“Perhaps the answer lies in making a link or showing the commonalities between what happens in these communal spaces, like the barber shop, and what happens in a therapist’s office or in a group therapy session.”
by Christian Scott, Harmed Party Case Coordinator, Common Justice
Trauma presents a twofold problem: the trauma experienced, and the stigma our communities attach to services related to trauma. Through my work with young men of color who have been hurt by violence, I have learned that many young men find coping mechanisms but, due to the stigma, fail to label them as such. The undesignated and unrecognized coping environments they find are spaces where they feel free to openly and honestly speak about their most intimate emotions and experiences. The neighborhood barbershop, for example, provides a popular environment that furnishes young men of color with a safe space to speak about painful issues. In the barber shop, taboo subjects reign free. This generally male-dominated environment, where respect for free speech is the principle rule, creates a space where men can be more vulnerable. While more mainstream mental health practices may have added benefits, we may be overlooking the importance or therapeutic benefit of such environments as a safe alternative space for honest, perspective-shifting, conversation for young men of color. These spaces furnish an arena for the acknowledgement of pain, which can bring about healing.
Even as young men make use of informal coping spaces, they often tell me that therapy is “for crazy people,” and anger management is for “people who can’t control themselves.” Their aversion seems to be attached to the stigma associated with receiving mental health services, not the services themselves. The same issues being discussed in the barber shop or among close friends may be the exact same topics one might speak with a therapist about, but without the negative stigma of being called “crazy.”
Perhaps the answer lies in making a link or showing the commonalities between what happens in these communal spaces, like the barber shop, and what happens in a therapist’s office or in a group therapy session. Young men of color don’t think about the therapeutic value of calling their best friend after breaking up with a girlfriend or talking about the loss of a loved one in the barbershop. There’s little separation as the two actions exist in similar places and circumstances. The therapeutic benefit of having a caring and attentive ear to air grievances and pain has long been recognized. Young men of color often seek help from peers or in accepted community spaces without realizing the internal need being fulfilled by this action or that the need could be fulfilled even more effectively through seeking professional assistance. If we can help young men of color to see the commonality between the two actions, then maybe some of them will be more willing to seek professional counseling.
People of color have been healing their trauma in various ways for quite a while without labelling it as such. Our answer is in not labelling the mechanisms, but showing that they are the same in essence, operating under different names. Moreover, we must be honest in saying that a professional therapist may possess, not more knowledge, but a different type of knowledge, than that found in one’s community. A trained therapist has access to a field of knowledge that can be as beneficial as that found in the community. The two can work together for the benefit of individuals seeking to heal from trauma. Young men of color can move toward healing by utilizing both – the two are not mutually exclusive. If healing is our intention, the tools we use to bring healing about must be multifaceted, fluid, and, above all, embrace the individual as we find them.