Claude Cayemitte, a clinical social worker and NARM Therapist, joins the Transforming Trauma podcast to examine how complex trauma impacts individuals from marginalized communities and how unrecognized cultural trauma can lead to misattunement in the therapeutic relationship. Using the NeuroAffective Relational Model as a foundation, and his own background as a Haitian-American male therapist, Claude addresses blind spots, such as privilege, biases and fear, that impact connection between therapists and their clients, particularly from non-dominant cultures. These blind spots can prevent much-needed introspection within and outside of the therapeutic setting, and can lead to further distrust and disconnection between individuals and communities.
Claude describes complex trauma as a chronic issue individuals experience, similar to chronic pain. He visualizes complex trauma as “a bunch of paper cuts, or scar tissue, built up over time.” Claude has seen first-hand how complex trauma can negatively impact people’s capacity for health and well-being. He says, like with most chronic issues, when living with complex trauma, “a person is able to function, but there’s really this lack of access to what they can fully do as a person.”
A significant yet under-recognized aspect of complex trauma is cultural trauma. The NeuroAffective Relational Model seeks to understand an individual from a marginalized community who has developed psychobiological adaptations, or survival strategies, in order to manage the ongoing trauma of living within systemic oppression. Claude talks about how important it is for therapists, as well as anyone interested in health and well-being, to have a willingness to keep learning about systemic oppression in order to strengthen connection between different people and communities. “People want to connect with people of color, or an LGBTQ person, but if you don’t understand the complexities around their systemic oppression, and you don’t understand their own internal adaptations to that oppression – if you can’t connect to that, it doesn't matter your intention.”
The NARM model provides a way for people to more effectively explore their own biases and prejudices – a practice of self-reflection that can be uncomfortable for people, yet is so important. NARM supports this learning about oneself and the implicit realities of cultural trauma by offering a process based in compassion, and not in judgement. In this episode, Claude shares examples from times he had to take a step back to examine his own biases, while staying connected to himself with curiosity and understanding, and how this process of self-reflection provided important learning and transformed his capacity for deeper connection with others.
When talking about his own experience as a therapist who is also a person of color, Claude identifies the difference between what it feels like when people are acting-out from their own unconscious biases – even well-intended ones – versus when they show up with cultural humility. Cultural humility is not something that can be faked, it emerges from self-reflection that requires exploring one’s unconscious biases. When someone shows up with curiosity and openness, and is continually doing the work of self-reflection, they build the ability to tolerate the complexity of being connected to others even in difference and disagreement. Claude sees this as an important distinction to understand, especially for therapists working cross-culturally, or anyone working with social justice issues.
As a recipient of the Minority Fellowship Award from the Council of Social Work Education for his work with at-risk teens, Claude has witnessed first-hand what happens when therapists bring their whole selves, and a willingness to examine their own biases and fears, into their therapeutic practice: long-standing cultural trauma – social injustices and disconnection between individuals and communities – can begin to shift and heal.