The sound of silence

As I started to write about my reflections, I was drawn continuously to the word safety. As a therapist of many years, I have learned that whatever model I use, the foundation is helping the client to feel safe with me to build a therapeutic relationship. Research into models has shown that it is the sense of safety, attuned attachment in the therapy space, that promotes change and allows the client to face their pain and reform their relationships with others, to let go of control as they trust and embody safety.

As a Black British Nigerian woman, I have grown in a world where safety has been hard to find. As a child growing up entirely in white space within school and then University, experiencing multiple racial traumas and even hospitalisation after a racist attack, from which my body still holds the scare of an exaggerated startle reflex. The result has become an embodied experience of vigilance and a lack of safety in all areas of my life. A need to always evaluate as I walk into a conference, training course, work environment, to assess ‘am I safe here?’ before engaging with my environment. In all areas of my life as a therapist, clinical psychologist, manager, my inner reach is for safety, emotional and physical, but rarely achieved as I interact within a world centred on White European needs and viewpoints. The result often, is that I feel silenced in spaces that should engender safety, and unable to have my voice heard within White space.

As I came to DDP racial equity training, I shared how moving to a small group with other BIPOC was a visceral relief, that showed me the lack of safety I had felt in the wider space. It was hard to explain the impact of this work on my own body and awakening of fear and anxiety that it triggers. So it is hard to put into words the trauma of silence from people that I may hope to be allies. Silence within pain is not a reflective space but an absence of care, an absence of reaching to enable and empower the other, and an absence of love and fundamental kindness. Silence is the language of fear, hiding and protection, but for a Black woman within White Space it can literally be a painful, triggering re-enactment of past trauma and the removal of felt, embodied safety at its deepest level.

Silence from White therapists will mean that BIPOC clients will never feel that embodied safety within the therapy space to explore their pain and feel held, and will mean that the focus of their therapy will be dictated by the comfort zone of the therapist. Eventually, this diminishes the client, and leads them to believe that their experience of racial trauma is unspeakable, their feelings invalidated and their rage uncontainable. It is my hope over the coming month, that our time together becomes the trigger to break the silence, for allies to find their voice and for BIPOC clients and colleagues to believe they can feel heard, validated and safe.

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Publisher: ddpnetwork.org (Feb 2021)

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