Racial Trauma and Therapy — ft. Bryant (’Escape From Plan A’ Ep. 109)

First-time guest Bryant joins Diana and Mark to talk about racial trauma and the challenge of finding therapists as Asian Americans.

5 years ago

Latest Podcast Celebrity, Adoption, and Power — ft. Yasmin Nair ('Escape From Plan A' Ep. 261)
by Plan A Editors

Diana, Mark and first-time guest Bryant discuss the concept of Racial Trauma. They also discuss their own experiences with therapy and the unique challenges of finding the right therapist as an Asian American.

Twitter: Bryant (@mfbt),

The following transcript comes from Episode 109: Racial Trauma and Therapy — ft. Bryant of Escape From Plan A. It has been edited for length and clarity.

Diana: Hi, welcome to another episode of Escape From Plan A. I am your host today, Diana, and I’m joined here by Mark.

Mark: Hey everybody.

Diana: And our very special guest Bryant who is a longtime fan and we just met up in person and we had a nice chat and I think you have a lot of really interesting things to say that we want to share with everybody. So, just a few housekeeping items. First of all, happy Korean liberation from Japan day, that’s today, August 15th. I don’t know anything about this, but I’m excited for people. I’m happy you get to be free, bitches! Okay. And yeah, so please subscribe to our Patreon if you haven’t done so already. You’ll get bonus episodes, access to the Plan A discord and you’ll be contributing to support new and exciting Asian American writers with the funds that we’re making every month. And if you aren’t interested in that, that’s cool too. Just please subscribe and review us on iTunes, SoundCloud, Spotify, Google Play and so on and so forth. Yeah, we want to hear from you whether you really love us or if you hate us, we want to hear everything.

Okay. So today we are here to talk about mental health therapy and specifically about Racial Trauma, which is a new term that I actually learned from Bryant when we were talking on Twitter and in person. And I think it’s a really important thing to know as Asian Americans that this is a clinical definition. There’s a thing out there that exists and there’s treatment for it. Because, I think for me, I have been to therapy for a long time and I felt that it was really useful, but there’s this certain element that just seems missing and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was or what to do about it. And now I know about this thing, I feel like this is the missing piece. And it’s so weird that it…nobody has ever told me about it or tried or suggested it as even something that I should think about.

Bryant: Well, that’s white supremacy for you.

Mark: So, before we get into the topic, I think Bryant, it’d be good for our listeners since you’re a first-time guest, if you just quickly tell us a little bit about yourself, maybe how you found the magazine and just a general bio really quick, if you could.

Bryant: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Fast. So, I’m second generation Chinese American. I work as a speech-language pathologist in the greater Boston area and I used to work on, design and facilitate, I guess you could call them racial identity leadership journeys for folks in the nonprofit education reform sector. But I don’t do that anymore. Burnout is real. Yeah. And I found Plan A, well, I was really just looking for some voices that I thought dealt with the complexities, the structural complexities that we face as people of color and specifically as Asian Americans. And I felt like Plan A was doing a dope ass job of it. So I started reading articles and I was actually joking with Diana, my mom sent me the review that Diana and her boo did on “Always Be My Maybe”. And my Mom said, “Have you read this? This is such a good article.” And I’m like, yeah.

Mark: Oh my god, you’re mom. I love it. We’ve extended into the mom demographic. I like it.

Bryant: You guys are reaching, you guys are reaching far.

Diana: Do you want, do you want us to do a shout out to your mom right now?

Bryant: Yeah. Mom, this one’s for you.

Mark: Awww…

Diana: This one’s for you babe!

Mark: All right, very cool.

Diana: Thank you so much.

Mark: Thank you very much for following us and agreeing to be on this pod. So Diana, , you laid the groundwork for what we wanted to talk about and I as well, I was not very aware of this term Racial Trauma.

Diana: Yeah. And we did a previous episode about Asian-American mental health, right. And we kind of danced around this topic, it was like we didn’t have the language to describe what we were all feeling.

Mark: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And Bryant, could you do a quick description of the term and maybe a little history on it [be]cause I’m sure that some of our listeners, it’s just as new for them.

Bryant: Yeah. And I think the things to keep in mind about the term Racial Trauma is that it’s, from what I understand in all the research I’ve looked at, it’s pretty new. People are just starting to wrap their heads around it. Thinking about trauma outside of PTSD is kind of messy and the DSM for all of its pros and cons, they’re trying to find ways to diagnose it within that framework. And some people have done that.

But I guess the way I would define it kind of quickly is, well, first things first, racism. I’m sure everyone has a sense of it, but really I think, just to be clear, it’s a class system that prioritizes white people, gives them privileges and people of color are treated as second, third, fourth, fifth-class citizens. And so the idea here is that when you are a person of color, you’re facing that every day, all the time. And the accrual of macro aggressions, actually being assaulted, targeted by the police. What we see with ICE microaggressions, your experiences growing up in school, things that you saw happen to your family. Also, the aspects of historical trauma, which is kind of an older concept, but things that maybe tie more into the immigrant experience that maybe your parents, your grandparents, your great grandparents have carried with them and the kind of racism that they’ve endured. Also, just what you constantly see in the media and really shit media representation that all adds up to a problem. And Racial Trauma is a way to describe that.

Symptoms of Racial Trauma are things like developing hypervigilance. You’re just constantly keyed up and on edge. Really often this means being super stressed out and worried about being around white people, worrying that you’re going to have these micro or macro aggressions happen, again and again; maybe being stuck on some of these aggressions that you’ve experienced, kind of continually revisiting them, having them come into your mind unbidden. Other things like increased stress and cortisol response and ultimately, things like increases in substance use disorder, anxiety, and depression. This sounds really broad and mental health is messy, but, there is research out there that shows very strong correlations, especially between people who endure lots of microaggressions and an increase in these symptoms of what people think of as Racial Trauma.

Mark: Hmm. That’s fascinating though that it’s taken this long for someone, for the connection to be made. Cause it just seems obvious to me. Right. But, I guess, the history of racism in America, there’s been just tons and tons of gaslighting or tons and tons of people who, and institutions and as a society where we’ve tried to downplay these racial effects on an individual level. And I think that sort of stress response that you’re describing where people become hypervigilant that can lead to these weird states of mind where, in the past, you’ve had these microaggressions towards you. But then, because you’re always, sort of anxious and you’re looking out for them, you might almost doubt yourself that ones in the future actually happened to you. [Be]cause you’re like, well, I can’t possibly, it can’t be happening to me all the time. So, then you might be discounting things and sort of doubting yourself and that leads to more anxiety and self-doubt and stress and all sorts of things.

Bryant: And what you’re describing people in the research community, they look at that as a form of internalized oppression, because you’re essentially taking what’s being done to you and finding ways to blame yourself. Did I really see that or was it just that I didn’t have enough grit? How come everyone else seems to be doing okay?

Mark: Yeah.

Diana: Yeah. And I feel like once you start doubting your experiences, you kind of doubt your skills and your appearance and everything like that. So it also leads to imposter syndrome, that sort of thing, serious self-esteem issues, personality disorders, in addition to anxiety and depression. I always felt like it was weird how people would tell me, “I think you have imposter syndrome, and this disproportionately affects women and people of color and women of color in science.” And then they would just leave it at that, including therapists. They would just be like, “Yup, that’s it.” But nobody would take that step, that extra step to be like, “And maybe this is due to systemic oppression?” Nobody ever said that.

Mark: Right.

Bryant: It gets me thinking about when I came across this term, I could feel a sigh of relief just coming out of me and my soul. I was like, “Okay.” Like you said, there’s been a missing piece and that missing piece comes from somewhere. It comes from our experiences with our therapists. Often they’re white, cis, women, straight. And usually, the way that mental health is talked about with their clients is…I’ll just take depression as an example. They’ll look at your family of origin, they’ll look at your interpersonal issues, like your relationships, things that are happening at work and probably talk a little bit about brain chemistry. Entirely missing from that is just a sociological analysis of what, for people of color, is a large root cause. And I don’t think anyone is saying that it has to be the only one, or that there aren’t these other drivers of people’s mental health. Yet to completely ignore this is, I mean it’s dangerous and it’s absolute bullshit.

Mark: Yeah. I mean, yeah, absolutely. I think it would even be helpful because I’m thinking back, so, most of my experience with therapy, I haven’t had it recently, there were years where I had it many years in a row. It was for depression and it was always centered around my own sort of negative thoughts and maybe my response to my relationship with my family or whatever, and we did delve into a little bit maybe about my abandonment issues around my adoption and all that sort of thing. But there wasn’t, we didn’t go very deeply into that. And we never touched on race. And I think at some point it would have helped if they, if people just acknowledged part of your mental state is because of the environment and the environment that you’re in is racist in a lot of ways. And even if we can’t change it, just by talking about it in this therapy session, at least acknowledging the reality of what’s going on can sort of take some of the burden off my shoulders of it’s just in my head. Right. So I think a lot of the DSM and others like the profession didn’t want to, they don’t want to address it [be]cause they’re like, “Well, what are we going to do about it?” But I think just acknowledging it and saying its real can be really, really powerful and good for someone in therapy. Don’t you think?

Bryant: I mean, absolutely. And it gets me thinking, our therapists are human and when our therapists are white, the same patterns that play out outside of the therapy room are happening right there too. Like how comfortable are people of color talking about racism in front of white people. I mean that’s, that is a very, very tough thing to do.

Diana: Yeah.

Bryant: And when your therapist is not the person actually raising this as, not even saying you, this is going on for you, but maybe even just raising it as something that’s potentially going on for you, it opens up a door because they’re essentially saying this place is safe for you to talk about this. And when they don’t, that silence is extremely palpable. And so it just takes even more from us to go ahead and raise this. And, again, it’s a power relationship to, these are professionals you’re seeing them probably [be]cause you’re feeling pretty down and out and now they’re not raising something and you’re a lay person. They’re just all these obstacles to overcome. And not to mention you’re seeing a healthcare professional, they should be the ones raising the things that you need to be thinking about. It’s pretty messed up that so many of us actually need to go into the therapy room and try to advocate for ourselves around our lived experiences.

Diana: Yeah. I think you mentioned something about a lot of times people of color end up having to be the ones to teach our therapists how to treat us. That is not, that ain’t right. And that’s assuming that your therapist is even amenable to that kind of information because some people are not. I’ve had therapists who would push back on that idea.

Bryant: Yeah. What did that pushback look like for you Diana?

Diana: Mostly negation, not necessarily directly violent responses, but just kind of a distraction or kinda invalidation, which I think you mentioned is a microaggression in and of itself. So, once that starts happening, it’s more trauma being added to the outside world’s trauma. Right. And I feel if, when, a therapist starts doing that to you…that’s supposed to be a relationship of deep, deep trust. And so it’s almost like a really good friend betraying you or like a family member betraying you.

Bryant: Yeah. And it gets me thinking about how people of color, we, we really can’t. I mean, you can never be 100% yourself. I’m not saying that that’s even possible, but when you’re around other people, but when you’re around white people and you can’t talk about your experience with racism, you’re putting a lot of yourself on the shelf there. And you go into this therapy room hoping that you can bring more of yourself there and when you can’t, what are the lessons that we learn then? We’re seeing it outside in the community, in our experiences at work or when we were growing up in school. And then now when we’re trying to get help we’re seeing it there too. I mean, it basically says the sum total of all your experiences, they’re telling you that you really can’t do this. I think it’s some of the most, I mean, I hate the term microaggression [be]cause there’s nothing really micro about it. It sucks. But yeah, I think it’s so damaging when this happens in the therapy room.

Mark: Yeah. Because I mean, there are a lot of reasons and things that therapy can do. And there are a lot of things that it can’t do, but one of it, one of the things that it’s promised to be able to do is to at least try to explore yourself and why you are the way you are in some ways emotionally, psychologically. And if that whole side of yourself, the racial side of yourself can’t be examined in the context of your psychological self and your emotional self, then it’s, it’s not useless, but it’s missing a huge part of that. And I totally agree with you, Bryant, that it’s sort of teaching us, or at least showing, it’s showing us yet again, that it’s sort of worthless and it’s very damaging. I mean, I think about when I was growing up and I had white parents and they have all the best intentions and they want to help you out and everything. And, when I would try to tell them about dating, right. And how race sort of played into that as an Asian man in America. And they had the best of intentions when they were like, you can’t, almost saying I was lying, but not lying, but maybe it wasn’t actually the way that I thought it was. And they’d said that, I think to sort of tell me that, you can’t concentrate on something that you can’t change. So, just go forward and try more and keep trying. And you’re a nice guy and you’re a good guy, so it’s going to work out eventually. But they’re sort of not, but their ignorance or their inability to deal with that racial part of me really, it sort of, it was damaging at that point in time. And I can’t imagine if I were going to a therapist who is supposed to be a professional and be able to know more about this stuff for them to do it too, it’s just another sort of blow.

Diana: Yeah. It makes you not be able to explore that part of yourself or to just feel like that part of yourself just has be discarded or something. And, it kinda reminds me of how Teen was talking about in the depression episode that you guys did the really long one. Just, there’s something missing, just, why are all these people so unsatisfied? He has Asian American friends who are just, they’re making good money, they have a family, they have the house, they have everything, and yet they are just depressed. And it’s just, I wonder if it’s just like, you’re not a full person and like, that on some level, but there’s nothing you can do about it. This not even like you can’t, there’s not even a confidant that you fucking pay to talk to you about this. You can’t even buy this kind of validation. And it also kind of makes me think of, I think this is a society wide problem, right?

Diana: Because it’s about the stories that we tell ourselves. Our narratives are always so psychological and individual and arising from personal choices. And I think this is the same thing with dating, is that people are always like, “Oh, well, this preference or that preference. It’s a personal choice and it’s private. And what this person does is their business alone.” But that’s never the case. Your choices are affected by sociological phenomena that you can’t control, including dating, including just recognizing a part of yourself, the Asian American racial part of yourself. And to say that everything is a personal choice it’s both invalidating, but it’s also at the same time as its saying, “There’s no problem.” It also makes it impossible for anybody to confront the problem, right? Because if there is a racist choice that somebody is making, then the narrative goes, “Well, that was your personal choice to be racist against somebody else. And racism is bad and shameful and a disgusting choice and that makes you a disgusting person and you don’t want to be that way.” So then you hide from it. You hide from those things that you do that are labeled personal choices. But, if we just recognize these societal things, patterns, we could say, “Oh, I am affected by these outside forces. I can decide to play along and be complicit or I can decide to try to change.” Who I am now and that’s your choice. But, I don’t know. I don’t really know where I’m going with this, but I don’t know.

Bryant: Well, I’d like to pick up on that. Also going back to what you were talking about Mark, when you raise this and no one’s talking about it, I mean, to acknowledge what we’re talking about for a white therapist, for a white person is to acknowledge that there are institutional structures and cultural structures that are in play for people of color. And to acknowledge any kinds of structures is totally anathema to the very premise of what white supremacy and white identity, like Mark, as you were describing, kind of your experience talking about dating with your folks. I mean, what kind of came to mind from you is you have full agency here, Mark, or, I don’t want to be unfair to your folks, but essentially, just keep on doing it and keep making good choices as if the world is just constructed by our choices. Which is, I think, a very big part of this myth of whiteness. Especially as we think about it in the American context around the myth of being a self-made person, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, as if structures don’t have anything to do with your life. And the funny thing is, I guess it’s not funny, it’s really awful, maybe the term Racial Trauma is new and that’s more that people are starting to think about how, even short of having a really terrible event that traumatizes you ala PTSD, trauma can accrue. It’s kind of like the last straw on the camel’s back.

Mark: That’s right. It can be like a stress fracture and that’s not an acute injury, right? That’s over time. That’s over time hitting your foot or something on your leg and you’re walking and then the shin, you get a stress fracture or on a bone, right.

Bryant: But people have been thinking about this for decades. Actually when I was digging into this research, I was getting really upset because people have been at least talking about the correlations between worse mental health outcomes and people’s reports of enduring racism, macro and microaggressions. They’d been looking at the increases in cortisol, basically stress response. And that means that like 20 or 30% of your brain is always used up and your emotions are used up trying to deal with this stress. Imagine if we all took those shackles off, right? What would life be like? But no, it’s out there. And I think that this brings us back to the point that there are a lot of great therapists out there and I’ve had some good therapists who also happen to be white, but people are not…There’s this huge gap in theory and practice. And I think that’s always the case with clinical practice. That’s just the name of the game. But when it’s about racism and when it’s about your white therapists needing essentially to interrogate his or her identity in order to help you develop yours. Well, I mean, just do the math, right?

Diana: Right. It’s like trying to find a needle in a haystack to get a good, good, good therapist. So, when you say that people have been digging into this for decades, but it just hasn’t clicked yet…I’ve seen people talk about in the medical field that Asian Americans have worse disease outcomes or they have higher rates of heart disease and cancer and in addition to mental health issues. And, I bet that’s also related to the Racial Trauma that they endure, people will be like, “Oh yes, this clearly has to do with African Americans longevity or disease outcomes.” But, I don’t think people have specifically made that connection with the Asian American communities. And I think it’s there. And I also feel like when people talk about Asian Americans and mental health, they’re always like, “It’s because of Asian culture,” or whatever stereotype they have. And I don’t think that is the whole story. And I think part of it too, even there’ll be a lot of people that are like, “Oh, but, there’s stigma around seeking therapy for Asians in Asian cultures,” which I think it…

Bryant: What freaking culture doesn’t have a stigma?!

Diana: Right? Right??

Mark: It’s not like white structure has this, some sort of, they love therapy. I know it’s a stereotype, but they don’t really, I don’t think they do. I think it’s a very class-based thing. I think maybe upper middle class and rich people. But, you’re not going to see a ton of working class people going to therapy all the time.

Bryant: And definitely not talking about it like it’s a badge of honor.

Diana: Right. I just wonder if it’s, all those articles I’ve read about the Asian social stigma, they are about people who are from Asia, they’re international students and, they feel like they have a stigma and I feel like even if that’s true in Asia or whatever, the majority of Asian Americans that I know, they get it. They’re…they want to feel better, they want help. But I think a big part of it is they know they’re not gonna get it because they know how white people are. They know what they’re in for when they go to therapy and it fucking sucks. Why should I go and pay money to somebody who’s going to shit on me for the thing that I’m traumatized by anyway?

Mark: Right. Or, ironically, they’ll essentialize the problem as, “Oh, your culture or the culture of your parents is to blame.” Which is sort of like the opposite of what we’ve been talking about where they try to avoid race, but when they bring it up, it’s variably to say that, “Oh no, your, Asian-ness is to blame for your problem.” Which is just, it’s not my Asian-ness. Its how American society or society as a whole interacts with my Asian-ness. Right. It’s not the, Asian-ness it’s how I, how the rest of the world treats me because I’m Asian, which is a different thing. Those are two different things, right.

Diana: Mark, I feel like your therapist never brought up race because you were adopted, and you had, you have white parents and they were like, “Oh, I guess that’s not that.” But for me…

Mark: Or they would try, they would, they would concentrate on the adoptee trauma, adoption trauma. Right. Which, of course, that’s a big factor anyway. But yeah, I mean, yes, the adoption trauma is a big factor. And, there’s tons of evidence and research to show that adoptees carry that trauma throughout their whole lives, and they’re double the instances of depression, almost double substance abuse or triple, adoptees attempt suicide at a much higher rate, all these sorts of things. Right. But the racial aspect of it too is because I’m a transracial adoptee. I think it was just way too much for any therapist that’s not sort of concentrated on that segment to handle. And it’s just taken a while for, I think for people who, of the same background this sort of become therapists themselves, but they’re just not that many.

Diana: Yeah. And even a POC centric therapist can be fucking shitty to Asians. Like, what happened today!

Mark: Oh my God…Who let us know about that?

Diana: Oh, I was just, I was looking for that article to share with Bryant. And I found that tweet that completely misquoted George’s article, “Why Are Asian American Kids Killing Themselves?” And they quoted the part where he describes the current paradigm, which is incomplete and reductive and stereotypes Asian cultures. And it’s right before he gets into the meat of the article which actually challenges that and refutes it completely. But, this company just took that bit and just posted, “Hey, Asian culture sucks.” And it was like…

Mark: …Go to our app!

Diana: Yeah, yeah, well, yeah, I’m not gonna say what that app’s name is because I’m not giving them fucking free publicity, but just know that that app it was specifically for helping people from POC communities overcome stigma and find therapists and support for their mental health journeys. And I was like, “Are you fucking kidding me?” And we called them out on it and they were like, “Oh, sorry, we offended you. We didn’t intend to be racist.”

Bryant: Their sorries mean nothing around this. I mean…

Diana: It’s not only the same bullshit, they were like saying, “Hey, we’ll help you with this.”

Bryant: Yeah. And again, this idea that Asian culture is so regressive and buttoned up that we can’t talk about anything. I mean, first of all, I grew up in a white suburb. Don’t tell me about buttoned up.

Mark: Yeah. Oh, me too, man. Me too.

Bryant: Yeah. Or that Asian cultures are so un-emotive. It’s like spend some time in Asia and you tell me how un-emotive everyone seems. It’s not that way at all…

Mark: …Koreans, come on. It’s a joke. Anyone who knows any Korean would just tell you that’s a joke, un-emotive my ass.

Bryant: Yeah. And it just goes back to…so what really happened there? They obviously didn’t read the article or if they did, they could only see what they wanted to see. It’s because they decided on the narrative already, which was that our culture is backwards and cold and distant and leads to bad mental health outcomes. But I think, in an analysis of how this stuff plays out for Asian Americans, we need to think specifically about the kinds of racism that Asian Americans face. [Be]cause it’s very different than what Latinx and African American and indigenous communities face. I was talking with Diana at dinner and I…it at least for those of us that are in the middle class, it is class based, it comes in sideways. It’s not this awful, at least often it’s not this awful police violence against people in the community that then the community can then kind of rally against at the very least. Often it’s this stuff, the model minority myth, there are a lot of people who internalize that and think it’s a good thing. It splits the community up. We can’t come together. The stuff around the fetishization of Asian American women and the de-sexualization of Asian American men. It’s another thing that splits the community and people don’t really know how to feel about it when it’s happening on their kids. And, by the time they get older, we haven’t come together as, it’s not like it’s this huge banner moment where everyone’s like, “No, fuck this. That’s not like, we’re not going to let you do that to us.” It’s kind of like, “Yeah, I’m gonna let you do it to us.”

Mark: Or if it is sort of a violent act, it’s against the most vulnerable people in our community. It’s like we, and we talked to Ron Kim about this a few weeks ago, it’s to…

Bryant: That was a great pod.

Mark: Oh, thank you. He, Ron’s amazing. Hopefully we’ll be able talk to him more and as well as Yuh-Line and other people and Red Canary song. But, oftentimes the violence that’s done against our community is not, as you said, Bryant is not the same as in the African American community. It’s done to older people, to women. And it’s not done by the police. It will be done by other members of other minority groups, and it’s, then the violence that’s done by white people or the state is just ignoring it, right. They don’t really prosecute or they’re not really worried about it and they’re just, and it’s sort of this attitude of like, “Oh, well, the minorities are fighting and we’ll let them sort of duke it out.” I mean, with the LA riots the police basically withdrew from the African American and Korean neighborhoods and protected the white ones and sort of let the two square off. And it can be very easy then to be like, “Now we want to really beef with one another,” when it’s like, “Who’s actually sort of pointing ourselves at each other?” It’s not really us. It’s the white, white people are.

Diana: I mean, that’s sort of a similar dynamic as how affirmative action is played out. It’s giving, I don’t know, what reparations, I, not exactly, but what I mean. It’s, you’re just taking from the Asian communities and giving it to the other POC communities instead of, it’s just, it’s re-shuffling stuff in the POC communities so that the white communities never have to give up anything and they can keep accumulating wealth and doing whatever.

Bryant: It’s interesting, as we’re talking about the specifics of, I guess, what Asian-Americans face, the racism. It does make me think also about the perpetual foreigner stereotype. You’re never really are from here even though I think Teen said it on one pod. But, if you go to some of these Chinatowns, there are people who have been there forever, longer than a lot of others…

Mark: Hundreds of years, I mean…

Bryant: …white families. Yeah. And it’s just that because, of their class and their language, they’ve never been able to really integrate into essentially white American society, but…

Mark: …also by law. I mean…where they couldn’t own property, anything like that, I mean…

Diana: Yeah, the laws were designed to do that, to perpetuate the foreigner identity. So, it’s not for lack of trying. But anyway, I feel like we could talk about this sort of stuff all day and there was a lot of it. But I kinda wanna focus on what good therapy would look like, how to find a good therapist, and just kinda like, “Where do you, where do we go from here individually?” [Be]cause I feel like a lot of people, they would want to find a therapist if they could, but it’s just really hard. So, how do you make it easier?

Bryant: Gosh, it’s the worst kind of dating, isn’t it? Especially, that first date is brutal.

Diana: But you, you found some good ones, right? So…

Bryant: I can speak from my experience. So again, if what we’re seeing often are these therapists who just go to the interpersonal and your family of origin and basically stopped there, and we know that’s not enough. So for me, I think that it’s important to find a therapist and ask the hard questions upfront. That first time you’re meeting them about what they, how they think about intersectional issues and structures of oppression because essentially that’s what we’re talking about here when we’re talking about Racial Trauma. It’s being faced with these structures and having a very reasonable reaction to them. Basically, having a tough time because of them. And I think, getting that, asking that question upfront is going to tell you a lot about that therapist and I don’t think that they need to share, at least for me, I didn’t feel like they needed to share my racial background. Diana, you mentioned that even when they have you haven’t necessarily found good therapists there, but yeah, finding that and then also asking upfront I think is really important. The other thing I’ll say is I think when you’re doing this it’s hard. [Be]cause when you’re looking for a new therapist, usually, what happens is maybe your relationship with your past previous therapists had to terminate because your insurance changed or you moved. And, but often it’s because maybe you haven’t been in therapy or you haven’t been in therapy for a long time and things just got bad. So, you’re…be compassionate to yourself. You’re running close to, close to empty in your tank and you’re doing something really brave. You’re trying to take care of yourself in a world that really makes it hard. So, it’s easy to get discouraged. But I just, I hope you, for anyone out there who is embarking on this, just try to remember that what you’re doing is really hard. It’s really important for you. It’s brave.

Diana: How do you even, how do you even get that initial meeting? [Be]cause there’s just listings and just tons of people, but do you ask around or do you look for certain keywords in their profile or something?

Bryant: Yeah. So the keywords that if you go into Psychology Today, there’s basically this huge database of therapists. And because in America we can’t call it what it is a lot of, it’s all coded around, so milk toast as to be something like “cultural issues,” right. And no one ever says race. But look out for that sort of stuff. Like a focus on “cultural issues,” the words “culture” plus “trauma”. Or sometimes people will say “ethnicity”. I’ve never seen anyone mentioned race in their little bio’s there. But definitely look for that stuff. And more often than not these people are going to be full up. But put your name down because while I’m a big fan of not letting perfect be the enemy of good. You also don’t need a therapist who’s going to just continue to invalidate your experience in the therapy room.

Mark: Does age matter of the therapist in your experience?

Bryant: I’ll speak from my experience. I’d love to hear from you guys. I found that I’ve worked best with people who were younger. Now maybe that’s just because, and those happen to be people who were more with it and thinking about structures of oppression.

Diana: Younger than you or around the same age?

Bryant: Well, around the same age. But one of my best therapists was this guy who’s, I mean he was half Filipino and he was younger than me. I was really surprised at how well that therapeutic relationship worked. But really it, as I think about it, it had very little to do with age and it was that everything that he did was just soaked in compassion, but he was critical. So he was firm with me, really getting me, getting me to think about hard things. But he was compassionate.

Diana: Wait, how did that make, well, how did that make you feel? What does that, what do you mean by compassion?

Bryant: Well, I mean, I guess, and I’d love to hear you how you guys think about this, but, so I’ve had a major depression diagnosis since I was a teenager and one of the toughest things for people with that diagnosis is actually having some sort of self-compassion. You’re totally beating up on yourself all the time for everything.

Mark: Completely can relate to that.

Bryant: Yeah. So having somebody who can, not just validate your experiences and also be able to help you see it the way that, we’re, Mark like you and I, if we heard someone, a friend of ours talking about this stuff…they felt down on themselves around would probably be like, “Oh man, you’re being so hard on yourself.” Right? Yeah. But when you have depression, it just seemed like, “No, I’m being totally rational. This just makes sense.”

Mark: Well, it’s very easy for me to see it in other people and be like, “I know you, I see you. You’re not, you can’t beat yourself up about this and you’re great.” But I can’t see it about myself.

Bryant: Yeah. And so I think what people, at least from the depressed context, you need an overcorrection of that. And one of the roles that your therapists can serve is to give you that overcorrection. Not that they were flinging compassion bombs at you all the time and so it feels fake. But to actually get you to start to see this as something worth looking at with some tenderness for yourself. [Be]cause you’re not going to really get any better if you’re not able to start to root out some of this essentially self, if this is what’s playing out for you, self-anger, self-disappointment and hatred maybe. And which always leads to shame and guilt and those things, once those things set in, they’re hard to get out. And the only way you can really make war with that enemy is to, I think, to love it.

Diana: Right on. Do you feel like…so I don’t know when you say they will specifically have culture issues on their profile…it’s, I dunno, when I’ve gone to Asian female practitioners who have that on their profile, they will actually just be like, “Oh, it’s stifling Asian culture.” They’ll be literal about it. So, I’m just wondering if it’s specifically, if Asians, we’ve internalize this so much that our therapists are even like this or, should we be trying to not go to Asian therapists? You know what I’m saying?

Bryant: Yeah. I mean I would, I don’t want to paint anyone with a broad brush. I do think there’s a lot to, again, therapists are people too and just like anybody, they’ll have internalized the same kind of crap that we have. But it does make me think about, I’ll just speak from my experience right now, I have a really dope therapist and she and I can talk about all the structures, racial oppression, late stage capitalism and who is, isn’t anxious in late stage capitalism, right? I mean, if you’re not anxious, you might want to get that checked out.

Mark: Well, if you’re not anxious, you’re a billionaire.

Bryant: Well there you go…and to be able to oscillate between talking about those structures and how they then play out for me interpersonally, but then also to basically be constantly zooming into my personal experiences, but also zooming out to thinking about what’s really going on here. Something I said to you, Diana that it’s a hobby horse of mine. It’s like you kinda need to know what you own and you need to know what other people own. Otherwise you can’t really work on the problem. And I think that when your therapists can help you zoom in and out so you can kind of hold these things in tension and ultimately you are the one responsible for helping yourself, even if these things have been done to you. It’s just the unfair way the world works. But, when they can help you do that, then , they’re, that’s dope. Yeah. And, it is like that kinda dating someone might say they’re an INFJ on their Tinder profile and you show for that date. You’re like, “This is not INFJ territory. What’s going on here?” Not all cultural responsiveness is the same.

Mark: Yeah, I think unfortunately, it can be hit or miss and you’re just going to have to be ready to fairly quickly be like, “This isn’t working out, I’m trying to find another one.” And it’s a lot of that work that we’re talking about where you have to do the work for yourself as a patient and advocate for yourself. But that’s just the way it is. I mean, it’s almost worse to have a bad therapist than no therapist or one that doesn’t work with you. So yeah, there’s no way, I don’t think there’s any way to have a set of keywords so that you can find the perfect therapist on the first try. Unfortunately.

Bryant: The one thing I would advise also is even if a therapist isn’t coming across with crap tons of knowledge that you would hope that he or she would have after your first date, I would also try to pay attention to their affect. And their body language, are they genuine? When you raise the things that are important to you, if you’re talking about racism, how do you see them react? Are they engaging with curiosity and validation or are you noticing that they’re getting kind of cold or distant or kind of what you were describing, Diana with some of your therapists. You don’t want to be in a position where you’re fully educating your therapists, but they don’t always need to have a critical race theory, PhD or anything to be able to help you unpack things. And, I have worked with therapists who have gone off and kind of done their own work to continue their own education because they’re like, “Hey, I have this case with this guy Bryant and what I know isn’t enough, but I want to get to a point where I have more for him.” And there are a lot of those people there too.

Diana: Yeah. Yeah. I had a therapist like that too. I mentioned racism one time and then she didn’t really have anything to say about it, but then I noticed a few weeks later I mentioned it again and she had a lot more to say and she was more engaged. And I was like, “Oh man, that is so sweet. You did your homework for me.” It seems like that kind of, yeah, that really built trust and I really appreciated that. So I have question, where did you, did you do your own research and come across Racial Trauma just by happenstance or did your therapist bring [it] up to you?

Bryant: No. I mean, no, my therapist did not bring it up to me. My current therapist I went to her with this question already. I mean, I guess without even getting to the specifics of whether Racial Trauma’s playing out for an individual or not, would you say that racism has been a contributing factor or even maybe a root, one of the root causes of my diagnosis. And after she took my full case history, she was like, “Yes.” But to get to that point, I basically did go off and do my own research and again that goes back to what we were talking about, that that sucks. You’re the person who is taking it on the chin and you’re going to these healthcare professionals and they’re not helping you figure out what’s actually going on. So you can’t actually solve the problem. In fact, so much of it then turns into, if there is this whole area of your mental health that’s not being explained you’re going to find a way to explain it and you’re probably going to blame yourself. Whether you do that explicitly or implicitly, you’re going to take that, you’re going to internalize that. And that’s, I think that’s really the big shame of all of this.

Diana: Yeah. I have heard of the term Racial Trauma, but I heard it in an academic lecture and it was about intergenerational Racial Trauma pertaining to the African American experience, slavery and Jim Crow and everything. And, I heard about it maybe a year or two ago and I didn’t, the way that that was framed, we know about it, we can see it in history, but we’re not gonna say anything about how it affects anybody today. And I think that’s a crying shame. I think that’s a problem. We do, we will address historical racism, but we just can’t, we can’t deal with current things that are happening to us right now. We can’t talk about it. We don’t want to look at it. It’s just something we want to just push out of our consciousness in general. And after I heard about it from you I looked it up online, just some articles and a lot of them were very PTSD focused. So there were these, if these major events happen to you, if you have family separation because of ICE or if you’re detained at the border or if you’ve been assaulted by the police, something very, very traumatic. And they don’t give any examples that would pertain to Asian Americans and they don’t give any examples about microaggressions. They say, “Yes, microaggressions are included,” but they don’t really emphasize that.

Bryant: So, a couple things and not to get wonky here, but there is a new instrument that I think it’s out of the University of Connecticut. It’s called the TSDS, the Trauma Symptoms of Discrimination Scale. And this is this whole inventory that would…I think one of the big questions is after you experienced a racist event, not like after you’re detained by ICE or after you learned that your family is descendants of slaves. But, after you experienced the racist event, did you, and then has all these questions around, did you have trouble relaxing? Did you avoid certain activities? Did you feel hypervigilant? In order to basically dig into how much of this was a sematic hyper arousal impact? How much of this was leading to you to social isolation? How much of this was leading to depression? Those different things. And I think the theory, the theory behind where people are starting to go with this or maybe have been going for a while, but beyond this kind of more big macro aggression trauma or this historical trauma stuff is and, I mentioned it earlier, the idea that this stuff accrues like, Mark, I think Mark, your idea of a stress fracture is actually really, really perfect around this, that, at some point that leg, that fracture just, gets bigger and your leg gives out and…

Mark: Yeah, you can’t walk.

Bryant: The tough thing is it’s hard for people to really codify this stuff. Another study I looked at and I’ll send it to you guys. It was really interesting. They found actually that when they looked at Asian American mental health outcomes as it related to racism and Racial Trauma, they saw a higher incidence of it in their sample size than with African Americans. And they were theorizing that because the Asian-Americans are a group that experienced more microaggressions, at least relatively, that the nature of microaggressions is kind of more insidious and damaging to certain parts of your psyche. In large part because…whereas a macroaggression you’d be like, “That was really messed up. Someone just punched me.” I remember I was, there’s those assaults on the street. Yeah. Yeah. It was assaulted on the street. This was before the election, before Trump was elected by some guy wearing a Make America Great Again hat and, yeah. I pretty much knew exactly what that was and it was awful. But, I didn’t walk away from that thinking did that just really happen or starting to blame myself around anything. It was definitely that guy’s fault.

Diana: Yeah, it’s external.

Bryant: Yeah. But you don’t really, you, I’m not saying people don’t internalize these, these things, but I think the nature of microaggressions, at least in my personal experience and from what I’ve been reading in the literature, is that there might be something to them around how they essentially insert themselves into our psyche. And that again, over time this can lead to the types of trauma that aren’t necessarily easily definable through the PTSD model. And I have limited understanding of the DSM, but what I’ve been reading in some of these research articles is that looking at things purely through the lens of PTSD is not helpful. It’s not comprehensive enough here because people can present with symptoms of trauma without having full blown PTSD. And that still means we need to be able to learn enough to be able to deal with that. [Be]cause that’s still adding up to a lot of human pain and suffering.

Diana: Yeah. I wonder if also in other communities, people just talk about racism openly with each other…they acknowledge it, they’re like, “Yep, this is real, this is shitty.” And psychologically they’re just better prepared to handle it. I don’t know…[be]cause it’s like most of my Asian friends, I don’t talk about racism with them or they get real uncomfortable if I bring it up in most of my friends throughout my life, that I know in person, not people I know online who, we are talking to each other because of this. But yeah.

Mark: But I think, I think you have, I think there’s something to what you said there, Diana, and that I think obviously there are elements of, I think that, African American or Latinex communities that I don’t think as much, even though in indigenous, but definitely in the Black and Latino community where people will try to deny it, but it’s a lot smaller. I think most African Americans are like, “That’s crazy.” But, and I think back on Eddie Glaude when, I think he had that viral video clip I think a week or two ago where he said that he had the privilege of being raised in a background where he wasn’t taught to believe the myths of America, right. That were people are free and it’s not racist. And I think what he was alluding to is that it wasn’t just his own family, but his community of Black Americans because it was, because all this overt violence and racial violence was targeted towards them. They couldn’t stay sort of underneath the, they couldn’t believe in the myth anymore because they were the ones being violently and racially suppressed and oppressed. But I think for Asians, our time in America is different, right? Even though we have had a lot of violence directed towards us, we were never slaves in the same sense. And it wasn’t exactly the same. And I think there is a lot of room, especially in the newer immigrants that came maybe in only last 40, 50 years to sort of still be under the sway of the American myth. And they don’t want to, there’s a large push back, and I think I’ve had a lot more people, Asian people lately in my life that have not sort of pushed back on it. They’re sort of aware and they’re willing to talk about racism. But I definitely had like you have Diana. In the past, you try to talk about it and no one wants to because, they, for whatever reason, they just don’t want to acknowledge it. Yeah. So, and you can feel like you’re crazy. You’re like, “Am I the only one?” But obviously you’re not [be]cause it’s real.

Diana: All right. So we are at about an hour, hour and five minutes out. I think we should wrap it up. So does anybody have any closing thoughts.

Bryant: Yeah, I just wanted to go back quickly. I’ll try to be really quick.

Mark: Yeah, no problem.

Bryant: Sorry guys. But something that you were both talking about, so there’s something called a racial socialization. Basically learning the ins and outs of the hierarchy. And there has been research that shows that when kids are given that socialization, they have the expectations of what they’re going to deal with. And because of that, they essentially develop literacy. I mean, the system of race is so messed up and weird, you need to develop literacy in it. And the problem is a lot of us get to become adults and we have not developed that literacy. And so we don’t even know what we’re looking at. We can’t even talk about it. But when kids are taught this stuff early on, it kind of gives them this inoculation against, not all of it, definitely, but enough so that they have some, they’ve been able to see, I think, some different types of healthcare outcomes for them. And, I just wanted to tie this to, I think this is really one reason why it’s so hard in the Asian American community to find other people who are just like, “Yeah, that was fucking racist.” Is actually, it’s the very nature of the Model Minority Myth and the fact that, to varying degrees, we’ve all been forced to internalize this because it’s just in the air and it’s this kind of half…it’s kind of good when you’re growing up and you think it’s kinda good, but it’s pretty messed up. And then, it’s baked in and then it just makes it hard to talk about, [be]cause like, “Don’t rock the boat. We’re, we’re the good ones. Right?? Like, “What, why are you rocking the boat?” And so nobody really wants to talk about it. And even those who want to talk about it, we’re still kind of taught through this myth that we’ve been spoon-fed that, “Don’t, don’t rock the boat.”

Diana: Yeah, for sure. Mark?

Mark: I don’t think really, I mean I think it’s just the beginning of the conversation of this Racial Trauma idea. I mean, there, I think there’s just so much more to talk about in terms of how the Racial Traumas are different between all the different minority groups and then how we all sort of relate to one another. And how that’s informed by the Racial Traumas that we’ve endured. And, also how it informs how we parent, sort of a little bit what you’re talking about, Bryant, about the socialization and…I did recently a panel discussion at an adoptee conference about Asian masculinity. So it wasn’t just focused on adoption stuff, but just being Asian American and in America, Asian and in America. And there are a lot of mothers, they’re raising Asian children or at least half Asian children and Asian boys and awareness that how America sort of views Asian men and sort of just how they’re trying to navigate that along with intersection of masculinity, and Me Too, and feminism and all of that. And gender identity. And so it’s, it’s really complex and if the racial aspect is ignored it can be…it’s just not complete. So I know a little long winded, but I hope this is the first of many discussions on this.

Diana: Yeah, for sure. I just feel even though it has been hard, I’m pretty optimistic. We have the connections and the resources now to figure this shit out and talk to each other as a community, like never before. And a lot of this lack of socialization is probably because we’re second gen or first gen. We’re just not going to have that sort of social literacy that people who’ve been in the country much longer have. So, I feel like our kids, I’m optimistic about the next few generations. And I think we’ll probably post a lot of resources with this episode, both on the SoundCloud and on Medium. I think we’ll figure it out. But yeah, there’s a lot of information out there now and I think it’s really useful and I hope that we’ll continue chatting. All right. So I think that about wraps it up. Bryant, thank you so much for coming to talk with us. It was really informative. And cathartic. Yeah, so thanks Mark for joining me as well. And if you’ve enjoyed this episode, remember to check us out on Patreon, check us out on Spotify, iTunes, et cetera, review and rate us and check out for our articles. All right, good night guys.

Mark: Good night.

Bryant: Thanks for having me.

Related episodes:

The Anatomy of Asian American Depression (‘Escape From Plan A’ Ep. 72)

The Truth About Asian Mental Health (‘Escape From Plan A’ Ep. 54)

The Depression of the Yappie (‘Escape From Plan A’ Ep. 39)

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Published 5 years ago

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