How to Identify a Trauma-Informed Therapist


by Chay Tanchanco, LMFT


There is an intensity about the Bay Area and throughout the country. We are living through a crucial moment in history of communal layers of pain, grief, and confusion. It follows naturally that many of us, especially people of color and most specifically Black Americans, are experiencing trauma to our collective systems.


It is easy to identify physical trauma. We cannot question the sight of a bruise or a wound. But emotional and mental wounds are insidious, often disguised in many forms. It's important for us then to be able to identify trauma and how it affects us.


Trauma:

  • is a combination between a major event or small events over time AND the disruption of a person's self-image, which can also change their beliefs about others or the world

  • can change our physiology, our DNA, and has been researched in connection to lifelong and terminal illnesses

  • does not determine our personality or our choices, but if we are unaware of it, we can become subject to its effects on our beliefs

  • can be perpetuated by a system of oppression, and it can add up in different areas (i.e. Asian-American veterans who experienced racism were more likely to also have PTSD; African-Americans who experienced racism were more likely to develop PTSD, depression, and anxiety; etc.)

In today's world, it is especially important to work with a therapist who is trauma-informed. Here are a few tips to identify whether you are working with the right therapist for you:


Be mindful of your feelings of safety in the room, especially around topics where your identity and theirs diverges.

No two people are exactly alike, even if you are within the same subgroup of people.

The right therapist for you will:

  • listen first and foremost,

  • make strides to create a safe space (both physically and emotionally) for difficult conversation,

  • and do their OWN work to inform themselves of racial, ethnic, gender, and class disparities.

Tap in to your own empowerment.

As therapy develops over time, you will feel more and more able to understand and actively change your life. This is the feeling of empowerment. Many people are seeking an increase in self-esteem, and sometimes we don't always know what that looks like. We may be looking for answers, and we think that our therapist is going to tell us what to do to make things better. If your therapist is helping you feel more in control, more confident, more able to take on the day-to-day of your life, and breaks it down with you in a way that you feel seen and understood, then you are gaining self-worth. Trauma-informed practice is centered around uplifting the person and seeing them as fully capable and powerful in their own lives.


Practice your strengths in therapy.

A trauma-informed therapist will actively seek out your strengths, your skills, and help you build on what you already have going on. Being "prescriptive" is an easy out, because often people may feel inclined to believe that the therapist knows better than them. With a therapist who understands your beliefs and what gives you life, you can explore how to apply those passions to existing issues in your life.


We all have a role to play in the changes that must take place in our society. To be a mental health professional is to uphold the environment for all to grow and connect. When we seek out and give trauma-informed care, we do our part to make our world that much brighter.


Sources:

http://www.fact.virginia.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Racial-Trauma-Issue-Brief.pdf

https://ctacny.org/sites/default/files/trainings-pdf/the_role_of_racial_trauma_in_psychotherapy.final_.7.23.pdf

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