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Emotional response to George Floyd's death and a parallel process

Mercury in Taurus

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May 11, 2020
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No words mentioned about George Floyd since his death at my site. As the only minority member in my current cohort, I forwarded the email Statement on George Floyd that I had received from an institution not affiliated with my workplace to my supervisors and peers. In the email, I stated that after finishing a therapy session with a minority client, I realized the increased anxiety due to the current political climate that I could relate to and felt the need to share the email. The forwarded message follows:

“Dear XXXXXX Community:
You will soon be hearing more from our XXXX team about the tragic and senseless death of George Floyd plus other events and how we will respond as a XXXX to help be a part of the solution to end such travesties. Watching the video is heartbreaking and angering at the same time. How can we not get emotional seeing the visuals and hearing him state, “I can’t breathe” repeatedly? Especially troubling about the video was seeing the officers who stood by while Mr. Floyd called for help. I am saddened, heartbroken, and outraged that such an event could occur.

I am also energized and focused because the events of this week and the last many years also make our XXXXXX mission of building an inclusive environment that recognizes and respects the backgrounds of everyone, and where we celebrate and honor our differences become more critical than ever.

Our XXXXXX community will continue to fight for inclusive excellence as our vision is AN INCLUSIVE WORLD EMPOWERED BY XXX, XXX, STAFF, XXXX, AND XXXX. We mean it to the depth of our soul, and I know you do too. Let’s stand together and make a difference. We call for immediate reform on the use of deadly force by law enforcement agencies and increased review of discriminatory practices that infer a racial bias. We. Must. Stop. This. Now.

XXX XXXX
President and CEO”

Out of 12 recipients of the email, I received one reply from a supervisor "Thank you, XXXX." No other cyber responses. No verbal acknowledgment. In the business of humanity, I cannot make sense of the emotions that are still boiling in me, even though I was able to comfort the highly distressed client.

I certainly do not want to jump into any conclusion that silence is a sophisticated form of dismissal or rejection.

However, it is very difficult to interpret silence. This makes me feel really sad.
 
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Ollie123

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Based on what you wrote here, I'm not entirely clear if you were looking for a response here or if this was more "therapeutic journaling" (could perhaps be the reason for the silence at work too). That said, just didn't want you to see more silence here.

The attack was horrific. I hope it results in change. Based on the fact that this keeps happening, I'm not confident it will. I wish I knew what the process of change needed to look like rather than just the outcome. I feel like that is probably the biggest obstacle right now.
 
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foreverbull

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I think that their silence/lack of response is disappointing to say the least. Whether or not they choose to disseminate the letter/pass it on, certainly they could at the very least validate what folks are going through right now and respond to you. Makes me wonder if they are uncomfortable and don’t know what to say, but they’re psychologists and psychologists-in-training, so a simple validation doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.
In my program, we had a town hall put together by faculty after a string of violent acts by white supremists that year (some local). Not sure how common this is in grad school, but I thought it was helpful to give students the opportunity to reflect and share their feelings and consider ways to show support to our community during that time. Not sure if you are still a student, but that may be an option for folks in grad programs right now to (zoom) process what’s going on in our country and the effects on our clients and students. Acknowledgement and listening can go a long way.
 
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Mercury in Taurus

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I think that their silence/lack of response is disappointing to say the least. Whether or not they choose to disseminate the letter/pass it on, certainly they could at the very least validate what folks are going through right now and respond to you. Makes me wonder if they are uncomfortable and don’t know what to say, but they’re psychologists and psychologists-in-training, so a simple validation doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.
In my program, we had a town hall put together by faculty after a string of violent acts by white supremists that year (some local). Not sure how common this is in grad school, but I thought it was helpful to give students the opportunity to reflect and share their feelings and consider ways to show support to our community during that time. Not sure if you are still a student, but that may be an option for folks in grad programs right now to (zoom) process what’s going on in our country and the effects on our clients and students. Acknowledgement and listening can go a long way.
It has just occurred to me that the supervisor replied to my group email privately instead of replying to all. This might be a classical example of the power of groupthink. My training site is located on a conservative side of country where the minorities make less than 2% of the general population. As an APA accredited internship site, we talk about diversity as part of the training requirement; however, these conversations are staying at the surface level of discussing current literature and theories. I have found myself watchful trying to find a balance between active participation and not saying things that could lead to possible social alienation.
 

AcronymAllergy

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I wonder if the silence might relate in part to a combination of A) the other recipients also having a mix of emotions they're trying to process, and B) them not necessarily knowing how to reply? I also don't know the culture of your particular program; some sites maintain a very hard-line separation between in-clinic and outside-of-clinic activities and topics. So the supervisors themselves may be hesitant to address it and/or may be trying to think through how to do so, particularly if they haven't had much experience with it.

Also, speaking to your comment RE: "not saying things that could lead to possible social alienation," that certainly makes sense. And I can see how this is a situation in which the trainee-supervisor power differential could feel particularly onerous. Do you think your peers and supervisors may be having similar thoughts, especially if it's a program that hasn't typically addressed these issues in-depth?
 
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Mercury in Taurus

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I wonder if the silence might relate in part to a combination of A) the other recipients also having a mix of emotions they're trying to process, and B) them not necessarily knowing how to reply? I also don't know the culture of your particular program; some sites maintain a very hard-line separation between in-clinic and outside-of-clinic activities and topics. So the supervisors themselves may be hesitant to address it and/or may be trying to think through how to do so, particularly if they haven't had much experience with it.

Also, speaking to your comment RE: "not saying things that could lead to possible social alienation," that certainly makes sense. And I can see how this is a situation in which the trainee-supervisor power differential could feel particularly onerous. Do you think your peers and supervisors may be having similar thoughts, especially if it's a program that hasn't typically addressed these issues in-depth?
That is a great insight. I can certainly see the discomfort behind silence and non-verbalized efforts in trying not to make me feel uncomfortable. The distance created by the power disparity, perceived low safety, and a subtle degree of unrelatedness are possibly mutually felt. I can accept that with peace.

The program is willing and open enough to accept minority trainees. So hopefully if we have some representations in the upcoming cohorts, changes will occur organically. What I am bringing to the table this year might be a drop in the bucket but I hope it will make a difference in the future.
 
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Laradd

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I wonder if the silence might relate in part to a combination of A) the other recipients also having a mix of emotions they're trying to process, and B) them not necessarily knowing how to reply? I also don't know the culture of your particular program; some sites maintain a very hard-line separation between in-clinic and outside-of-clinic activities and topics. So the supervisors themselves may be hesitant to address it and/or may be trying to think through how to do so, particularly if they haven't had much experience with it.

Also, speaking to your comment RE: "not saying things that could lead to possible social alienation," that certainly makes sense. And I can see how this is a situation in which the trainee-supervisor power differential could feel particularly onerous. Do you think your peers and supervisors may be having similar thoughts, especially if it's a program that hasn't typically addressed these issues in-depth?
I do agree with you.
 

AcronymAllergy

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That is a great insight. I can certainly see the discomfort behind silence and non-verbalized efforts in trying not to make me feel uncomfortable. The distance created by the power disparity, perceived low safety, and a subtle degree of unrelatedness are possibly mutually felt. I can accept that with peace.

The program is willing and open enough to accept minority trainees. So hopefully if we have some representations in the upcoming cohorts, changes will occur organically. What I am bringing to the table this year might be a drop in the bucket but I hope it will make a difference in the future.

Very much. Ideally, this wouldn't have to fall to you as a trainee; and if the reason for the lack of discussion/follow-up is discomfort on the part of the supervisors (which is just a guess on my part), that wouldn't be an excuse for inaction. But if that's the case, your efforts could certainly contribute to their confronting that discomfort.
 
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psychRA

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I agree with others - in this context, the type of response (if any) that would be warranted may not have been clear. Especially because the forwarded email from the other institution states that recipients will soon be hearing more from the team, the people who got your email may have understood this to mean that there are set plans to discuss these issues soon in your setting and they just need to stay tuned for details.

It sounds like you are hoping to spark some sort of discussion of these issues in your setting, which I think is a great goal. All sites should be making space for this right now. That doesn't mean that you are the one who should have to facilitate the discussion, and in fact I imagine that it can be exhausting to feel like you're always the one who has to get these discussions going. It may be helpful for you to follow up with a more directive suggestion: could you ask the supervisors to facilitate a discussion during your next group supervision or didactic? Is there interest in setting up a dedicated time outside of supervision/didactics to talk about this? Or put it out there to your cohort to have some kind of meeting or discussion amongst yourselves?
 
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Sanman

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That is a great insight. I can certainly see the discomfort behind silence and non-verbalized efforts in trying not to make me feel uncomfortable. The distance created by the power disparity, perceived low safety, and a subtle degree of unrelatedness are possibly mutually felt. I can accept that with peace.

The program is willing and open enough to accept minority trainees. So hopefully if we have some representations in the upcoming cohorts, changes will occur organically. What I am bringing to the table this year might be a drop in the bucket but I hope it will make a difference in the future.


While there might be a number of reasons for the lack of responses and I agree with the alternative possibilities mentioned, I would caution you not look at a willingness to accept minority trainees as a marker for their openness to these issues. Having been a double minority in grad school and internship in various parts of the country, I have often half-halfheartedly joked that I was accepted just for the marketing materials (as most everyone in my cohorts was white and female). There is a spectrum of acceptance and understanding regarding these issues. There is also a variety of acceptable responses in a professional context that may not fully encompass personal views (whichever side of the issue they may take). I know it can be hard to be the only minority trainee in a program. Good luck.
 
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