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  • Writer's pictureThe Therapy Space

Supporting BIPOC Individuals Who Have Experienced Racial Trauma

For BIPOC individuals (Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color), there are many ways that the history and ongoing issues with systemic and institutional racism contribute to traumatic stress. This is also known as racial trauma or racism-based traumatic stress, a form of Complex Trauma (CPTSD) due to exposure to traumatic events over a prolonged period of time. Racial trauma and CPTSD are not recognized as official diagnoses, however BIPOC individuals in the United States experience higher rates of PTSD than white Americans and racism is recognized as a primary factor (Rogers, 20203). Racial trauma can occur because of several events including microaggressions, discrimination, threats, violence, vicarious trauma, and inequity.

The effect on an individual’s mental health may include symptoms of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. This is how an individual can respond to racial trauma. It is a way of recognizing a threat and then figuring out how to cope or survive. This may show up in the form of panic attacks, rage, substance use, muscle tension, illness, or dissociation (Gutierrez, 2022). Therapy can support you in processing the trauma you have experienced, utilizing strengths and skills, developing coping strategies to reduce symptoms that disturb your quality of life, and exploring how additional supports in the community can also be a part of your healing journey.

The Impact on the Mind, Body, and Spirt

With racial trauma the response can be experienced in the mind, body, and spirit. It can lead to feeling depressed, anxious, hypervigilant, experiencing intrusive thoughts, re-experiencing the event, having low self-esteem, and feeling anger. It can also lead to somatization meaning stress and emotions presenting as physical symptoms such as insomnia, fatigue, headaches, stomach aches, increased heart rate, and chest pains (Rogers, 2023).

The spirit refers to part of an individual that holds emotions, core beliefs, and qualities of character. The way that racial oppression has harmed BIPOC individuals can lead to deep hurt and becoming dispirited. You may feel othered, isolated, and ashamed (Gutierrez, 2022). Therapy will help you understand how trauma has manifested itself for you and then explore how to move forward in a way that nurtures and empowers you to lead a more fulfilling life.

How Therapy Can Support You

1. Validation and Self-Compassion

Racial trauma can lead to internalized racism, low self-esteem, blaming self, or feeling shame toward self. An ongoing part of the therapeutic process is to feel validated by your therapist that whatever you feel makes a lot of sense given the painful experiences you have had. You will also learn and practice skills to increase compassion toward yourself and reduce harmful thinking patterns and beliefs you have about yourself.

2. Centering Strengths and Resilience

It is important to remember that you are not starting out at zero. You already have strengths and skills you may be aware of or have yet to realize. In therapy you will find support in identifying these existing strengths and skills and exploring how to utilize them or further develop them. This will help empower you to have self-awareness and find intention within your thoughts, emotions, body, and your actions to be able to heal in mind, body, and spirit.

3. Engaging Mindfulness

You might feel stuck in the past or worried about the future. You might feel like you are stuck in a “fight” or “flight” or “freeze” response. Learning mindfulness skills in therapy will help you learn more about how to be in the present moment. This will be helpful for symptoms causing distress to help create connection and calm within your mind and body. There are also a variety of traditions and practices as well as ancestral and generational wisdom in BIPOC cultures that center mindfulness. It is not only pain and suffering that can be passed down, but also healing.

The Benefit of Connection and Community

It is important to connect with BIPOC communities and individuals who you can find belonging with and support from. You may share certain lived experiences and it can be affirming to know you are not alone. It is important that a part of your healing is a collective process. You can explore how to join social or support groups with other BIPOC individuals. Being in community and connection with those who understand and embrace you can help improve self-esteem, self-acceptance, sense of purpose, and improve mental health and well-being.

We’re Here For You

Coping with the effects of racial trauma can be very challenging and overwhelming. By reaching out for therapy, you will have support in navigating this with understanding and empathy. You will find guidance and foster resilience through validation and self-compassion, centering strengths, engaging mindfulness, and connecting with community. It is courageous to realize you need help and to ask for it especially when there is still a stigma for many racial and ethnic groups to seek mental health support. You are showing strength by advocating for yourself.


Gutierrez, N. (2022). The Pain We Carry: Healing from Complex PTSD for People of Color. New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Rogers, K. (2023, Feb. 16). Understanding racial trauma, the mental and emotional injury of racism. CNN News.


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