Justice Centered Social Work
As our collective understanding of trauma deepens, we have come to understand that unresolved trauma lives in the body, frequently surfacing as anxiety, fear, heightened sensitivity, emotional overwhelm, body pain, panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, periods of dissociation. When our ability to process trauma is interrupted, we interrupt the natural and miraculous healing our bodies and emotional systems are capable of. What is also remarkable is that this resilient capacity for healing is something we can always return to, no matter when our experience of trauma may have occurred, how debilitating the traumatic recurrences may be, or whether the traumas may be personal, community or historical in nature.
One of the core frameworks of my clinical practice is that each of our emotions–no matter how challenging–speaks to our lived human experience. This is how, as a justice centered clinician, I understand and translate diverse mental health experiences. This framework is one of the many ways I breathe a recovery model into my work, supporting folks in learning to view their emotions, symptoms and reactions as signposts on their wellness path, humanizing the range of our human emotional experience. This is a clear counter to the mainstream medical model narrative that so often blames and pathologizes folks for their lived experience (poverty, homelessness, trauma responses, behaviors perceived as challenging, addiction and dependence, traditional mental health symptoms and on and on). This counter-to-the-system is radical social work at its core.
Though I have witnessed firsthand the important work of many capable integrative wellness practitioners working inside the system, the mainstream mental health system maintains a strong, single-minded narrative—a deeply entrenched belief about the limitations of recovery. It sounds something like, “Take your medication as prescribed. Keep your therapy appointments with your pre-determined therapist as prescribed. You can expect these symptoms to continue.” This narrative is not only limiting, it is harmful, and in no way does it speak to our immense capacity for resilience, strength, empowerment, remarkableness or capability. In truth, there are as many unique ways to access healing as there are dreamers to dream them into being.
The (ecofeminist) part of me that recognizes the interconnection of all oppressions, also knows intuitively that all justices are interconnected. Where oppression creates disconnection (or perhaps where disconnection reinforces oppression), justice creates connection. Or, stated differently, one way of practicing justice is simply to connect. Connection is both the legacy and the frontier of justice.
This truth can be felt and experienced on many levels. Most fundamentally, however, this is true on a body level. Much of the work of learning to heal trauma—what I call trauma resiliency—is the the work of learning to sit with all parts of ourselves, to experience ourselves with a compassionate radical acceptance so that we might get to and beyond that still-space below the echoing hurt. There are as many unique ways to access healing as there are dreamers to dream them into being. Our bodies hold so much deep wisdom and insight, how dare we not listen to them. In fact, I dare us to listen! Our bodies have such important things to say!
Movement is a bridge between the body and mind. Intentional movement is a bridge between the will and possibility. The vital work of decolonizing yoga is so intimately tied to the decolonizing of our stories, bodies, earth, social and ecological environments, and of our immense capacity for healing. This is in the realm of our achievable possibility. We are the dreamers, dreaming these possibilities into being.
Unresolved trauma lives in the body, and this too is where we heal it. Yoga and body-positive (or body celebrating!) intentional movement supports our life’s work of learning to listen to, and sit with, all parts of ourselves in all states of being. Yoga and movement practices can and should be trauma-informed, consent-based (please get consent before touching or partnering) and, as much as possible, mindful and accepting of folks’ range of triggers and emotional experiences. And, too, movement and body-based healing has much to teach us about our capacity for growth, learning and possibility. This too is the work of decolonization, just as it is the outcome of healing and the sense of aliveness that is the reward for embodying justice and connection through our use of body, possibility, resiliency and self.