Therapy for Police

Therapy for Police

For: Tyre Nichols

Although not always required, when candidates apply for the position of police officer, they can be given a psychology screening tool, known as the MMPI, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. One of the purposes of this “test (is) as a screening instrument for certain professions, especially high-risk jobs.” (Cherry, 2022)

When a candidate is screened via the MMP1 and deemed to be qualified to conduct herself and her job within parameters of mental wellness, what accounts for the police officers who misuse their power with the public? We know that systemic racism plays a part, as well as the culture of law enforcement.

However, I believe there is also another element that plays a role in police misuse of their power. This is their own personal story. Although the screening tool takes a snapshot of a potential officer before they are employed in the role, this does not cover what happens when police are on the job, day in and day out, coming up against other people’s traumas in real time, potentially triggering their own stories of trauma. Screening tools that seek to measure aggressive behavior in police at the entry level is not enough to trust and curtail one’s behavior as they do their job each day.

To safeguard a police officer’s mental health and the impact she will have on the community; I suggest that a fundamental requirement for police be to undertake on-going therapy. This can become a part of police reform that people are calling out for in America.

Therapists are highly encouraged to be in their own therapy and/or supervision as a good practice as they work with their patients because trauma, negative emotions, and struggle come up in our on-going work. This is as we sit quietly with our patients taking in their stories and holding it confidentially.

It is not that people who become therapists are crazy, but by the mere nature of continually being exposed to people’s trauma, we are often led into our own unprocessed anger, openings of our personal traumas, and more. Going to therapy and/or attending consult groups with fellow therapists helps to contain these feelings in an appropriate space that protects both therapists and their patients.

My imagination around police officers is the same. Their work involves unknown circumstances, painful situations, horrific crimes, personal danger and more. Although someone may be screened as non-aggressive for police work, over time it can be a hazard for any police officer to become angry, aggressive, and out of touch with what is and is not appropriate behavior. This, in tandem with having weapons on board, can be a deadly combination as we have seen time and time again in America.

No matter where we come upon these situations, whether in a therapy room or in “here and now” situations, our own stories can become activated. Without any place to process our feelings, we can become a danger to ourselves and to others over time.

For therapists, it can look like not being able to listen well to the other, intruding on our patient’s process, forcing our agenda on another, and more. For police officers, I imagine it can look like the brutality we have seen recently. When police officers cannot even understand what excessive force is, this is a sign that their own “excessive force within” is so great, unregulated, and unprocessed that the unconscious looks for an object, which can often be a person in police work, to take it out on in lieu of any safe place to contain it.

A good practice for police departments across America is to offer personal therapy on a regular basis. Police departments should be mandated to hire mental health professionals who can see each police officer who is actively working with people in the community. Here is a space where police officers can feel safe to speak about what has come up for them, how it may relate to their story, learn ways of diffusing anger, and more.

If police departments want an alternative to individual police therapy, group therapy is also a powerful way for police officers to come together with a mental health professional leading the group to process what they have encountered, how it may be affecting them on deeper levels, and have a safe space to contain it among one another. Further, mental health professionals can be called to listen actively to hear if a particular officer needs personal therapy.

We speak about a change in police culture. I absolutely agree. I think this includes looking at what is going on in the deeper psyche of any individual who is encountering trauma, violence, and unknown situations on a regular basis. As a therapist, we face this every day in a more passive setting. Add in the active setting and it is a recipe for violence, for being out of touch with one’s humanity, for not being embodied enough in self to know how they are bringing themselves to any given situation.

It is not enough to screen police candidates at the entry level. Police officers should be held in ways that support their mental health on a consistent basis with a mental health professional. This type of investment will also support the greater communities they serve. No, a police officer cannot be a mental health professional, but they should be required to have mental health support when they are actively in contact with the communities they serve.


Passing Movie

Passing. It’s the name of a new movie. One that refers to an age old way of moving in society if one is something other than white in America. If one is light skinned enough, one can ‘pass” as white. Why would anyone want to do that? Of course, to hold privilege and power in society.

In the Passing movie, two young African-American girls grow up and join society. They have lost contact with one another and then reconnect as adults. Clare is now passing as a white woman and married to an overtly racist man while her friend, Irene, is living her life as a Black woman. Who is being authentic in her racial identity? We find Irene longing to know what it feels like to hold the power of a white person in society and we have Clare curious about moving through life as a Black woman.

In this movie, the women are African-American. Rebecca Hall, the film’s director, adapted the story from the 1929 novella Passing by Nella Larsen. It was written in a particular time with a particular story about passing as white when one is Black. However, if we were to take it beyond the Black/white paradigm passing is a concept that many bi and multiracial people are familiar with in modern day.

White people still hold tremendous privilege in society and so if you can pass as white, why not some may say. Even today. As a biracial child, half East-Indian and half Caucasian, I was always treated as a white kid with a funny last name. I didn’t even realize I was carrying that privilege. All I knew was I fit in with the white kids and was accepted. And not just any kids, but the popular ones. Not being rejected, but being “in” is something all kids crave. I had no idea in small town America much of this acceptance came from passing as white.

However, being seen as white and only having the Caucasian part of my racial identity seen and supported in society when I also am half East-Indian eventually lead me into a very confused identity state. What part of me was brown and Indian? It was out of this longing to have my color seen that I sojourned to India to be with my family and take a journey to self to reconcile both parts of myself. Given the color of my skin, I am never seen or treated as anything other than as a white woman and there is a particular kind of pain that is sharp and poignant when one’s passing is their full reality.

These two characters are wholly African-American and one has chosen to pass. I never chose this path — my skin color dictated that I could pass. I have experienced privilege and power as a result. I have sought to have my color side seen, but can never quite fit in. I must be married to an Indian man (which I am) — there is no way our collective East-Indian birthright is yours.

It hurts. The characters in Passing are also hurting — trying to fit in, to be their own person, to connect, to hold power and privilege, to be seen as “in,” to be seen as other in their own community. This movie is worth a viewing and a thought as to one’s racial identity and what would any person do to hold power and privilege in a society where it is far from egalitarian.

Dear Therapist: What To Do With My White Privilege?

White Privilege

Dear Therapist:

Now that I am aware of my privilege, what am I supposed to do? I can’t undo my racial identity. I feel helpless!

Sincerely, Someone with White Privilege

Sounds like you may have been spending time learning about what white privilege is and what it means in terms of keeping systemic racism in place in America.

I don’t believe the Black Lives Matter movement is asking for anyone to give up their white racial identity. However, it is asking all white people to learn how they hold privilege by being a white person in society. How this privilege has benefited you and taken away from others. Finally, how you can use your privilege to help move society away from systemic racism by checking your privilege.

These steps are not easy to undertake for anyone. For many, even recognizing that they carry privilege is something completely eye opening. From there, owning the implicit bias we carry, how we have contributed to systemic racism based on our socio-economic class and racial identity and owning how this has taken away from others is all very difficult to uncover, own, and change.

I hear your helplessness. It is not easy in the least, but if we are looking to change the racist founding and underpinnings of the nation, each of us must undertake this courageous work. We swim in the water of a racist society, where it lies in every aspect of our society. Whether we choose to recognize it or not, we are in the system.

You cannot change your racial identity, but you can educate yourself, you can self-reflect on your own path of privilege, and choose to be an ally to the Black Lives Matter movement in the ways that feel right to you.

The last thing you want to do is become overwhelmed and checked out. When this happens, systemic racism wins and takes hold with more grip. So, keep going – learn, seek understanding, show compassion to yourself and the other, and take action that changes our society. Be well and take care.

How Helplessness Serves Us

How Helplessness Serves Us
How does helplessness serve you?

Helplessness is not something that any of us aspire to, right? To be helpless is to feel out of control, unable to make a difference, and a general feeling of being useless to improve a situation.

Not good, right? Most of us seek to feel and be helpful to ourselves and others in our community. However, sometimes we use helplessness as a defense to not have to take responsibility for ourselves and actions. We may not even be conscious of doing this, but we claim “We didn’t know,” or “We didn’t know what to do” or “I’ve never had to deal with this before,” and more.

Whenever you hear yourself or others saying these types of phrases, raising your consciousness that you have said such a thing and becoming curious about what may or may not be going on is essential. Perhaps you truly are helpless in a situation but perhaps, in order to not have to fully engage, you say these things to get distance and not have to take ownership.

All of us have taken this stance at one time or another. When we are out of our comfort zone, we often feel helpless. There is nothing wrong with the feeling. Actually, making peace with a feeling of helplessness is important. From there, instead of making excuses to gain that distance and get out from uncomfortable situations, we can move in and tolerate feelings of not knowing and how this may shake us to the core. However, it can also lead us to tolerating this state and move toward trying to figure it out so we can be helpful and feel we can do something about a situation.

With the Black Lives Matter Movement, this is a place where we may feel helpless. In feeling this, we may just close our eyes to the pain in our society, we may run away, we may try to adhere to a neutral stance, or just check out. Instead of taking these actions, feeling our helplessness and moving toward it to greater understanding can move us out of using our helplessness to keep us distant, in denial. and upholding the systems in place as they are.

Replacing helplessness with curiosity is key to openings for ourselves, our community, and to creating systems that incorporate the entire society. Next time you feel helpless instead of running away, run in and engage, open up to curiosity, and see where this may take you to a place where you can feel helpful.

Creativity Burst: Create Art

Create Art

Sometimes art can be the best way to process and think through how we are feeling about events unfolding as well as our shared history that has brought us to this moment. We often feel that we must process and come to understand via language and words. However, I have found that sometimes the mind can make connections, enter sad, scary, angry feelings and emotions through the medium of art.

Art allows our right and left hemispheres of our brain connect in a way that often is interrupted by words. Instead of trying to put down in words one’s thoughts and feelings, it may be helpful to pick up a crayon, marker, paint, and any other art medium that you may have and create.

Create what? Well, a mural would be interesting. A mural can often be large in scope and that space can allow for multiple people to work on the piece together. This may also be helpful to engage as a collective. You can also create a mini mural where each person creates a small scale piece and then you come together as a community and put them together to see what arises from everyone’s different artistic expressions.

There is so much street art unfolding across America right now. As places are boarded up, people are taking to create art right on the chip board in their communities or in certain designated areas that are public. Creating a piece on site or bringing a piece to a place like this and hanging it is yet another way to engage with processing the movement that is unfolding through creative expression.

Once our minds can connect and make meaning of the collective pain in America, there may arise new ideas for how to continue to disrupt the systemic racism that has always been present in the country. Creative art making rather than speaking offer a golden key to creating something new. Perhaps it can create a new idea for this world too.

Creativity Burst: I Have a Dream Letters

I Have A Dream Letters

I am wondering these days how the children of America are taking in all the racial strife unfolding in America. I have spoken with several of my friends who are parents and most have told me they are engaging in on-going conversations of what is going on in the nation. Let’s face it, the unrest can certainly be felt by the littlest ones in society.

Given children are the future of the country, it is important to be honest about the struggle that has been in America since its founding. It starts with telling them this story so there can be context to what is going on today. At some point, you will tell your children about Martin Luther King and read to your children the “I Have a Dream” speech. It is uplifting, powerful, and can offer an opportunity to engage in dialogue around MLK’s vision for our nation v. what has actually unfolded. It provides an opportunity to critically think about the situation together.

From there, perhaps have your kids write their own “I Have A Dream” speech. What is their dream for America? What are their hopes regarding equity and safety for all Americans regardless of skin color? They can write this or draw it or access their ideas through another art form. This type of activity can provide your children with a time to dream of a better world.

Then have them share their dreams. This will be quite interesting to hear the children speak about their vision. Perhaps it is something novel and new that an adult who has been in the fight too long cannot see. This is the hope of the younger generations.

Parents or just about anyone else can also think about their collective dreams for America as well. Don’t just leave the hope and dreams for the kids, but seek to engage a better world as well that you then share with your family. This may lead to a burst of creativity that lends new ideas and thoughts for helping to change the system in America.

I think we all have dreams for America. Expressing these ideas at this moment in time is more important than ever. Engage it!

Systemic Racism

Systemic Racism

Systemic Racism. What does this even mean?

Well, it is just not about you and me and asking ourselves the personal question, “Am I a racist?” It extends far beyond people and into our society that we all live in together. Another term for systemic racism is institutionalized racism — as its very foundation racism resides in the institutions that make up our society — that make up America.

For many, it’s difficult to believe that racism lies not just within individuals, but also the governing bodies, the organizations that hold power, and the very way our society is set up to favor one race over another. I believe we are a nation founded on slavery and even though there was a civil war and the slaves were supposedly “freed,” there are many other ways to enslave black people in American society.

One of the places we can see this most clearly is within the criminal justice sector of our society. From the police that patrol our streets to the lawyers and judges who prosecute, defend, and give out sentences, to our for-profit federal prisons that make money off of the number of bodies in these places, racism resides in the very fabric of society in a way that is insidious.

What can white people do? What can multi-racial people do? What can black people do? I see the protests, I hear the chants, I see the economic disparity, I feel the pain, I read the outraged posts, and more. And yet it does not change. How do we change the very founding of America?

There are many people who want to do just that. We are busy reading books, talking with one another, becoming real and honest about the way we act with privilege each of our days, and growing our own personal consciousness can then lead to individual action. This is good, right, and just action.

However, if racism is institutionalized and a part of the system that is in place and resists change — and has leaders that support racism remaining in place – then how can our personal actions that become collective – actually get this to change. And it’s not a Democrat or a Republican thing, it is an American problem. And people in power do not want to be powerless — so that needle hardly moves. This thought often leads me to despair.

Is the fight good and just? Of course. Will people stop fighting? Of course not.

However, perhaps something more needs to shift – societally, institutionally – for any of this change to take hold.

This is what systemic racism does — it holds even as people are broken down.

Antiracist Books To Read Now

Antiracist Books to Read Now
Americans Need to Start Reading Antiracist Books Now

Antiracist books to read now? Like right now? Yes, there is urgency!

Once again, Americans are being faced with the systemic racism that the United States was founded on hundreds of years ago. No, the traditional slavery system is no longer in place, but many new systems have come along to replace it right up until today. This past week has been horrible as all of us in America have had to face multiple racially charged acts of violence – from fellow citizens to the police who are charged with protecting all citizens whom they serve.

This has sparked how tired People of Color (POC) are at having to explain to the white people what their experiences are living in America – a racially charged, hate-filled nation. Being black is a crime in America. It is as simple as that and until all of us check how we criminalize black people on a daily basis – in big and small ways – this is going to continue.

For me, a bi-racial person in America, who operates under the privilege of “passing” as white, and yet knows the personal story of my brown self being invisible and my family, many who pass as more brown than me, I have experienced racial hatred targeted at myself and my family. I also have the experience of American society – even the most woke people – placing me either in the white bucket or the POC bucket. There is little to no capacity to hold people with two equal, differing racial identities as a whole. America wants to see people as black or white – including folks like me.

In this spirit, I want to point you to a list of antiracist books that white people should begin to read now. During some of the protests, I heard POC saying loud and clear it is not their responsibility to educate the white people on all of this and their experience. First off, white people can never know this experience, but they can desire to learn about systemic racism and how this shows up everyday in our lives. From there, change behaviors. Stop making the little racist statements that are actual micro aggressions against your neighbors. Stop thinking about “good neighborhoods” to live in with good schools, which basically means no black people to intrude on your kids’ education. Don’t run our mouths in defense of how we are not racist. Just be quiet. Listen. Read. Educate yourself.

From there, act with intention to move the American dial away from the systemic racism that plagues the United States. Each one of us can do this work. If you choose not to, that is your privilege in action.

A White Michael Jackson Performance

African American Michael Jackson King of Pop

I happened to attend the Seattle Symphony a few weeks ago and the concert was titled The Best of Quincy Jones. As you can imagine, it was a concert full of Jones’ music over the past many decades he has been writing and composting songs. There were a few surprises for me — the fact that he is the composer behind the Sanford and Son theme song and that he only wrote one song with Aretha Franklin. Another surprise? A white Michael Jackson.

During this concert, there were a trio of back-up singers, all whom were African-American. Further, there was an African-American female artist who sang many of his famous songs that he wrote for women, such as Aretha Franklin. Quincy Jones is a black artist and many of his songs he composed were written for African-American artists.

No one would probably be the most famous artist that Quincy Jones composed for than Michael Jackson, the King of Pop himself. Largely, it was the winning combination of Jones’ songs magically sung and performed by Jackson that made him such an incredible artist. You can imagine the last act of this concert focused on Michael Jackson.

Imagine my surprise where a white man came out to take the spotlight and sing Michael Jackson’s song, with an African-American man backing him up on songs like Billie Jean. Something about this was just so wrong. The longer I listened to this young man singing and making his moves like MJ, the more annoyed I became. Apparently, this performer is an artist in residence with Quincy Jones, but it did not feel appropriate to have this person singing Jackson’s finest songs on the stage.

Every other song was perfomed and backed-up by African-American artists, except for the role of the King. A white young man was chosen to sing this part. It fell flat for me and I also felt it was disrespectful on some level to the legacy of Michael Jackson.

Is this reverse racism? Should I want the best person, regardless of color, to be the one to perform? Just because Michael Jackson was a black man does not necessarily mean that a white man cannot meet his standard. Yes, true. Yet, Quincy Jones is a black composer and song writer and Michael Jackson was a black man who sang those songs like no one else ever could have. It feels respectful to give an African-American the chance to perform live with the Seattle Symphony some of Quincy Jones greatest songs.

My opinion — that is all.