Racially informed trauma therapy can help provide you with a focus for healing that addresses the broader context of trauma that is enfused with historical, inter-generational factors and family dyamics.
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Symptoms of Racial Trauma
Racial trauma contains many of the complexities of trauma that include increased hypervigilance, intrusive thoughts, disconnection, anxiety, irritability, avoidance, feelings of guilt, difficulty concentrating, and trouble sleeping.
These symptoms often burden those afflicted with constant preoccupation of survival. Racial trauma also has unique aspects in that it is experienced collectively with others.
Recognition as Trauma
What is particularly challenging and tragic about racial trauma is that it often goes undetected by its sufferers as such and is easily misunderstood or dismissed not only by society but by mental health practioners. Many therapists do not have specific training, professional or personal experience to recognize or help address these issues.
Microaggressions and Racial Trauma
This can be particularly painful to individuals or groups who know that they are suffering, cannot explain or feel forced to stifle their angst. This merely perpetuates their trauma.
Culture, Race and Identity
As with all trauma, left untreated, its effects remain in the body waiting to surface in any number of ways. It resurfaces in intrusive ways to interrupt lives leaving the afflicted bewildered, lost and subject to routine microaggressions to explain the behavior that may appear out of step in present context. It is more than an identity conflict. It is not just a “personal” issue. It is not an anger problem.
For those experiencing racial trauma, it can result from a single horrific event or a series of experiences that accumulate overtime. Though each may seem harmless, their impact is cumulative and wears on an individual over time.
Racial trauma is passed on from one generation to another through slights, microaggressions and stereotypes. These work their way into the fabric of society where they form a framework of normalized behavior. Its effects are not imagined. They are visceral. Felt in the body like a punch in the stomach. Many “code switch” to appease perpetrators because of long term conditioning, fatigue or loss of words.
Healing Racial Trauma
A racially informed trauma therapist with professional training and personal experience is able to detect the nuances of race, social justice, culture and identity to gently help an individual heal from these onslaughts and develp a sense of integrity and restoration to move forward.
A Progressive Approach to Treating Racial Trauma
Ancestral Healing & Relational-Cultural Therapy
Eclectic Treatment Approach
The theoretical approach I have developed as a mental health clinician has been largely informed by my clients’ needs and the direction of their successes. Early in my career I shifted to a trauma-informed perspective that made sense of the impact of the subconscious on people’s behaviors and the physiological nature of their distress that accompanied more traditional mental health symptoms.
Riots, Social Justice and Racial Trauma
In terms of working with individuals experiencing racial trauma, I have hands-on experience working with community leaders and residents after the Rodney King riots in California. Being the recipient of an award from the City of Compton for leadership and public service is one of the highlights of my professional career and personal accomplishments. It is central to my mission to help empower others to live out their potential.
The Impact of Culture
My training as a social worker, allows me to understand the impact of culture and family dynamics on a person’s behavior. Humans interact and evolve in the context of various relationships. These relationships impact and are influenced by our mental and physical well-being.
Inter-Generational Trauma and Social Justice
This ability to pan out and see a larger context is vital to understanding and treating racial trauma. It allows one to see the breadth and depth of the social and historical factors that influence an individual’s behavior in the “now.” For example, what might otherwise be dismissed as an incident of bullying, without this insight, could turn out to be a hate crime.
A trauma perspective also allows a therapist to understand how one’s behavior today might be impacted by an ancestor’s experience of yesteryear. We know from trauma research that trauma is held in the body. We know that we pass these experiences onto our children well beyond regardless of verbal communication. Living in proximity to trauma begets more trauma.
Ancestral healing is a way of accessing the relational aspect of healing in an expanded way. This approach, supported by science, taps into the psychological and physiological benefits that come from awareness of our emotional supports and longstanding resilience as well as the healing aspects of forgiveness and perspective. The impact on identity and self-confidence is well-known by practitioners. This is one of many areas where the spiritual, mental and physical align.
Long underestimated or ignored by dominant psychology, inclusion of ancestor work in healing helps restore a sense of well-being, integrity and spiritual vitality to an individual. Meditation, somatic work, mindfulness, movement, reclaiming lineal practice and rhythm are some of the ways used to access ancestral healing.
The many ways in which those from non-dominant, indigenous or immigrant cultures have been cut off from their past can itself be traumatizing and rob individuals of the well documented therapeutic benefits of having an internal sense of continuity and belonging. Many are recognizing what was lost through violent colonial history and oppressive systems.
Though sometimes emotionally painful, the very act of reclaiming and connecting to one’s ancestral past can have long term healing effects that can’t be accessed by conventional practice.
Brainspotting is a trauma modality that can help bypass conscious awareness to jumpstart the body’s innate ability to heal in the subconscious realm where trauma can wreck havoc with our memories and “felt sense.” It can help soothe some of the physiological discomfort that accompanies trauma and aspects of the emotional pain that are difficult to put into words.
If we heal in relationships and they also affect us, a theoretical approach is needed that addresses the issues of privilege and dominance and social justice that are interwined in racial trauma. Relational-Cultural Theory acknowledges the cultural arrangements and power practices that affect Western Culture including the ones that impact the therapist client dynamic.
Many individuals who currently suffer, do so because they suffer cumulative racist practices in silence. Deconstructing bias and privilege, understanding how societal oppression disconnects marginalized individuals and recognizing contextual, racial and cultural power issues is crucial to working with JOC, BI-POC, POC, LGBTIA and other marginalized persons.
Therapy is a place to feel safe, heard, understood and energized to live in your present and plan for your future.