Anti-oppression psychotherapy: wellness in a time of racism
Healing is a political act says Global Health Prof. Roberta K. Timothy. In this article, she offers eight ways to deal with and heal from racism through anti-oppression psychotherapy.
Anti-oppression psychotherapy: eight ways to support yourself in a time of racism
The cyclical realities of the impact of racism, anti-Black racism, and other forms of intersectional violence on our health make breathing seem like a luxury at times. The full blunt impact of racism and other forms of violence echoes heavily in our hearts, minds, bodies, and actions.
Grief is a direct result of racism and intersectional violence, and it affects us physically, emotionally, financially, spiritually, transnationally, and transgenerationally. More importantly, not being able to fully engage in our grief is a direct outcome of chronic experiences of racist violence.
This winter, the grandmother of the deceased Colten Boushie told the New York Times: “Even to this day…I hold back on crying.”
Insoluble grief, anti-Black racism, and other forms of violence that Black, Indigenous, and racialized people deal with can result in chronic prolonged traumatic health issues. These issues can include diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack, cancer, and low birth rates.
Due to anti-Black racism, Black communities’ health issues are often not taken seriously. As a result, we are not given adequate and equitable health care services. Black community members often re-traumatize as they seek help and support for their health issues.
What exactly is anti-oppression psychotherapy?
Our illnesses are under-researched and under-served. In order to deal with this stress, some opt out of the system entirely, only re-entering during an emergency situation.
The impacts of daily experiences of racism also include depression, anxiety, addictions, and post-traumatic stress. But racism is often not discussed in mainstream health circles.
Anti-oppression psychotherapy addresses the delusion and confusion of trauma in the bodies and minds of the oppressed.
Anti-oppression psychotherapy: a trauma-informed model
As an African/Black woman, anti-violence activist, health researcher, and mental health practitioner, living with a visual disability for over 20 years, I have worked with many community members dealing with health struggles directly related to anti-Black racism and other forms of intersectional violence.
I have discovered that discussions of the daily impact of racism are happening with friends, families, and trusted coworkers, in our journals, and sometimes in isolation.
To try and help my clients deal with this, I worked with a colleague to develop and practice an innovative model we call anti-oppression psychotherapy.
Anti-oppression psychotherapy addresses the delusion and confusion of trauma in the bodies and minds of the oppressed. Anti-oppression psychotherapy is a resistance and a revolutionary model that grows out of Black feminist and intersectional theories and practices.
Anti-oppression psychotherapy examines the impacts and intersections of oppression as they interact together. It interprets issues of racism as acts of trauma and violence to our health, and it incorporates resistance strategies and healthy coping mechanisms — to help community members and clients through grief, loss, and identity formation.
This anti-oppression psychotherapy model exists because the erasure of our grief and loss needs to be known, attended to, cared for, and supported — to survive continuous violence battled daily from generation to generation.
Self and community care are critical to combating the effects of racism and intersectional violence. Anti-oppression psychotherapy addresses racism as a health determinant and gives the power to heal back to the communities who are suffering.
Anti-oppression psychotherapy examines the impacts and intersections of oppressions as they interact together.
How to support your own healing using anti-oppression psychotherapy
Below are eight self-care tips from the anti-oppression psychotherapy model than can support you and your loved ones on this cyclical healing journey:
- Build safe spaces. Engage in safe spaces within the community, and/or individually — to allow the impact of anti-Black racism and other intersectional violence on your health to be voiced, witnessed, unpacked, and reconfigured away from the outside “gaze.” This is critical to the healing process. Keeping trauma in your body stresses your physiological and mental health.
- Make an ongoing healing plan. Understand that healing is cyclical and make a plan for when you experience violence again. Healing is flexible, political and deserved. If you need help, seek community members and professionals who practice from an intersectional and anti-oppression approach.
- Create alone time. Connect spiritually or environmentally (these could be interchangeable for some) in a space of comfort. This allows reconnection to ancestral knowledge and healing. Community healing circles can be important as can critical expressive arts. Coping strategies can be active but should include silence, meditation, and relaxation techniques — to ensure you do not internalize violence.
- Express emotions and have a physical release. Engage in intimacy (or massage) in a safe space — to reconstruct the power and healing possibilities of safe touch and prevent you from holding violent materials in your body, mind, and soul. Embracing and addressing anger in a safe supportive place can help you find emancipatory ways to deal with trauma. Self-forgiveness and grief are critical to the healing process.
- Cook and eat nutritious food regularly. Eat well to strengthen the immune system, which is needed to fight present and transgenerational trauma. Some form of exercise or movement can also be effective as a tension release.
- Create community support and information sharing. Use social media and old school meet-ups — to access anti-oppression health practitioners and equitable, least harm, health services. This can decrease the sometimes detrimental effects of opting out of the system. If you know a community member is suffering, reach out to them.
- Make space for transgenerational teachings. Allow space for teaching and strategizing. Always listen to your children and Elders and ask questions about their experiences of violence. Offer children unconditional love and support them in their healing process by initiating active solutions or problem-solving.
- Support local and transnational activism. Support your local organizers against anti-Black racism and intersectional violence. Actualizing change is empowering and supports the revitalization needed to improve health. However, be aware of the hard work of direct action and address burnout proactively. Take time out or “time in” to do your own healing work. Healing is political.
Anti-oppression psychotherapy addresses racism as a health determinant and gives the power to heal back to the communities who are suffering.
The Conversation is a network of not-for-profit media outlets that publish news stories written by academics and researchers. Roberta K. Timothy, Assistant Lecturer Global Health, Ethics, and Human Rights School of Health, York University, Canada is the author of "Anti-oppression psychotherapy: wellness in a time of racism."