Therapy in a socio-political climate
In the wake of George Floyd's murder (and the murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and many, many more horrific cases and losses), #Blacklivesmatter protests continue to erupt nationwide and globally. Police killings, violence, and brutality towards Black people, along with all of the other structural and institutional practices in both our history and present, are a sobering reality of the pervasiveness of racism in our society.
What's unsurprising is the impact that racism and the trauma associated with racism have on the mental, and physical health of Black folx.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, psychiatrist, researcher, expert on trauma, and author of The Body Keeps the Score outlines and highlights that very idea throughout his work—that trauma literally reshapes our brain and body.
It's no wonder, then, that the daily stress from racism causes increased risk for depression, anxiety, heart disease, substance abuse, diabetes, nerve problems, inflammation, and chronic illness.
Sadly, these effects are not new. The Black community has been enduring trauma from overt and covert racism and white supremacy for centuries. And the field of psychology was developed through a white-centric lens, making therapy a historically unsafe place for people of color, further impacting and neglecting the emotional needs of Black folx intergenerationally. This theoretical and physical exclusion, combined with the stigmas attached to seeking psychological support in our culture, the inequities in healthcare access, the field still being made up of majority white professionals, the racial wealth gap and financial disparities, and the implicit biases Black Americans face daily in a white supremacist society, Black people have been unfortunately been pushed to the margins of mental wellness spaces, too. Today is no exception.
And, let's not forget that we're also in a global health pandemic, facing record high unemployment numbers and economic crisis, and are in election year (there are only five months until election day, by the way). A recent study by the American Psychological Association found that 69 percent of Americans say the future of our nation is a significant source of stress, and 62 percent say they are stressed by the current political climate. I think it's safe to say our collective mental health right now as a nation is struggling.
Which means individually, we are struggling, too. Our Black communities and communities of color are experiencing and re-experiencing chronic trauma, fatigue, and grief with all that's going on right now towards their people. Our White communities are either drowning in shame, guilt, fragility, and paralysis around how we got here and why it's taken so long to step up to the practice of allyship, or defensiveness and strengthened racism. And our leadership is largely absent.
The"Personal is Political" was a slogan used during the second-wave of feminism in the late 1960s bringing attention to the reality that what women experienced as individuals, was inextricably linked to broader gender and social dynamics, systemic issues, and the larger political climate. This translates into the therapy room, too. Individual experiences cannot be addressed or worked on without acknowledging the larger macro-systems impacting and impeding healing on an individual and micro-level.
So I invite you to make space for socio-political discussions in therapy right now (and always). I encourage you to unpack the heaviness and hollowness in your heart and ensure you are feeling seen, heard, and supported. Therapy is an important part of self-care during trying times. And having a therapist who practices from a holistic-, trauma-, and social justice-informed approach is essential. Self-care may feel out of reach, when there's so much work to do. It can feel "selfish" to not be engaged in activism every stolen moment of the day. But we must see tending to both our mental and physical health as part of igniting change. We have to take care of ourselves in order for our energy towards this fight and revolution to be sustainable.
Here are a few resources for inclusive, social-justice affirming therapy spaces:
And if you already have an established relationship with a therapist, be sure to make room for discussing what's going right now, and consider sharing your experiences in order to begin (or continue) working through the stressors associated with rampant social and racial injustice and inequality, and a tense political atmosphere. If you don't feel that your therapist "gets" it, or sees your intersectional experiences, bring that up too and talk about how you feel. It's also okay to look for a new practitioner who you can better identity or connect with.
Outside of therapy, do whatever you need to care for your wounds, your hurt, and your fear. Whether that's conscious and joyful movement. Whether it's phone calls with friends and family. Whether it's cooking and nourishment, journaling, or simply, rest. See self-care as a basic need during a time of heightened social unrest. And you are so deserving of it.