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The Realities of Treating PTSS: A Therapist’s Perspective

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Are therapists integrating the insights of post-traumatic slave syndrome (PTSS) into treatment? It might be too much to ask at this point in time. It’s still early.

“I don’t think any therapist is fully integrating [PTSS],” says Oronde Yero, MS, LPC, NCC, an Atlanta-based counselor and life coach, who has long been aware of theories about the intergenerational transmission of trauma. However, “we’re really just at the inception of this concept.”

by Parris Starchia

In addition to Yero, Natural Awakenings interviewed two other African Americans who address trauma in their work, one with an extensive background in energy medicine and the other using trauma-informed yoga practices. Like Yero, they weren’t formally integrating PTSS theory into their practices, but they are acutely aware of the issues it produces because of lived experience.

Making matters more challenging, unlike anxiety, depression or even PTSD, no one walks into a therapist’s office saying, “Hi. I’m suffering from PTSS. Please help!” Yero sees PTSS as a model that helps diagnose and treat clients as it prompts one to consider the broader societal context for the individual. As examples, he cites three areas in which knowledge of PTSS theory can be helpful: academic performance, intragroup violence and delinquency.

“Does having good grades equal a good life?” asks Yero. “Probably not, if you’ve been under oppression for a long time. So why put up the effort to be excellent if it’s not going to equal a functional change in your life.” Moreover, “we have a situation where in our community, sometimes [if you’re] smart, you’re called ‘being white’. So I have to choose. Either I’m going to be excellent and surrender my blackness, or I’m going to underachieve and be a part of the group.” Without the lens of PTSS, many people readily see the root cause of black peoples’ persistent lack of economic gain as them making “bad choices”, says Yero.  

Yero also offers his theory about intragroup violence. “In my estimation, intragroup violence is an internalization of violence that maybe would have been otherwise directed at the oppressive force.” It exists, he believes, because of “the inability to establish an identity that one could be proud of, that one could feel a part of.”

He continues: “[The delinquent] behavior in an African American male—is it simply delinquency? Or is it the struggle of African American males trying to define manhood in the context of oppression? Is gang activity simply bad behavior? Or is it an attempt at establishing some sense of self-actualization? Is going to prison the new rite of passage for those living in a dysfunctional state? I can go into the prison system and come out with a badge of courage that I’ve overcome my fears, I’m strong and I’m tough.”

One can imagine that the treatment approach to searching for a definition of manhood in the face of centuries of servitude, practiced acquiescence and violence against one’s body would be significantly different from the treatment approach to delinquency.

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Read the full April 2021 Magazine