So it does seem here lately that people want to know what Black women think. I mean there is so much hype today over “The Help”. Look, I appreciated the movie. And Viola Davis was extraordinary as usual. But there were no surprIses there AT ALL. Did you think the Black maids would say they were kicking up their heels to be degraded everyday? I don’t think so.

On the contrary, “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl” offers something very different. Developed by Issa Rae, it gives a voice to a Black woman who tends to be invisible altogether in the media, an awkward Black woman, just trying to make it through her awkward life. Now that is a big surprise.

It is a comedy and I actually found myself laughing out loud. That almost never happens with me watching any sort of sitcom. The writing is crisp and smart and you feel this woman’s pain. We are laughing at her and ourselves for those times that we have all felt at least a little awkward.

It is an internet program that almost halted production because they ran out of money. They were able to raise money through an online donation service to keep it going. They exceeded their goals in terms of the money they raised, because so many folks did not want to lose this great show.

In a way it is powerful because it represents the freedom to be awkward or to be anything other than a stereotype.

Run to your computer. Check it out and tell me what you think:
awkwardblackgirl.com

Black Marriage Success

July 25, 2011

In Together We Are Strong: A Qualitative Study of Happy Enduring African American Marriages, research was conducted with 30 married Black couples to assess challenges and resilient features in this group with an average of 26 married years.  The authors of the current study note that many African Americans experience well-functioning marriages, yet little research exists on positive mental adjustment, happiness and satisfaction.  They are addressing that void.  This is strength-based research, as opposed to most of the deficit-based reasearch pumped through the media that focuses on problems and pathology.

The findings of this study revealed Three Areas of strengths or resources for this group.

A:  INDIVIDUAL-LEVEL RESOURCES

The researchers found that often two happy people made for a happy marriage.

There was a willingness to work on individual-level strengths; so you may develop strengths along the way (such as better listening skills) that you did not have at the outset of the relationship.

B. INTERPERSONAL RESOURCES

Knowing that you can rely on your partner.

Trust.

C.  SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC RESOURCES

Having witnessed “strong” marriages in the immediate or extended family.

In most of these enduring relationships, both spouses were gainfully employed.

Sharing similar attitudes about religion or being “equally yoked”.

The article notes many of the challenges faced by these couples, but the above-stated strengths were often essential in persevering through the challenges.

The entire article is found here:

Together We Are Strong

The attached link says everything that needs to be said on the subject of the “Black women are less attractive..” topic that set the internet ablaze this week.

The premise of this so-called research is absolutely ridiculous. There is really nothing to argue about there.

Based on what I have learned about the psychologist who performed this stupid study, he seems to be seeking his five minutes of fame by executing studies that are as provocative as possible.

I don’t like to spend too much time on such rubbish but it does drive home a point I’ve made in the past; psychologists have issues and biases of their own. And just like with any other product you consume (even research), please shop carefully.

In addition, the absence of jugdment on the staff’s part at Psychology Today is also of concern, and in my estimation pathetic.

All research, even legitimate, thoughtful research, has limitations. All research. The fact that the psychologist fails to mention any limitations also tells you something about his credibility. The attached article outlines only a few of the apparent flaws of this so-called study. See:
http://m.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/may/18/satoshi-kanazawa-black-women-psychology-today?cat=commentisfree&type=article

P.S. I was looking for an image of a beautiful African American woman and landed on Tracy Chapman.

Happy

April 16, 2011

Something to smile about!  Recent research from the University of Michigan found that: as an African American, the more strongly you identify with African American culture, the happier you may be. 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110304115003.htm

When I get my hands on the actual study, which should be very soon, I will let you know exactly how they measured these “constructs” such as:  How did they define “happy”  and how did they define “identify with” for example?  I’ll let you know what it says.  But for the time being, this is good news.

The point may be obvious to many but I do not think to all as some people spend so much time trying to identify themselves as anything but African American.

An interesting finding was that the relationship between racial identity and happiness was stronger for women that for men.  This finding is consistent with my own research that found that racial identity was associated with less stress for African American adolescent girls, but not for adolescent boys  (Arrington, 2001: Dissertation Abstracts).   Therefore, the relationship between happiness and racial identity, as well as for stress and racial identity is more complicated for males.   The researchers from Michigan speculate that the sense of  “belongingness”, may be the key factor for women.

 

We have covered reasons why Black people tell me they don’t want to go to therapy in:  Top 3 Reasons Black People Do Not Go to Therapy,

And we covered the historical perspectives related to why we as a group avoid therapy in: More Reasons Black People Do Not Go to Therapy.

Now, I am going to give you an opinion based on 20 years of Clinical Experience about this avoidance:

TRAUMA AND DENIAL OF TRAUMA

We underestimate the effects trauma has had for us as a group.  I think the initial trauma of leaving behind our homes, families, names, cultures in the Middle Passage was too much.  Then you had Black families chronically separated from one another during slavery.  How could anyone cope with these losses?  It would surely have been detrimental for a person (a matter of life and death to be exact) to not get up and work as a slave because you were feeling depressed because your child was torn from you the day before.   

I believe those issues went unprocessed for generations.  This pain continues to affect people in subsequent generations if you believe in the collective unconscious (Asante, 2003).  American Indians call it historical trauma and intergenerational grief (See:  http://www.whitebison.org/magazine/2005/volume6/wellbriety!vol6no6.pdf).  I see too many cases of people emotionally detached from their children and I wonder if this is related to our history in this country. 

We have recurrent traumas.  In some of our neighborhoods there is too much violence.  And there are a host of too many other everyday pressures of work and negotiating life.

The style of coping:  “Keep it moving and deny there is a problem,” was probably passed down through the generations as well.

Sucking it up may have gotten us through some very rough times,  but we are surely not living at our best in too many cases today.  Sucking it up and ignoring the issues just means that we have to put energy into that denial.   Sometimes we find unhealthy ways to  due to what I see as unprocessed grief.  I have talked about them before: violence toward our own people (which too often looks like hopelessness and or misplaced anger), along with alcohol and substance abuse to name a few.  At lot of us seem to walk around on edge because we are not handling our stress adequately.  This can sometimes lead to physical illnesses and early death.

And the reality is we do not have to rely on sucking it up as a way of coping anymore if we do not choose to. 

What was the thing about Tyler Perry?

People, I find, love his movies because they tend to scratch at the surface of our trauma enough to produce cathartic responses.  I have witnessed grown men breaking down at some Tyler Perry movies, those movies with heftier emotional content.  The Madea character often takes the edge off some of the painful parts when she is present.  Tyler was pretty brilliant for including her most of the time because nobody just wants to cry for two hours, right?

In a way it becomes safe to cry at his movies because you know you may be laughing again in a few minutes.  Honestly, I think this is why “For Colored Girls…”  may have not been the commercial success that was anticipated, no Madea (not that she would have at all been appropriate for this film).

But the cathartic responses are not really grieving.  They provide an opportunity to let go of some tension, but there is little to no acknowledgment of what the tension is about.  Without that acknowledgement, you are not healing anything.

My point is we apparently need to grieve more.  I know that doesn’t sound like very much fun.  But not doing so may in fact be preventing you from having fun.  If you are carrying a burden, how can you possibly have fun? 

Sucking it up is not grieving and it is not moving on.  Grieving is about letting go.  Grieving for us may be on different levels.  It may be very personal as in the losses of people we know.   However,  it may also be broader, and include deeper feelings about a lack of freedom, and feeling unseen or unimportant, and inadequacies.   These deeper feelings probably come from generations of ancestors not being seen as full human beings.  That is a painful frustrating existence.  The healing comes with the greatest acceptance of oneself in all his or her fullness now.

How can we accomplish this?  Well, I think the healthier ways to do it are by trying to talk about any painful or overwhelming feelings when they come up with somebody you feel safe with, or if you do not have a person you feel safe with try to write the feelings down. I think about Celie in the Color Purple and how her letters to God were ultimately healing and strengthening, but she had to a tremendous amount of grieving. 

Your feelings deserve to have validation.  They will be less overwhelming and less likely to produce unhealthy responses if you acknowledge them.  Of course, if they are too much and you are having difficulty with day-to-day functioning, it may also be helpful to find a mental health practitioner. I think part of a good therapist’s role is to help the client grieve the past.   See: How to find a Therapist:  https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/how-to-find-a-therapist-part-i/

Grieving provides the opportunity to transcend the trauma.

____________________________________________________________________

Asante, M. K. (2003).  The Afrocentric Idea. Temple University Press.

Black Suicides on the Rise

August 28, 2010

The news about Fantasia’s suicide attempt was shocking and the circumstances were certainly fodder for the news and entertainment tabloids.  Wherever you fall on your judgment of Fantasia’s behavior at this time,  there is a serious issue going on here that we are not talking about.  Black suicide rates are going up.  There is an assumption among many that Black people do not commit suicide, but that is starting to change.  However, because of the lingering misconceptions about Black people and suicide, we tend to have less information about symptoms leading to suicide and much less support available when it happens in a family.

Please take a listen to the attached NPR program featuring Alvin Poussaint, an African American psychiatrist who has long been a gift to African American families with his books about Black child development and his consultations with Bill Cosby on the Cosby Show.

He speaks clearly and directly about the statistics which suggest that this is actually becoming more of a problem for Black men, and the statistics for Black women have remained stable (not that it doesn’t happen in Black women, it has just not gotten any worse for this group). 

Poussaint has some theories about why this happens, which include prolonged episodes of stress and undiagnosed or untreated psychiatric problems.  He also postulates that homicide in our communities may sometimes be a suicidal gesture.  I agree that the excessive risk taking behavior in gangs who engage in the behavior knowing that there will more than likely be a retaliation, is essentially suicidal.  I don’t believe it is a conscious gesture (or that the risk taking is so well-thought out or even in the person’s awareness) but that there is probably a feeling of hopelessness behind it, and hopelessness is a major reason in depression and suicidal thinking.  

In the NPR piece there is also information on support, which has historically been sorely lacking in Black communities for this type of loss.  Please find other facts and information about suicide in the Black community in the links below.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89151091

http://www.webmd.com/depression/news/20100104/americans-with-depression-are-undertreated

http://www.healthyplace.com/depression/minorities/suicide-among-blacks/menu-id-68/

http://www.healthyplace.com/depression/minorities/examining-depression-among-african-american-women-from-a-psychiatric-mental-health-nursing-perspective/menu-id-68/

http://www.theroot.com/views/when-depression-strikes-black-superwoman

Paul Mooney

August 9, 2010

I must say that I was quite shocked when I mentioned to a friend that I was going to see Paul Mooney at Caroline’s in NYC last night and they said: “Who is Paul Mooney?”

Paul Mooney has been around for eons, but he does not lose his edge or his relevance. He is a living legend in my opinion.   He has always done stand-up, but was also a writer for and featured performer on The Richard Pryor Show back in the day.  He has written for many comedy shows since that time including In Living Color, but I think he may have gotten a whole new fan base with his performances on Chappelle’s Show, and particularly the “Ask a Black Dude” skits.

He has the best job because he is a comedian and can get away with saying stuff that many people don’t or won’t say.  He is in your face and everybody else’s face about racism, and self-hatred.  Last night he was talking about how many Caucasians deny their African ancestry and he encouraged them to do DNA tests.  He amplifies issues that we deal with everyday but most of the time don’t talk about.   In this case, in so many ways race is meaningless, and outward appearance is powerful. He also talked last night about what it would really be like in America if Black people were never here.  He uses a great deal of foul language, and has some bouts of darkness but I am not about to throw the Mooney out with the bath water. 

The Huffington Post interviewed him several months ago http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/05/17/paul-mooney-talks-kagans_n_578145.html and this interview is worth checking out, BUT I will say if he is coming anywhere near your town anytime soon, go see this brother.  You will laugh like crazy, but you will also think, A LOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

He also has a new book out: “Black is the New White”  which I cannot wait to get my hands on.

A. The 1840 Census 

It concluded that free Black people at that time were typically insane because they needed the structure of slavery to be sane.  In other words, without the confines of a slavery system Black people were not able be mentally healthy.   This Census was later found, by an honest statistician, to have false information regarding these supposed free crazy Black people; statistics were distorted and in many cases manufactured by the government. 

Of course, we are all too young to remember the 1840 census, but our great great grandparents in many cases passed down a skepticism about putting the understanding of our mental health in the hands of others. 

B. Turn of the Century Psychology and Psychiatry

Common thinking in the late 1800s and early 1900s  supported views that Black people in general were at lower developmental stages than whites and because of this, bondage “was a wonderful aid to the colored man” (excerpted from an article called “Dementia Praecox in the Colored Race”  by Arrah B. Evarts in The Psychoanalytical Review*** Volume 1 in  Sillen and Thomas, 1991 ).  You see how this belief system dovetails with the beliefs from the census.

There was a preoccupation with race in early American psychological periodicals.  Not to be outdone by  The Psychoanalytical Review, The American Journal of Psychiatry (Volume 1,1921), contained equally racist material.  In this journal, Bevis stated:  “All Negroes have a fear of darkness, …[are] careless, credulous, childlike, easily amused, [and] sadness and depression have little part in his psychic makeup.  Dr. Bevis also reported that Negro children are bright and full of life but their mental development starts freezing at puberty.  From then on, theirs is a life of sexual promiscuity, gambling, petty thievery, drinking, and loafing. 

Sillen and Thomas (1991) stated “we now shake our heads  in amazement that such crude racist formulations were believed implicitly by readers of the most prestigious psychiatric journals…we should be reminded how easy it is to distort science in the service of racism”.

C. The assumption that if you are African American, you are automatically poor and prone to suffer with a psychological disturbance. 

Kardiner’ and Ovesey’s landmark book: The Mark of Oppression (1951), highlighted the African American’s “basic personality” in terms of his or her condition in America.  This book completely avoided everything strong and resilient about Black people.

In one case recently, because a family was Black, a family therapist I knew assumed that the family history contained poverty, but in fact it had not (at least not for many generations – think, Huxtable-like).  The family was not so much offended as concerned that the therapist would not be able to see them clearly and understand their issues.  If you had asked this therapist if she felt bias toward certain groups she would have told you certainly not, but her behavior continued to prove otherwise.  She either lacked insight or was a liar.  Either option would be less than ideal for the Black client.

D. The Historical Absence or Lack of Availability of Black Mental Health Practitioners

Let’s face it.  It would be hard to place trust in a group that has a history of producing such biased information.  We are in a different era where there is more tolerance and understanding overall. Many practitioners these days have developed a level of comfort for working with a variety of ethnic backgrounds.  However, this doesn’t mean you should not be careful.  As mentioned in the case above, sometimes people go unaware of their biases. 

Today, only 2% of licensed psychologists in this country identify themselves as African American, and we have had to work up to that number.   It remains somewhat of a challenge to find them.  A good resource is the Association of Black Psychologists, http://www.abpsi.org/index.php/listing  

Choose therapists carefully. See:  https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/how-to-find-a-therapist-part-i/ Do not limit yourselves to psychologists or psychiatrists.  See: https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/04/28/how-to-find-a-therapist-part-ii/ 

 If possible, get second opinions in emergency situations.

Although it was greatly adaptive in many instances to avoid mental health treatment when it initially became available to us, it does not always make sense now.

See also: Top 3 Reasons Why Black People Do Not Go to Therapy   https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/05/27/top-3-reasons-black-people-do-not-go-to-therapy/

—————————————————————————————————————————————

*The Psychoanalytical Review was the first psychoanalytic periodical in English  and was founded in 1913.

Most of the research in this article and much much more may be found in a review of the literature by Thomas, M. D. Sillen, S. (1991).  Racism and Psychiatry.  Carol Publishing Group Edition.

But if you can stomach it, you may read some of these original works of you can find them: 

Bevis, W., M. (1921).  Psychological traits of the southern negro as to some of his psychosis.  American Journal of Psychiatry, 1, 69-78.

Brigham, C. C. (1923).  A study of American intelligence. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Evarts, A. B., (1914).  Dementia Praecox in the colored race.  The Psychoanalytical Review.  1: 388-403.

See: “In Treatment”

July 19, 2010

I just finished watching the first season of HBO’s In Treatment, as it was all the rage with a few of my clients.  HBO will be going into its third season of the show this upcoming fall.  It was a goal for my summer to try to catch up. 

I did not anticipate being so drawn in.  I do not have HBO so I was getting the videos from a service that mails the videos to you.  I started out ordering one at time and that quickly increased to two or three depending on what time would allow.  There were 43 episodes in all, about 1/2 hour per episode.

Dr. Paul Weston, played by Gabriel Byrne, is exquisite as the psychotherapist.  We see four of his weekly sessions with four different clients.  In addition,  Paul is struggling with his own issues when we meet him.  His issues force him back into his own treatment which is an interesting element to the show, and provides the fifth session for the week.   It has been a while since I have seen complex fictional characters on television, and it may have been even longer since I have seen complex African American characters.  Blair Underwood as “Alex”  is just amazing as is Glynn Turman who plays his father. 

If you are pressed for time I would say focus on the “Alex” character.  I found the teenage girl character “Sophie” a little slow at first, but it gets better midway through the season.  Really, all the episodes relate to the others so ideally see them all.

The therapist here is using a predominately psychodynamic style of therapy which focuses on the childhood years of the client’s history as well as howthese  early relationships get played out in the client’s current life.  Information about the client is often revealed in not just what the client talks about but how they relate to the therapist.  Paul makes some decisions that would make strict analysts cringe (what some may call boundary violations), but overall he is a good therapist. 

From the standpoint of learning about this kind of therapy, this program is remarkable.  However, it just makes for interesting and thought-provoking television, and how often does that happen?

If you believe you are ready to find a mental health practioner see: https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/how-to-find-a-therapist-part-i/

Ok, now on to Season TWO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BP and My Anxiety

July 5, 2010

I have so many topics I want to cover on this site, but lately I am keep coming back to thoughts such as:  “How important is this topic?” and “Does this really matter in light of the condition of the world?” 

In the mind of an anxious person, these are the thoughts that may consume the person.  The worst oil spill in history?  Those pictures of the gushing oil bother me, and I wonder when and how we are gonna get out of this.  Should I be worried?  Should I let go of it and just hope it will work out for the best?

Anxiety runs in my family.  We are worriers, sometimes prone to catastrophizing (worrying so much that your mind goes to the worst case scenario).  The anxiety tends not to be so overwhelming that it interferes with functioning but it is present.  I have had  a few crazy dreams and nightmares lately about disastrous situations.  I am sure this is due to the anxiety I am feeling about the BP oil spill.

Same thing happened to me with 9/11.  I was in NYC on that day. I was not close enough to have witnessed the attacks or see the towers collapse,but close enough to see enormous plumes of smoke at a distance, and see carless New York streets where droves of people were walking covered with dust.  I think I am more susceptible to anxiety over man-made disasters, maybe because the anxiety distracts me from some of my anger.

There are different kinds of anxiety and differing degrees of severity.  In my opinion, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is one of the worst types because it is difficult to treat.  This involves combined anxiety and depression symptoms one could experience after a trauma.  A related problem, though less severe is Adjustment Disorder with Anxiety (Depression and conduct Problems may also be present), that a person may experience after an event such as divorce, or losing a job.  Generalized Anxiety Disorder is probably the mildest type, but the symptoms tend to pervade the person’s life.  Other Anxiety disorders include:  Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder and Social Phobia/Social Anxiety.  Go to this link for more information:  http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml.

What kind do I have?  Well, it would probably be Anxiety Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified, which means I don’t fall easily into any of the categories, but have prominent symptoms.  My symptoms include:  excessive worry, nightmares, and restlessness.  Most of the time I do not have symptoms but the sense of not having control may trigger them.  Yes, therapists have issues too.  We are human after all.  See:  https://makeitplainonline.wordpress.com/2010/04/21/how-to-find-a-therapist-part-i/ 

Under these extraordinary circumstances many people may have anxiety related symptoms.  There is more focus lately in the media about Americans in the Gulf region who are suffering in terms of mental health (probably a great deal of Adjustment Disorder and PTSD).  I do empathize deeply with what it may be like for them now.  However, we are really all in this together in many ways.  The health and well-being of the people in the Gulf region along with the environmental fallout created by the spill, affects us all. 

I am able to control symptoms with deep breathing and yoga practice.  What helps me more than anything else though is getting on with my life; trying to care for the people I love, and trying to do the best work I can do.  So, all of this blogging is important to me.  Part of my work as I see it is to share information.

More severe cases that interfere with functioning may need therapy.  Some people prefer medication or some combination of therapy and medication.  If you believe you may be suffering with severe anxiety, talk it over with your physician, shaman, pastor or other helper in your life, and make a plan to address it.