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soul intrusions

is social context everything? Dionne St. Hill unpacks the impact of society on our lived and learnt experiences.

‘You may believe that your pain is a separate pain from the world’s pain. When you unlearn (or reframe) this, your deepest healing may begin’.

Jaiya John

‘Hey, let’s be careful out there.’ As a young person approaching my teenage years in the early 1980s, Hill Street Blues was one of my favourite shows; I would cuddle up with my mum on the couch – her lying down on her side, at a right angle, me resting my head on the side of her thigh, mirroring the shape of her body, as we, mother and daughter, watched an American cop show on TV.

We were safe—in our living room, observers of others’ lives, apparently untouched—vicariously or otherwise, by the trauma playing through an analogue offering. At home—doors locked, dinner eaten—we were safe in there.

But decades later, as we navigate images of displacement, hunger, bombings, and decimation – the charred remains of humanity and the haunting cries of traumatised survivors echoing through hastily captured mobile phone footage; I reflect on those moments, those evenings of safety, I wonder now, as a mother, a woman, a therapist, and an elder about the illusion of safety through the prism of our social context.

I think about the social uprisings in the 1980s—St Pauls, Chapel Town, Moss Side, Toxteth, Handsworth, Brixton, Bradford, Broadwater Farm—powerful acts of civil unrest as a response to relentless experiences of oppression and discrimination – social, political and cultural inequities around every aspect of our lives including housing, employment, mental health services and violent policing.

I reflect on perhaps how little has changed, how Black men are seven times more likely to die following police interaction or restraint—and the reluctance to examine racism as a causal factor remaining firm.

A little over four years since the murder of George Floyd and the global and social response of the powerful Black Lives Matter movement; I mourn the many Black people in the UK who have died or sustained life-changing injuries after contact with representatives of social authority, including the police – some names known to us, some faded by the distance of time or an absence of media publicity, social awareness and care.

Individuals who did not survive include Mark Duggan, Dalian Atkinson, Cherry Groce, Cynthia Jarrett, Joy Gardner, Colin Roach, and Chris KabaI.

I do not list all the victims of social violence and justice here, but our collective soul remembers them all. These deaths— embedded hurts and the social systems that still allow them—are the intrusions of our soul.

How can we, and those we share community with, be careful out there? Wherever we look, there seems to be appalling violence of an apocalyptic scale – interpersonal, structural, institutional – how do we push against policies and practices that reinforce racist standards and colonial and imperialist practices within our worlds?

How do we challenge multiple institutions collectively upholding policies and practices that are colonial and discriminatory?

Do we have the words to challenge acts and micro-aggressions from one person to another?

Can we stop the subtle and overt messages that reinforce negative beliefs and hatred becoming internalised?

Lives, generations, customs, rituals, placement, land and love in our social context are being decimated by bombs, inequity and political apathy.

This work allows me, as a therapist committed to Black-centred and decolonised practice, to conjure dreams around the power of resistance, activism, and outrage. The social context we are submerged in feels contaminated right now, so how do we heal our hearts, our souls, and our legacy in this toxic mess?

Never, perhaps, has the need for a decolonised therapeutic approach seemed more vital.

It feels impossible to reflect on the social context of our work without mourning what is happening in Palestine, Congo and the Sudan, amongst other current locations of pain.

I saw a headline this morning that responded so powerfully to what many of us have seen or heard is happening in Rafah – Ceasefire is not enough – Decolonise. Systemic Change for Collective Liberation.

Writer and essayist Ashley Simpson, also known on social media as Black Ashley, wrote so movingly on this:

I am balancing grief with joy every day. Soaking up every second with the people I love, hugging and kissing my child, and revelling in the comfort of my home. While also mourning the constant massacres around the world. The videos coming out of Rafah today, brought me to tears. I threw up. I threw my phone. Then I made my son lunch and helped him with his social studies project.

Balancing these two hemispheres of reality leaves me beside myself. How do you lovingly parent a child, while knowing the world you are preparing them for? How do you accept the joy in your life, while grappling with the horrific terror in the lives of others? I am no more important or worthy of peace than the mothers of Gaza. My son is no more worthy of safety than the children of Gaza. The texture of peace feels different now.

None of us are free until all of us are free.’

The words of Ashley Simpson speak to the ontological insecurity [The insecurity of being alive and existing] many of us may be feeling right now; or the complex package of emotions some of the beautiful beings we may see now or in the future may bring into our therapeutic and healing spaces.

Ontological insecurity speaks to the impact, events and experiences can have on us. When our sense of safety and security feels challenged or threatened, not just by events in our own life, but by our mere existence.

When we heal through the prism of our social context, we attend to all our wounds, not just as an individual, but as part of a global collectiveIt is perhaps in the vitality of times like now that we seek a therapeutic response or a philosophical belief system that has the alchemic power to shapeshift into healing activism, a decolonial and liberatory reaction driven by unity, solidarity, connection, and ancestral power.

For decolonised therapy is not passive; it is active and activating, a vital source of power when pushing back against the insidious nature of cultural gaslighting and apparent political apathy.

When we heal through the prism of our social context, we attend to all our wounds, not just as an individual but as part of a global collective.

For perhaps, we all share a desire to curl up comfortably in a safe home with someone we love, feeling protected and knowing that when we say ‘let’s be careful out there’, it’s a loving affirmation rather than a tattered fantasy.


These reflections form part of the BAATN Introductory Certificate in Counselling Skills: Decolonising Therapeutic Practice course – Session 2 of 10



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