Black History Month is a time when many folks increase their efforts in learning, celebrating, and honoring the history, accomplishments, and contributions of people of African descent. For some, it involves the recollection of historical traumas Black Americans have historically faced.
Dr. Joan Samuels-Dennis, Ph.D., is the Director of Programs and Partners at The Village of Peace, a not-for-profit mandate to develop and implement a national healing journey for people of African ancestry. According to her, current and historical traumas, especially those that are racially motivated, have enduring impacts that last for as many as seven generations.
“Studies from the field of epigenetics suggests that traumatic memories and their associated physical, psychological and spiritual impacts are felt most profoundly by those born one to four generations after the original trauma,” says Dr. Samuels-Dennis. “Especially in cases where the trauma is mirrored—redirected towards self and others—the cycle of impact continues indefinitely.”
The psychotherapist and trauma recovery expert explains that the majority of mental disorders represent a coping response to a traumatic event that occurred in this lifetime or to an ancestor. This includes PTSD, depression, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and even ADHD.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, members of the African diaspora experience mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, as well as physical health problems like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, at higher rates than the general population.
“Since the early 1990s, the emergence of energy psychology has helped us to understand that the most significant shift one experiences after a traumatic event is a fear-based response that shifts the individual's thoughts and beliefs patterns so significantly, it disrupts the flow of energy to the 12 major organs of the body,” Dr. Samuels-Dennis explains.
People of African descent have been biologically and mentally reshaped in ways they may never understand. Though the impacts of historical traumas are many, Dr. Samuels-Dennis says the most fundamental impact on the diaspora is the amnesia that leaves them unable to answer two questions: Who am I? and Who are we?
“Neither question can be answered unless we choose to move through an individual healing journey and a national or communal healing journey. Healing, when done right, is a powerful transformation process that heightens self-awareness, expansion of consciousness, and access to the spiritual and ancestral memories needed to support the global African community with knowing its position in the world and effectively playing its part.”
Dr. Samuels-Dennis has identified four things folks from the diaspora can do to start to address the ancestral trauma passed down to them and begin a journey of healing.
Keep track of your thoughts through morning pages
Dr. Samuels-Dennis says one way one can begin a healing journey is with a journaling technique called morning pages. When used in the mental health space, this technique helps an individual become aware of the traumas connected to the current struggles they may be experiencing.
“The process requires that you commit to writing morning pages for 12 weeks,” explains Dr. Samuels-Dennis. “Upon waking, grab your journal, and begin the process of tracking your thoughts and writing them down as quickly as you can until you have filled three pages. Morning pages will offer clarity and alert you to the things you are wanting to change in your life right now.”
Immerse yourself in knowledge of self-development
Awareness is the key to healing. Dr. Samuels-Dennis advises individuals to start reading every self-development book they can find related to the thing they want.
“Audiobooks and podcasts with expert hosts or expert guests are essential during this period as well," shares Dr. Samuels-Dennis. "Try to read a book every week, as knowledge from these sources is essential for the next leg of the journey.”
Work with a Black therapist who specializes in trauma
Find a Black therapist trained in trauma recovery to work with you. “You need a therapist who understands that racism and the past 500 years are the very definition of trauma for Black people," explains Dr. Samuels-Dennis. "When you are ready to go there, you want a therapist to be ready to go with you.”
Work with a professional to balance your energetic field
Balancing your energetic field is a great way to either start or end your healing journey. Energy psychology offers the most advanced understanding of how trauma impacts body memory and the energetic center connected to the 12 major organs of the body.
“There are many lay healers in this field, so find a professional with advanced understanding of cognitive psychology as well as advanced understanding of energy psychology,” says Dr. Samuels-Dennis. “These individuals will quickly and effectively support your healing journey. For the greatest impact, this space includes EMDR, PSYCH-K, Emotion Immersion Therapy, the Forgiveness Method and RECODE.”