This Oral History interview was conducted by Gia Henry on May 3, 2015, in Greensboro, NC, and focuses on the life and work of therapist Beth Kincaid.
Gia Henry: Where were you born?
Beth Kincaid: Philadelphia, PA
GH: Do you speak any languages other than English?
BK: No, but I do understand and speak some French, Spanish and Sign
GH: How long have you been a therapist in the Greensboro area?
BK: Um...about 30 years, since 1985, I believe, when I began working part-time in private practice out of my home.
GH: What are your credentials?
BK: I have an undergraduate degree in psychology from Guilford College, and I have a graduate degree in Education from UNC-G. I am certified as a Professional License Counselor.
GH: Do you think individual therapy can help build a stronger community, and if so how and if not, why not?
BK: Well, I think that individual therapy can help people to feel more confident, happier with themselves, and more at peace in the world where they live, which in turn helps to build a stronger community. Because if the community is made up of individuals who feel grounded and good about their direction and goals, then the community itself becomes stronger, more cohesive and ultimately more grounded and productive. I also work with individuals, families and couples on ways to better understand each other and to more effectively communicate, relate to, and connect with one another. [Giving others] better tools to communicate and relate to others, as well as ways to manage stressful or difficult people and situations. Individuals, in turn, contribute and teach others in their community those same skills, building stronger relationships and connections to further help in building a stronger community.
GH: Do you think that people are reluctant to embracing and/or accepting those who are different than themselves, and if so, why?
BK: It seems that some people are and some people aren't. I think the more exposure to those that are different someone receives at a young age, and the more acceptance their older family members and mentors express toward those who are different, then the more accepting a person tends to be, and less reluctant to embrace those that are different. I also think the environment one is in and peer or social pressure to conform to the majority opinion can have a great effect on how a person might be willing to relate to others, depending on what the social consequences might be. Um, another thing I have found, is that people don't tend to like change as it tends to add stress to one's life, which is generally already stressful. So, if someone decides to stretch outside the norm to be different or accept differences, then this change, in turn, forces others around them to make decisions around that person's views, or changes forcing them to be required to do something different as well, which is annoying to a lot of people at first, but they do generally get over the annoyance and move on.
GH: Based on your knowledge of people from this community, how do you think that that we, as citizens of this community, can help bridge divides within our own community?
BK: I believe communicating with each other and listening to each other in a non-judgmental manner would be a helpful first start. When we attempt to communicate with each other to express our needs and wants, and listen to those of others, we tend to enter the conversation with an expectation of what others will be saying and doing, so we don't generally really hear what they are saying. We tend to be too focused on our own needs and expectations and on preparing our defense to what we anticipate will be the other person or group's reaction to what we want. It would be much more productive if we could, as a community, really try to objectively look at the community's needs and goals and then look at proposed options that might actually work to bring about the desired change, rather than each group involved being so caught in how they will individually benefit. There is a saying, “it takes a village to raise a child,” I believe that saying was created because being a parent is overwhelming, and one or two people can't do everything that is needed to take care of a child's needs and they can't be everywhere they need to protect the child who may not have the knowledge or experience to help themselves in some situations. As it takes a team to run a household, it takes a team to run a community with all of its members contributing. So....if we could get everyone motivated to build a community in a non-judgmental and open-minded way, focusing on what the community needs, and on what works rather than our own individual wants, then we could create a community that functions in a more effective and productive way, therefore, benefiting all that live within it.
GH: Is there anyone you have worked with that you think really changed their views about cooperation?
BK: Yes. I have worked with many people who have changed their views about cooperation, specifically children who have learned to cooperate with parents, teachers, authority figures, team members, friends and siblings. They were able to see that cooperation is much more rewarding and productive than being in the middle of a power struggle with others. I teach that some people have, what I describe as, the ‘Last Word’ syndrome, where someone feels they always have to speak last in a conversation, but actually creates more arguments and power struggles than not in doing so. I help them to learn when to stop talking. The art of communication and expression of feelings is not something we are innately born with, but something that is learned. So, I teach clients how to effectively express what they are feeling to others in a way that helps them to feel validated and how to listen to others in a validating way. I also teach clients to check with those they are communicating with by repeating their understanding of what is being said to clarify that others are, in fact, hearing what they wanted them to hear, and that they are hearing what the other person wanted them to hear. A lot of miss-communication occurs when we make assumptions about what we think we heard and what we think we said. When we feel we know someone well, as with a couple or family member, we assume we know what they are going to do or say, so we don't really listen to the actual words they say or pay attention to what they actually do, but make assumptions about what we expect them to do. This happens in communities as well where assumptions are often made concerning others needs and wants. So I teach people how to stop and really listen to each other without reacting, until there is a clear understanding of what was not only said, but what meaning the speaker intended to be understood by the communication. When people learn to communicate in this way, they begin to get a better understanding of each other, and not only do they begin to focus less on an imagined power struggle, but they begin to feel more validated and connected. I also teach people about the fact that we all give and receive love differently and that it is important to understand that the way we might prefer to give or receive love might be different than that of others, so we need to be aware of their preferences to help them to feel loved. There is no bad/good, right or wrong, et cetera. It is more about what works for ourselves, while interacting with others and in certain situations. If something is not working, then it is important to know that we then need to try something different, and then re-evaluate whether that is working until we find something that does.
GH: What are some valuable lessons you have learned about yourself and difference through your work?
BK: Again, the importance of not making assumptions about people, and what their experience is, and to not be judgmental. I make it a point to not read material I am given about a client until after I have had a chance to interview them for the first time so that I am not influenced by that material. I have also learned to stop, look, listen and reflect until I really see someone's experience through their eyes, not mine. I have learned that we relate to others by trying to put ourselves in their place and imagining how we would feel in that position, but in reality, we can never understand or feel true empathy in that manner because we haven't lived in another person's shoes. Because I was raised around many different cultures growing up and exposed to a number of different languages and nationalities, I believe I have always been more open and accepting to those who are different than most. I was born in the North, and lived there for two years, then we drove across country, taking in the sights along the way, to the West coast, where we lived in San Francisco, CA, for 2 years. I attended a French immersion/bi-lingual school while I was there. I was then raised in New Orleans, LA, from first grade through twelve grade, which is a melting pot of different cultures, religions, classes, and languages. I attended a private, Jewish school while I was there, where we observed Jewish traditions and holidays. All of my grandparents immigrated from Sweden, Germany, the French West Indies, and Scotland. I immersed myself in all of their life stories, which were fascinating, as the olden days were very different from when I was born. My mother and her mother were teachers and her my mother’s father, who was well-traveled, and my uncle were mining engineers. My extended family in Minnesota were dairy farmers, and some family members lived North Dakota. My father and both of his parents were psychiatrists. My father's patients would call our home a lot and at all hours. It wasn't unusual for him to bring a child client by for a little while either. They knew us by name. I began at an early age working at his office doing filing and answering the phones. We also traveled as a family to Europe several times and I later spent a month in Africa with my sister during the Christmas and New Year's season. My grandparents took me and my cousin on a road trip from Louisiana, following the Mississippi River up to Minnesota, then through North Dakota to Iowa to see our relatives. I say this just to say that my life experiences, more than my work, has shown me more about physical, emotional, cultural, and religious differences and tolerance, than my work ever could. And I think that verbally describing or reading about something is nowhere near as valuable as life experience. The same goes with being a parent in general, being the parent of children, with special needs, being married and divorced, being the victim of crime or abuse or mental illness or addiction. Those experiences are very difficult to help people to understand unless you actually experience them personally.
GH: Through building relationships with others, have you changed any of your own views about embracing difference and how have you taught those lessons to others?
BK: I have often taught others how difference is extremely important because without it we would all be the same and we not learn and grow from others, so we would remain stagnant. We get very comfortable in our safe ruts, but difference is needed to promote conflict which, in turn, pushes us to make changes we wouldn't make otherwise when we are comfortable and safe. I've also learned that difference creates fear and discomfort with others, as we are uncomfortable with things we don't know about or don't understand. It throws up a danger flag that makes us feel like we aren't in control of the situation, because we are taught that we can't trust people we do not know and that those we don't know might be out to take what is ours or take advantage of us and/or hurt in some way. In reality, difference is a necessity. I do believe for people to change the way they think about difference, they need to be educated about the difference and its ramifications so they can feel less fearful through knowledge, and they also need to see how they can benefit from changing their views and/or becoming more accepting. We make choices generally based on the rewards and/or consequences attached to those choices. Also, a lot of us are taught to treat others the way we would like to be treated, but we somehow come up with excuses of why differences make for exceptions to the rule. So, I believe that we need to understand that different isn't a bad thing, and that we all deserve common decency no matter who we are or where we come from.