If you feel like you are free falling every-time a client says something that is racially charged I encourage you to lean into that feeling. That sense of fear, dread and hopelessness is actually a very good starting point because it is what will guide you as you begin to explore your own unconscious bias. In this article I will outline how practitioners can support their clients who have been affected by racist behaviour, from a phenomenological and humanistic perspective.
Trauma is something often referred to in therapy as an experience which, “involves events that pose significant threat (physical, emotional, or psychological) to the safety of the victim or loved ones/friends and are overwhelming and shocking. Many individuals exposed to traumatic events experience a range of post traumatic psychophysiological reactions” (American Psychological Association 2017 p.3). Therapists can tend to any trauma brought on by acts of racism by recognising this and being empathic! It does not need to be intellectualised, your client needs you to hear their story with the same level of respect and care that you would give, any other client group suffering from symptoms of Post-traumatic stress.
According to Dr. Joy DeGruy many individuals who are recognised as being of African heritage, are living with symptoms of post-traumatic stress that are uniquely linked to intergenerational trauma and pervasive socio-economic political discrimination. Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome is the mal adaptive behaviours adopted by this client group in order to survive, as a result of shackled and mental slavery both past and present. Many aspects of the individual are affected it, “leads to an inhibition of mind, body and spiritual beliefs and actions” where your client may “experience poor educational attainment, live in bad conditions and have a poor diet…It may cause various pathological conditions and diseases. Most importantly, it may cause an individual to perform the act of suicide due to hopeless state of mind.” (SyndromesPedia 2016).