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Healing Histories: Exploring BIPOC and Immigrant Children Stressors Through the Lens of a Christian BIPOC Therapist

March 11th, 2024

Disclaimer: Before diving in, let's clear the air: this isn't about politics. It's a heart-to-heart chat about something deeply important to me. I've noticed a pattern lately: mention BIPOC or immigrants, and suddenly, some people start squirming and shutting down their brains, diving headfirst into an emotional rant. But hold up! If that's you, here's a challenge: don't let fear dictate your reactions. Take a moment to ask yourself why? Why does this topic stir up judgment? Especially if you identify as a Christian. I also want to acknowledge that many white folks carry their own burdens, and their families' stories are intertwined with immigration journeys. This blog isn't about pointing fingers or placing blame for past wrongs. It's about fostering understanding—my perspective and that of many others who struggle to express themselves without causing offense. Instead of erecting walls, let's work on building bridges of empathy. With elections looming, it's easy to get caught up in the divisive rhetoric fueled by the media frenzy. But here's the truth: united we stand, divided we fall. It's not about left versus right; it's about coming together for the greater good. Now that we've cleared the air let's keep the conversation going.


In a world filled with diverse experiences, it's essential to shed light on topics like BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and immigrant children's stress. As a brown daughter of a single immigrant mother, my own journey has taught me the importance of having these conversations for healing and progress. My role as a therapist in the Broward County School system further enriched my understanding, fostering compassion, empathy, and a deeper desire to support the BIPOC community, the community I was raised in. This blog aims to inform, empathize, and provide faith-based insights into addressing BIPOC stress, fostering community, and helping therapists and other community providers who want to make a meaningful impact.


Understanding BIPOC Stress

As a mental health counselor, understanding the concept of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and recognizing the unique mental health stressors faced by this population is essential for providing effective and culturally sensitive therapy. Incorporating the Bible and faith into this perspective can enhance the therapeutic process, as faith can be a significant source of strength and resilience for many individuals within the BIPOC community.


Defining BIPOC in a Mental Health Context

BIPOC is a term used to collectively refer to individuals from racial and ethnic backgrounds who have historically experienced systemic oppression, discrimination, and marginalization. In a mental health context, it's important to recognize that BIPOC individuals may face unique stressors related to their racial or ethnic identity, which can impact their mental well-being.


Importance of Recognizing BIPOC Mental Health Stressors


1. Historical Trauma: BIPOC communities may carry the intergenerational trauma of historical injustices, such as slavery, colonization, forced displacement, and systemic racism. Understanding this trauma is crucial in providing trauma-informed care. Historical trauma refers to the deep wounds carried by communities across generations due to significant past events or systemic injustices. These events can include colonization, slavery, genocide, forced relocation, and cultural suppression. For example, consider the lasting impact of the Native American genocide, where Indigenous tribes faced displacement, violence, and cultural erasure at the hands of European settlers. This traumatic history continues to affect Native communities today, contributing to challenges such as poverty, substance abuse, and mental health issues. Similarly, the legacy of African American slavery casts a long shadow over Black communities, with centuries of systemic oppression resulting in ongoing racial trauma and socioeconomic disparities. Additionally, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II highlights how government policies can inflict profound trauma on marginalized groups, disrupting families and eroding trust in institutions. These examples demonstrate how historical trauma shapes the collective psyche of affected communities, influencing their social, cultural, and familial dynamics. By acknowledging and addressing historical trauma, we can work towards healing and reconciliation, fostering resilience and social justice for future generations.

2. Microaggressions and Discrimination: BIPOC individuals often encounter microaggressions and discrimination in various aspects of their lives, which can lead to chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. Recognizing and addressing these experiences is essential for effective therapy. In America, microaggressions and discrimination persist as subtle yet impactful challenges faced by marginalized communities. These can take various forms, such as insensitive remarks, dismissive attitudes, or unequal treatment based on race, ethnicity, gender, or other identities. For instance, a BIPOC individual may encounter microaggressions in everyday interactions, such as being stereotyped, overlooked for opportunities, or subjected to biased assumptions about their capabilities. These experiences, though seemingly small, can accumulate over time and contribute to feelings of marginalization and exclusion. Acknowledging and addressing these issues with empathy and understanding is as important as recognizing their impact on individuals' well-being and sense of belonging. By fostering open dialogue, empathy, and mutual respect, we can work towards creating a more inclusive and equitable society for all.


My personal story: Reflecting on my personal experiences as a brown Latina, I've encountered numerous instances of microaggressions and discrimination that have left a lasting impact. One such experience occurred in 1992 when, as a 21-year-old, I was arrested in a small town in Florida alongside three white friends. The differential treatment I received from the police during that ordeal was profoundly traumatic. Additionally, post-9/11, while traveling with a white friend to a Mothers of Preschoolers convention in Missouri, I found myself repeatedly singled out for additional security checks and questioning at airport screenings. Even in my childhood, growing up in New York, I endured harassment from a bully who targeted me with racial slurs and physical violence. Despite these challenges, my journey through therapy and education has allowed me to transcend the cycle of stereotyping and prejudice. Rather than succumbing to bitterness or resentment, these experiences have fueled my commitment to empathy and understanding. Today, as a therapist, I draw upon my own journey to guide others in their quest for healing and self-discovery. Through therapy, individuals can confront the root causes of their anxieties, depression, or addictions, transforming personal struggles into sources of strength and resilience.


3. Cultural and Familial Factors: Within BIPOC communities, cultural norms, values, and family dynamics play a significant role in shaping mental health beliefs and practices. Recognizing and understanding these factors is crucial for providing culturally competent care that respects and honors individuals' cultural backgrounds. For example, in many Latinx families, there may be a strong emphasis on collectivism, familial obligations, and traditional gender roles, which can influence how mental health issues are perceived and addressed. Moreover, intergenerational trauma stemming from experiences such as immigration, discrimination, or political unrest may impact family dynamics and coping mechanisms. By acknowledging and addressing these cultural and familial factors, healthcare professionals can create a supportive and inclusive environment that meets the unique needs of BIPOC individuals.


My personal story: My own upbringing reflects the complex interplay between cultural identity, familial dynamics, and societal expectations. Raised by a mother who immigrated in search of the American Dream but found herself navigating single parenthood after my father's departure, I straddled two worlds from a young age. At home, I immersed myself in my vibrant Latinx culture, embracing the language, traditions, and religious practices passed down through generations. However, outside the home, societal influences, such as school and media, urged me to conform to a stereotypical American identity, creating a sense of conflict and fragmentation within myself. As a second-generation immigrant, navigating between these two worlds often felt overwhelming as I struggled to reconcile my cultural heritage with societal expectations. This internal tension led to a deep-seated desire to please others and assimilate into mainstream culture, further complicating my sense of identity and belonging. It's through conversations and understanding the nuances of the immigrant experience that we can foster empathy and support for individuals like myself, navigating the complexities of cultural identity and mental health in a multicultural society.


4. Spirituality and Faith: Faith and spirituality often serve as lifelines for many of us in the BIPOC community, offering strength and guidance in the face of adversity. In therapy, discussing these topics can be incredibly grounding, providing a space to unpack our spiritual experiences and find comfort in our beliefs. Acknowledging the diverse religious backgrounds within our communities is crucial, as they can both shape our identities and impact our mental well-being. However, it's also important to recognize that the strictness of religious practices can become a cultural norm for some, leading to a reluctance to discuss faith openly for fear of judgment or persecution. It also can be an extra layer of trauma raised in a dogmatic denomination or religion that is not accepted by American societal norms.


My personal story: My journey with Jesus reflects this complex relationship with faith. Raised in the Catholic church, I grew up familiar with the image of a white Jesus on the cross—a symbol that was central to my religious upbringing. However, within the walls of my home, a different spiritual tradition thrived. Living at times with my paternal grandmother, who practiced Santeria, I was exposed to a world of beliefs and rituals that differed significantly from what I experienced in church, school, or what I saw on T.V. This duality in my upbringing shaped my understanding of faith in profound ways, as I navigated between the doctrines of Catholicism and the mystical practices of Santeria. Today, as I reflect on my spiritual journey, I'm reminded of the richness and diversity within BIPOC communities. While my beliefs have evolved over time, the experiences of my upbringing continue to influence my perspective and understanding of faith. I now am a disciple of Jesus, and I try my best to follow Him through reading the Living Word daily, praying without ceasing, and putting on the armor. Through this faith, I stay focused and mindful of how I treat others.

Defining BIPOC in the context of mental health counseling involves recognizing the unique stressors related to racial or ethnic identity. Integrating the Bible and faith into therapy can provide a holistic approach, addressing psychological but also spiritual and emotional aspects of well-being. This approach can help clients find strength, resilience, and healing as they navigate their mental health journey.


For folks like us in the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and or immigrant community, we navigate a world where systemic racism and discrimination can permeate every aspect of life, from education and employment to healthcare. Historical traumas like colonization, slavery, and genocide cast long shadows, leaving lasting scars on our mental health and well-being.


The toll on BIPOC mental health is profound, shaping everything from our relationships to our ability to function day-to-day. Flashbacks, nightmares, hypervigilance, and emotional rollercoasters become our norm, while cultural stigmas around mental health and barriers to culturally competent care only add fuel to the fire.


Addressing this issue in our community demands more than just Band-Aid solutions; it requires a holistic, culturally sensitive approach. We need trauma-informed care that recognizes our unique experiences and needs, policies that dismantle systemic inequalities, and communities that prioritize healing and resilience. We also need healthcare, teachers, police officers, etc, to be cPTSD and ACEs informed, which I will cover in next week's Liberation Lunes. We can pave the way for mental health equity and ensure that everyone—regardless of race, ethnicity, or background—has the support they need to heal and thrive.


Coping Strategies for BIPOC Stress


1. Culturally Competent Therapy: Seeking therapy with a mental health professional who is knowledgeable about and sensitive to the unique experiences and cultural backgrounds of BIPOC individuals can provide a safe and supportive space for healing. Therapy can help individuals process trauma, develop coping strategies, and work through challenges related to cPTSD and high ACE scores.


2. Community Support Groups: Participating in support groups or peer-led initiatives tailored to BIPOC individuals with cPTSD or high ACE scores can offer a sense of belonging, validation, and solidarity. Connecting with others who share similar experiences can provide mutual support, encouragement, and understanding.


3. Holistic Healing Practices: Exploring holistic healing modalities such as traditional medicine, cultural rituals, and alternative therapies like acupuncture, herbal medicine, or chiropractic care can complement conventional treatment approaches and promote overall well-being. These practices often honor cultural traditions and can offer spiritual and emotional healing.


4. Engaging in Cultural and Spiritual Practices: Embracing our cultural and spiritual heritage, such as participating in religious ceremonies, cultural celebrations, or ancestral rituals, holds profound significance for BIPOC individuals. These traditions provide solace and direction and cultivate a deep sense of belonging and connection to our roots. Through immersing ourselves in these practices, we can draw strength from the resilience and wisdom of our ancestors. Furthermore, it's important to acknowledge the universal teachings of Jesus Christ, which offer compassion and insight across diverse cultures. Rather than solely adhering to specific interpretations prevalent in mainstream American Christianity, I encourage personal exploration of the Bible. This allows for uncovering the rich history and timeless truths that reveal the essence of Jesus Christ, aligning with one's own cultural background and spiritual journey. If this perspective raises questions or challenges, I invite reflection on why. Is it because of teachings received from others or personal engagement with the Scriptures? Ultimately, being a Christian entails embodying Christ's teachings rather than engaging in debates or judgment. Many, including myself, have experienced church-related trauma and spiritual abuse, which merits discussion in future blog posts.


5. Creative Expression: Engaging in creative outlets such as art, music, dance, writing, or storytelling can be powerful tools for self-expression and healing. These activities can provide a therapeutic outlet for processing emotions, exploring identity, and reclaiming agency over one's narrative. I have also held space for numerous humans in my office who could not speak but could share their art, spoken word, rap songs, dance, music, etc. Here is an example of one of my digital art and poems from my second poetry book, Anima Resuscitation, which is hopefully coming out this year.


The Oxygen Collection Preface

In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced us all into lockdown, America erupted in protest following the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer. The resulting outrage was driven by a long history of racial injustices in the country, which had seen black and brown people disproportionately affected and marginalized. As a brown Latina woman working as an LMHC in an alternative high school in Broward County, I bore witness to how these events impacted the young black and brown individuals with whom I worked. Already struggling with lockdown in toxic homes and the mental health challenges this presented, my clients found their anxiety and depression considerably worsened by the steady drip of distressing news from the wider world. My own experiences of racism, which saw me jailed for one night in 1992, continue to haunt me, and when I saw how the world was responding to this new crisis, I knew I needed to find an outlet for my emotions. And so, I turned to my digital art and poetry as a way of processing the tumultuous events of 2020, and the Oxygen collection is the result. This personal collection of work helped me to find a way of expressing my own experiences of racism and racial injustice and offers a way for readers to explore their own feelings and engage in some of the difficult conversations that our society must confront if we hope to achieve lasting change.


Be the Oxygen

 

The statement that describes 2020.

I can’t breathe!

Rising up the fears of many.

I can’t breathe!

Bringing forth our secret thoughts.

I can’t breathe!

As the world is being torn apart.

I can’t breathe!

Suicides rocked my community.

I can’t breathe!

There is no political immunity.

I can’t breathe!

Pestilence that took over the world.

I can’t breathe!

Police brutality towards black boys and girls.

I can’t breathe!

Black lives do matter.

I can’t breathe!

Racism needs to be shattered.

I can’t breathe!

Wake up and look within.

I can’t breathe!

Please deal with YOUR sin.

I can’t breathe!

God is bringing to light the heart of each man.

I can’t breathe!

Waking up our souls, so we understand.

I can’t breathe!

From pestilence to great injustices.

I can’t breathe!

 

We need to deal with all the corruption.

 

For those who say that ALL lives matter.

Yes, of course, but we’re trying to shatter.

Inequality started long ago.

Created an unfair status quo.

So please stop being so defensive.

Take off your privilege lenses.

Take a deep breath because you can.

Take a minute to understand.

They can’t breathe! We can’t breathe!

 

Be the oxygen for others.

Take care of our brown & black sisters and brothers.



6. Self-Care and Resilience Building: Prioritizing self-care practices such as regular exercise, healthy eating, adequate sleep, and setting boundaries can help BIPOC individuals cultivate resilience and promote overall well-being. Practicing self-compassion, mindfulness, and self-acceptance are also essential components of healing and recovery.


Working with Our Community


1. Cultural Competence: Educate yourself on the cultural backgrounds, values, and experiences of the BIPOC community you serve. Understand the impact of systemic racism, historical trauma, and socioeconomic disparities on their mental health.


2. Trauma-Informed Care: Approach therapy from a trauma-informed lens, recognizing the prevalence of trauma within the BIPOC community. Create a safe, empowering therapeutic environment that validates their experiences and fosters healing. Educate yourself on what cPTSD and ACEs are.


3. Addressing Stigma: Acknowledge and address the stigma surrounding mental health within the BIPOC community. Normalize conversations about mental health, challenge stereotypes, and promote help-seeking behavior through community outreach and education.


4. Culturally Relevant Interventions: Tailor therapeutic interventions to meet the cultural and linguistic needs of BIPOC individuals. Incorporate culturally relevant practices, rituals, and metaphors into therapy to enhance engagement and effectiveness.


5. Collaborative Approach: Foster collaboration and partnership with community organizations, leaders, and advocates to understand better the unique needs and strengths of the inner-city BIPOC community. Work together to develop culturally responsive programs and services that address mental health disparities.


6. Empowerment and Advocacy: Empower BIPOC individuals to become advocates for their own mental health and well-being. Provide resources, tools, and support to help them navigate systemic barriers and advocate for equitable access to mental health services and resources in their communities.


Websites to visit for BIPOC Mental Health


Addressing BIPOC stress is a journey of healing, compassion, and empathy. We can create a more supportive and inclusive environment for all by engaging in open conversations, fostering understanding, and integrating faith-based principles. Together, we can make a positive impact on the mental health and well-being of the BIPOC community.


In closing, I'd like to share one of my favorite verses from the Bible, Galatians 3:28:






These words remind us of our unity as human beings, regardless of our backgrounds or circumstances. We are all equal in the eyes of God, and it's through this understanding that we can find true connection and healing.


Let's not forget that we all have our struggles and imperfections, but it's in recognizing our shared humanity that we can extend grace and compassion to one another. Jesus came not to condemn but to offer salvation and hope to all.


As we journey through life, let's strive to break the cycle of intergenerational trauma and build a future of healing and wholeness. Therapy isn't just about addressing mental illness; it's about embracing growth and becoming the best versions of ourselves. So, let's lend a listening ear, support one another, and work towards creating a more compassionate and understanding world. After all, we're in this together.


Dear Heavenly Father,

We come before you with hearts open to your wisdom and grace. We thank you for the reminder that we are all one in your eyes. Help us see each other with the same love and compassion you have shown us. Guide us as we navigate the complexities of our lives, especially in the realm of mental health and healing. Grant us the strength to break the chains of intergenerational trauma and to foster understanding and empathy within our communities. Lord, we lift up those who are struggling with their mental health, particularly BIPOC individuals who may face unique challenges. Surround them with your comforting presence and lead them to the resources and support they need. May your peace, which surpasses all understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Help us to walk in love towards one another, knowing that we are all beloved children of God.

In Jesus' name,

Amen.


In Service, Faith, Hope and Love,

Diana


PS Please listen to my new podcast, The Holistic Counselor, to learn more about mental wellness.


And now for the disclaimer to make sure you understand that YOU are responsible for YOU:

Disclaimer: The content provided on "Liberation Lunes" is for entertainment and informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this blog. The views expressed on this blog are my personal opinions and do not represent the views of any professional organizations with which I am affiliated. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor, 911, or 988 immediately. "Liberation Lunes" does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on the blog. Reliance on any information provided by "Liberation Lunes," others appearing on the blog at the invitation of "Liberation Lunes," or other visitors to the blog is solely at your own risk.

Confidentiality Notice: If you choose to engage with "Liberation Lunes" by commenting or posting and you are a client, please be aware that you may be revealing information that could compromise your confidentiality. Remember that disclosing your identity or personal details can be linked to your clinical material. As a therapist, I am bound by confidentiality and will not respond to any disclosures of this nature on this blog. I am committed to upholding the ethics and confidentiality of the therapeutic relationship, which extends to all forms of communication, following the laws and professional guidelines that govern mental health professionals. Your privacy is of utmost importance, and you are responsible for protecting it when interacting on this platform or any other public forum.

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