The Importance of Learning and Talking about Juneteenth in Therapy

Friday, September 22

For all mental health clinicians, it’s important to understand clients’ unique experiences, backgrounds, and needs to help foster a strong therapeutic relationship and drive better outcomes. This is especially true for clients who have experienced racism and racial trauma. Antoinette Winters, a SonderMind provider, shares why mental health clinicians should learn about Juneteenth and Black American history, and how clinicians can best support clients impacted by systemic racism and trauma. 

As a Black American woman, Juneteenth has become more and more important to me well into my adulthood. I’m originally from Michigan, and I do not recall learning about Juneteenth in my primary and secondary education, but after educating myself as an adult on what it means as a historical marker in United States history, I now realize the importance and the symbolism that it means to me and could mean to my clients. 

What Juneteenth means to me 

Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Specifically, it celebrates the day when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas were informed of their freedom on June 9th, 1865, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, declaring all persons held as slaves were now free.

I am currently residing in Texas, where the day originated. Celebrating Juneteenth has been a tradition in Texas throughout the centuries, but I didn’t learn about the significance of Juneteenth until I was in college. As a Black American, I had stopped celebrating the 4th of July as being a day of freedom because I realized that my ancestors were not free on this day. Juneteenth then became the day I celebrate freedom day or Independence Day. 

It wasn’t too long ago that people who look like me were not allowed to vote or participate in the natural freedoms that other citizens share to date. I will forever remember, cherish, and celebrate Juneteenth. 

How to support clients impacted by systemic racism and trauma

This Juneteenth, and the days surrounding it, we should be mindful about having conversations with our clients about this important piece of history. I would challenge psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and counselors alike to do some research about why we celebrate, what it means to Black Americans and get involved in celebrating. Juneteenth is a huge part of American history for all Americans. 

Therapists and clinicians can be mindful of the historical and emotional significance of Juneteenth for their clients, particularly for Black clients. They should acknowledge the impact of systemic racism and intergenerational trauma that still affects many Black people today. 

Therapists have a unique opportunity and platform to create a safe space for their clients by being culturally sensitive and aware of their own biases. They should also be open to discussing issues related to race and racism, and work with clients to develop coping strategies for dealing with racism and discrimination if they are experiencing them. 

It is important for therapists to acknowledge the Juneteenth holiday in its historical context, while also being sensitive to the individual experiences and of each client. Therapists can encourage clients to then share about their experiences in a supportive environment. It’s important for clients to process these experiences and feelings as it relates to their mental health. Additionally, therapists can work to educate themselves on the history and current issues impacting black and brown communities to better understand and support their clients. 

Celebrate the past to shape the future 

As we embark upon this day and memorialize enslaved Americans, we can draw on the strength from those before us such as individuals that created a world to give me free opportunity, freedom to vote, and freedom of speech. Individuals like W.E.B. Dubois, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth, just to name a few, who helped shape where we are today. 

It’s important for all Americans to celebrate and we all have a responsibility to learn and know about Black Americans’ history, despite it being marginalized from our education system. I encourage clinicians of all backgrounds to educate themselves and embrace this important marker of freedom in their personal lives and in their practices. 

Antoinette Winters is a licensed clinical therapist with 11 years of experience and is a SonderMind clinician. She has worked extensively with individuals suffering from mental health issues, including bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, and depression, particularly those with insecure attachment styles. Additionally, she has an extensive history of working with adults who suffer from PTSD and complex issues. She has expertise and training in addressing issues sensitive to the needs of the LGBTQ and BIPOC communities.

Providing culturally-competent care at SonderMind 

At SonderMind, we’re here to support clinicians in providing high-quality, evidence-based care that meets the mental health needs of clients who have experienced racism, racial trauma, and other prejudices. That’s why as a SonderMind clinician, you get access to resources to ensure you’re supported in delivering high-quality care to all clients, every step of the way. Check out these articles to further your knowledge and enhance your skills to best serve clients and their unique needs: 

SonderMind invests in our clinicians’ success and continued development, including access to career-building opportunities, trainings, peer consultations, CEs, and resources for delivering effective measurement-based care. If you’re seeking to improve your knowledge, awareness, and skills around cultural competency and facilitating healing from racial trauma in the therapeutic space, join SonderMind. We’ll give you the support you need to drive effective care through evidence-based practices, reach your professional goals, and more.

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