Who is Dr. Christiana Awosan? How can you create a safe space in your practice to discuss racial trauma? How has the Black Lives Matter movement influenced therapy and conversations in society?
In this podcast episode, Alison Pidgeon talks to Dr. Christiana Awosan about her group practice that addresses racial trauma.
Meet Christiana Awosan
Christiana I. Awosan, Ph.D., is a Licensed Marriage/Couple and Family therapist, educator, and researcher. She is currently an Assistant Professor in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Iona College and an Associate Faculty of the Eikenberg Academy for Social Justice in New York. She’s the founder of Ibisanmi Relational Health, a group private practice located in New York City and Northern Jersey.
Contact Dr. Christiana Awosan – email@example.com
In This Podcast
- Ibisanmi Relational Health group practice
- Advice for practice owners who want to create a safe space to talk about racial trauma
- The shift in learning and discussion
Ibisanmi Relational Health group practice
Christiana launched the practice primarily for her students to continue their Marriage and Family Therapy training with her supervision, but also because she saw a need for therapy specifically aimed at working with people of color. Initially, she started the practice by herself but then took on three former students as full-time therapists, and the practice developed into a group practice. There are now five therapists working at the practice in the two locations; first in New Jersey and now in New York City too.
Ibisanmi is a Yoruba word that means ‘being born fits me’. Christiana chose this name partly because it uses part of her middle name (Ibilola) and part of her family name (Awosan), but also because it emphasizes the importance of accepting and embracing who you are, which is something that is often difficult for people of color to do in society. Christiana wants to emphasize the cultural understanding that the way you were born is who you are, and who you are supposed to be, and how you are supposed to really live your life.
Advice for practice owners who want to create a safe space to talk about racial trauma
Be fully committed to the work
Talking about racial trauma is a very heavy and painful experience, particularly if you, the therapist/clinician, are a person of color, as you have to carry your client’s pain as well as your own. Christiana emphasizes the importance of black and brown clinicians going through proper training (e.g. via the Eikenberg Academy for Social Justice) in how to address racial trauma and being fully committed to working with racial trauma, not only in your client’s life but also in your own.
As a racial being who is also working as a therapist, you need to be able to deal with your own trauma before you attempt to deal with someone else’s. Christiana’s philosophy is if you’re able to embody it in your own personal life and in your own healing and your own understanding, it’s going to be reflected in the mechanisms and strategies you use in providing therapy.
Be honest and transparent about the work that you’re trying to do
Considering the heaviness of addressing racial trauma and making your therapy and practice a safe space to do so, it might be difficult for you to ‘advertise’ on the forefront that this is the work that you’re doing. It is important to make it known that you’re doing this work, especially now with the upheaval of society in response to the strings of killings of black people, with special mention of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and the impact of police brutality and racial injustice on people of color. Christiana says it took her until recently to realize the importance of being upfront about doing this work, because times have changed. In the past, it might have been more difficult to be open about discussing racial trauma, as the term itself ‘put people off’ and people generally didn’t want to believe that it was true. Further, as Christiana puts it, “brown people don’t like talking about racism because it’s very painful for us, it’s a trauma for us”, so you need to be open about creating a safe space for people to address racial trauma.
Be mindful of the work that you’re taking on and be sure to make time for self-care and knowing your own limits. Especially in the last month with the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the majority of the practice’s clients have been seeking therapy to discuss their racial trauma.
The shift in learning and discussion
Christiana teaches at Masters level so her students are young adults in their mid-20s. One of the differences Christiana has noticed, even just over the last 5 years, is that the students are more diverse and more open to talking about sociocultural trauma. Her students are generally more willing to stay engaged in the conversation and contribute meaningfully to discussions about sociocultural trauma.
Christiana has made it her mission to make her classroom a space where her students can practice by having the difficult conversations with her and with their peers so that, when they get into the therapy room, they can manage the difficult conversations with their clients. One of the most important things Christiana tries to teach her students is to engage with the difficult topics with yourself. If you cannot address your own feelings and experiences around race, class, gender, sexual orientation, or even religion, then you need to work on that before you become a therapist and have to address those topics with others.
Eikenberg Academy of Social Justice – Quarantine Conversations Video Sale
· Awosan, C.I.,& Hardy, K. V. (2017) Coupling processes and experiences of never married heterosexual Black men and women: A phenomenological study. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy. 43(3), 463-481.doi:10.1111/jmft. 12215
· Awosan, C.I., Sandberg, J.G., & Hall, C.A. (2011). Understanding the experience of Black clients in marriage and family therapy, Journal of Marital and Family Therapy,37(2), 153-168.doi: 10.1111/j.1752-0606.2009.00166.x
· Nightingale, M., Awosan, C. I.& Stavrianopoulos, K. (2019). Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples: A culturally sensitive approach for African Americans.Journal of Family Psychotherapy.
· Hardy, K. V. (2013). Healing the hidden wounds of racial trauma. Reclaiming children and youth. Spring, Vol. 22(1). www.reclaimingjournal.com
· Hardy, K. V. &Awosan, C. I. (2019). Therapy with heterosexual Black couples through a racial lens. (Edited Book Chapter), In M. McGoldrick & K. V. Hardy. (Editors) Re-Visioning Family Therapy(pp. 419-432) (3rd Edition). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.
- How to get Media Attention for Your Practice with Dave Pidgeon – Part 2 | GP 23
- Marriage and Family Therapy Department at Iona College
- Eikenberg Academy for Social Justice
- Ibisanmi Relational Health
- Black Lives Matter movement website
- PoP Group Practice Owners Facebook Group
- Email Alison: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Free resources to help you start, grow and scale
- Work with us
- Consult With Alison
Meet Alison Pidgeon
Alison is a serial entrepreneur with four businesses, one of which is a 15 clinician group practice. She’s also a mom to three boys, wife, coffee drinker, and loves to travel. She started her practice in 2015 and, four years later, has two locations. With a specialization in women’s issues, the practices have made a positive impact on the community by offering different types of specialties not being offered anywhere else in the area.
Alison has been working with Practice of the Practice since 2016 and has helped over 70 therapist entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses, through mastermind groups and individual consulting.
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Welcome to the Grow a Group Practice podcast. I’m Alison Pidgeon, your host. Today, I have a great interview with Dr. Christiana Awosan, who actually was a consulting client of mine recently, and she has a group practice located in New York City and New Jersey, and she also is a professor. She has spent her whole career and education exploring different topics around racial trauma and has developed her group practice to be really a very safe place for people of color to come talk about racial trauma and, given everything that’s happening in America right now with the Black Lives Matter movement, I thought it would be really important to interview Christiana and talk to her all about the really important work that she’s doing in the world, and her perspective on what’s happening right now in America, and the conversations that we’re having that we previously haven’t had before. So, I really enjoyed this interview, and I hope you do as well.
Today on the podcast, we have Christiana Awosan. She is a PhD Licensed Marriage/Family/Couple therapist, an educator, and researcher. She’s currently an assistant professor in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Iona College and an associate faculty of the Eikenberg Academy for Social Justice in New York. She’s the founder of Ibisanmi Relational Health, a group private practice located in New York City and northern New Jersey. Welcome to the podcast, Christiana.[CHRISTIANA]:
Hi, Alison! Thank you for having me. [ALISON]:
Yeah, I’m so glad that you were able to take the time to speak with us. I know things have been tough, I know you’re located in New York City, and everything happening with the Coronavirus, and I know you’re already juggling a lot with teaching and running your group practice, so I really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today. [CHRISTIANA]:
You’re welcome. Anytime. I’m happy to be here. [ALISON]:
Yeah, great. So, I thought it’d be good if you could sort of start out giving us an overview of your practice, you know, how it currently stands, what types of clients that you serve, and that kind of thing? [CHRISTIANA]:
Okay. Yeah. So, in 2018, I started – actually it was 2017, but we launched in 2018 – so, the name of the practice is Ibisanmi Relational Health, and I started that practice, really, because my former students basically wanted me to continue to supervise them, and so they also need clinical hours as marriage and family therapists so they basically were like, “We’ll be your therapists, just like start a practice” and I was very busy, so I didn’t feel like actually starting a practice right away, but I decided to just go ahead and do it because I saw that, especially as a marriage and family therapist and with the group of work that we do, because the practice is mainly focused on working with black and brown and people of color, and they wanted to continue that training, so I decided to just start it then, in 2018. I started off actually wanting it to be a group practice, but then it took longer for the two students to actually start, my former students, to start with me. So, I started by myself and then within a year and a half, I had at least one more of my former students join me. So, that’s how we started a group practice in two locations. So, we started in New Jersey and in New York City. [ALISON]:
Oh, nice. So how many therapists do you have now? [CHRISTIANA]:
Right now, we have four and another one is starting this week. So, five. [ALISON]:
Oh, great. That’s awesome. Yeah. So, tell us about… what is the meaning behind the name of the practice? [CHRISTIANA]:
Right, so, Ibisanmi Relational Health. Ibisanmi is a Yoruba word, actually, that means “Being born fits me”. So I not only picked that name because I use my name, my middle initial and also my family name, to combine it together, and Yoruba people are from West Africa, Nigerian people, and the language Yoruba means a lot, it says a lot about who you are. And I’ve picked the name, Ibisanmi, because of the group of people that we’re working with. As I said before, we’re working with black, brown, and people of color, and the ways in which society tells us that we are not good enough, or that we don’t fit, or that being in the skin color that we’re in is not right or is a danger… So, I really wanted to kind of like really showcase that the name of the practice in itself, what it stands for, is that this space is a space of healing for black and brown people, that this place is a space that you are good enough, that there’s nothing wrong with you because you’re born black, brown, or of color, just really emphasizing that cultural understanding that you been born actually fits you. It fits who you are. This is who you’re supposed to be, and this is how you’re supposed to really live your life, with all your strengths, with all your struggles. [ALISON]:
Yeah, that’s amazing. And I love when somebody chooses a name for their practice that has a story behind it and also fits with, you know, kind of the niche of the practice, because it’s such a great way of explaining to clients what you’re all about. And so, it sounds like you put a lot of thought into that. [CHRISTIANA]:
Yeah, definitely. Definitely. And I think in terms of, even the practice in itself, I talked about how since from undergrad – I majored in psychology and pre-med in undergrad at Syracuse University – and I remember wanting to do psychological research on, just, Black relationships. And it was really difficult for me to find articles that speak specifically on black relationships in a positive way, not in a deficit way, and I remember saying to myself, if I were ever to go to grad school, or even medical school, I was gonna focus whatever work I do on understanding black people, because I really wanted to do more research on understanding who we are. And so, from my undergrad, to my master’s, to my PhD, my focus has always been on understanding black people, black families, and their struggle in society; mentally, emotionally, and relationally. So even in my master’s program, I did my master’s in marriage and family therapy at Syracuse University, and I remember people saying to me, well, black people don’t go to therapy, why do you wanna go to grad school and be a therapist? And I said to them, black people do go to therapy. Not a whole lot of us, but they do go to therapy. And then the cool thing is, at Syracuse we have a clinic, right? So, I remember my professor saying to me, well, I mean, what kind of research do you want to do? So, I was like, well, everyone is always talking about how black people don’t go to therapy, but that’s not true, because there are black people at this clinic who come to therapy. So, I wanted to research what their experiences were like in coming to therapy, those black families that came to therapy, and individuals, and one of the things that we found out was that they do come to therapy, that black people do come to therapy, but one of the things that they are apprehensive about is that they’re really afraid that the clinician might not understand their black culture. They might not understand who they are culturally, and they also fear that the therapist will not talk about race, which is something that they feel like is part of their struggle, and just the whole, like, myth that therapy is not for black people. So, that, in itself, concretized the reasons why I so want to focused on black people, and do more research on black people, my people, and also to kind of really create a practice that focuses on the healing of black people, but particularly when we talk about racial trauma, and just really race-based stresses that we experience on a daily basis. [ALISON]:
Wow, yeah, that sounds like a great experience for you as an undergrad to be able to do that research and it sounds like you kind of saw that there was a, you know, missing piece there in the research. How do you think that has, like, influenced you when you started your practice? So, obviously there were probably many years in-between when you started doing that work and when you started the practice, like, was that part of your vision for the practice? Or did that just kind of happen organically as you were building it? [CHRISTIANA]:
That was part of my vision. So, the research I’m talking about was in my master’s program. My understanding of wanting to focus on black people started from undergrad, with the research in itself starting from my master’s program. And so, the program I went to at Syracuse, was very focused on social justice, and stuff from the therapists’ work so, from there, I got a lot of training from my professor and my mentor. So, Ken Hardy, who is big in the field around racial justice and like really talking about sociocultural trauma, was my mentor in my PhD program, which I did at Drexel University. We focused on social justice and stuff of the therapists work as well. So, even all my training was really focused on highlighting sociocultural trauma, and really looking at myself as the therapist. So not only did my training help me to focus on looking at the ways in which – and when I say sociocultural trauma, I’m talking about racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, homophobia – so even then my research decided to focus on looking at black male-female romantic relationships and the uncoupling process, that was what my dissertation was focused on. So, like, literally everything that I write and research and train on really looks at how societal ‘-isms’ impact the lives of marginalized people. And also, like, even in terms of those who are privileged, whether it’s male, white, or even people who are upper class, because these traumas also impact them as well. [ALISON]:
Wow, that’s great. So, what was the topic of your dissertation? [CHRISTIANA]:
It was understanding heterosexual, black, male-female, intimate, romantic relationships. It was a phenomenological study, which is a qualitative study. So basically what I did was also grounded in trying to understand and debunk the myth that black, heterosexual men and women are not in a couple or relationship, or don’t want to be in a couple or relationship, because that’s what the myth is, that we don’t have good romantic relationships, that romantic relationships do not last, and so, I wanted to really understand that better. So I just went out, researched and interviewed 30 individual and coupled black men and women to really get their understanding as to how the coupling process goes, and one of the biggest things which was surprising to me was that people highlight the impact of slavery and the impact of daily racism, like discrimination whether overt or covert, on their ability to kind of connect with a potential romantic partner or even current romantic partner. And they talk a lot about how just, really, racial stereotypes also impact that, like, the early stages of the coupling process. So, as a marriage and family therapist, I was really interested in that, which also then fueled me to say, I really want to create a practice that really focuses on this group of people, because there is little research or even understanding about black relationships, mental health, romantic health, or even emotional health. I always give the example, when people talk about couples therapy, right? Particularly when we look at the big models in our field, EFT will be one of them, that the study was really (inaudible) on heterosexual, white couples, right, middle class. It really doesn’t focus on diverse couples, but we call that couples therapy, right? But really, what we’re speaking about is white couples therapy. So, I really wanted to, like, really create that space to understand black coupleship, to create a space for even the understanding of it and the healing of it, particularly with the ways in which racism impacts that relationship. [ALISON]:
Oh, yeah, that’s so important, and I think that’s so cool that you were able to do research on that and see how, kind of, our larger society cultural factors are really affecting black couples. Just switching gears a little bit… if a practice owner wanted to start a niche in their practice related to racial trauma, do you have any advice for them, in terms of how to speak about that or market that or, like, sort of demonstrate to potential clients that this is a safe space to talk about those things? [CHRISTIANA]:
Yeah, that’s a good question. So, I’ve been thinking about this actually. So, I’ve been doing this work now for almost, maybe, 15 years now and also, not only do I have a practice, and now I’m a therapist as a marriage and family therapist focusing on racial trauma, I also do a lot of training and workshops on it and it is a very… for me, it is a very painful experience. It’s very heavy work, right, talking about racial trauma, particularly as a black person, having to carry not only my own pain, but the pain of people who look like me and to really see it on a daily basis. So, it is a very tasking job. To me, it’s one of those things that, if you’re gonna do it, you have to be fully committed to it. Because if you’re not fully committed to it, you can end up like re-injuring your client, right? So, I think if a clinician decides that they want to do this, I would really encourage them to be well-trained in how to address racial trauma, and they have to also be able to deal with it within their own lives, because it’s going to show up in their working with the clients. So, being able to work on yourself, and understand yourself fully around your identity, your location as a racial being and the ways in which you see yourself and society sees you and how you deal with your own trauma. And I’m talking here as black and brown clinicians of color, I think there’s a different type of work that white clinicians need to do if they decide they actually want to focus on that, there is extensive work that they have to do around that, to really understand their own racial being and whiteness. So, that’s the stuff of the clinician, the stuff of the practice owner that I just spoke about. I think in terms of marketing and like really embodying it, my philosophy is if you’re able to embody it in your own personal life and in your own healing and your own understanding, it’s gonna come off on whatever marketing strategies you use, and whichever way in which you work with your clients, right? So, I don’t know if I have a specific rule for clinicians to do, besides being authentic with yourself, right, and being able to speak about race and learn how to highlight that and see that and name that in therapy with your clients, and even in the problems that they bring in into therapy. [ALISON]:
Yeah, I’m glad that you mentioned that piece about being authentic, because I think, you know, when we had worked together, doing consulting, we were talking about how you had developed this niche of helping people with racial trauma, but that wasn’t very obvious on your website at the time. And I had really encouraged you to make it more obvious, because I think, even just putting that out there on your website that like hey, this is a safe space for you, these are the things that we talk about in therapy and, you know, just doing that in an authentic way, is huge. [CHRISTIANA]:
Right. Right. And I’m glad you brought that up, because I think one of the reasons why is just knowing the heaviness of this work, right? I think I’ve been going, not until recently, I’ve been going back and forth if, like, that’s what I want to put on the forefront, right, of the practice. It is intertwined into the practice, but I’ve been going back and forth if that’s what I want to put on the forefront of the practice. And I think, sadly, with the way the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and just really the string of killings of black people lately, I really brought that word into the open, racial trauma. I mean, I remember five years ago, even ten years ago, mentioning racial trauma and no one wants to hear it. Like, whoa, that’s not true, that’s not real. And now, it’s like what people are talking about. And also, I think for me, it’s just the heaviness of that work. I always say like, black and brown people don’t like talking about racism because it’s very painful for us, it’s a trauma for us. So it’s really difficult, which is why I feel like people need to be fully committed if they’re going to do the work, to take the work on, because it is going to require a lot of your soul, I feel. If that makes sense. [ALISON]:
Mm hmm. Oh, yeah, for sure. And what makes you hesitate about making that more obvious on your website, that that’s something that you can help clients with? [CHRISTIANA]:
Right, good question. I think it comes down to being honest to my own struggle around the heaviness of the work, right? Because it’s something that, like, when I do workshops on this with several people, so there’s that aspect of the other side of my work, which is working with people around racial trauma, and then bringing it into individual work. So, I always, like, try to be mindful of how much I’m taking on. So, I was really kind of more concerned about the heaviness of it, and how people were going to respond to it, which is my own work that I’ve been working on and I’m doing. [ALISON]:
Yeah. So, just that, maybe, worry that you would have, then, a whole caseload of clients who are talking about that all at the same time, and just, maybe, from a self-care perspective, that being too much for you. [CHRISTIANA]:
Yeah, that makes total sense. [CHRISTIANA]:
Yeah. And this last month shows me that I can handle it, because, literally, every single one of our clients, that’s what they’ve talked about, that’s what’s been brought up. So, I kinda really, I guess, challenge myself and allow myself to realize that, yeah, this work is hard. And you have to actually practice what you preach as well. Engage in stuff. And this is, I mean, I really see, like, being a therapist a calling, and doing this work in particular around racial trauma, a calling for me. [ALISON]:
Yeah. And I think that’s what helps you to keep going when things get hard. Yeah, for sure. Yeah, one thing I was curious about is, you know, given everything that’s happening in America right now, with the Black Lives Matter movement, what does this moment mean to you and your clinicians and maybe even your clients? Like, do you feel like the conversations that are happening right now seem different than they have in the past? [CHRISTIANA]:
Yeah, I think, Yeah, I definitely feel that way. I mean, I think I remember when Tamir Rice and even Trayvon Martin were killed, and the word and the movement of Black Lives Matter started. People really didn’t know what to make of the group. Basically, they attached a very negative view to the group. And it was pretty clear that what the group was saying, what the movement was saying, is that black lives need to matter, because we’re human beings, and that we can’t just be killed around randomly on the street because we’re human beings as well, who belong to other human beings as brothers, sisters, you know, uncles, fathers, mothers, you know, and I felt that, recently and since the murder of George Floyd, like, that changed, because I think people realize that, and I hope so, people realize that black people are also humans. And that’s what Black Lives Matter has been trying to say, that we are humans and our dignity needs to be respected, our humanity needs to be seen. And I feel like there’s a shift that is happening, particularly not only in recognizing black lives, I also see that there’s a shift happening, and white people are trying to understand their whiteness even more. I really appreciate the work of the people that have come before me, in terms of not only activism, but, I’m thinking about, even in our field, like, when I talk about my mentor, and people who have done so much work around helping people to understand the ways in which race shows up in every single one of our lives, and how to actually bring up race in the therapy room. I think there’s definitely a shift in understanding the need to really center black lives, right? To really center black experiences, and to really understand black pain and even black joy. So, I definitely believe that there is a shift that has happened and I’m excited about that shift, even though I am nervous because, when I look at history, whenever there is a gain for black people, there’s always a backlash. But, at the same time, I’m also excited that there is a recognition that black lives do matter and I’m also so proud of like, just the protests that have been happening and also like my generation and the generation below me taking on the mantle of the generation before us around the fact that our lives do matter. Being able to say that, like the name of my practice says, being born fits me. I am enough, being black, with my dark skin, with my brown skin. And that makes me special and that makes me human, so. I really, like, I’ve really been appreciative of that and very proud of that. [ALISON]:
Yeah. I think what I’ve noticed is people aren’t just talking anymore, they’re taking action, you know, from various racial backgrounds and I think that that, to me, has been a big shift, too. It’s like, people are encouraging other people, you know, like, we need to do something. And I think, you know, that’s part of the reason why I wanted to have this conversation today because I think in the past, especially as a white person, we would just be like, well, this doesn’t really affect me, so I’m just going to ignore it and, you know, not talk about it. But I think that, you know, we all are realizing we have this responsibility to, you know, to make this situation better, and if we all rise up and say, “This isn’t right”, then that’s, you know, likely going to change what’s happening in the world, or in America, at least. So yeah, yeah. Are you kind of seeing the same thing, that it seems like people are taking more action now than they were in the past? [CHRISTIANA]:
Yes, I feel like people are more mindful of the ways in which they are bringing themselves to society and the part that they play in society, right? Particularly, like, for white people. I think white people, which I really appreciate, and all the work that all the other people have done, because she didn’t and she will say this, that she didn’t do this work by herself – Robyn DiAngelo. Her whole concept of white fragility, which is based on so many other people of color, white people’s work around understanding whiteness. And I think really having the language, like, white people having the language for what happens for them when they see themselves as a racial being in an interaction with black and brown people, like, how that white fragility shows up. I think it’s been good to be able to see white people not only intellectually grasping that, but really struggling and staying engaged to emotionally grasp that, right, and to do the work. And I mean, there are still a group of white people who are still having difficulties with it and, at the same time, I’m grateful that people are engaged, right, and wanting to do the work, because it’s not only for the liberation of black people or brown people, it’s also for the liberation of white people, because racial trauma also hurts white people in a different way. [ALISON]:
Yeah. Can you talk more about that? [CHRISTIANA]:
Yeah, I felt that because one of the myths of white supremacy is the notion that, and is the belief and the practice, that white people are superior to other racial groups. And sadly, if we look at any, like, institution, whether it is education, media, government… white people have been given, whether like explicitly or implicitly, this belief that they are better than. And I feel like, what then that does is it separates you as a human being from other human being, right? So, that’s the way I feel like racial trauma hurts white people, because it doesn’t allow for an authentic emotional connection. It creates this division for white people to not be able to see themselves in another person who is of color because of their different skin color. And that kind of hurts, and not only hurts it injures because it doesn’t allow you to be fully human. [ALISON]:
Yeah, I hadn’t thought of it that way before, but I think I can see that. One other thing I wanted to ask you about, too, is, I know you teach college students in addition to having your private practice, so what are you seeing in terms of, maybe, some generational differences between, like, the young people that you’re teaching at the college level versus maybe your clients who may be of another generation? Are there trends that you see in regard to their perspectives on therapy and race? [CHRISTIANA]:
Yeah, good question. Actually, the interesting thing, which is also something I’m very proud of, is that the clients that we see, the average range is probably, like, young adults, like the 40s, 45 and down, right? So, in that, I’m even so proud of, like, the amount of black and brown people coming to therapy. I think, in terms of talking about the generational change of my students… so, I teach master’s level students and, let’s say, maybe generations before me, in terms of the people that probably taught me, like maybe people in their 40s, or in the 50s. I think one of the things that I’ve noticed, especially in the past five years, actually, let me go forward a little bit, in the past five years, I realized – and then, also switching universities – that the students are more diverse, and the students are more open to talking about sociocultural trauma. It’s really interesting because in the spring, one of my classes was focused on understanding family relationships, so we focused on sociocultural trauma and we focused on race. And I had an older student, she’s not… she’s an older student in the sense that she was having difficulty understanding white privilege at the beginning of the semester, and by the end of the semester it was really so great to see how she was able to understand better what we mean by white privilege and was able to kind of really open up to saying, I didn’t know what this is, I thought white privilege was saying that, I mean, as a white person, I didn’t have any struggles at all, which is not what word means. It just means, like, because of your skin color, right? Because of your race, you’ve had more chances, more doors have been opened to you, compared to a black or brown person. So, really, seeing that shift in like my students willing to stay engaged in the conversation, rather than to retreat, right, rather than to say this is not important, they’ve been able to see the importance of actually having these conversations in the classroom, because one of the ways in which I also teach is really helping my students – I always tell them, it’s not therapy, but it’s going to feel like therapy. So, helping them to really have the classroom as the space where they can truly practice how to have these difficult conversations with themselves and with their clients, so that when they get into the therapy room, they’re actually able to do it, right? So, I feel like this shift has been… my students have really been willing and more engaged in learning more about this. Not from a “let me just be a therapist and, like, save my client”, but really, I’m the therapist, I’m the vessel, so I need to do the work myself in order to be able to help my clients do the work as well. [ALISON]:
Yeah, I think that that’s great, what you were saying about, you know, creating that safe space in the classroom to learn and, you know, when we’re learning, obviously, part of that process is making mistakes and, you know, just being open to going through that process. And yeah, I think it’s so important because, I think that, you know, I think back to even when I went to graduate school, which was about 15 years ago now, some of that was happening, but I feel like even in that, you know, short amount of time, so much has changed in regards to our conversations related to race, so I think it’s great that you are providing that space for your students to talk through that and figure out how they can apply that to their work with clients. [CHRISTIANA]:
Definitely. You know, it’s difficult work, but at the end of it, they are grateful for it. At first, they’re just kind of like, why are we talking about this? It’s like, traumatic for us to talk about. And then, like, I really explained to them my teaching philosophy, which is focused on stuff of the therapist, right? Like, you really need to do your own work, because if you can’t do your own work, particularly around difficult topics, such as race, such as class, and gender and sexual orientation, even religion, it’s gonna be really difficult for you to do that with your clients and your clients. I’m not gonna come in and say, “I have racial trauma”, they’re not gonna come in and say that. What they’re gonna come in and say is, “I’m depressed, I’m anxious”, right? It is your job as the therapist to be able to understand their problem, their life, in the context of their social location, of their cultural being, in the context of, like, where they sit in society, as a person of color, as a black person, as a trans person, you know, to be able to understand how that also impacts the clients, and their emotional health, and their relational health. [ALISON]:
Yeah, I think that’s such a good point about clients don’t walk in the door necessarily identifying the connection between those things. They just know they’re depressed or anxious and they need help, right? Yeah. Yeah, I know you had mentioned before about if a clinician wanted to do more work around racial trauma with clients, that they should obviously get good training around that. Is there any particular trainings or other resources that you would recommend if somebody is interested in that? [CHRISTIANA]:
Yeah. So, I’m part of the Eikenberg Academy for Social Justice, and we basically do trainings around racial trauma, and really just understanding race, race issues, and how it impacts us as individuals, as clinicians. So, we have several trainings on that, and then we have an annual conference, we couldn’t have it this year so we did a virtually, called Soul Work, which really helps anyone to understand just, really, how racism impacts us as human beings, so… [ALISON]:
Okay, yeah. That all sounds awesome. So, do you know off the top of your head, what the website is in case people want to find out more information about that? [CHRISTIANA]:
So, it’s called the Eikenberg Institute, eikenberginstitute.com, yeah. [ALISON]:
Okay, we’ll definitely put that in the show notes for people, if they want to check that out. Yeah, yeah, that’s great. [CHRISTIANA]:
I can also include in one of the show notes, like, maybe a couple of references and, like, articles that people can read if they’re interested. [ALISON]:
Yes, that would be wonderful. Thank you. Yeah. If people want to get a hold of you, Christiana, or if they want to learn more about your practice, what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you? [CHRISTIANA]:
They can either go on our website, and there’s a link to a form that they can fill out to get in touch with me, or they can also email me at email@example.com. [ALISON]:
Okay, wonderful. Well, I just wanted to say thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast today and talk with us. I just really appreciate all of your expertise in this area, and I think you’re doing such important work in the world, so thank you so much. [CHRISTIANA]:
Thank you, Alison. [ALISON]:
Well, I want to say thank you again to Christiana for taking the time to speak with us. Obviously, she has a lot going on with running her practice and teaching school and dealing with the Coronavirus in New York City and, you know, the racial unrest that’s happening right now in America, so I just really appreciate her expertise and sharing with us what she is working on. If you’re interested in any of the resources that she mentioned, they will be in the show notes. And I wanted to say, as well, that we are a relatively new podcast, we just launched right when the pandemic was starting in the United States, so if you have time to listen to a few episodes, and leave us a review on iTunes, or wherever you listen to podcasts, we would really appreciate it. We would love to get the word out to as many future group practice owners or current group practice owners as possible about the podcast, and if you have any specific topics that you would like to see me cover in the podcast, or if you think you would be a great person to interview, just send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’d love to hear from you because I definitely want to make this podcast as valuable for you as a group practice owner or future group practice owner as possible. So, I hope you have a great day and we’ll see you next time.
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