Teayra Turner, who recently joined the Viva Center as a counselor, recalls an incident in high school that sparked her interest in mental health.
“I was really struggling emotionally,” she remembers, “and I was acting out because I didn’t know what to do with those feelings.” A high school counselor, with whom she had a good relationship, called her into the office and asked her if she “was ok?”
“To have someone see you and your experience, your pain – that was really powerful,” said Turner. In short, for the first time, she realized that she could have a job helping others feel seen, feel heard, and cope with emotional distress. Her experience of being raised without attention to or discussion of mental health issues is not unique.
“The type of stigma surrounding mental health in the black community I grew up in can really put us at a disadvantage,” says Turner. “Not knowing if what we are feeling is acceptable, seeing it as something that could be wrong with us. This can really put us in an unhealthy mindset.”
Recovery and Healing through a Racial Lens
Turner specializes in working at the intersection of racial trauma and addiction. She experienced this in her own family and worked to address it as a counselor at Aquila Recovery, an intensive outpatient program for substance use disorders. Turner remembers working with clients of color who not only had internalized racial stereotype, but also had biases inherent in cultural systems of oppression that venerate Whiteness. This led them to reject core aspects of themselves, such as physical features, what side of town they grew up on, and how they spoke.
Racial trauma develops from repeated exposure to bias and discrimination, both direct (someone refers to you using a racial slur) and vicarious (seeing videos of police brutality). As a result, this can lead to depression, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, negative self perception, health problems, as well as increase use of substances to cope.
“It is amazing how when given the space to explore self and feel empowered doing so, can help foster healing and healthy behaviors leading to change for a better life,” says Turner.
Reducing Access Barriers
For Turner, her experiences spurred a desire to be more visible as a Black therapist serving Black clients, and actively working to reduce access barriers, such as cost, location and the provision of culturally-informed services.
“I envision providing therapy in Black communities, churches, and near people’s homes,” says Turner, noting that in addition to convenience, meeting with clients in familiar surroundings helps bolster trust and a sense of safety.
Shardé Smith, an assistant professor of human development and family studies at the University of Illinois, explains that there are many factors inhibiting Black access to mental health services. Historical harm of Blacks in medical and mental health systems has caused understandable reluctance, as well as cultural perspectives that can view the presence of mental health conditions as personal failing or lack of faith in God.
Similarly, Turner concurs that there is often reliance on God and the church as the solution to personal and community problems. This stems from the church’s historical role not only as a place of worship, but as a source of social support, haven from discrimination, and advocate for social justice.
Faith can serve as an important resource in addiction and mental health treatment for many. On the other hand, Turner observes that faith is not the source of healing for all people. For instance, she leaves out those who have complicated relationships with the church, or have evolved spiritual beliefs and practices that are not church-based.
Her practice is to understand the role of spiritual beliefs in making meaning of life experiences and providing a foundation for healing and change.
Turning Towards the Future in Your Healing Journey
Turner is getting trained in Brainspotting therapy, a highly effective brain-based approach used to identify, process, and release unconscious trauma experiences.
“Using brainspotting as a way to connect to what may be unseen to the conscious brain and the conscious experience, allows us to uproot the more invisible and unconscious aspects of race based trauma creating a complete journey towards healing,” says Turner. In short, Brainspotting works to uncover and strengthen positive emotions and beliefs that allow new insights to emerge. In this way, past experiences can get a fresh perspective.
Turner hopes to provide a more empowered approach to clients experiencing race-based trauma by implementing brainspotting, in support to her client-centered and trauma-informed approach.
To learn more about working with Teayra Turner, please contact our Client Specialist at email@example.com.
Regina Tosca, LICSW is a therapist at the Viva Center in Washington, DC. She works with people experiencing grief and loss, including from their work in animal welfare. Other blogs by Regina include “No Holiday Hugs: How can you cope with lack of touch?” and “Cognitive Tips for Chronic Pain Management.”