From Michelle M. Lewis, CSWA, MSW, Afrocentric Mental Health Practitioner, Avel Gordly Center for Healing
As an African American mental health counselor I’ve had the pleasure of working with and holding a sacred space for many African American women as they start their healing journey. Most Black/ African American women when they first meet with me are guarded and reserved because they are unsure of what to expect from this “whole therapy process.” Some admit to being embarrassed and ashamed about having to seek mental health support and are often fearful that loved ones and/or close friends will find out that they are in treatment due to the social stigma of being labeled as “weak” for not being able to handle life stressors.
Creating a Culturally Specific Space
Many of the Black/African woman that I counsel come into therapy have been living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and/or Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD/CPTSD) and other related mental illness for many years; they are also survivors of hate crimes by white people, incest, and domestic violence. Many of the Black/African American women would share with me, in their individual therapy sessions, that they felt alone, isolated, and wondered if other Black/African American women had similar experiences; they would ask me where all of the other Black/African American women were and if they’ve told anyone their stories. There was no identifiable space within trauma recovery services and support networks that I could locate that was culturally specific and aimed at supporting Black/African American women in their trauma recovery. This was the catalyst that prompted me to take the Trauma Recovery Engagement Model (TREM) training in 2016, because I wanted to use the TREM program to create a healing space for Black/African American women to come together to share their stories with other Black/African American women who are a reflection of themselves and their community. I wanted them to have a space that was safe and could allow them to build community with one another, learn how trauma affects the mind, body, and spirit, and to get the support they needed from other melinated sistahs.
Talking Openly About Personal Experiences
I’m currently facilitating two TREM groups at our clinic with the support of student interns. This is the first of many TREM groups that I will be offering Black/African American women at Avel Gordly Center for Healing. As a facilitator I’ve been able to use the TREM curriculum to introduce the historical and intergenerational trauma effects that have been transmitted down through generations as a result of slavery. Dr. Joy Degruy speaks of this in her book titled Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome: America’s Legacy of Enduring Injury and Healing. She states, “African Americans have experienced a legacy of trauma. What is this legacy? How is it transmitted? The legacy of trauma is reflected in many of our behaviors and our beliefs; behaviors and beliefs that at one time were necessary to adopt in order to survive, yet today serve to undermine our ability to be successful. These are examples of behaviors that have been passed down through generations” (J. Degruy, 2005). The culturally specific TREM groups that I’ve facilitated at our clinic and at Self Enhancement Inc. (SEI) have been safe spaces for Black/African American woman to raise racial or cultural issues that they’ve experienced. They are able to talk openly about their personal experiences as well as learn skills and the language needed to empower them to interrupt microagressions and to disrupt racist encounters when faced with their white counterparts who want to keep them in a place of racial inferiority.
I’ve had the honor of working with some of the most beautiful and strong Black/African American Women that come into a TREM group introducing themselves on the first day saying, “I’m damaged, I’m broken I have serious trust issues.” But after graduating from TREM they leave feeling empowered and saying, “I’m healing, I’m rediscovering myself, I’m starting over.”