Showing posts with label justice and healing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label justice and healing. Show all posts

Friday, May 31, 2013

Trauma Resiliency: Weaving Body-Based Healing into Justice Practices

Heather Horizon Greene
Portland, OR
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.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Rape Consciousness

Jasmin aka Melissa Taylor
BSW, MSW candidate 
Toronto, On

Rape #1

I am the unrapeable subject,
The subject of desire,
The subject of disgust,
The subject of pain,
The subject of me,
I am have travel a far distance,
from boat, from foot, to plane,
I have travelled beyond my imagination,
my spirit transcends time and space,
my history is now, and my future is yesterday,
I have become a shadow of your consciousness,
and a reality in your music videos,
I am the un-rapeable subject, subject, subject, Subject
I carry this discourse of the unrapeable racialized subject,
It is in my being,
It is in my soul,
It is the here and now,
It is the historical memory of my ancestors,
From the Atlantic to late Ontario,
It surrounds me,
it vibrates my body,
circulates around my unconsciousness,
the un-rapeable me,
so as you ask “ for the evidence of MY body to do a rape kit”,
ask yourself,
how did I become the un-rapeable subject

Rape #2

Audre Lorde whispered in my ear,
My silence will not protect me,
It will not protect me from my fear,
nor pain,
because my rapist is real,
And the stains of that pain rings through my body and thoughts,
As I race against time to forget,
To remember happier times before him,
I am pulled backed every time I hear a rape joke,
Or a hetero-racist-sexist politician testifying what is legitimate rape,
So the year of 2012,
Became my year to scream,
To be enraged,
I was rape,
And it is not ok,
It was not gift from god,
And I will not get over it,
And it is my fucking right,
I will morn the pain in my own way,
So save the psychobabble crap,
Because I spent too many years trying to get it right,
between a therapist, myself and money,
I will scream,
I was rape,
And your discomfort,
Does not concern me.

Rape #3

The unspoken truth of our birth
The lies that spreads my legs
The truth that closes them
Over and over again
The open close experience
Races against time
And rains pain into my embodiment
Rape #4

Have you ever wonder about the stars?
When the pain was too much,
I have
Thank you stars

Rape #5

Have you ever looked a rapist in his eyes?
Caught his glance and looked again
Looking for the words “i'm sorry”,
And received a laugh 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Transformative Healing on the other side of Shame

Liberation Tea and Anti-Oppressive Skills Group is a monthly gathering for Portland-based humyn service workers to meet in supportive community with the opportunity to learn, practice and develop different skills and tools in justice-centered practice. We’ll offer tea, community and a safe, supportive space to share and grow in our practice. We welcome all justice seekers and healers of diverse healing practices.

This month at at Liberation Tea, we'll be meeting to watch/discuss the awesome (shame and resiliency researcher) Brené Brown's film, "The hustle for worthiness."

Brené is an absolutely inspiring story teller, researcher and justice weaver, teacher and author of shame, joy and resiliency. Those of you not Portland-based, unable to join us for Liberation Tea this month, or those who simply care about justice, healing and radical transformation, I invite you to sit down with your own cup of tea to watch Brené's inspiring TED talk.

Liberation tea will be 12/22 from 2-4pm. For more information visit: or email: Please RSVP your interest by email. This is an open group--new friends and allies are warmly welcome.

Anchored by Social Work Activists and Educators: Heather Horizon Greene and Sheila Walker.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Size Advocacy: An Inclusive Vision of Justice

Size Advocacy: An Inclusive Vision of Justice

Leah Krandel
New Orleans, LA
It became a question of airline seats.  It always becomes a question about something trivial like airline seats.  I told my fellow graduate social work students, the policy issue about which I care deeply is the inclusion of size as a protected category in anti-discrimination legislation. Immediately, my professor asked, “So, who should pay for the extra airline seat? What if you’re fat and need two seats, who should pay for it?”

“We should all pay for it,” I said.  Immediately, there was an outcry. “Why should I pay more for their bad choices?” etcetera, etcetera, insert comparison between fat people and smokers, here. 

I tried to reason with them.  I tried to explain to my classmates, “everyone’s bodies are just different. Discriminating against fat people is like discriminating against tall people.”  But they would not have it.  Vague, indignant references to “science” abounded- didn’t I know that if people are fat it is a) their own fault b) a choice?

I realize now my mistake.  I should never have engaged in that level of dialogue.  I know, and have supporting research, that fat is often just biology, and that while there are some studies that show a correlation between fat and negative health outcomes, there is not a causal relationship .  Furthermore, there are also studies that show a correlation between fat and positive health outcomes.  But that doesn’t really matter.

“Social workers elevate service to others above self interest…Social workers pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people .” Regardless of why people are fat, to allow fat folks to be marginalized and oppressed is a blatant disregard of our social work code of ethics. When we make ourselves the judges of who is “deserving” and “undeserving,” when we attempt to discern who is marginalized “by choice,” a socially just world becomes an impossibility, as does true adherence to our social work code of ethics. 

It is not our job to discern how “deserving” one is of full inclusion and support in our society.  It is our job to be critical of and to challenge a society in which people are thought to be “deserving” or “undeserving” of things such as respect, value, and support. It is our job, furthermore, to create the environment in which everyone can be included.  We are charged with creating a society that acknowledges, we are all different, we are all important, and we all deserve a goddamn seat on the airplane. 

[1] See, for example:

Parker-Pope, T. (August 13, 2008) “For health, body size can be misleading.” The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Solovay, S. and Rothblum, E. (2009) The Fat Studies Reader. New York: New York University

2 National Association of Social Workers. (2008) “Social Work Code of Ethics.” Retrieved from:



Stacey Prince
Seattle, WA
Therapeutic Justice Project

I learned this beautiful word today while reading the book Cutting for Stone (which, by the way, is a great read so far). In addition to having a lovely sound, like a sea creature or a generative biological process of some kind, anamnesis (from the Greek word for “remembrance”) has the following three interesting and varied definitions:
• The remembering of things from a supposed previous existence,
• A patient’s account of a medical history, and
• The part of the Eucharist in which the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension of Christ are recalled.

Wow! A recollection, a patient’s self-reported medical history, and a Catholic sacrament all in one! What fascinating word. What it got me thinking about, though, was particularly the middle definition, “a patient’s account of a medical history”. Think about how important that is to all of us who are healers and providers of health care. Whether you are a massage therapist, an internal medicine specialist, or a psychotherapist, careful collecting of the patient’s medical history is critical both to accurate diagnosis and effective treatment planning. In Cutting for Stone the physician narrating the story recalls the words of her professor: “Milk the history! Exactly when and exactly how did it start? Onset is everything! In the anamnesis is the diagnosis!”

So, in the anamnesis is the diagnosis. Yet now think about how incredibly culture-bound this taking of the patient’s history is. Whether you are patient or caregiver, what you look for in tracing the origins and history of your pain, your symptoms, your distress is bound by what you have been taught to look for, what likely etiologies and processes and mechanisms your cultural context has provided you with. In your search for an explanation, you include some pieces of information and exclude others based on these cultural boundaries. A great example of this is the book The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, in which a young Hmong woman born in the US shortly after her family’s immigration is thought to have epilepsy and to need medication or surgery by her Western physicians, while members of her family believe she is possessed by spirits and needs shamanistic intervention and sacrifices. Told with compassion and balance, the author depicts the struggle to define her illness which leads to disastrous consequences as she is denied the benefit of both perspectives.

Now, think about how social justice and inequities come into play. Who defines the cultural boundaries, who gets to determine what is normal, what is pathological, what causes distress? Primarily those who hold privilege and are members of dominant groups. Those who hold this fearsome power differ by culture, of course, but in Western culture they are primarily highly educated with advanced degrees, often male, often White, and almost always owning class. While members of an individual’s community may have their own set of explanations for illness or distress, if they are not in power their explanations of their own or their family member’s illness may not prevail and will have little bearing on diagnosis and treatment of the individual in question.

So, here is a place where social justice and healing come together in ways that have profound and lasting impacts for individuals. Look at how the course of a person’s life can be altered by the ways that their medical histories are defined by
those in power. A recent series on CNN explored reparative or conversion therapy, efforts (usually through aversive behavioral means) to change an individual’s sexual orientation from gay or lesbian to heterosexual. In “The Sissy Boy Experiment,” Anderson Cooper explores the history of such efforts to change sexual orientation. He focuses on the tragic story of one individual treated with conversion therapy as a youth by George Rekers, one of the leading proponents of conversion therapy. Initially deemed a “success” by Rekers, this young man by all reports led a terribly unhappy life and then committed suicide at age 38. His family members firmly believe that conversion therapy, which included both verbal and physical punishment for feminine behavior, was to blame.

Imagine such a patient’s anamnesis. He might tell you that he is unhappy and depressed because he is gay. This is what he has been told – by his church, the media, his family, and his doctor. In this cultural context he likely would be unable to recognize that there is a confounding variable, homophobia (and its internalized version), that might better explain both his own low self-esteem, feelings of unworthiness and depressive symptoms and other peoples’ opinions about him. Seeking treatment, he might then feel hopeless and suicidal because the treatment failed to change him. Ultimately, this internalizing, self-blaming anamnesis leads him to see no alternative but to take his life. How many young men and women have similar stories?

How could this narrative be different? Certainly the patient’s own anamnesis would need to be different. I see this process often in therapy, as my clients who struggle with substance abuse, social anxiety, and feelings of worthlessness begin to relate their symptoms to rejection by family or church, harassment, and constantly feeling the need to hide their identity and their relationships. A light bulb goes off, and suddenly there is a chance for hope, where before there was despair.

But even more than that, the cultural definition of homosexuality as an illness, a problem, and a deviation from the norm would need to change. Because even if a client’s anamnesis is transformed – even if he is able to say to his treatment providers, hey, I’m absolutely fine with being gay, it’s other people’s homophobia that’s causing my distress, that won’t be enough if his providers have a different story. Unfortunately, some practitioners continue to use conversion therapy despite the preponderance of evidence indicating that such treatment has little lasting effect on sexual orientation and can cause depression, anxiety, and suicidality, and despite the fact that numerous professional organizations including the American Psychological Association have deemed it unethical and harmful. Even among those practitioners who do not practice this abusive and overtly heterosexist form of therapy, biases and microaggressions based on sexual orientation still take place all too often (see for example my recent
blog article reviewing research on this topic). Problem is, these same institutions of power that are now deeming conversion therapy and sexual orientation microaggressions unethical only stopped defining homosexuality as a mental illness a short 38 years ago.

Now a new but painfully familiar battle is being fought over the definition of acceptable gender identities. In our strict Western binary in which only “male” and “female” are acceptable categories, individuals who define themselves as both, or neither, or whose internal gender experience does not match their biological sex and who decide to transition, are still deemed by many to be deviant. They often cannot even receive treatment without receiving a diagnosis of “Gender Identity Disorder” (previous TJP
blog article Transcending Diagnoses provides more information about the struggle to change this diagnosis and its criteria in the next version of the DSM; see also this recent article from The Bilerico Project in which the proposed DSM-V diagnosis “Gender Dysphoria” is discussed.) Yet how culture bound this is! This map shows the many places around the globe where gender is not constricted by the binary, where genders other than male and female are honored and not pathologized. This interactive map is fascinating and full of information; I hope you’ll take a look. Yet these individuals and cultures are generally not at the table when the folks in charge determine Western definitions of “normal,” so transgender individuals in our country are still harassed, discriminated against, and denied crucial medical and social services. The third segment of “The Sissy Boy Experiment” draws a clear parallel between conversion therapy and efforts to change gender identity in children who exhibit cross-gender behaviors.

While I have been focusing on sexual orientation and gender identity, an individual’s anamnesis is similarly impacted, interpreted and distorted when we look at ethnicity. What is defined as normal is largely defined by White, middle class, Western, Eurocentric men. So, for example, being emotionally expressive, relationally focused, and angry are all deemed unhealthy, while being logical, autonomous, calm and detached are seen as normative. It infuriated me when on a recent episode of “So You Think You Can Dance” a Black krumper who was clearly at the top of his game but expressed a lot of anger (both in his words and in his dance) was sent home, while another Black break dancer who in my humble opinion was no more talented or proficient in his style was sent through to the next round of competition. The latter young man was smiling, humble, a little obsequious, and deemed “adorable” by the judges, while the former was reprimanded for his arrogance and “frustration”. Not only was this a great example of the ways that personal discrimination can lead to systematic access to or denial of resources, since being on this show and advancing to later stages of the competition can lead to jobs and opportunities, but it also seemed to indicate a lack of understanding (or denial?) by the judges regarding the style of dance, krumping, demonstrated with great proficiency by the first dancer. Krumping IS about anger – at injustice, at racism, at systemic oppression. It’s a street dance giving the dancer a way to express anger, rage and frustration in a non-violent way. So to critique a krumper for being angry is, well, sort of missing the point. Also notable on this particular evening was the fact that the judging
panel that night was all white; I wished there was one person of color, or one white ally, to argue with the head judge (a white, British, middle aged male executive producer) in favor of keeping the krumper for another round.

So in the end, I guess I agree with the quote from Cutting for Stone, but only with a big IF. “In the anamnesis is the diagnosis” - but only IF both the teller and listener are not bound by culturally prescribed definitions of health. Otherwise, the definitions of the dominant paradigm will prevail.