There is growing awareness in the US regarding the traumatic impact of racial and cultural oppression. The Black Lives Matter movement, among other efforts, has certainly cast a spotlight on physical and psychological harm perpetuated by racism. When traumatic experiences occur, it involves a profound breach to a sense of safety. Consequently, helping clients feel safe enough to explore their trauma is vital to healing.
Through an interview with Raven Jenerson, we explore her multilayered approach to healing from trauma and oppression. This includes the following 6 steps: Divine Safety, Cultural/Racial Framework, The Dynamics of Change, Positive Regard, Empathy and Accountability.
“Divine safety” is what psychotherapist Raven Jenerson calls this “safe enough” experience. It refers to an ever changing feeling of being seen and accepted as who you are, while also recognized for strengths possessed and continuously accompanied with your unique pace of care.
As a trauma therapist, her practice incorporates a cultural/racial framework to elevate the experience of marginalized communities. In other words, this approach promotes an understanding of each client’s “cultural identity as it relates to experience of self, and as a primary tool in the healing process.”
Working from a culturally-centered, anti-oppressive framework involves being curious rather than analytical. It’s about giving primacy to the client’s voice and honoring their instincts around each phase of trauma work. It eschews any presumption of the therapist as an expert. “While you as a therapist may have some shared experiences with a client,” says Jenerson, “you don’t rely solely on that to build the relationship. Even in similar identities, leave space for individuality.”
Healing with the Dynamics of Change
Consistent with anti-oppressive practice, Jenerson also employs motivational interviewing, an evidence-based therapeutic method. Psychologist Beata Souders says it characterizes “ambivalence to change,” as a “normal human experience and often a necessary step in the process of change.” In motivational interviewing, the therapist reflects on what the client shares. Further, it highlights inconsistencies between client’s behaviors and stated goals, affirms client efforts to change, as well as avoids confrontation.
In addition, Jenerson’s practice is also grounded in psychodynamic approaches. They center the importance of human connection to well being and healing. To clarify, it’s relational, in that it sees the dynamic between therapist and client as a mirror of how the client sees themselves in the context of their relationship with others.
Jenerson’s practice of psychodynamic therapy encounters clients from a place of unconditional positive regard. It involves seeing their “problem states” as creative strategies for functioning in a world that can feel hostile, threatening and unsafe.
“I trust and celebrate my clients’ journey of survival and coping, which lead to sharing therapeutic space with me. I’m just honored to bear witness to this part of their healing journey.”
Empathy and Accountability
Jenerson shares her belief that “who we are authentically, at any given moment, is strong and capable of moving through healing with intention and with all the tools needed to embrace our best selves”. Clients have to own their role in their healing process, says Jenerson. Embracing accountability is a gentle reminder that her belief in clients’ healing abilities and capabilities is unwavering.
“So many clients come to therapy with doubts that their lives can be different, that they could actually feel better about themselves,” she says. “Trauma can create that disconnect within ourselves and foster this belief that we are beyond repair.”
However, adds Jenerson, what clients don’t often recognize is that the decision to come to even a first therapy appointment emanates from a place of hope.
“Their healing does not begin when they sit across from me. It already began when they started looking within themselves.”
Healing in Practice: Raven Jenerson
Jenerson is a native of Atlanta. She recently moved to Washington, D.C. from New York, where before she was serving as a substance abuse treatment counselor in an outpatient program serving LGBTQ+ clients. Upon relocating to the District, she then began working in the child welfare system. This experience deepened her knowledge of trauma impacts from foster care, adoption and separation/loss.
Jenerson specializes in working with clients identifying as Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), apart of the LGBTQ+ community, and cisgender women maneuving womanhood and/or with histories of sexual assault and domestic violence.
To learn more about working with Raven Jenerson, please contact our Client Specialist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.”