Post-Slavery Syndrome: Exploring The Clinical Impact Of The Trans-Atlantic Slave TradeWith Module Speakers:
Wayne Mertins-Brown, Eugene Ellis, Judy Ryde, Dr Aileen Alleyne, Foluke Taylor, Robert Downes, Lennox 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.Read More...
In curating the conference, we invited psychotherapists of all identities to come together to explore how post-slavery syndrome impacts upon our professional experience, our capacity to provide good therapy and appropriate trainings. This is not an easy discussion and it took courage to attend, to listen to these experiences with an open heart, and to develop a deeper sense of how we as individuals are positioned by our histories.
We heard how, for our black community this amounts to persistent experiences of feeling unsafe, devalued and misunderstood. For white people, the other side of this dyad often involves an emotional cocktail of shame, defensiveness and unwanted responsibility – sometimes referred to as “white-complexity syndrome”. It is suggested, however, that feelings of guilt are not useful. We are products of a system, not its architects. Nonetheless, adopting a sense of responsibility for addressing ongoing inequalities offers white mental health practitioners greater potential for insight, empathy and adaptability and the possibility of greater affinity with black colleagues.
Our hope was and is that by hearing stories about how People of Colour from the African diaspora as well as innovative white practitioners have developed a theory, vocabulary and therapeutic space for the post-slavery experience we can collaborate meaningfully across cultural barriers to find a shared meta-view of the post-slavery dynamic and roles played out between the black and white communities.
Wayne Mertins-BrownIntroduction 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.Read More About The Speaker
Eugene EllisPost 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)Read More About The Speaker
Judy RydeWhite 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)Read More About The Speaker
Dr Aileen AlleynePost 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)Read More About The Speaker
Foluke Taylor And Robert DownesBlack 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)Read More About The Speaker
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)Read More About The Speaker
Wayne Mertins-BrownConference 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.Read More About The Speaker