Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Racial Trauma

PTSD Research Quarterly

Monnica T. Williams, Angela M. Haeny & Samantha C. Holmes

National Center for PTSD

Butts (2002) was the first to draw attention to what we now call racial trauma, or race-based trauma, in the mental health literature. Racial trauma can be defined as the cumulative traumatizing impact of racism on a racialized individual, which can include individual acts of racial discrimination combined with systemic racism, and typically includes historical, cultural, and community trauma as well. Helms et al., (2012) argue that acts of racial and ethnic hostility can trigger trauma reactions due to a person’s own past experiences or historical events, even when there is no recent or direct evidence of threat to one’s life. Carter (2007) compiled a comprehensive overview of the psychological impact of racism and events that can result in race-based stress and trauma. Racial trauma appears to be relatively common among treatment-seeking people of color. Hemmings and Evans (2018) conducted a survey of counselors and found that the majority of professionals had encountered race-based trauma in their clinical work (71%), but few had received training in the assessment or treatment of those afflicted.

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