The Healing Journey for BIPOC 


Special Guest: Natalie Gutierrez

Black, indigenous, and people of color have gone through a lot of extreme, overwhelming experiences and its effect is still being passed down across generations. The anxiety and fear that we are carrying in our bodies are still remnants of colonization, genocide, and slavery, among other things. The challenges and emotions we carry are all slavery-induced symptoms that continue to happen down the road. It is a very dangerous thing because a lot of us are getting misdiagnosed, mistreated and are just translated to something that was created for a specific population. 

Deeply understanding the challenges, feelings, and needs of BIPOC would allow everyone, especially on a macro level, to create a safe environment that would foster healing. 

What is Healing?

Natalie Gutierrez, LMFT, a licensed marriage family therapist in the states New York and New Jersey, defines healing as a journey that takes time and differs on each person. She believes that healing, for the most part, is not about a destination nor only as a cure, as some people only see healing as going to a mental health professional. It needs to be seen and experienced holistically especially for BIPOC because of the many experiences that have deeply affected us through generations. 

Healing, as described by Natalie, is a journey that happens spiritually and financially. We often struggle with financial issues like asking for a fee or negotiating our salary because of feeling so unworthy as a result of being colonized. These kinds of financial situations are very scary that we feel unworthy and unintentionally devalue ourselves. That is why healing as a community is extremely important. We have to do the work individually and deeply within ourselves, but we also need to feel connected and loved by the people in the community because trauma usually happens in isolation and healing happens in connection especially with indigenous folks and groups. 

Challenges that BIPOC Experience

There are way too many examples of how especially the black, indigenous and people of color are just completely mistreated, invalidated, and dismissed. It is extremely important to get to share awareness of these challenges as these do not only happen in this country but in many parts of the world, too. 

  1. Stigma within the community. BIPOC grew up in a community where therapy and access to mental health services is only for white and crazy people. People of color going to a mental health professional are already seen and labeled as having an illness.
  2. Family dynamics. Whatever is wrong with the family should be dealt within the family. There is shame in airing the family’s dirty laundry, hindering you from asking for help or from doing the things you want.
  3. Occupational injustice. Most people of color are so behind in terms of salary and of receiving equal career opportunities. It even goes back to the issue around mass incarceration. With people of color being the most behind bars, finding a job after leaving prison is even harder. Occupational injustice leads to having limited finances if not poverty.
  4. Being used as a study/experiment. Through the years and in different parts of the world, BIPOC communities are being used as study or experiments against their will and without fully knowing what was happening. People of color are not only treated unethically but are also exposed to different health hazards; for instance in Puerto Rico where some of the highest statistics of Crohn's disease were reported as well as high statistics about breast cancer and cancer in general.
  5. The stigma around cultural and spiritual beliefs. People of color are carrying so much shame in practicing their cultural and spiritual beliefs because of being judged and labeled as bad, or evil or as someone who speaks with the devil.
  6. Access to basic human needs. Many people who live in poverty-stricken areas cannot afford healthy, organic food that they end up purchasing the processed, unhealthy stuff and the daily $1 value menu resulting to health complications along the way. Having access to schools that provide quality education and healthy food choices is challenging, too, because of discrimination and limited finances.
  7. Mistreated and misdiagnosed. There would be times when people of color would go see a psychologist and they would feel his/her educational degree and authority in the room. There seems to be a hierarchical structure rather than a peer to peer approach at times. This can happen during medical training, too, where most of the participants are white professionals. Many BIPOC avoid going to such places because of feeling the authority from white folks and for them not to deal with their mental chatter in order to "stay in the moment". In even worse situations, clinicians are so quick to pathologize BIPOC that they end up being misdiagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar or other severe mental health issues. There are even studies that show how people of color are diagnosed more with bipolar disorder borderline personality disorder than white folks. 

Recommended Skills and Resources to Help BIPOC in Their Healing Journey

Healing may be a little more challenging for BIPOC because of those circumstances that happened in the past and continue to happen in their every day lives. To further help in the healing journey, here are some amazing skills recommended by Natalie Gutierrez, LMFT.

  1. Get to know your body. Our bodies carry so much, more than what we are even aware of. We are carrying so much in our bodies that are still remnants of the past because fears and anxieties are being passed down from generation to generation that’s why it is important to honor your body and listen to it. Listen to what your spirit is saying and pay attention to the needs of your body and of your spirit. We should not only heal cognitively but somatically as well. 
  2. Ask for help. One of the hardest things to say is “I need help”. It is okay to ask for help and it is okay to go through the healing process. You deserve and are worthy of some help to be able to heal. Ask for help from your family, from a friend or from your community, from someone who genuinely understands what you are going through. There are also various organizations and sites online that you can reach out to or can connect you with mental health providers that deeply understand you.
  3. Seek like-minded people. Seek people that are on the same journey as you, that uplifts you, and that encourages you. Set your boundaries from people that shame or hurt you and be with those that really see you.
  4. Heal collectively. While there are different approaches to healing, being with a community where you feel loved, connected, and accepted could greatly help through your journey. Be with a community where there are relational connection and relational healing. Take the risk of meeting new people and find or build a community that can serve as your safe space through your healing journey.

Here are some other references that could also inspire and support you through this journey.

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With Love,