Mindful Educators: Is Therapy For Me?
Twenty years ago, I endured one of the most stressful, and most memorable, times in my education career. As a school social work intern, I witnessed the hardships of poverty, educational inequality, and how Whiteness and White privilege/power played out in education institutions. When that internship ended, I decided to attend a doctoral program in education. I surmised from that experience that the lack of social services was not the problem; education was the problem for Black people.
Our young people inherited an education system that failed generations of families.
A few months later after completing the MSW, I attended a doctoral program that fully funded my studies and where I could blur the boundaries between my obsession with culture, education for liberation, civil rights, and social welfare policy. I was fascinated with how education was both a site of liberation and subjugation, especially for the Black community.
Eventually, hired to teach in Colleges of Education, I quickly noticed the role that Black educators played in interrupting whiteness and the abuse of power in schools. After mentoring and observing Black students and educators involved at various levels of education (i.e. P-12 and colleges/universities), I began to research students', teachers', and administrators' experiences in schools and the support networks they relied upon to cope with home and work life. In short, like many other teachers, Black educators and other teachers of color, enter the profession with much enthusiasm about their craft, but experience stress related to multiple factors. However, in the face of a majority White teaching force, many young teachers of color report feelings of marginalization and exclusion, lack of authentic mentors, and professional development opportunities that do not necessarily meet their socio-emotional needs or cultural affinities (or what they believe to be best for their students of color).
Since completing that school social work internship, I have become a tenured university professor of education, a licensed clinical social worker and certified school social worker, and a psychotherapist specializing in trauma, resilience and health/wellness. It is shameful that my internship experience turned me off from practicing in K-12 settings. Nevertheless, I've spent the last decade calling for attention to the socio-emotional, physical, and mental health needs of our nation's most vulnerable workforce: those people of color surviving and thriving in education (and closely aligned “helping” occupations) institutions.
At-risk of sounding like an advertisement (okay, I am politicking), I honestly do believe that we need therapists who, along with cultural knowledge and sensitivity, also understand the political context of education, the stress involved in the act of teaching itself, and the moral obligation to model (social, emotional, cultural, and physical) “health”. Imagine a world where we combine best practices of culturally informed therapy with what we know about professional and personal resilience.
Are you an educator? How do you cope with positive or negative stress? What are your health goals? Leave comments below or at @DrVEvansWinters on Twitter.
In the struggle for our humanity,
Dr. Venus Evans-Winters
"Not your mother's therapist, or your brother's life coach."
As Black-mother-lesbian-warrior-poet Audre Lorde stated, “Caring for myself isn’t self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Like the very spirited warrior woman, Lorde, I wholeheartedly believe that there is a need for women, especially those of us from traumatized communities and families, to engage in self-care practices that preserve our emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Today, with a focus on women's empowerment, many conversations about healing from trauma typically begin with discussions about one’s engagement in self-care practices.
However, conversations of self-care need to be extended to include bold and spirited discussions about self-love. How many of us can say that we really love ourselves exactly the way that we are? What does radical self-love look like and feel like?
I spend much of my time speaking with women who look really good on the outside (thanks to proper self-care); however, they admit to feeling emotionally empty on the inside. They want to know how to love themselves from the inside-out. For many women, our society’s over-indulgence in self-care simply veils what they truly are feeling internally. Many do not know how to love themselves. They do not know what self-love looks like or feels like, because they have been taught to wait on someone to love them, or they have been taught that it is conceited or selfish to love thyself.
Somewhere between Hollywood scripted notions of romantic love and reality tv’s overly intoxicating, and at times violent, depictions of love, many women are left confused about the importance self-love plays in their mental health.
For me, I prefer to think of love as a feeling or psychological drive that comes and go like any other drive, such as hunger, thirst, or fatigue. If we consider love a psychological drive, then it is a subtle, or at times intense, feeling that is going to come and go; therefore, we need to learn how to love ourselves and engage daily in practices that satisfy our need for love.
When you are hungry or famished, you eat food, right? When you are thirsty or dehydrated, you drink water or liquid to quench your thirst, correct? When you are fatigued, you find a way to rest your eyes and body, yes? Now answer this: In moments when you feel like you need to be loved, how do you quench your desire for love? In other words, how do you fulfill the internal (the self) need for love (a psychological desire)?
Self-love involves matters of the heart and mind. We would never go without eating, drinking, and sleeping, but many of us attempt to go without love. We are waiting for someone else to bring us love; instead of us loving ourselves. For example, when we are hungry, we do not wait on someone to feed us—unless you are a child or someone physically or mentally incapable of caring for herself.
In fact, every healthy person knows that you should eat, drink, and sleep before you even get to a state of hunger, thirst, or fatigue! You are already in the red zone when your brain sends out a reminder to the body that you are in a state of disequilibrium! And, this is when we make bad choices that are not good for our bodies (Hint: those McDonald fries or that large sugary, caffeinated soda be calling your name in the drive-thru window).
In other words, if you are telling your friends or yourself that you are feeling the need for love, then you are already WAY overdue for love. We do not even want to talk about what the red zone looks like when one is in desperate need of love. Hmm…
But, guess what? YOU are able to satisfy your own need for love! You do not have to wait on someone else to sweep you off of your feet, no more than you need someone to bring you water or food (although it would be nice). Meaning, sometimes we all need to be reminded and motivated to love ourselves. A woman engaged in self-love is radical as fuck!
So, how are you preparing to meet your human desire for love so that you do not end up in the red zone?!
Please share your responses in the comments' section below or on Twitter @DrVenusEvansWinters.
Dr. Venus Evans-Winters (a.k.a. Dr. V)
"Not your mother's therapist, or your brother's life coach."
I run to discipline my body. No, I do not need to lose weight. But, I want to discipline my physical body. Not to cause myself pain, but to remind myself that my body is present and a part of who I am.
When I first start off running, it feels like dancing; like bouncing to my favorite beats and lip syncing to my favorite rhymes on the dance floor. I'm that person that you see running down the street, pointing my finger, and mouthing the hook line. My neighbors must think I'm crazy. Or, a gangster-runner.
After about 5 minutes into the run, my leg muscles decide to join the party. Luckily, my brain starts playing tricks on me and chooses to focus my attention on the song lyrics.
The run is no longer carried by sounds and beats; I'm being carried by the rhythmic words flowing between my earbuds and my ear drums. This is about the time when I turn the volume up a notch (I will probably be hard of hearing by 50). I begin to analyze the lyrics to the song.
I've heard the song dozens of times by the time it makes it into my playlist titled, "Work it, V". Yet, while I run, I imagine what the artist must've been feeling and thinking when they wrote the song.
Yes, I analyze the hell out of everything. I like to get into people's heads.
When I run, I'm in my head imagining what is going on in the artist's head. Who is she in real life? What is she sacrificing to become this public "character"? What are the lyrics saying about the person, if anything? What's the message? Is there a message?
Before I know it, I'm about 15 minutes into the run. It's at this moment that I realize that I have a body! Feet, legs, stomach, arms, mouth, and a big head that I have to hold up....
I do a quick RoboCop scan of my body. Let the internal dialogue begin:
"My achilles is tight."
"One day I'm going to get on that hamstring machine."
"I need to do squats."
"I got my mama's ass."
"Arms at a 90 degree angle. Check."
"My titties aren't bouncing. Where did I buy this sports bra?"
After the full body scan, my mind realizes that my body is still working...and in motion.
And, every time, I come really close to what feels like a panic attack. "Oh, shit, my lungs are going to explode!" Consciously, I spend the next 5 minutes convincing myself that I will not have a heart attack.
Deep breath in, exhale out. "Please, God, don't let a bug fly in my mouth."
For whatever reason, once I catch my breath and realize that I am not dying, my brain is ready to get this run over with, and tries to convince me that I will die of something, even if it is not a heart attack.
"Will I be hit by a car?"
"Will I be kidnapped by a crazy White man?"
"Will I be attacked by a deer?" Then again, a possum attack is more realistic.
At this point in the run, I realize that Venus has showed back up. I am no longer in the "zone". It is time to wrap up the run. It is actually in this moment that I am consciously disciplining my body.
See my body wants to give up on me, however, I still need to cover ground and make it to my destination. This is the point where my mind and body have to come together in unison in order to conquer my environment (e.g. wild animals, rocks and concrete, grass and dog poop, flying insects, and deranged people).
I spend the last 10-15 minutes of the run choosing to push my body pass its comfort zone. Not only do I realize that I have a body, but I also realize that I am in control of my body.
At this point, Beyonce' or Jazzy, or Rihanna, or maybe it's Nicki Minaj or Kendrick Lamar, are blaring in my ears. But at this point in the run, I am not their therapist--they are my personal cheering section. The beat carries me; my foot plants at the same time the baseline drops. I pump up the volume.
The chorus and the artist screaming in my ear are my hype music. The sound becomes a war cry.
At this point, it is not about time or distance. My body is convinced that it can run forever. I know that it is not ready to run forever--maybe 15 more minutes tops.
Nearing the end of the 55-minute run, I feel nothing but my breath; my lungs actually. I speed up. My legs turn over quickly (Is hyperbole a side-effect of runner's high?), because I need to get done with the run, before my body gives up on me.
Damn, my body is strong. (Sasha or Tina Turner?) Fierce. Resilient. Capable.
My body has been through some shit, but it still belongs to me and has yet to fail me. Thus, every time I run, I become witness to a miracle.
Before long, the run is over. I bust into a warm damp sweat. Not a dripping sweat, but a dewy wetness that attempts to cool off my body. Now that I am stopped, I hear the music. The sound irritates me.
I turn off the music, or the noise coming from my cheering section, grab water, shed my dreadfully hot, moist clothes, and just sit. Strangely, after a run, I have more energy than I had all day. I am not sure if I want to dance or read or maybe write.
My disciplined body sits. Be still. And know that I am.
So, what do you do regularly to discipline your body and mind? Leave a comment below or tweet a response @DrVEvansWinters.
~Dr. Venus Evans-Winters
I write this letter to you as a daughter, sister, mother, and friend whom has been wounded in the past by personal acquaintances, strangers, and enemies alike. Reading about the horrific death and possibly alleged* assault of Kenneka Jenkins was like handing my psyche over to a public firing squad.
Sister, over the next few days or weeks people are going to blame another young sister for Kenneka's death and alleged assault; others will attempt to blame her Black mother for not supervising her whereabouts; and people will blame Kenneka herself for being at a hotel and being overly trusting of her friends.
People will even blame the police and media for not covering the story and seeking out answers. In turn, the media will turn the lens back on Kenneka herself, her mother, friends, or Black people in general. Inevitably, somehow Black women will become simultaneously the overlooked victims and targets of this tragedy.
Compassion and empathy will be lost to blame. Sister, how do we begin to move the conversation from self-blame to healing?
For me, I was overwhelmed by the nonchalant attitude of possible witnesses of violence* occurring in various renditions of circulating videos, but I was more disheartened by the amount of young women who openly admitted that they needed to stop watching or could not watch any longer the videos and tweets titled, #KennekaJenkins, because it brought back too many memories of their own rape or experience with physical violence and betrayal.
Last night, I went to sleep feeling emotionally exhausted and saddened. I even had a nightmare that involved guns and the threat of rape. The hypothesis of Kenneka's final moments before her death coupled with the realization that dozens of Black women were admitting online in social media that they were once violated and survivors of rape caused me to be emotionally depleted.
Women spoke of the words and images describing the brutal assault as a trigger.
These public disclosures made me wonder:
1)Exactly how many young Black women are survivors of rape and never report the rape?
2) How many young Black women are required to cope in silence with their memories of a rape and/or assault with no one to talk to?
3) How many Black girls and women have to live out over and over again their assault via music, television, or social media?
4) Worse yet, how many mothers are burdened with the helpless feeling that no matter how much she loves her daughter, tries to protect her daughter, and teaches her daughter to stand up and fight for herself that she still will not be able to protect her daughter from being physically harmed, maimed, or death?
At some point, we even have to consider the pain of the so-called friend depicted* in the video. How much pain must a young woman must have experienced in her lifetime that she could sit back, record, and numb herself to another nearby sister in pain or in harm's way? It is easy to point fingers and to place blame, but I also wonder how have we failed this young sister.
Sister, we will do more to heal you and to protect your future daughters from rape, sexual assault, and other forms of physical abuse.
Dr. Venus Evans-Winters (a.k.a. DrV)
Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Why We Must Focus on Black Girls: http://www.theroot.com/sexual-assault-awareness-month-why-we-must-focus-on-bl-1794400667
Women of Color and Sexual Assault: https://endsexualviolencect.org/resources/get-the-facts/women-of-color-and-sexual-assault/
*Indicates language change related to updates of the Kenneka Jenkins case: http://trib.in/2xo4DMz
Dr. Venus Evans-Winters (a.k.a Dr. V)
Activist Scholar. Cultural Worker. Healer. Mother.