Post Slavery

Post-Slavery Syndrome: Exploring The Clinical Impact Of The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

With Module Speakers:
Wayne Mertins-BrownEugene EllisJudy RydeDr Aileen AlleyneFoluke TaylorRobert DownesLennox Thomas (1952-2020),

This module is about living and practicing psychotherapy in a society that is deeply damaged by the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Filmed at our 2019 conference, the discussion is premised on the theory that through the mostly unconscious transmission of intergenerational trauma, affect and narratives, we continue to perpetuate a destructive power disparity between today’s black and white communities; that we are locked into histories that we didn’t create but which control our thinking and which need to be continually challenged in order for us to grow emotionally as a society.





Wayne Mertins-Brown
Introduction from Event Curator Wayne Mertins-Brown

Trust and confidence in the therapeutic process needs time and attention to fully establish itself. So it was for me, in working to hold the conference space in such a way as to facilitate this important element while examining this compelling subject. Once any initial circumspection was overcome, I felt a collective drop into the process that allowed for participants to truly get their teeth into the material. We had an evening followed by a full day, and that time was well spent. Each of the presentations brought elements that were progressive, uncomfortably thought provoking and (from my felt sense), personally triggering and challenging to many in attendance. This allowed for a great experience of empathetic, shared learning. At times, this felt to be coming as much from the delegates as the keynotes. For me, this was the perfect balance and a sure sign that the conference was a success. Personally, as a descendant of slaves, I also found the experience somewhat healing.

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Eugene Ellis
Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and PTSD in the Black Community

People of African descent, post-slavery, would have most likely had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). From a clinical perspective Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome is similar to PTSD but arises from the multigenerational transmission of stress. As the race construct becomes the focus there can be a deeply embodied sense of danger and life threat, not just in the descendants of African victims but also in the descendants of the perpetrators and witnesses. What racial differences impose on our minds and bodies as individuals and collectively as a society is challenging and complex. Ellis explores what happens in our minds and also, importantly, in our bodies in the midst of the race conversation and explores how a mindful approach to our physiological responses might help support us to stay at the contact boundary of our clients and our own experience and thereby find our voice.

Video with slides (28 mins)

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Judy Ryde
White Privilege Unmasked

Being ethnically white is a huge advantage in global society. White people very often deny and almost always underestimate this fact. Many do not even think of themselves as having a race at all – race is something that other people have. Ryde challenges these ideas with a detailed analysis, including a short history of the white race. Atrocities committed by white people are explored as is how they continue to benefit from this exploitation of black people. She shows how in our own profession, where inter-subjectivity, sensitivity and consciousness are highly valued qualities, unthinking racism is still being committed and often goes unrecognised. Ryde explores a vision for a more honest and non-exploitative place for white people as individuals, organisations and within the wider society, and considers how we as psychotherapists can transcend our contribution to white privilege – in our trainings, organisations and as individual practitioners.

Video with slides (27 mins)

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Aileen Alleyne 
Dr Aileen Alleyne
Post Slavery Syndrome and Intergenerational Trauma

Historical trauma caused specifically by the impact of racism and cultural oppression, creates challenges for both the individual and the collective. Alleyne gives voice to the silent impact of racial oppression by examining how history still plays a part in creating ongoing challenges for the work of transgenerational healing and individuation (the process of emerging into one’s fully hybrid self). The systematic dehumanisation of African slaves was the initial trauma, and since that time, generations of their descendants have borne the scars. Black people of all cultural and ethnic persuasions have not been spared the effects of this collective malady. Members of this diasporic group continue to face the ever important challenge of knowing that real recovery from this ongoing trauma and its present day forms of racism, has to start from within. The nature of intergenerational trauma is such that each group must first see to their own healing, because no group can do the other’s work. Alleyne examines this challenge from a psychotherapeutic perspective, by addressing three key concepts: (a)”the internal oppressor” (ie, the internal adversary, Alleyne, 2005); (b) identity shame and its effects on selfhood, attachment styles and parenting behaviours; (c) intersectionality, which highlights the overlapping of multiple oppressions and how this impacts and re-activates the aforementioned two concepts.

Video with slides (56 mins)

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Foluke Taylor And Robert Downes
Black Presence, White Fragility: The Nature of Wake Work for Therapeutic Practitioners

Taylor and Downes bring their explorations around black presence and white fragility via their engagement with the works of Christina Sharpe, In the Wake: On Blackness and Being and Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why it’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism. They have been in dialogue for 19 years about these realities and are not done. Through the use of Sharpe’s notion of wake work (taking care in the ongoing wake), the wake being the afterlife of slavery and all its ramifications, they share their practices and thinking about the nature of wake work for therapeutic practitioners this work addresses black presence and white fragility.

Video with slides (63 mins)

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Lennox Thomas (1952-2020)
Recognising the Legacies of Slavery in Contemporary Psychotherapy

People from the Caribbean and North America were enslaved for longer than they have been free. When Thomas’ great uncle enlisted in the Caribbean Regiment to fight in Europe for the Empire during World War One, black people in the British Caribbean had been free for only sixty-four years. Their history of trauma, violence, repeated separations, and broken attachments deeply affected their lives. Authors De Gruy and Mimms et al in America have said that people from post slavery societies in the main find it difficult to recognise their own psychological harm. In the United Kingdom Fletchman-Smith believes that there is much to do to overcome the legacies of slavery that have been embedded in family and social relationships. Therapeutic approaches are as much about the individual, self-esteem and self-love as they are about group relationships. There are challenges for both black and white therapists engaging with this work in which we are all implicated.

Video with slides (34 mins)

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Wayne Mertins-Brown
Conference Closing – A Reading from Wayne Mertins-Brown

In this closing piece, our event curator and chairperson Wayne Mertins-Brown engages in a short reading of Maya Angelou.

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  1. Be able to place the subjective experience of Post-Slavery Trauma Syndrome into a socio-historical context.
  2. Be able to describe Post-Slavery Trauma Syndrome as a mental health issue.
  3. Be able to articulate the concept of white privilege when discussing Post-Slavery Syndrome, both socially and in the context of mental health work.
  4. Be able to Assess the potential or hidden impacts of racial oppression in your clinical work with People of Colour whose heritage is African-American or African-Caribbean
  5. Be able to Identify the similarities and differences between aspects of common PTSD and multigenerational transmissions of trauma that is a consequence of Post-Slavery Trauma Syndrome
  6. Be able to explain the concept of ‘white complexity syndrome’ or ‘white fragility’
  7. Articulate complexities in cross-cultural work that may inhibit effective therapeutic work, and ways in which this can be addressed