Reflections of a Black Therapist

My name is Suzanne Trotman, I represent the Caribbean, Canadian, black, African ancestral diaspora.  I have been privileged to work with all colors within a number of countries in the Caribbean, South Africa and Canada.

I never gave a lot of thought to the therapeutic framework I am privileged to work in,  until the world stood still and witnessed  a major act of Racial Injustice with the killing of George Floyd that sparked the Black Lives Matters Movement in 2020.

There was collective vicarious trauma and grief that followed, which was compounded by the dysfunction created by COVID-19 restrictions that prevented us from gathering to comfort, mourn, process and regulate.

In the ensuing months, I noticed there was an increasing demand from the black community for therapeutic services.  This was positive.  As a black race we are wired to turn the other cheek, suppressing emotional responses, rise up to be strong, to bear the brunt of injustice by striving to be better, excelling, pushing past feelings and getting the job done.  

Living with systemic shame, in a state of hypervigilance, where the brain is trained to be on alert to give explanations for simple every day activities like walking on the street or driving at night.  These are all stress responses that were passed down through generations tracing back to days of slavery.

I was proud to see women, men, fathers, mothers, seeking therapeutic interventions for themselves and their children in 2020 and requesting to work with black therapists.  I was proud to see the pursuit of an outlet where their feelings were held in a space to be validated and processed with someone who looked like them.  Where they could breathe knowing the cultural idioms would be understood without having to explain, therefore giving more room to regulate. 

The cycle of generational stress response developed in our ancestors is being broken, as the black community reaches out for help not as a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.  This is a commitment to the seminal work that will result in future generations living emotionally and mentally well.

This ability to gain new ways of responding to stress will also help to address some health indicators such as hypertension and diabetes which are reported as very high within the black ethnicity.  As individuals and families learn healthy ways to regulate, the process will create new overall family patterns which will include healthy eating that will impact generations to come.

Here is a client story:  “when I called into the centre for services, I was hoping for a black therapist but didn’t ask.  I was told I would be  placed on a therapist case load and I was expecting to see a Caucasian therapist.  At my first session with the therapist, seeing someone who looked like me, I noticed my body slumped into a relaxed state and I breathed a deep breath and as was relieved to have a black therapist”.  

Having shared that narrative, it would be the same for any other ethnicity. However, we are highlighting stories for Black History Month.

If I am being honest, for the first time, I am aware and proud to be a black therapist where I can hold space for my black brothers and sisters. Help them process and regulate from systemic,  societal and ancestral dysfunctions and learn to live with healthy mental and emotional practices.  Breaking the generational lie that we have to be strong.  Normalising its ok to struggle, to give space for feelings, to talk openly about the pain that is embedded, because its in the sharing that true healing occurs.

Here are a few practices that might be helpful:

Morning Self Check -In

  • How am I feeling?                                              
  •  Am I hydrated enough?       
  • Is my day busy/purposeful?
  • Did I get enough sleep?     
  • What do I need most today?   
  • What is the posture of my heart?

Practice Self Validation

It’s normal to feel this way

I’m proud of myself

It’s ok to cry

I gave it my best

My self Worth isn’t based on the opinions of others                              

Five things to do daily to boost your mental health

  1. Get active
  2. Reduce negativity
  3. Celebrate successes
  4. Set healthy boundaries
  5. Express Gratitude

Here’s to healthy black future generations.

From a black therapist. Suzanne Trotman. Registered Psychotherapist. R.P.