a healthy protest, nonviolent, bringing attention to an issue, there are people at the very beginning helping make the signs that don’t go out down the streets. They’re people who are equipped with the water bottles, help equip, and help make the calls. Things that they can do separately.

 

 

Sometimes it’s funding. People think, “That’s throwing money.” No, but they need the funds to do things. There’s funding for certain causes. Other times, it’s just word of mouth, “Did you hear about this?” “Yeah, I heard about this. “Can you believe what’s on the news?” They think that. I heard a different perspective that made it seem a little bit different. You can advocate in your home across the dinner table. You can advocate one-on-one with a colleague. It’s all contributing to healthier conversations. Some are more public, some are less public. Sometimes you can plant a seed that will eventually get to a decision maker. You can plant a seed that can make healthier conversations.

When it comes to votes, petitions, and things like that, you can find your role in helping have healthier conversations even if you’re not one of the vocal ones. As a whole, the goal is to help create healthier decision-making and healthier relationships. At the end of the day, the people who do have the ability to make those decisions are doing it with the influence of the people around them. You can have an impact even if you’re not publicly doing something.

Well said. Two more sections here and they may blend into each other. Know your role support.

That’s the flip side of the active advocacy versus the support advocacy. It’s not a higher or lower. Both are necessary. Both are equippers in a way to support others who are doing that work because one way or another, if you are actively making the change or supporting and equipping those who are making change, either way, you’re contributing to that change.

The last part in this section and my last tab is your role to empathize.

Sometimes the biggest impact you can have is empathy. Letting somebody else know, “I don’t share your experience, but I can understand where you’re coming from more than you probably think I can.” Helping people not feel alone is sometimes enough. Even if you can’t change my situation, making me feel like you at least understand my situation can help me feel like there’s hope like I’m not the only person who’s ever felt this.

Sometimes, the biggest impact you can have is empathy. Share on X

Sometimes if I’m in a difficult situation, I can feel bad about the situation and I can feel bad that I’m even in the situation. There’s a situation itself that I’m dealing with, depressed about, and anxious about, “I feel bad that I’m even in this situation.” Offer empathy to somebody else like, “I don’t have the solution to your problem, but that makes sense. You’re not the only one. If I was in your situation, I’d probably feel that way too.”

A lot of times empathy sounds like, “I’ve shared your experience exactly,” which is not the criteria of empathy or the flip side of, “I don’t see what the big deal is. If I were in your shoes, I would do things differently,” when they wouldn’t because we think about that. Usually, when people say that, they’re thinking of some freaky Friday type of body switch thing. If I could be you for a day, I would tell your mama this and I would tell your boss that and I would tell your spouse this. I would do all that for you. You’re welcome. That’s not empathy.

Empathy is, if I grew up where you grew up, if I was in your household, if I had all the encouragement and all the discouragements that you had along the way, I would probably be depressed too. If I had all your hurts, I would probably be sad too. I would probably have as little hope as you. I can understand where you’re coming from. Not exactly because I’ve been there, but I can fathom, I can validate. It makes sense. How can I come alongside you to help? Even if you don’t have the solutions.

Empathy doesn’t have to mean sameness, but being able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, not for a day, but as a whole, and helping somebody else say, “I probably feel the same way too.” It goes a long way to helping that other person get to that point of doing something differently. Maybe not instantaneously, but it gets to that point where they’re open to finding new ways, personally, relationally, business-wise, whatever the case may be, and to make things better moving forward.

I wanted to end on that particular part of your book because I wanted you to now take that portion and speak about how people can support people who are grieving or empathize in those same scenarios.

A lot of times, people have difficulty supporting someone who’s grieving because they say, “If I haven’t lost the exact person you’ve lost, then not only do I not understand, but it will be offensive for me to suggest that I do.” Somebody else can easily say, “You don’t understand. You haven’t lost the same spouse, or you haven’t lost the same child, or you haven’t lost the same parent.” Those types of scenarios. They’re all related but different as well.

The goal is not to be able to convey, “I understand completely.” I almost delete that phrase from my vocabulary. It has an absolute implication, 100%. It compels the other person to say, “You can’t completely understand unless you’ve gone through my same experience.” We don’t have to completely understand in that sense in order to be effective. You can pull on our closest related experience of loss or frustration or disappointment and say, “I can only imagine you might be feeling this sadness or this disappointment.” It’s probably more than that. It’s likely, “What can I do to help?”

It’s like you show you understand something. You give credibility and respect to other people’s emotions by saying, “I won’t even imagine that that’s it, but maybe based on the little that I’ve expressed, you might feel comfortable sharing with me.” When you share with me, then I can expand my capacity to understand. Not as a tutor, not to be responsible for teaching, but to share a little and to see if they understand or to share a little, and if they can receive it. You share with me whatever you are willing to share and I will hold it safely. I will be a conduit for you to express whatever you need to and whatever you want to. The equality in sharing, I share, you share, and make it a burden. What can I do to help? We then can figure out together what our relationship could be.


Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Lambers Fisher | Diversity In Clinical Practice
Diversity In Clinical Practice: Show you understand something, give credibility, and respect the other person’s emotions.

 

If we learn how to do that, then there are some of these same tools that we’ve been talking about the whole time, spouse, business, whatever. How can I put myself in your shoes at all? Not completely, but at all, and say, “What do you need?” Not, “Even if I did, I lose a similar partner. When I was in your situation, this is what I needed. That must be the same thing that you need.” Not necessarily. As opposed to, “This is what I need. If that will be helpful, let me know. If not, let me know.”

I’m able to show I know something, but I’m also showing my flexibility to personalize it. You let me know. I don’t want to have to be responsible for teaching. I don’t want to have to be alone either. You find a way to be flexible and to join someone, meet somebody where they’re at, and then you can meet the relationship where it needs to be. It doesn’t have to look like anything else that you have before. No relationship has to be the same. Spousal needs are different. Business needs are different. One person’s grief is different than another person’s grief. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s impossible to understand. We can meet somebody where they’re at and strengthen their relationships along the way.

A person's grief is different than another person's, but because it's different doesn't mean it's impossible to understand. Share on X

Now, I’d like you to talk about how you can be a support to someone who is grieving. That was empathy, so I’m going backward on your whole list.

Sometimes I’m targeting that aspect. Sometimes it’s being present without necessarily needing to solve. If you are able to be in a space where somebody can share, offer what you have to offer and let them decide whether it is helpful or not. Sometimes it’s initiating, but sometimes somebody may not have the words to say what they need. They say, “I’m not going to assume this is what you need, but this is something I found helpful. This is something that somebody else has found helpful. I will offer it. Maybe the only thing you have to offer is a reluctant thank you. “Yes, I appreciate that.” As opposed to asking or initiating. Offer what you can. Be completely flexible if it’s rejected because you are not rejected.

If you say, “This is what I want to offer,” and somebody says, “Thanks, but no thanks.” The worst thing you can do is say, “Fine then. I’ll see if I try to offer you something again.” As opposed to, “No, I completely understand. This is helpful for some, it may not be helpful to you, but I wanted to offer something so you wouldn’t have to always ask. I do want to make it clear that if you have something you want to personally ask, I’m here as well. I can’t guarantee that I can do everything, but whatever I can do, I’m happy to be here for you.” That empathetic invitation can go a long way.

I appreciate the way you said that because when you are in the throes of grief or deeply grieving and how you want to express that, the last thing I need is a checklist for you to have added something else to my plate because you want to do something and now I need to think about what to ask you or you have decided on something and you try to do it, but it doesn’t meet my needs. I say, “No, thank you.”

You have now made it about your feelings versus where I’m at and what I am going through. Instead of saying, “Let me find something they do need because I want to support them. I want to take something off of their plate and help them in this journey that they’re on. You do have to put what you would think talking about yourself on the back burner so you can show up for that person who needs you to carry some of the load though.

I’ve been transparent this whole time. My diversity efforts are sparked and motivated by a couple’s efforts. This conversation is motivated by it as well. I think of the very common conversation that happens in households everywhere. “Where do you want to eat?” says one spouse to another. It’s like, “I don’t know. Pick something.” The other spouse says, “What about Italian?” “No.” “What about Mexican?” “No.” “Barbecue?” “No.” “Well then, tell me what you want to eat.” “I don’t know.”

You know something, but you don’t know everything. Sometimes I tell the partner who’s giving out the ideas, sometimes the best gift you can give is that multiple choice. Initiating those ideas. It seems like a waste of your time, but it’s helping that person narrow down. You narrow down 8 ideas down to 4. I don’t know which one, but it was a gift.

What you also gave was you took the responsibility off of them to choose. You allowed them to muster. All they could say was a yes or a no. That’s all they had to give. You didn’t judge them for it. You said, “As many ideas as I can throw out there, I will give you the gift of not having to think about all those ideas. I won’t be inconvenienced or burdened by the way.”

In a similar way, it’s like, “How can I help?” “I don’t know.” “I can do this for you.” “No thanks, I appreciate that.” “What about this?” Sometimes it’s not necessarily a machine gun firing after the person with ideas. Other times, after the third one, the fourth one is like, “Maybe that would be okay, and then you pounce, and then you say, “I’ll do that one thing until we come up with another one.” It’s a gift of reduced responsibility because they’ve got a lot of other things to think about and be okay with it. That could be a great gift moving forward.

When my late husband passed, a person called me and said, “What do you need done?” After several questions, I needed the yard raked. We had a 1.5-acre lot and my late husband thought it was therapeutic to be out there raking all those leaves. Guess who did not think that that was therapeutic? I literally was in the yard raking the leaves and full-on emotional standing in the yard thinking about him raking those leaves and probably stood out there time elapsed. I could not do a simple task like raking the leaves.

For this person to call me and say, “Yes, I will be there and I will rake those leaves.” It may seem like a very minuscule task, but when you have to do the thing that your loved one did or it elicits all those emotions, it is monumental for someone to lean in. When they say, “Whatever you want me to do,” and then I ask you and then you tell me no, you need to say yes because you use those absolute words of anything. When he showed up and did that, I couldn’t even bear to watch him rake the leaves. It took that burden away. Being able to support people who are grieving is huge. The other one that I want to talk about is how to be an advocate for somebody who is grieving.

Similar to public advocacy versus more indirect advocacy, the same type of creativity is beneficial in the sense of relational advocacy. Sometimes you hear so and so, I tried to help them and they didn’t even want what I had to offer. Instead of saying, “What? I can’t believe that.” You can say, “Actually, sometimes,” and then you offer that different perspective. Sometimes it’s not what it seems. Sometimes it’s a matter of that may not be exactly what they need, but this other thing could be helpful.

Advocating on behalf of somebody else not to solve the problem, not to declare I know exactly what they need, but to help express someone else’s feelings. To say, “Are you asking them 50 questions? I think 5 was good. Give them a break and before you come back, I’m glad that you have 50 ideas. Space them out a little bit.” What? You’re advocating on behalf of them because you’re observing. You can’t speak on behalf of somebody because I didn’t need that, so they must not need that as well. That’s not advocacy. Based on your understanding of their needs and your understanding of their expressions as you learn more than speak up on behalf of somebody else trying to learn more. Not to share someone else’s business.

Speak up on behalf of somebody else trying to learn more. Share on X

As you see someone else trying and say, “It was helpful for me when I asked things this way.” It helped them to express their feelings. When I learned to shut up this way. It helped them to feel more present and safe. You’re not telling somebody to shut up. You personalize it. It helped me to calm things down and slow things down. I’m offering you similar help because you seem to want to be helpful. To speak up on behalf of someone who isn’t ready to verbalize their feelings and share can be great until they can, and then you shut up because they got it from there.

Those are the things that I wanted to pluck out of the book and still leave some meat here. Anything in particular else that you wanted to share as far as it relates to grief or your book for the audience?

I appreciate your efforts in helping everyone who’s grieving. For every relationship that I get a chance to support, I acknowledge, whether it be spouses, whether it be parents that are lost. Especially when I had spouses working together, grieving the loss of a child, which is devastating. It’s similar, but also a different way. I appreciate your efforts to offer a place that’s validating and supportive because it’s not a lot of places doing that.

Hearing of other experiences and hearing ways to do it gives people language for words and feelings that they never needed to know or needed to have before. I appreciate those efforts. It is a similar conversation across grieving, across my marriage counseling efforts, as well as the diversity efforts. We all need to find a way to put ourselves in a variety of people’s shoes. Diversity in different sides of the track and different cultural experiences, relationships, one spouse’s experiences versus another, or even somebody who’s grieving differently or grieving in a way you never grieved before.

We all need to find a way to put ourselves in a variety of people's shoes. Share on X

How can I put myself in someone else’s shoes from their perspective, their feelings, their hopes, their fears, their worries, their needs, and their unmet needs? How can I help come alongside people and help them feel “You’re not alone, we are here.” To learn how to do so a little bit better every day. You don’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to get it right all the time, but your effort to try separates you from a lot of people who aren’t even trying. Your efforts will be rewarded and you’ll be better at it now, one day at a time than it was before.

I’ll drop this bit of tea now. Our family, because Mr. Fisher is my cousin, we come from a group of people that show up and serve. We come from a group of people that lean in and we don’t run from hard times that we lean into that. Two questions I have, and then I’m going to flip the script a little bit for you. What gives you joy?

I easily say making people smile gives me joy. I pride myself on instilling in my daughters to enjoy being helpers. Not serving for serving’s sake, but so that they can get the joy and appreciation of helping other people feel helped, feel pleasantly surprised, and feel like there’s hope. Helping other people find hope and making other people smile keeps me smiling. A lot of times people have no other me other than me smiling.

If I’m sick or something and people are like, “What’s wrong with you? You’re always smiling. What’s wrong?” It’s like, “I’m not feeling well.” “ That explains it because we don’t know when you are angry. We don’t know you that steeped in frustration.” That’s because I’m finding ways to help other people smile on a regular basis. Even if I’m not instantly successful, the challenge to figure out what will make somebody else smile is the greatest brain teaser and puzzle worth solving on a daily basis. That does the vote.

My next question. If you could pick any age or timeline in your life, what would you go back to and what would you tell yourself?

If I could go back and tell myself anything, I would go back to the day I went off to college and tell myself in all of my ignorance, all of my lack of knowledge and world knowledge to make the most of every moment to learn about other people. Although I’m grateful for what I’ve learned over the years, if I was intentional from the very beginning, I can only imagine the things I could have made the most of and learned. Not only about other people from an early age but for my wife at the very beginning of our relationship. We had to overcome our own. That’s not the way we did things where I came from.

If I could go back and tell myself, “That doesn’t matter, start learning now,” then who knows how much I could have learned a little bit earlier on? I’m grateful that I learned eventually, but I’d go back to that note. Other than that, I’m grateful for my life. There’s not too much I would’ve done differently. I give myself a head start.

I have asked you a lot of questions. Any questions that you have of me?

Thank you for the invitation. In your efforts to help support others who have gone through a variety of grief processes, what has been the most frequent response that you’ve gotten as to what others have found the most beneficial?

Thank you for that question. What has proven to be the most beneficial, I would say, is two things. When someone reaches out and I do grief coaching with them one-on-one, they say, “You are the same person.” I do social content. I do the podcast. Social media or the internet often presents an illusion that someone is different than what they show up to be authentic with. When people are having a conversation with me, the authenticity that my husband did die is not something I’m making up because I’m trying to be popular. I cannot ever say, “I totally understand your situation, but I can sit in that space with you because this is an experience that I’ve had and unfortunately, I’m familiar with it.”

I would say three things. The third thing is that this is a nonprofit and there’s no hook. There’s no something else we’re trying to get out of it or doing. We have businesses that give us donations, individuals, and that provide the opportunity to show up because oftentimes when a spouse passes and people have not done the proper planning, their income is significantly impacted. Their life is changing because they don’t have the economics to do what they did before and they’re grieving.

They may not have the means to get the help that they need. To be able to be in a support group or having grief coaching without someone charging you because someone is authentically showing up, we are connected virtually, but a lot of times that human connection is missing and people are surprised that this is here to serve people and to help.

The other thing is for people to realize the reality that there is somebody else that understands how they feel. What they’re going through is unique to the relationship between them and their spouse, but this is what grief looks like. Grief is this hard. It is this difficult if you have lost someone close to you. That close to you could be a neighbor, it could be your pet, or it could be a grandparent. It is that relationship and that closeness. Grief is not limited to the death of a loved one. It can be a loss of expectations. It can be divorce, it can be financial disruption, it can be health. Whatever it is that you are grieving, you have lost something, you are grieving what was no longer there and being fulfilled.

I think the reality of saying, “This is that hard sometimes. This is difficult.” What I have found is we may take some of those other griefs, a miscarriage, all the failed relationships, but it is the death of a loved one that makes all those other griefs collapse. That’s the straw that broke the camel’s back and realized, “I may have been able to survive those other things, but this one got me,” realizing that happens to everybody and realizing that there is a possibility to reclaim another version of your life. You won’t have the same because that loved one is not there, but you still can create a life that did not just exist, but a life that you thrive in.

I’m glad that you’ve been able to have that impact on so many. Your perspective is broad enough to be welcoming to a lot of variety of feelings and a lot of variety of experiences. I’ll be able to continue to have that impact on everybody who needs to hear. That’s awesome.

Thank you for taking the time to be here with me. I will let you close out this conversation with anything you think would be helpful for our audience.

At this point, my main thing is to try to be as open as possible to the variety of needs around you. Whether it be family, friends, community coworkers, or the environment as a whole, try to see the unmet needs of those around you. Meet the needs that you can acknowledge the ones that you can’t. If we’re all trying to be that for each other, not focusing on the same or different, polarizing you for me or against me, but how we can all find ways to strengthen our relationships together, then the world can be a better place. Your direct interactions with people on a daily basis can be that much more improved. Everyone who is tuning in can find a way to be that for somebody around them.

Thank you so much. Widowhood, thank you for being here with me through this conversation. In case you didn’t catch it, Lambers is my cousin. I am so excited to be able to share the work that he is doing in this book with you and help you empower yourself. If you have someone that you recommend being on our show, someone that you think, maybe even yourself, please send me an email at WidowhoodRealTalk@gmail.com. I would love to hear from you or who you recommend. Also, if you have topics that you think would be helpful for the show, please send them in. Thanks for being here with me. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.

 

Important Links

 

About Lambers Fisher

Widowhood Real Talk with Tina | Lambers Fisher | Diversity In Clinical PracticeLambers Fisher, MS, LMFT, MDiv, is a licensed marriage and family therapist, clinical supervisor, adjunct instructor, author, and national speaker on the topic of multicultural awareness and diversity. For 20 years, Lambers has counseled individuals, couples, and families from a variety of cultural backgrounds, in private practice, non-profit, as well as ministry environments.

Lambers utilizes his marriage and family therapist experience to bring a positive, shame-free, empowering, and relationship-focused approach to equip helping professionals in various fields to increase their cultural self-awareness, reduce the frequency of unintentional cultural offenses, as well as repair relationships damaged by cultural offenses.

Lambers’ Diversity Made Simple training has equipped over 15,000 helping professionals around the country to feel more comfortable, competent, and confident in their ability to meet a greater variety of needs for whomever they have the opportunity to serve. Lambers is also the author of the award-winning book, Diversity in Clinical Practice: A Practical & Shame-Free Guide to Reducing Cultural Offenses & Repairing Cross-Cultural Relationships. 

Thank you for viewing this post. I am not a licensed therapist or professional life coach.

I am sharing my experience of loving the same man for 32 years, a mother to two adult children, a retired military officer, a breast cancer survivor, and my connections with others.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should reach out to a suicide hotline or local emergency number in their country https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/suicide/suicide-prevention-hotlines-resources-worldwide