Understanding Trauma as it Shifts Amidst COVID Jenn T. Grace, Dr. Maysa Akbar, and Jennifer Brown 


[00:00:00] Jenn: [00:00:00] Jennifer Brown. Here we are 

[00:00:04] Jennifer B: [00:00:04] grace. Yet again, we meet again for another scintillating conversation. 

[00:00:11] Jenn: [00:00:11] We’re on week nine, right? This is week nine. I guess, I know we keep starting off saying this, but like, it still feels hard to believe that it’s week nine. And we started the, this being like, Hey, let’s do this.

[00:00:22] And now nine, nine episodes. If you will later, we’re still going with a whole slate of more people to come because we’re still trapped. 

[00:00:29] Jennifer B: [00:00:29] This is how we’re keeping ourselves, um, energized in community, connecting with amazing people and reminding us ourselves as much as anybody else, Jen, about amazing people we know that are changing the world.

[00:00:42] As the world is changing around us. That’s, you know, our world changing doesn’t doesn’t stop. Right? So we’re writing books, we’re speaking, we’re getting our thought leadership out there. We’re challenging the norms. As I know my son is doing, we’re going to talk about that today. I’m really excited to make sure our audience hears about my SIS work.

[00:01:00] [00:01:00] Um, but all of our world changing doesn’t stop, even though we’re being 

[00:01:04] Maysa: [00:01:04] physically staffed in our tracks by this crisis. 

[00:01:07] Jenn: [00:01:07] Yeah. And I’m so happy that my saw you are with us today because I feel like. Your output of what you get done on any given day is always still remarkable of just the amount of projects that you have going at any one time.

[00:01:22] Like, it’s just, I feel like the three of us collectively could probably get anything done in a very short period of time just to speak something like that. Tasmanian devil spin of just churning out things. And so I know that like part of what we wanted to talk about with you today is around trauma.

[00:01:38] Because trauma is just so broad in so many ways, but you’re a clinical psychologist and have such a deep expertise around specific types of trauma. And I think that people in their own different ways I think are experiencing some traumatic time as we’re kind of going through this. So if I would love just to kind of start and give a little bit of background about, you [00:02:00] know, who you work with, what you do, where you’re located and your books and stuff like that.

[00:02:03] Just to give kind of set the tone for 

[00:02:05] Jennifer B: [00:02:05] what will will happen too. 

[00:02:07] Maysa: [00:02:07] Great. Yeah. So as you said, I’m a doctor, my SAC bar. I make clinical board certified clinical psychologist, uh, and I’m specifically board certified in child and adolescent psychology. So that’s my specialty. And beyond that, being my specialty, my focus in terms of the type of work that I do is on race-based trauma.

[00:02:28] Um, so I, you know, I, while I will talk about trauma broadly, where I’m specifically, uh, Uh, passionate about, it’s really dealing with like historical and structural, um, institutional, uh, trauma associated with racism. And, you know, that’s particularly relevant. Of course, in a lot of ways right now is we’re hearing the data on health disparities as it relates to COVID.

[00:02:53] Um, as we’re looking at communities of color that are. You know, historically marginalized and [00:03:00] are experiencing unbelievable amounts of, of trauma as it relates to COVID. And then unfelt trauma that they had just really don’t have the opportunity to process because their basic needs are not being met every day.

[00:03:13] So to me, you can clearly see I jumped right into it before even talking about the rest of the stuff that I do, because I’m so passionate about it. Um, but beyond that, I do do lots of different I’m involved in so many different things. I run a behavioral health practice in new Haven, Connecticut. Um, Which is where it’s headquartered the behavioral health practices called integrated wellness group.

[00:03:38] And, um, has patients for over a decade. Um, we are in, um, in a time now where we’re repositioning our vision and our mission to really focus our clinic on treating race-based trauma. And we are focusing a lot. Or in terms of our clinical work, in our training to be specialists, [00:04:00] specialists and experts in that area.

[00:04:02] Um, not just me, but including all of the staff based on the framework of urban trauma, which is the book that I probably, um, a few years ago, um, and that framework really puts together the idea of, um, historical trauma. The biological components of, of trauma and the environmental factors that, um, specifically are at play with communities of color.

[00:04:27] Um, you know, and then beyond that, I sort of do some work for, um, the United. It’s because I’m the representative of the American psychological one of seven representatives for the American psychological association at the UN. That gives me a lot of joy, but keeps me pretty busy thinking about sort of like global trauma and, um, systemically thinking about how we’re looking at the UN initiatives, especially during this vulnerable time.

[00:04:55] Um, and you know, as Jen said, I have my hands in [00:05:00] probably like 17,000 other things

[00:05:08] Jenn: [00:05:08] all the time in the world over there. 

[00:05:10] Maysa: [00:05:10] Absolutely. 

[00:05:12] Jennifer B: [00:05:12] My son, I’d love to ask, you know, what has shifted, um, in our understanding of trauma, um, and in the quality of trauma, the nature of it. Um, I know, depending on who you ask. This trauma has always been with us. It’s just being exacerbated right now. Um, so, but is there in your view, a shift in it in terms of what it is, how it’s being experienced, who’s talking about it, maybe that’s the biggest shift we’re seeing, um, sort of deepening of our understanding.

[00:05:43] Um, you know, so how would you. What would you say is changing? And then in the nature of our understanding of it, it was talking about it. Um, the actual who’s feeling it and who’s being impacted by it. And is this all kind of like old news, like these are systemic problems that [00:06:00] have been with us or is there a sort of a shift we really need to focus on?

[00:06:03] Now? 

[00:06:04] Maysa: [00:06:04] That’s a question. I mean, you know, I think in general, like we can, as a collective community, a global community can probably. Back, um, individually of a moment in time where we were traumatized by something. You know, like note that any of us are absent of a traumatic experience, the difference between sort of like, um, traumatic experience that we have the resiliency and the internal capacity to like, Oh, and where it becomes overwhelming is when it turns from a trauma experience.

[00:06:39] And the beat starts to impact our, our daily functioning in one way or another. And that daily functioning can start to sort of. Make us, um, start to feel isolated, um, very hypervigilant and very scared and afraid and created an immense amount of anxiety. [00:07:00] And then we start to move into the landscape of probably, um, what some of us in this community have heard about, um, called post traumatic stress as a letter.

[00:07:09] And so there’s a, this there’s a differentiation. That’s why it’s a good question. And I think that a lot of times people use those two terms interchangeably. But they’re not, you know, PTSD is a clinical diagnosis. Well, now it’s impacting your capacity to function in the important areas of your life and in your family life, in your community at work, um, where trauma is something that, you know, many of us are exposed to.

[00:07:34] But it’s important to start talking about trauma because it is a predictor if on dealt with an untreated and unmanaged to developing PTSD later, um, you know, and later, I mean, you know, relatively soon after experiencing the trauma or years after, without you really understanding it, right. And a lot of times what we tend to do is like, Oh, we’ll get [00:08:00] over it.

[00:08:01] People tell us to get over it, right? Like they, you know, um, sometimes it’s uncomfortable for folks to hear about our pain and our traumatic experiences. And so we bottle it, bottled those emotions up. We don’t share them. We don’t have a space to be able to be authentic about that pain. And a lot of times it goes unvalidated.

[00:08:25] And that’s when I think that it turns into something that, um, that becomes progressively worse. And for communities that have experienced what I would call collective trauma. So as an entire community, to a certain extent, whether it’s because of societal ills or because of structural racism or because of deprivation or oppression, You know, that collective trauma is really hard to manage because it has so many different layers.

[00:08:55] So I, it, you know, isn’t old. Yeah. [00:09:00] But we, haven’t done a really good job of honoring what that means to people and how that can affect, you know, how we show up in the world. And I always say, you know, like you can’t give what you don’t have. And if we. If we are broken on the inside, you’re just going to give that brokenness to others.

[00:09:19] Um, and so we, we need to really start to, um, honor the place that, that trauma has an online and begin to think about how as a community, as a society, um, we begin to support people in their healing process. 

[00:09:38] Jenn: [00:09:38] Is there something, cause I think you said a few different ways kind of just like the multiple layers of trauma, like right now, as a, as a world, a global world, like we are all experiencing very similar things and I’ve seen a lot of different memes that are saying, you know, we might be.

[00:09:55] In the same storm, but we’re not on the same boat. So like, it’s definitely not, not a [00:10:00] comparison, but so there’s obviously different, different communities impacted very differently than other communities during all of this. But even just on the, the high level of some deeper embedded trauma that someone might have.

[00:10:12] And then on this new level of this emerging trauma related to COVID in this pandemic, are there things that, that someone could be thinking about or doing right now when they’re. Seeing themselves either start to get into dangerous behaviors or patterns, like, are there certain things that people can just kind of help elevate their own awareness to the fact that they are experiencing this trauma right now and something they can kind of do to maybe soften the blow potentially.

[00:10:40] Maysa: [00:10:40] I think that’s another really important question. And what I would have to say to that is that it’s very different. It’s very difficult for us to have insight about our own behaviors without having, uh, a trusted person that will support in. Um, in us gaining the right amount of [00:11:00] insight, it’s kind of like the old adage.

[00:11:02] You can’t see the forest from the trees. Right. So how would you know that you’re showing up in the world, um, or with your family, with your loved ones in a dysfunctional way, if no one tells you that. Right. So I think that what we can notice is like when we’re derailing, right? When, when something’s not right, when emotionally we feel out of control, and that really is the way that our body is telling us, we need to seek help.

[00:11:30] And the crazy thing about this is that if we were having a physical response to something, for example, that we were having a sugar crash, because perhaps we were diabetic and undiagnosed, we would call a doctor. Because we would want to find out what’s happening with our bodies and how we can remedy it.

[00:11:48] Well, when we’re mentally crashing, it is rare that people will seek that type of support, even if it’s preventative. Um, And what I call people now with the accessibility [00:12:00] of telehealth, what’s been great. Um, and in terms of responsiveness to mental health, and because of all the initiatives around mental health awareness is that the pandemic has allowed for.

[00:12:13] Um, for all therapies to be done via, you know, via telehealth. And, um, so many practitioners are supporting people all over the country and, you know, it’s, we, we matter, we have to matter to ourselves in order for us to make sure that we are showing up the way that we want to. Right. And, you know, it’s like what, what I tell my patients about when you’re on a plane, That though we’re going to be on a plane anytime soon, but if we were, you know, and there were some emergency happening, what do they tell you?

[00:12:46] Put on the mask, put your mask on first and then help anyone else. That’s important that, I mean, that’s only, that’s a reflection of how we should treat ourselves in life, putting our mask on understanding that this [00:13:00] is a very extra ordinary time of stress of vulnerability, of uncertainty and fear and anxiety.

[00:13:09] And that it is absolutely okay to seek the help that you need. And if you’re unable to get that within your community or your village then seek out treatment because that that’s, you know, that’s a way, um, uh, an assurance that you can get, but at least you’re going to get the feedback that you need to see if, um, if you need further support down the road, or if it’s just getting you through this traumatic time.

[00:13:34] Jennifer B: [00:13:34] Which is totally acceptable and, and, um, and, and stigmatized, I think in some communities, as far as I understand, sort of the seeking of help, right. And the normalization of psychological health in particular, um, Masa you’re reminding me though, of something that just infuriates me and breaks my heart, which is the bias and medical care, you know?

[00:13:53] So we put our oxygen mask on. We like raise the flag and say help is needed. 

[00:13:58] Maysa: [00:13:58] I’m 

[00:13:58] Jennifer B: [00:13:58] not well, and then [00:14:00] you, you are met with a medical establishment, but doesn’t see your pain that doesn’t medicate you. That doesn’t take you seriously, that devalue certain communities, pain, um, and doubts the veracity. Of our health, like, as we present, it’s just, I’ve been reading about that.

[00:14:17] And you, you talk about like, just, I don’t know what to do with that because by, I know bias has entrenched so deeply in workplaces cause that’s where I consult and I know how hard it is to get people, to see their, their stereotypes and their blind spots and to change the way they are with colleagues and the way that they lead.

[00:14:37] And their, and their want to see themselves as quote unquote good people that would never think these things and yet having their actions totally tell you different stories. So, but to learn about it and the medical, the behavior of medical professionals and the differential in how different communities are treated and taken seriously and listened to is like is one of the most painful things I think about those crisis and is what’s leading to the [00:15:00] disparate impacts for certain communities too.

[00:15:02] So we have so much work to do. Um, and I guess 

[00:15:04] Maysa: [00:15:04] on the heels of that, 

[00:15:06] Jennifer B: [00:15:06] Talk to us about privilege. I know you’re next, your next book, if I can say is going to be touching on that. And I wonder, you know, what is your message around allyship at this time, for those of us that want to be making sure we’re educating to the max, we’re talking about Amman arteries, you know, the context of that shooting and you know, all the disturbing particulars of that, whether we’re talking about medical treatment, whether.

[00:15:32] Like, it’s an, it’s a, it’s an overwhelming time because there’s so much that needs to be said. And, um, we’re trying to be as loud as we can. Um, but I wonder. I wonder whether a part of the healing of the PTSD is done in community and is done not just in the community of identity, that’s most impacted, but also in partnership and in allyship, you know, that we can kind of carry this load together and make it somehow lighter for each other.

[00:16:00] [00:16:00] Um, so I I’m just, I guess, looking for some advice and guidance, um, what are the, what are the call outs for allies and aspiring alleys right now? 

[00:16:09] Maysa: [00:16:09] Yeah. I mean, you’re definitely touching on something. Um, as you know, my next project will be a book that is going to be, um, coming out in, in the fall of, of this year, uh, called, uh, born privileged the pursuit of racial justice.

[00:16:24] And it’s going to be specifically, um, talking to white allies who have decided. That enough is enough and that they are ready to commit to the allyship process. And you know, what I wanted to do, and I’ve talked extensively extensively to both of you about this is providing those steps from the perspective of a person of color is very difficult for white allies to enter into the journey of allyship.

[00:16:53] Thinking and creating those steps on their own when they don’t know how to be in community [00:17:00] with people of color and what tends to happen often enough, because I sit in many of these tables is that then, you know, I’m well intentioned. You know, white folks will want to just take over and dictate what’s best for communities of color.

[00:17:13] And basically the premise of what I’m saying in this book is saying like, Hey, um, we want you to be allies. We know we need you as allies, but we don’t need you at the forefront of this fight. And so let, let us teach you how to make sure that you are allying correctly so that you can support us in the way that we need to be supported after there’s some healing that that happens.

[00:17:35] Right. Um, because I think that there, there are, there are discussions that, that have caused harm that need to happen, um, between, uh, those that want to be in commit to the process of allyship, um, and those communities of color. And they’re done sometimes individually. Sometimes in small groups, sometimes in small settings.

[00:17:54] Um, but each time we chip away at this, we can get at something much greater. Um, I want to [00:18:00] address something that you said in terms of the medical establishment via a story, because I think stories are so powerful. Um, a few weeks ago, uh, I have a cousin that lives in Massachusetts. She called me because my aunt and uncle.

[00:18:14] Um, had been diagnosed with COVID and there, uh, they were both in the high risk range, um, and very critical, uh, in, in the, their symptomatology related to the, you know, the entire COVID response, their body’s response to COBIT. And one of the things that, um, she called me about was because she wasn’t. Able to get the help that she needed for my aunt and my uncle and the doctors were not referring them to inpatient care, to go to the ER, to get the care that they needed.

[00:18:51] And so, um, because I’m a doctor, what I was able to do is to, at that point, use my privilege in terms of my [00:19:00] education and knowing hospital systems and working in hospitals in my previous career. And say, put me on the phone, the minute that they get to the ER with the attending would be attending physician.

[00:19:15] Right. And that completely changed the dynamic of how they were treated from the moment that they were admitted. And they were admitted, period, all the way through their discharge, how they were given oxygen, whether my arm was ventilated or not, how, you know, the followup phone calls daily, that happened.

[00:19:35] Right. And what you know, this is if, if this is a reflection of how allyship works, right. It’s using the idea. That my uncle and my aunt, weren’t able to get them appropriate medical care due to access. And also I will say inherent discrimination in terms of what they considered priority. Right. And when I [00:20:00] used my education and my capacity to speak their language, It completely changed the dynamic in terms of the care that they received.

[00:20:10] And I’m happy to report that their home they’re doing well. You know, despite being in their eighties and being extremely high risk, um, they were treated with the most incredible level of care. Um, and, and this is how allyship works, right? It’s in. Of course, it was personal to me because that’s my aunt and my uncle, and I did not want to see anything happen to them, but immediately I took action and I said, let me handle this.

[00:20:37] And you will get to know what’s happening with them, but that I will forge the way to make sure that they get the medical treatment that they need. Um, and that, that was the response, you know? So after several days of her. Inability to get through this change, the dynamic. And we were able to, um, to do something very different for them.

[00:21:00] [00:21:00] And 

[00:21:00] Jenn: [00:21:00] I think the sad reality is that most people don’t have, you know, people don’t have that doctor in their family that they can say, no, give me the phone. I will take care of this. And I think that that’s, what’s so heartbreaking about this because that, that the outcome for your aunt and uncle could have been so different.

[00:21:17] Maysa: [00:21:17] It absolutely could have. I mean, we’ve seen what the statistics are, especially disproportionately 70 to 80% of, um, you know, Who is dying as a result of COVID are people of color, but you know what, Jen, I want to address that you’re right. Many people don’t have people like me who perhaps have doctors in their families, but if there is a white ally that understands and see that this is happening to a person of color and that there’s an issue around access, I guarantee you that despite your.

[00:21:50] Um, titles, your ability to understand the medical profession, to the level that I do, that it will change the dynamic and the [00:22:00] conversation. If you’re able to step in and broker a different, you know, um, a different. Outcome for those families. So what I will say is open, keep your eyes open. If, if you are committed to the road of allyship, don’t allow opportunities, where do you can jump in, you know, and, and change the dynamic to just go by, don’t sit on the sidelines, jump in and do what you need to do.

[00:22:28] And how long did that take me perhaps an hour, total, two hours to get that done. And I was able to, you know, make sure that we were securing, that their lives were going to be taken care of the way that they should have to do it, but it means the world to people who need it. 

[00:22:44] Jenn: [00:22:44] And you don’t have to be a doctor.

[00:22:45] You can just be assertive because. Unfortunately coming from a place of white privilege, we’re able to be assertive and demanding in a setting like that. And if we can use that as a benefit to whomever we’re serving, [00:23:00] then there’s no reason in my opinion, none whatsoever that you shouldn’t step in and make that, 

[00:23:04] Jennifer B: [00:23:04] make that call.

[00:23:05] Maysa: [00:23:05] Yeah. And essentially like when these systems know that someone is watching and that people have advocacy and support, all of a sudden they do something different. And, and, and this is not, you know, putting down frontline workers or health care workers, they’re doing the best that they can. And they’re triaging these cases as best they can.

[00:23:23] But it is to say that there are, there’s a flaw in the system, you know, and that we, we all have to be an active participant to change the way that the outcome is going to look later on. 

[00:23:35] Jennifer B: [00:23:35] I 

[00:23:35] Jenn: [00:23:35] feel like this time has flown by so crippled with 

[00:23:39] Jennifer B: [00:23:39] days. Yeah, this is great. My it’s so good. And I hope folks check out, um, urban trauma, your first book, Kate, keep an eye out for the second one in the fall, right?

[00:23:50] Fall of 20, 20 minutes. Is that right? Yeah. Yeah. I can’t wait for that. And, um, you know, thank you for the work you do, and the understanding [00:24:00] that you’re creating and the, the way that you’re ministering to, you know, your community and, and helping heal, not just change the roots of trauma, but also address the, the PTSD of it so that it doesn’t derail.

[00:24:15] The most talented and human, you know, human potential across the board. Um, because I think you’re right. It is a silent killer. It’s a sign it’s sometimes a silent derailer and, you know, we need to bring that up to the surface. Look out at shine, a light on it, have an honest conversation as a country about it, which we haven’t done.

[00:24:33] Um, I really hope we’re entering an age of truth. Um, to an unprecedented degree, finally, you know, that we might be able to, to really not reconcile, cause we’re a long way away from that. But at the very least, you know, tell the truth and that those of us who, um, look like me and Jen grace 

[00:24:54] Jenn: [00:24:54] can know 

[00:24:55] Jennifer B: [00:24:55] what to do when to do it.

[00:24:57] Like you just said, Dan, like, Yes, [00:25:00] I’m being assertive because if you can, you need to be 

[00:25:04] Maysa: [00:25:04] right now 

[00:25:04] Jennifer B: [00:25:04] and you will be heard differently and perhaps more easily. And that means that you have a responsibility to step forward. 

[00:25:12] Maysa: [00:25:12] Absolutely. Thank you

[00:25:18] Jennifer B: [00:25:18] to 

[00:25:19] Maysa: [00:25:19] the conversation going, thank you both for being fantastic, you know, allies to the work, because you both have contributed to this and amazing types of, uh, you know, in an amazing way. Um, and, and for bringing awareness, um, and for brokering this conversation, you know, uh, I think that it was needed. It, it continues to be needed.

[00:25:40] And I appreciate, um, the courage that you have to, um, to, to bring it up to the surface for us to have a more meaningful discussion around this. 

[00:25:51] Jenn: [00:25:51] Thank you so much. It was awesome.