Racial Trauma Counseling in San Antonio, Texas
African Americans (Black people), and those of the Hispanic/LatinX community, both contend with structural racism along with subtle (and occasionally overt) racism routinely, leading to “race-based traumatic stress (RBTS)” and other debilitating mental health burdens.
Cultural Impact of Racism
Studies have found encountering racism results in a negative effect on mental wellness and for this reason it’s critical for People of Color and those in the Hispanic/LatinX community to understand racism is a mental health issue. In a nutshell, being on the receiving end of racism causes trauma thereby making you more vulnerable to developing mental health problems. Research has also shown racism is deeply embedded in our culture and can contribute to negatively impacting mental health in several ‘trauma originating’ ways. Specifically, prolonged exposure, direct or indirect, to racial discrimination can produce debilitating psychological and behavioral outcomes including:
- Poor cognitive function
- Emotional distress
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Suicidal thoughts
There’s even Research indicating simply having the fear of racism itself can undermine your healthy mental and emotional wellbeing and suppress characteristics, such as resilience, motivation, and hope.
It’s also important to know racism does not exist in isolated moments that ultimately fade. The effects of racism build over time, and every encounter you experience, witness, read about or view in media is one more drop in the ‘bucket of trauma’ that takes its toll and impacts a person regardless of age, socioeconomic status, and gender (source, source).
After so many ‘drops in the bucket of trauma’, people experiencing racism commonly develop what’s called ‘racial trauma’ with symptoms comparable to those of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition commonly triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Many people who experience traumatic events have difficulty adjusting and coping afterwards and racial trauma is the set of consequences, the ‘fall out’ that occurs when a person encounters racism including negative thoughts of self, others and everything around you, foreshadowing a negative demeanor and mood.
What is Racial Trauma?
Racial trauma refers to the emotional and stressful impact of racism and racial discrimination, such as hurtful comments, being affected by stereotypes, barriers to advancement and more. Racial trauma leads to a heighted stressed, and subsequently less mentally fit life.
Stress is the body’s natural cognitive and physiological response to perceived challenges and threats. While most day-to-day stress we all encounter is manageable with coping skills and supportive relationships we developed over time, continuous exposure to racism without positive mitigating factors (self-applied or with a therapist) can become toxic and cause people to live in a constant state of high alert.
What makes racial trauma profoundly damaging is that many of the symptoms originate from a fear that a similar discriminatory trauma will happen again. Thus, when you’re psychologically always on guard and high alert, the stress response hormone cortisol floods into your bloodstream all the time. Being in a state of elevated and on-going high stress contributes to anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairment.
While people of all racial-ethnic minority groups are at risk of experiencing racial trauma, Black people and those in the Hispanic/LatinX community are uniquely at risk, as the racism toward both communities is individual, systemic, and historical. This is supported by extensive research demonstrating in America, Black adults and adults of the Hispanic/LatinX community develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at significantly higher rates.
Furthermore, it is important to stay mindful of the compounding impact of belonging to several additional oppressed and marginalized groups beyond race such as gender, sexuality, religion, and primary language spoken – and how their intersections increase the likelihood of experiencing racial trauma.
Understanding racial trauma through the lens and complexities of the intersectionality of race, language, religion, gender, and sexual identity allows the bi-lingual culturally competent counselors at Rhapsody to more effectively serve the entire spectrum of Black people and those in the Hispanic/LatinX community in coping with racial trauma and stress in their lives.
Race-based traumatic stress (RBTS): references the emotional & mental injury produced by racially biased & ethnically discriminatory encounters, racism, and hate crimes. Black, Indigenous, and all People of Color (BIPOC) who have experienced an emotionally painful and uncontrollable racist encounter are at risk of suffering a race-based traumatic stress injury. Further, experiencing and repeatedly reexperiencing race-based traumatic stress (RBTS) may produce symptoms that mirror posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
What are Symptoms of Racial Trauma
While racial trauma Symptoms can vary over time and from person to person, they can impact nearly every aspect of a person’s daily functioning and overall well-being. Continuous incidents of racial trauma can produce symptoms reflecting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (source). Post-traumatic stress disorder-like symptoms may surface within 1 month of a traumatic event or quietly reside undetected and not surface until years after the event. These symptoms can interfere with your daily tasks and look like anger, flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, depression, avoidant behavior, physical responses (e.g. chest pains, insomnia, headaches), low self-esteem, hypervigilance, and both mentally distancing from the traumatic experience and or uncontrollable thoughts about the event.
It is important to be mindful unlike PTSD, racial trauma is not considered a mental health disorder. Racial trauma is a mental injury that can strike as the result of experiencing an event of racism and or functioning (working) or living within a racist system. Although not everyone who experiences racism and discrimination will develop symptoms of race-based trauma, we’re all different react to racial trauma in a myriad of different ways. These reactions are commonly grouped into 4 types: avoidance, intrusive memories, negative changes in mood and thinking, and changes in emotional and physical reactions. There are a few symptoms that are somewhat unique to racial trauma and research has shown those to be:
- Increased suspicion & vigilance – Suspicion of institutions (government, schools, agencies), trusting only those within our family relationship & social networks, avoiding eye contact
- Increased threat sensitivity – Avoiding risks & new situations, defensive postures, increased sensitivity to being shamed & disrespected
- Narrowing sense of time – People living in a constant state of alert do not have long-term goals or develop a sense of future; and commonly view dying as an expected outcome.
- Feeling chronic stress, headaches, stomach aches, depression, anxiety
These psychological outcomes apply to adults and have been found in youth as young as 12 years old. If you feel you may be experiencing racial trauma, here at Rhapsody Counseling we are committed to working with you to create a culturally affirming, open and empowered space for you to heal from all forms of racial trauma.
How Racism is Related to Poor Mental Health
- Research has shown a person’s stress response to racial discrimination could be one way racism affects mental health. Essentially, racial discrimination increases stress and continuous chronic stress can change your brain. Black women involved in one study who often experienced racism had almost 3X the risk of poor subjective cognitive functioning. Cognitive function refers to your mental capacity for learning, reasoning, problem-solving, thinking, decision-making, paying attention and remembering.
- “A lot of preclinical data does show that chronic stress decreases functioning and neural connectivity in the hippocampus (brain) and the prefrontal cortex, and this would be consistent with a causal link to cognitive decline,” – Kerry J. Ressler, Harvard Medical School a Professor of Psychiatry.
- Also, it’s a scientifically proven fact that experiencing racial discrimination can result in:
- Increasesing leves of stress
- Lowering your sense of self-worth and self esteem
- Explaining how and why Black Americans experience more sleeping difficulties and disorders compared to those who have not experience racism.
Further, research published in the American Academy of Pediatrics determined that with respect to young Black and Hispanic/LatinX adults, those facing discrimination only a few times per month were approximately 25% more likely to be diagnosed with a mental disorder and twice as likely to develop severe psychological distress compared to those who didn’t experience discrimination. Stemming from this research came the “race-based traumatic stress theory” likening racial trauma to PTSD.
Racial Trauma & Stress of Microaggressions
Some racism is so subtle and at first blush obscure, that neither perpetrator nor the victim may completely understand what is taking place—which may be especially toxic for Black people and those in the Hispanic/Latin X community. Racial microaggressions are derogatory messages or insults, sometimes veiled, directed to Black people and or those in the Hispanic LatinX community, typically from well-intentioned people who often feel they’ve done nothing offensive.
While a single microaggression may not seem particularly damaging in and of itself, receiving a continuous flow of microaggressions over time can be devastating to a person’s mental wellness (source). Research (source) has shown racial microaggressions toward Black students at college campuses resulted in the Black students experiencing higher levels of self-doubt, depression, frustration, and isolation that also impacted their education. This research involving Hispanic/LatinX students resulted in the very same mental health damaging conclusions.
Racial microaggressions in the workplace can feel like death by a thousand cuts – masquerading as compliments but interactions that stay with you for years. Examples of verbal racial microaggressions in the workplace are when co-workers make comments like:
- “You’re so articulate” – Generally meaning “I didn’t think you would be this educated or well spoken”
- “You’re being aggressive” – Generally meaning the person is uncomfortable you’re confident and or assertive and not deferring and passive
- Saying the phrase “your people” or “you people” – This assumes all Black people or Hispanic/LatinX people are all the same.
- “Where were you born?” or “Where are you from?” implying the U.S. is not your home or perhaps you do not belong here.
Racial-based microaggressions, these brief behavioral or verbal indignities, whether intentional or not, often occur daily in 1 of 3 common forms:
Microassaults: Explicit racist attacks—both nonverbal & verbal, conscious, deliberate, and meant to hurt or denigrate the victim. Using racial slurs, name-calling, avoiding and/or discouraging interracial interaction, and displaying a rebel flag are all examples of microassaults.
Microinsults: Commonly much more subtle, perhaps even unconscious, a microinsult belittles and demeans the victim through racial comments or slights that seem innocuous but to a Black person or Hispanic/LatinX person are insulting. For example, a Hispanic/LatinX person shopping and being mistaken for a store clerk or a woman clutching her purse as she walks past a Black person (messaging the approach of a criminal).
Microinvalidations: These behaviors and comments can invalidate and exclude the Black person’s or Hispanic/LatinX person’s feelings, thoughts, or experiences in life. For example, suggesting a Black person or Hispanic/LatinX person was hired for a job because of their race and not skills, education, or talent.
Research (source) has indicated ongoing experiences of racial microaggressions harm mental health linking these brief traumatic insults to low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, increased stress levels, and even suicidal thoughts. Furthermore, Black and Hispanic/LatinX people experiencing continuous microaggressions are more prone to feel anger, sadness, and hopelessness.
If you feel you may be receiving microaggressions targeting you, the bi-lingual and culturally competent counselors at Rhapsody Counseling are committed to working with you to create a culturally affirming, open and empowered space for you to heal from racialized trauma in all its various forms.
Racial Trauma and Stress: What You Can Do To Heal
It’s common to find yourself struggling in trying to process racial trauma. Feeling unable to cope with or focus things is normal and many people simply want to curl up and cry. However holding in painful feelings or anger negatively affects our emotional well-being. Sharing frustration and pain —can help and I am committed to working with you to create a culturally affirming, open and empowered space for you to heal from racialized trauma in all its various forms.
Recognizing and expressing our feelings is enormously helpful in understanding why we feel overwhelmed and clarifying and strengthening our ability to process those emotions. Verbalizing painful feelings can cause firmly held anger and sadness to dissipate and feel less intense. Conversely, suppressing fury, anguish, and outrage for an extended period of time can lead to debilitating mental health consequences.
Acknowledge Your Anger
Outrage and anger are appropriate responses to racial injustice. How we process our pain can help reduce the potential of racial trauma from having a long-term insidious effect on mental health while making us better advocates and citizens. While anger and outrage can certainly turn volatile, it can also be useful if harnessed and channeled to spur action and effect change. Exploring your pain and anger can be helpful in identifying and confronting problems—through protest, conversation, volunteering or advocacy. When you transform anger into motivation, it can help you in self-advocacy and making positive changes while kindling self-improvement and inspiring leadership against injustice.
Protect Your Mental Wellness
Similar to how we prevent physical ailments by being active and working out, there are proactive things we can do to protect our mental wellness.
- Limit your news & media intake. News with video coverage of people under assault, harassment, or even killed due to racism can spur trauma and trigger unhealthy negative reactions. Take breaks from social media and the news when you can.
- Reach out to your support network and make human connections. Lean on family & friends, connect with your community, and participate in culturally affirming activities.
- Take care of your physical self. Eat healthy, sleep well, get your blood flowing and move your body. These basics will supply you strength to endure the moment and get through another day.
- Allow yourself to feel hope. While it can be challenging to be patient and tap into hope during times of anger, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge even small signs of change that move the needle and believe that those small changes can lead to a bigger and greater change.
- Consider the self-protective coping strategy of choosing to adopt a positive outlook and read biographies of prominent Black Americans who persevered through adversity to remind yourself that you too can also conquer microaggressions, stereotypes and insults.
- Seek therapy and I am here for you. Racial trauma, left unaddressed, can lead to serious mental wellness consequences such as anxiety, depression, or even PTSD-like symptoms. I am committed to working with you to create a culturally affirming, open and empowered space for you to heal from racialized trauma in all its various forms.
Racial Trauma and Stress: How Rhapsody Counseling Can Help
Racism and discrimination comes as you in many ways and the combined effect can keep you in a hypervigilant state building toxic levels of stress. Racial trauma counseling empowers you by having your voice speak to what is often a silenced experience – and you can express in words your inner frustrations and struggles. We have therapists that specialize in bi-lingual racial trauma counseling and can equip you with the tools to courageously revisit your experiences with racism and impart upon you the intuitive skills to assess the spaces you find yourself so you can avoid harmful situations going forward.
We offer in-person and online counseling services to treat racial trauma and stress that will help you heal and recover. Our counseling sessions are honest, compassionate and a self-reflective environment allowing you to work through and process difficult racial experiences. We are committed to working with you to create a culturally affirming, open and empowered space for you to heal from racialized trauma in all its various forms. Racial trauma counseling can help you:
- Develop stronger boundaries
- Identify successes and challenges
- Find validation for your experiences
- Cultivate external & internal spaces of safety and self-care
- Understand how past experiences act as triggers today
- Develop strategies to manage through overt and covert racism you may encounter going forward
Working together, we’ll identify effective strategies to navigate the institutional spaces barriers you encounter on a daily basis. Meaning when workplaces, banks, universities, and other organizations say they are committed to antiracism, you may experience the opposite in your day-to-day reality.
We’ll also Identify and interrupt any negative internalized messages. Specifically, most Black people and Hispanic/LatinX people in America who has made it to adulthood has been exposed to constant, negative messages about who they are, where they fit in, and their ceiling. Through counseling we’ll identify these negative messages and form strategies rejecting them when they surface.
We will absolutely reconnect with and honor your rightful ethnic pride. Research has shown a key protective measure against the toxic effects of race-based stress is connecting to one’s ethnic identity. This might include familiarizing ourselves with the history, wisdom, and strength of the Black and or Hispanic/LatinX community.
We will identify any contributing stressors to your experiences and apply different interventions and tools to unearth your experiences so you can build the coping strategies you need to thrive.
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Free Discovery Call to Talk with a Counselor
Take the first step in your wellness journey and book a free 10-20 minute discovery call with a Counselor. The Counselor will start off the call with a few questions to get to know you better, so they can make sure they’re qualified to meet your needs. This includes questions about why you’re considering counseling, how you’ve been feeling over the past few weeks, and your goals for counseling.
If possible, take a few minutes before the call to reflect on these topics, so you can have a clearer sense of your goals for counseling. But don’t worry, if you can’t verbalize the answer to any questions, our counselors know how to guide your thinking so you can figure out what to say and the Counselor will welcome you to ask questions about counseling and Rhapsody.