Dear Black People: Nothing Replaces Therapy. Nothing.

The last few months of being a human being on this planet have been tough. For Black people, it’s been devastating. We have openly witnessed and watched our community members being murdered and lynched in the streets like they are nothing. We don’t lynch animals so I can’t even make that comparison, nor would I want to. That’s something that society has apparently reserved only for Black people. The videos that are circulating are, in the words of Killer Mike, murder porn. I read an article yesterday about a bar in Long Island, my stomping grounds in the US, that was actually taking bets on how many shooting deaths there would be over the Labour Day weekend in Chicago and New York City, with the winner being offered a cash prize. Their Twitter post with a picture of the gambling board literally said, “Let the shooting sprees begin!” I want you to take this in for a moment. A bunch of people really believed that the best use of their time was to spend their hard earned money betting on how many people would die? Now the fact that they specifically chose Chicago and NYC, two cities whose gun violence happens predominantly in lower income, Black communities and other communities of colour tells you everything you need to know about their feelings towards us. Think about the privilege and arrogance a human being has to have to do something like this. Acknowledge the fact that they knew there could only be one winner and were willing to lose their money over this. That is how much they do not care about Black or Brown lives. That is the kind of hatred and racism that is alive and well in some white communities. There were 25 unique names of people who bet. 68 people liked the post on Twitter. This is just the one we found out about. Like all the incidences of police brutality against Black people that go unrecorded, who knows how many more bars like these exist with this type of reprehensible behaviour happening.

Personally, my mental health has taken a bit of a beating lately and I’m not ashamed to admit that. As a former psychology and psychotherapy student, I understand the deep psychological effects of trauma, specifically on the Black community right now. When I was studying for my psychotherapy program years ago, I was required to do my own work, which completely makes sense. It is interesting to me that to become a psychologist or psychiatrist, you are not required to actually do your own therapy work. You simply attend your classes, complete your assignments, write your tests and dissertation, and voila. You get a piece of paper that tells you you are qualified to help people. Yet how can you help anyone if you’ve never done the work yourself and understand how vulnerable and soul baring it is? In almost all accredited psychotherapy programs, completing a certain amount of hours (usually 100s of hours) of therapy is required in addition to all class work, case work, written and oral assignments. Psychotherapy is the real deep work of looking at problematic behaviours and finding healthy solutions and coping mechanisms. When I was in my program, it was by far one of the hardest things I had ever done. I was challenged in group dynamics on aspects of my behaviour that were problematic, and that was extremely tough. I had to learn how to hear critiques about my conduct and learn how to work through my triggers of feeling attacked or shamed. I had to explore things about my past, family dynamics, impacts of trauma and the like. I had to learn how to manage and control my emotions. Psychotherapy is soul work. I attended therapy for years. My therapist was okay, although I am definitely looking for a different type of therapy than what my previous therapist was offering. She more so held space for me to just talk and it was more about me figuring things out for myself, rather than her helping me to piece things together. Now understanding the different modalities and styles of therapy, I would probably lean more towards a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help me now. I know that I have anxiety and based on how it manifests for me, CBT would be the best modality to help me manage it.

I’m sharing my personal story not to expose myself inappropriately, but rather to show people how common mental health issues are. Mental health used to be a taboo topic in the Black community. The idea of going to a therapist for some people even to this day is an indicator to them that there is “something wrong” with a person. Some others think therapy is only for people with severe mental illnesses like bipolar disorder or paranoid schizophrenia. This could not be further from the truth. Everyone needs someone outside of family or friends to talk to; an unbiased outsider who can help give you perspective with zero judgment or shaming. Someone to stand in the gap and serve as a mirror to reflect back to you where you are. Finding a good therapist that you click with and going to therapy is one of THE most loving things you can do for yourself. I am constantly astonished by people who have never been to therapy, yet refuse to go and will talk about what happens in therapy as if they are experts. It has been my experience that most of these individuals have zero knowledge of what therapy actually is and what takes place in a therapy session. For the people I know that have had a good, great or even amazing therapist, they love therapy. Mostly because they actually go, they allow themselves to trust their therapist when it is earned and they surrender to the process. I’ve observed that at the heart of some who refuse to go, it’s fear. Fear is the driving force that keeps people from healing themselves. Shame keeps people in fear, and fear keeps people in shame. It’s a vicious cycle that takes an act of bravery, courage and self love to break. And not everyone is ready or willing to face their shadow and heal the things that need healing. Some people are not ready to let go of the anger and hurt they may be experiencing. It serves a purpose for them, you see. As humans, we don’t ever do things for no reason. Just like racist people who refuse to acknowledge or see systemic racism because it serves a purpose for them, people who choose to hold on to their anger, hurt, rage and pain are engaging in the same behaviour.

There is no shortcut to the real work. There is no shortcut to therapy. Life coaching does not replace therapy. Therapy is a commitment to making real change. For some, it takes “too much” for them to make this a priority. I again attribute this sentiment to fear. The problem becomes when people start to project outward, usually towards others in their families and community, their unhealed traumas. They live their lives unknowingly through the filter and lens of their wounds, so now everything in their world view is reflective of that. Posting passive aggressive and subliminal messages on social media sites becomes an act of false “therapy,” as there is no real expert there to hold space for you to unpack why you believe the things you do and thus are aligning with certain experiences that may continue to cause trauma. Having a therapist who can challenge you on the things you need to be challenged on and hold you accountable is a vulnerability a lot of people do not particularly seem inclined to. At times, it seems more prudent to allow self destructive behaviours to reign as a sign of defiance and rebellion. The problem is, the only person one is hurting in those instances is oneself. It took me many years to realize that no one other than myself was suffering from my trauma’s. Therefore, no one else particularly cared as they had their own stuff to deal with. So it was on me to heal myself if I wanted true peace and happiness in my life. And that meant doing the work. Unpacking childhood trauma’s, adolescence trauma’s, young adulthood and adulthood trauma’s. Because they can compound when left unhealed and unchecked. I learned through years of therapy and also practicum work for my course, that most wounds are like an onion . There are layers and layers to the same onion. Many times when you think you’ve healed something and gotten over it, it reveals new and further lessons in different ways you can’t begin to imagine until there is full, total and complete healing. When something is healed in you, it no longer serves as a trigger point. As one of my very favorite therapists, Spirit, once said, “They cannot touch a button that does not exist.”

The Black community is in need of healing now more than ever. The psychological damage we are experiencing will be long lasting if we do not do the work to heal and grow from it. We cannot not be affected by what we are seeing being done to our community members. We see in them the faces of our family and friends, imperfect souls who deserve fair and equal rights to justice in a court of law with an equal and fair justice system. Unfortunately, too often that is not the case. We see the stories of police officers and citizens literally getting away with murder of Black bodies. That has a damaging effect on ones psyche. To know that you can be arbitrarily murdered without a hesitation and that your life hangs in the balance of whether or not the officer you are dealing with is having a good or bad day, is a racist or anti-racist is extremely terrifying. It means there are no real rules. How can people live in a modern society with no rules of engagement or where they are not honoured for everyone? For this and many reasons, like the historical effects of slavery, colonialism and capitalism on Black communities, we need therapy. We need more access to available resources. We need more funding. We need reparations. We need to amplify even more the amazing Black people doing important works in the community. We need more Black spaces where Black artists and creatives can come and express themselves through different artistic modalities. All of these are forms of therapy. But one on one therapy with a licensed therapist is an absolute must and need for every Black person now.

While I have definitely seen progress over the last few years, we still as a community have a long way to go to destigmatizing going to therapy and mental health in general. It does us absolutely no good to continue toughing it out. There are so many Black men, women and people who are struggling because they are attempting to “tough it out” instead of seeking help. We all need a safe place and space to turn to. There is absolutely no shame in that. As we heal ourselves and our own wounding, we will start to see the world heal. Our inner world will continue to become our outer world but this time, we will see love reflected back. We, as a community, deserve this. We deserve healing. We deserve love. Because we are worthy of both.

I am a Certified Life Coach, blogger, podcaster and entrepreneur currently residing in the Toronto, Canada area. I am a proud member of the CBCC.

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