The Impact of Discrimination and Oppression on Mental Health–Trauma Informed Care

Unfortunately, it is likely that many individuals will encounter systemic oppression or discrimination at some point in their lives. For many people their race, ​ethnicity, ​socioeconomic background, ​sexual ​orientation, ​religious ​beliefs, ​gender identity, ​disability ​status, ​and ​age are markers which may be used to enact harm in many covert ways. People who experience discrimination and harm in this way often experience psychological distress and may exhibit behaviours which are considered symptoms of mental health difficulties. Experiences such as self-harm, alcohol and substance use, issues related to food and exercise, for example, have often been labelled as ‘symptoms’ of mental illness or mental health issues.

However, a trauma informed therapeutic approach views these symptoms as a survival mechanism; as being an essential method of coping in the face of overwhelming events and circumstances. Using a trauma informed approach in therapy means that a therapist recognises that experiences such as abuse, neglect, violence, discrimination, poverty can often influence the development of these psychological symptoms. A trauma informed approach moves away from labelling these behaviours as symptoms; which can feel pathologizing or stigmatizing for some people, and instead sees them as coping mechanisms which may have outlived their usefulness and are now causing you distress. Trauma informed therapy works to validate these experiences, to understand the need that these behaviours serve for people and how they have helped them to cope, and to explore new, more adaptive and helpful ways of coping in the world.

Trauma informed therapy aims to help people who may feel invalidated, misunderstood or alienated in the world. It is also helpful for people who feel pressured to behave in ways that don’t align with their unique needs or desires, but who feel they must act a certain way so that they are accepted or welcomed in their social, familial or professional lives. Trauma informed therapists believe that it is important to spend time gaining a deep understanding of each person’s individual experiences in order to support them to move forward in an authentic and long-lasting way. Exploring past experiences with a therapist who works in a trauma focused way, and who holds a respectful awareness of issues of diversity and inclusion (such as race, gender identity, sexuality and so forth) can allow clients to discover how their unique personal history, not only influences how they feel today, but also how they need to change in order to feel safer, happier and more empowered in the future.

If you would like to speak to a trauma informed therapist, please contact Dr. Meg Ryan on 086 338 9614

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