February is Black History Month, a time to recognize, celebrate and honor the achievements of Blacks/African Americans in the United States. It is also a time to bring attention to the experiences and needs of Blacks/African Americans. The 2021 Black History Month theme is “Black Family: Representation, Identity, and Diversity.” This theme examines the array of Black family experiences and African/African American identities across the United States. Black/African American family clients are under-represented in services in the current mental health system. Black/African American therapists are also under-represented. However, Blacks/African Americans cope with a higher burden of trauma from systemic racism and daily experiences of oppression. In addition, many lack access to mental health resources and may have experienced negative or harmful outcomes when reaching out for help. Families would benefit from therapists who are familiar with the Black/African American experience. How can mental health professionals work to fill the needs and build trust in trauma treatment for Black/African American clients? How can mental health clinicians work to build cultural understanding and knowledge regarding the systemic inequalities this population faces?
Dr. Wendy Ashley and Dr. Allen Lipscomb address these questions in the December 2020 EMDRIA Go With That magazine.* Their article “Addressing Racialized Trauma Utilizing EMDR and Antiractist Psychotherapy Practices” takes a closer look at racial issues and race-related trauma in the U.S. They provide recommendations for EMDR clinicians working with Black/African American clients.
*EMDRIA members have access to all articles in the Go With That magazine, which comes out quarterly.
Lipscomb and Ashley have also co-authored a peer-reviewed critical analysis that examines how EMDR therapy and EMDR therapists can better consider and meet the needs of Black/African American clients.
Lipscomb, A., & Ashley, W. (2021). A critical analysis of the utilization of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) psychotherapy with African American clients. Journal of Human Services: Training, Research, and Practice, 7(1). Open access: https://scholarworks.sfasu.edu/jhstrp/vol7/iss1/3
Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a psychotherapeutic intervention designed to decrease distress associated with traumatic memories. EMDR has been validated and confirmed by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) as a primary treatment for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and has been recognized as effective by the World Health Organization and the Department of Defense. Multiple studies reflect EMDR’s capacity to heal the brain from psychological trauma; thus, clients are able to immediately experience the benefits of psychotherapy that previously took years to obtain. However, despite EMDR’s efficacy, there are minimal references to diversity, culture, or context in EMDR research and literature. EMDR protocol has no adaptations or recommendations for utilizing this approach with African American clients, promoting an antiquated one size fits all treatment orientation. Without consideration of the lived experiences of African Americans and context that includes acknowledgment of stigma, shame regarding help-seeking, and historical trauma, this lens obscures the relevance of identity, privilege, power, and inclusion in treatment. Therefore, it is imperative to critically examine how EMDR treatment can be utilized to alleviate PTSD distress within a framework of oppression. The authors utilized an anti-oppressive, Critical Race theoretical perspective to examine four case studies of African American clients who received EMDR intervention to gain insight into the unique nuances that arise during treatment. Emphasis will be placed on critiquing the treatment protocol; the positionality of the clinician and clinical implications for future anti-oppressive practice with African American clients utilizing this model.