Black Doctors Offer Free Therapy Space For Racial Trauma
It’s been nearly a week of daily protests in Atlanta since the fatal shootings in Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights and Dallas. For many, those protests have included a form of collective grieving.
On Wednesday night, a group of mental health professionals invited members of the black community to address difficult feelings with their help, for free.
WABE spoke to psychologist Ifetayo Ojelade before the meeting she helped organize, which was closed to the media.
She said she’s noticed that no matter what else is going on in her clients’ lives, there’s a sense of horror and hopelessness hanging over many of them.
“I keep hearing that over and over again. That they’re going to kill us, no matter what. No matter if our spouse is in the car, our fiance, our children. They don’t care. No matter what we do, they’ll kill us,” Ojelade said.
She said she doesn’t necessarily have the power to change those feelings, but she can help provide a safe space for people to voice them.
Ojelade said the session would be based on an “Emotional Emancipation Circle,” a therapy model developed by the Association of Black Psychologists specifically to address feelings of trauma within the black community.
An online advertisement for the session read: “Our feelings are real and warranted. Our feelings have emerged out of 400 years of systemic racial oppression rooted in the notion that black people are inferior. The first step toward healing is to acknowledge the racial trauma and stress that we are under and work to understand how it affects us.”
She says she and her colleagues plan to hold more meetings if they’re needed.
Recent events have taken a toll on mental health providers themselves. Ojelade says, being a black trauma psychologist, she looks through a dual lens in these moments.
“It feels very empowering, because I like the idea of being a support for my community. At the same time it feels very exhausting, because I have people that are consistently calling. I want to be there for them, but it can be very overwhelming,” said Ojelade, adding that feeling the obligation to be of help can be difficult.
Ojelade said both at work and in everyday interactions, she’s been concerned about black communities across the country feeling traumatized.
“I’ve just been in the grocery store and when you normally greet people and say ‘How are you doing,’ it seems like almost everyone is like ‘I’m doing the same as you are.’ When you look in people’s eyes there’s a sense of real fear,” she said.
The things she’s hearing are symptoms that could lead to prolonged Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Ojelade said.
She said there’s a string of research that shows people of African descent seek mental health services at lower rates.
“But a lot of that is fueled by the racism that’s historically been in my field,” said Ojelade. Stigma and lack of health care access are also barriers.
Despite that, turnout wasn’t among her top concerns Wednesday night. Ojelade said she was worried there wouldn’t be enough chairs.