In mental health training and treatment, examining the impact of racism on brains and bodies is largely uncharted territory. And while, in recent years, clinicians who advocate for the study of race-based trauma have made strides in promoting this work, most mental health programs still do not offer official training around racial trauma — a debilitating effect of racism and discrimination.
Racial trauma comprises the mental and physical effects and consequences that Black, indigenous and people of color experience after being exposed to racism. It does not only occur when a person directly experiences racism; it is also a vicarious phenomenon that can be passed through generations.
“The piece about racial trauma that is really unique is the intergenerational impact,” said Maryam Jernigan-Noesi, a psychologist who studied at Boston College’s Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture. “So it’s not just me and my lifetime and what I’ve experienced — it’s the stories you heard from family members, it’s witnessing that of colleagues or peers, and now with social media and online mechanisms of folks sharing videos, it’s also witnessing things that you may not experience directly.”
As issues related to race and equality continue to spark self-reflection among non-Black people, the phrase “racial trauma” is being invoked more frequently, and becoming an even more necessary official treatment area in the mental health field.
In order for Black people to address their experiences and ultimately work toward healing, racial trauma needs to be acknowledged and implemented into mental health treatment trainings — because, as the experts we spoke to emphasized, racial trauma has its own set of challenges and effects for victims.