July is minority mental health month and as a Chicana/Indigenous psychotherapist I felt compelled to write this blog from both a professional and personal perspective.
I have been in the mental health field for about 20 years now and unfortunately very little has changed in regards to the emotional and mental wellness of our communities at least here in California, where I was born and raised.
We continue to see our youth being incarcerated in disproportionately higher numbers, high school dropout rates continue to stay the same at about 50% among Chicano/Latino youth, drug use and violence continue to plague many families and the ills of poverty continue to keep families from receiving the adequate medical and psychological care needed for their wellbeing. I have personally witnessed how institutions continue to marginalize communities of color with their well intentioned programs that pathologies the poor and serve only to fragmentize and confuse a community into believing that how we live, eat, think, and behave is not healthy. That we need specific interventions, and evidence based programs, to meet specific outcomes, all based on a Eurocentric model in which we as Chicano/Indigenous people continue to be seen as inferior beings in need of rescuing.
What if we began a grassroots mental health movement? What would that look like? Where we are the experts of our own wellness where we set the outcomes and measurements of what a healthy mind, body, and spirit looks like. What if we began by decolonizing our mind?
We can’t ignore the psychological trauma and experience of our ancestors with colonization and how it continues to impact and affect us today. We were shamed as a people, violated, isolated, enslaved, and imprisoned, our stories of strength and courage forgotten, our remedies and cures banned, our language, ceremonies, and, spirit burned into ashes. Okay we all know the story……. but sadly this colonization thing, this shame thing continues to play out in subtle ways throughout our school system, social service system, political system, and economic system. This shame continues to haunt us, keeps us from moving forward, keeps us from taking risks, and keeps us from believing in ourselves. This shame is then internalized forming limiting beliefs in our psyche such as: “I’m not good enough”, “I am not worth it”, “I can’t do it”. These beliefs become automatic thoughts and therefore specifically influence our behavior, negatively affecting our emotional and mental wellness. This has been the outcome of the continued colonization and marginalization of our communities of color. See the connection?
Fortunately, there is a resurgence of traditional indigenous ways, knowledge, and healing practices which address the interconnection between our mind, body, spirit, and environment. Our soul has been eager to bring back these ways…. our ways. We are waking up and seeing the sacredness within us, we are not separate, different, or inferior, we are one with all that is- In Lak’ech (I am another you). These ways have always been within us, they have been part of who we are, we have simply been blinded by the shame and the false illusion of the American Dream. Our ancestral knowledge and wisdom is not pseudo-science it’s what modern psychotherapy can’t seem to understand, therefore a continued disconnect exist among professionals and our communities.
As a psychotherapist, I too have been guilty of partaking in this shame game, but have consciously made a commitment to check my privileges, bias, and ego, and I challenge my colleagues to do the same. I have been part of the system for too long and have seen firsthand the deep pain and sorrow of our people, and how the chains of colonization continue to imprison our spirits. I think it’s time that we as mental health professionals begin to look deeper into the wounds of our clients and begin to ask different questions. Only then can we really address the root causes of their pain.