I want to talk about how I have always practised liberation psychology principles but wasn’t aware of that and how liberation work found me.
My first academic training in interpreting and teaching included a lot of psychology, and so did my word-of-mouth and digital marketing, coaching and counselling path afterwards.
However, my liberation practices started much earlier. As a young person, I grew up inspired by the educational activism of my parents, who reactivated a folk university in the South of Poland (and yes, it was a family project, so I juggled my time between school and university responsibilities). I was involved in Scouting, running after-school clubs for younger kids and later in a wide range of niche social justice projects. I used my training and skills to give back to the community and activate small projects around minoritised groups: dual citizens and the GTR community in Hungary, neurodiverse children, female geeks and government transparency professionals in the UK and citizen journalists around the globe. I always found myself on the edges, margins or crossroads of the digital industries, education and psychology.
In all those commitments, there was always an underlying current in all my commitments: to resist the mainstream, often harmful narratives, see new ways of being and expect collective wellbeing for all, not the very few.
Parallelly with my education, work and volunteering, I was also walking my own path of liberation from my displacements:
- Collective addictions
- Generational trauma
- The politics of my church
- The limitations of my wealthy Western upbringing
- My external and internalised Whiteness
This work is neverending, of course. However, my counselling training was the most transformative time of growth, shedding the rigid identity layers and finding liberation psychologies. To be more precise, liberation psychologies found me.
Counselling studies are extremely challenging; they have to be. It is baptism by fire. Before we sit down to hold space for healing, we need to learn our limitations and ability to resource ourselves and others. We do this through working with other students, facing their pain points and witnessing their healing. In good counselling courses, this work is held, contained and facilitated. And even then, it is hard. It requires opening wounds and confronting others and their places of pain for healing. Trainee counsellors need to do a lot of personal hard work and face a lot of resistance from others. We sometimes also face hostility, projection, conscious or unconscious targeting, and so much more – and we learn to hold that space for our fellow trainees. That is the work that prepares us for sitting with clients and supporting them safely.
And that is how liberation work found me. I spent years practising the counselling theories and, at some point in my training, was faced with a unique experience of displacement around some of my core values: feminism, anti-oppressive allyship, refusal to self-depreciate in the neoliberal economy that expects us to feel ashamed for the mere fact that we exist. I faced a wall, a strong projection and also an incredible allyship from others. At that moment, I observed that what was happening in that space does have a name; it feels familiar, and it makes sense: my refusal to get drawn into defending my principles and my expectation to be protected by others is indeed at the heart of LIBERATION.
In Virtual Reality Therapies, we use labelling and clean language a lot, so maybe out of that practice, in that very moment, the actual word stood out for me: I was liberating myself, and I was being liberated by my ally, too.
So, as a natural observation (in counselling called a “split screen” when a counsellor is actively engaging in a process but also has the additional ability to observe it), I held the word, took it and Googled: “liberation”+”psychology”. I found the theory and contemporary practitioners around the world and here in the UK. I found my counselling homeland.
That is how liberation psychologies found me. And that is how good counselling education works: we enter this journey to get to know ourselves better, and as we go through it, learn and practice, we crystalise what sits at the heart of our individual approach to healing. For me, it is liberation.
I sit uncomfortably in the limitations of traditional Western psychology, which looks at “dis-ease” through the lens of social order and aims for equilibrium (feeling well and okay) predefined by the majority of mainstream powers, i.e. fits us into a box of productivity which benefits the very few and harms many. According to Judith Lewis Herman, Freud himself faced the challenge – initially hoping to highlight the suffering of women; when no one (no MAN) was willing to listen, he caved in and re-framed his ideas to match the mainstream patriarchal narrative. Years of women asylums followed. I feel, believe and often see in my counselling practice courage and hope to heal and then, even more so, to thrive and to belong. I am so happy to see wellbeing added to the definition of health, finally.
It is interesting, of course, that to liberate ourselves, we do need to learn to let go, unlearn, and shed layers of systemic conditioning. And those of us who practice it know very well that it is not a comfortable process. To heal, we need to carefully and with determination connect with our wounds. However, if we live frozen and dissociated from our challenges, the moment we feel too comfortable, we stop growing, and we give up any prospect of better futures for our kind. Humans are not made to remain boxed and static. We are fluid, social, evolving creatures with beating hearts and co-regulating nervous systems. We deserve to live in hope for a better future.
So, if you are seeking liberation psychology practices, look around and within you. Is this work touching your heart?