Writer Jam Bridgett shares their experiences in navigating through the mental health industry as a queer Black person, discovering the issues with accessibility that face marginalized communities, as well as exploring alternate routes to the traditional forms of therapy.
For every hiccup and bump in my life, someone has inevitably pointed me to a therapist. As if seeking therapy was the magic solution. It took me a long time to accept that therapy could be beneficial. As helpful as therapy has been for me — getting here, finding the right therapist for me and facing up to my work — I have to acknowledge not only my privilege in being able to access it, but the fact that therapy is not the one and only possible solution for me to heal. It’s certainly not the end goal either.
I needed a therapist for years before I sought one out and finally took the whole thing seriously. Before I was ready, I cringed at the prospect of getting a therapist. There’s a stigma that only those who are “sick” or “crazy” or “struggling” need therapy. This stigma is felt tenfold within the Black community. We’re taught to keep our family and personal business our own. Although we do not say it, we are ashamed of our trauma. I had to fight my own hesitation as well as the lies I had been taught about the emotional work it takes to get truly free. For the years before I had unlearned all that mess, I was still in need of help. So there must be alternatives to therapy for those of us who need it but have yet to accept it.
Once we do come to accept our task of healing, we have to find the right person to help facilitate this journey. A therapist is like a wise old sage guiding you along the journey of improved self-awareness, self-regulation and self-expression. Your journey is your own so you’re going to need the right guide for you, but it can take a while to find this perfect person.
There are many factors that influence my decision and my experience with a therapist. I’ve always known I needed a Black therapist. I also needed one who wasn’t going to enforce religion on me. I would have preferred someone who is queer but we can’t always get what we want (seeking a therapist who is trans is an even harder feat, especially in the suburbs). And I’m not going to pretend cost isn’t a factor in who I choose as my therapist. Finding a therapist who speaks to my needs is particularly difficult because the profession is so inaccessible to Black people, to queer people, to women, to low income earning people. Since finding accessible and intersectional therapy is so difficult, we must then seek other modes of collective healing as opposed to relying solely on therapy as the answer.
I say “collective healing” in particular because I’m speaking to those of us within marginalized communities. We know that our healing can not be done alone. We know that it would be useless if it could. The individualism inherent in therapy is another flaw I find within it. To sit and speak solely of my own problems does nothing for the world I live in that continues to traumatize me – that will continue to. To sit and speak solely of my own problems insinuates it is my own failing or flaw that needs fixing – as opposed to working to construct a world in which intergenerational trauma is spoken of and healed, as opposed to constructing a world in which I do not have to struggle to cope under capitalism.
Therapy has been helpful in identifying how the intergenerational trauma of my family has impacted me, but therapy – even when with a Black therapist – can never heal the intergenerational trauma I inherit in being here, on colonized, stolen land as a child of Black immigrants, as a descendant of African enslaved people.
There is weight to our histories, weight we carry with us, weight we end up passing on through our families, through our relationships, through our communities. Therapy can only do so much to alleviate the struggle and pain of carrying this weight everywhere we go. There must be something other than therapy which helps us cope with the weight of intergenerational trauma.
Similarly, there must be ways for us to cope with the weight of experiencing discrimination in our everyday lives. Or there must be ways for us to challenge discrimination so it does not turn into trauma. I don’t know that I necessarily have the hope that our efforts will lead to a world in which nobody experiences discrimination, hatred or oppression. But we can certainly try. Going to therapy, however, hasn’t ever moved me into the action necessary to materialize a world where strangers don’t stare at me and my girlfriend or spit at me and my friends, or deny us job opportunities. Therapy can not heal our experiences of homophobia, transphobia or racism. Therapy can not remedy our poverty.
When I say I am in pain, I mean I am aching, for myself, yes. I’m also aching for the pain of those I call kin, for humankind, for Mother Earth. I am aching because my sister friend needs help I do not know how to provide. I am aching because children are cages and we know that a change in government won’t set them free. I am aching because I go into the city – where construction and “innovation” and “urban development” never end – and walk past homeless people. I am aching because 40 minutes from that same city First Nations people do not have clean drinking water. I am aching because all across this nation some rich white man is trying to build a pipeline and the fish are just trying to swim. Sitting across from my therapist, discussing my personal issues does nothing to solve the ache caused by bearing witness to the suffering of the world. There has to be other options.
Revolution would be fantastic, but that will take a lot of time. So in the meantime I’ve come up with alternatives to the standard practice of talk therapy – or simple additives to your regular regimen.
Nature as Therapy
Cliche as it is, it’s true. Spending time in the quiet music of nature is healing. Personally, I’m drawn to the water, so I like to ride my bike to the lake. Watching bugs and animals go about in the backyard reminds me of the simplicity of life. It’s important that we connect with the land and nature, as we too are a part of its grand cycle. Being still in nature reminds us to be still and patient in our everyday lives and that’s essential.
Music as Therapy
Music speaks to us on a spirit level, connecting both hemispheres of our brains at once.
When I’m feeling really frustrated and I don’t know what to do with that energy, I’ll blast some rock or house music and thrash or dance or scream. Releasing energy to music can be very therapeutic. You can make your own for each mood or as I sometimes do, each day or month. If not, I’ve made playlists for all my moods and update them as much as possible.
If you’re feeling angry, I’ll link this one:
If you’re feeling blue, this one will do:
And if you need to move, this playlist is perfect:
If you’re feeling anxious, this may help mellow you out:
Art as Therapy
Expressing ourselves in any medium is ultimately constructive and helpful. You don’t have to be an expert, but you’d be surprised what would come out of your hands if you picked up some markers or some pastels. Closing your eyes, meditating on a particular subject and creating something can be therapeutic and illuminating.
Play as Therapy
Some of the things I miss about childhood are feeling free, being mindless and playing. A lot of the healing work we may find ourselves doing focuses on that which took place within our childhoods. The drama and trauma that may have occurred took away from the innocence, curiosity and play of childhood. In listening to our inner child, we may find that they want to play and I think we should listen to that desire. Whether it’s doing a puzzle, running around the park, or playing dress-up, there are ways we can remain playful and childlike into our adulthoods.
Movement as Therapy
I am by no means an active person. Getting me to the gym would be like trying to force a cat into cold water. Still, dancing furiously to my favourite songs or riding my bike around the neighbourhood can be therapeutic. You can define movement for yourself. What’s beneficial about it – other than the obvious – is the shifting of energy. Using movement as therapy works to get me out of a funk, it helps clear my head when I’m upset and it grounds me in my body when I’m anxious.
Community as Therapy
When we are lonely or devastated at the conditions of the world, one hug might not be enough. Love from friends, soul family and community is sometimes the ultimate medicine for our hearts’ ills. Community provides support, love, comfort and knows us well enough to know when to provide a shoulder, a wise word or a laugh. Community building is essential to our wellbeing. It is essential to our survival, especially in order to subvert capitalism and the violence of the patriarchy. Community allows us to imagine a reality beyond that which colonialism and capitalism currently offer. Only community can hold us when the rest of the world seems bleak.
Activism as Therapy
For those of us who are willing, able and wanting, answering the call of activism can satisfy the helpless feeling of being alive in this devastating world. The year I spent as an executive member of my university’s Black Students’ Alliance was one of the most challenging and joyful years of my life. I learned so much from the olderheads around me, I was surrounded by (for the most part) like-minded and kindhearted individuals who pushed me to be my best. I was held by community in ways my sad suburban self had never known before.
Being a part of that space and that network of people helped me articulate and fight against the oppression that myself and thousands of other students were experiencing on campus on a daily basis. The Black Students’ Alliance was my safe space which gave me the fuel to resist the systems and acts of erasure and oppression I experienced and witnessed. For me that space was vital and I definitely recommend seeking out a space like it if you want to become more active in your community or if you’re searching for community in general.
Written by Jam Bridgett