Are You One of Them?

Are you? You know, the kind that just sits and watches things happen to people? Bad things, without saying a word? Without getting involved? Without coming to their aid or rescue? The ABC show What Would You Do has drawn attention to what social scientists have long known: that people are largely bystanders even when really bad things happen. Apathetic, uninvolved bystanders who tend to stay on the sidelines and watch even when there is something we can do. Even when there is no guarantee that any help we can offer can make a difference. We just don’t even try. There is a reason God gave us voices, and frontal lobes, and the ability to make judgments and decisions. You can speak out against injustice. It’s nothing more than a decision. A choice. 

I want to rally all of my people no matter the color of your skin. I am appealing to the content of your hearts, your character. Are you going to sit idly by and watch citizens be attacked, marginalized, dehumanized, disenfranchised, and cast aside by a system of racism that continues to trickle down? Or are you going to use your voice, the power of your pen, and the impact of your vote to make a difference? Too many of you who are my personal or business connections have been silent about all of the injustice, inhumanity, and prejudice being espoused by those minorities who happen to occupy the White House. Too many of you sit by and watch people of color be bullied at work, passed over for promotions year after year, be locked out of opportunities and chances that others get just because. You’ve seen it. Watched it. Heard your friends of color complain and scream and cry about it. It maybe they just suffered in silence. But you’ve watched. And maybe you didn’t quite know what to day, and so you’ve said nothing. And when the race word is brought up, the quick and convenient thought was, ‘I’m not so sure it’s that.’ Here’s a newsflash darlings: it ain’t always that, but there are an awful lot of times it is.

When you CHOOSE to remain an observer, you choose to be an unwitting participant. When you remain silent about what you see, you become complicit. I have seen and felt and experienced this complicity firsthand. And when you do this, you become one of them.
Now is not the time to remain silent. Silence equals death. We’ve already lost one brave soul. But at least she made a choice, and yes, she is now magnified. And glorified. I hope you choose as wisely as she.

Be well.

Dr. Nik
#BlackLivesMatter #mentalhealth #endracism #speakout #silenceequalsdeath

The ‘N’ Word: A Psychological Perspective on Bill Maher in the Outhouse & the Reappropriation of the ‘N’ Word

I’ve given much thought to the most recent ‘N’ word controversy over late night, cable talk show host Bill Maher’s use of the term — referring to himself as a “house Nigger.” He had the extreme misfortune of having quite possibly been baited by Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse, whom he was hosting at the time. Nevertheless, his response was solely his and as such, his responsibility alone.  That said, y’all know I’ve always maintained my own unapologetic way of thinking. So let me explain why for me, not only is Bill’s apology absolutely accepted, but also why I am not so sure he even needed to give one.  

  1. Context matters:  As a social scientist, I’ve been trained to never look at a behavior in isolation; behavior is best understood within the context in which it occurs. Context always matters when trying to understand or explain a behavior. By looking at behavior in context, behaviors that would initially appear grossly malicious could be mitigated. To wit, society has traditionally given passes for even the most egregious acts. Even the heinous act of murder, when understood within a context, can be absolved. In this particular case, the context was within a comedic forum. It was meant to solicit laughs, albeit at a group’s expense. Notwithstanding that fact, the context, and the intent absolutely matters.
  2. Can we really own a word? Our very own, very beloved, and ofttimes ‘spokesman for the cause’ Ice Cube made a statement in the midst of his public castigation of Maher. He argued regarding the ‘N’ word “It’s our word now. And you can’t have it back.” Is this the basis of our argument? Are we as Blacks saying that only we have license to use this word? And more importantly, is this a word we really want to own? Even more importantly, why would we want to? The ‘N’ word has historically been used to denigrate, to humiliate, dehumanize, and to separate Blacks from our white cohort. The word has been used to remind us that as Blacks we are ‘other;’ that we share nothing in common —  not even humanity, with our oppressors. And some still use the word maliciously against us to date. And so my point is simply, why would we want to “own” such a terribly offensive and historically hateful word?  This sort of undoing of the negativity associated with this word is mere wishful thinking. 
  3. And what about artistic license? Comics and other actors have long since been excused and given a pass for doing and saying things out of mainstream expectation. We have even given them a pass to use the ‘N’ word. As a wanna be artist myself, I agree with Maher’s point that as a comic, the comedic mind sometimes reacts and responds very quickly; almost reflexively when it recognizes an opportune moment. And at times the mind reacts and the mouth instinctively opens; at times inappropriately so. Not at all saying that there should not be a line that should be drawn. Boundaries are always a good thing. Comics must realize that some things simply aren’t to be joked about. But if we draw the line, then it’s a hard-line. And ANYONE who crosses the line must pay the piper. This brings me to my next point:
  4. And what about Richard?: My clearest memories of the late, great comedian Richard Pryor include his very liberal use of the ‘N’ word — in every other sentence it seemed; both as a term of endearment and to demean other Blacks. And so my point is simply, because one is Black, does one have automatic license to very freely use the word? Because Biggie or Tupac or Ice Cube use it as a point of reference or a term of endearment towards others who look like them, should that somehow make it ok for them to use it? I disagree vehemently with this type of cherry picking (at best), and terribly faulty logic. Folks, we cannot pick and choose. There is no shade of gray here — not on this issue. If the word is bad —  historically and continuously, then it is what it is. And NO ONE GETS A PASS. 
  5. Reclamation…REALLY?: When did Black America adopt this word?  When did this word begin to have a much less negative connotation and meaning? For as much as we say we use it to denote a certain fondness and belongingness for those individuals in our group (affectionately referred to as “My Niggers”), we African Americans also use it to disrespect and demean each other. We Blacks also use the word to refer to other Blacks who are seemingly less refined, more hoodish, thuggish, and quite frankly less ‘civilized’ than we might think we are.  This type of behavior and use of the word is an interesting psychological conversion; indeed, a form of the psychological defense reaction formation. Psychologically, this behavior from more seeming ‘refine’ Blacks also represents an identification with the aggressor — whereby the word as a tool of hatred and in its most pejorative sense against each other — just as whites have always used it against us.  In sum, we must take responsibility for this. Let us stop pretending that the word somehow has magically lost its negative power. We must own the truth of the ‘N’ word. It is a hateful word. Period. There is no reclamation or reappropriation that can happen here. There is nothing positive that can come from such a reprehensible word. There is no undoing here. No matter how hard we wish for it to be so.

No, I don’t give Bill Maher a pass. But Ice Cube, Jay-Z, Issa Raye, or myriad other Black don’t get one either — nor should they just because they are Black.  If using the word is wrong for Bill, then it’s wrong for anyone irrespective of their color. We must stop perpetuating double standards; they always somehow boomerang back at the user anyway. We must recognize the moment we have here. In fact, why don’t we use this teachable moment to change the American vernacular, and to erase this hateful word from the lexicon. 

Be well. 

The Good Dr. Nik


The Good Dr. Nik, aka Dr. Nicole Alford, is a DMV-based Clinical Psychologist, writer and blogger, media commentator, and compassionate activist. For more information about her services, follow her @theGoodDrNik on all social media platforms, and visit her website at


May Aint Just About Flowers: Why Mental Health Awareness Month Is So Important

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is the month that we mental health professionals, survivors, families, and those otherwise dedicated to the cause take to raising awareness and dollars to advance our agenda. For us, May aint just about the flowers! The Good Dr. is here to tell you that for some, April showers are a 12-month occurrence. For others, the flowers are but an illusion. So here is why I do what I do, and why this month is so incredibly important:

To Educate: Knowledge truly is power. You can’t address what you don’t admit, and you won’t heal what you don’t acknowledge. Not only must we become a more educated society with respect to mental illness, but we must seek truth.  A wise Bishop once stated, “It is not the truth that will set you free, it’s the knowledge of the truth.” So here is a small sampling of the truth about mental illness and its impact:

  • Approx. 63M Americans (26.2%) suffer from a diagnosable mental illness each year — whether or not they are ever diagnosed (NIMH)
  • Anxiety Disorders comprise the most frequently occurring diagnosis; with 18.1% of Americans and women more likely to suffer this type of disorder than men (NAMI)
  • 16M adults live with major depression
  • African-Americans and Hispanics utilize mental health services at half the rate of Caucasian Americans (NAMI)
  • Each day an estimated 18-22 veterans die by suicide
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US; the 3rd leading cause in people aged 10-24 and the 2nd leading cause in people aged 15-24
  • Among the 20.2M Americans in the US living with a substance use disorder, 50.5% of them have another co-occurring mental illness
  • Gay, lesbian, transgendered or Q youth are twice as likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual counterparts

The truth of the matter is that minority communities are predisposed and significantly more vulnerable to mental health issues due to the stress of living in a society that discriminates, marginalizes and moves against them aggressively on the regular, the stress of a life of poverty, urban violence, and lack of access to affordable quality healthcare. The truth of the matter is that even when we do have the means to afford mental health care or the access to it, we don’t use it. The sad truth is that there are historical and cultural myths, traditions, and beliefs that keep us stuck in dysfunction and suffering in silence. The truth of the matter is that we are a prideful people who are trained not to ask for help, to take it on the chin, to be the superwoman and Mandingo warrior labels that have been ascribed to us.

To Advocate:  Those of we regular people who have voices and concerns that often go unheard need to not only learn to advocate for ourselves, but we must also empower those in the position to advocate for our interests. Grassroots organizations and activists like the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) regularly lobby Congress and state legislatures to enact laws that ensure the ease of accessibility, quality, and affordability of mental health care in addition to taking stances, (even unpopular ones), on issues that have a mental health nexus. For example, it was lobbyists that were instrumental in getting the gun laws strengthened following the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, and lobbyists that led to the tightening of the mental health data reporting laws from states to federal databases for background checks. Related to empowering advocates, one way is to donate money and/or volunteer your time in assistance to these organizations.

To Eradicate:  In the early 1960’s, psychiatrist Thomas Szasz wrote a well publicized (and criticized) book entitled The Myth of Mental Illness; eschewing mental illness as nothing more than a stigmatizing label placed on people with problems in living. While I understand his argument, and agree that mental illness has historically been a destructive label used to isolate and separate those with real problems, it has also been a way that behavioral scientists and researchers have come to understand, study, categorize and treat classes of symptoms. There is still great stigma attached to having, admitting to, or seeking treatment for any type of mental illness — no matter the context. Even when, by right, symptoms should be expected (i.e. veterans returning from the horrors of battle, or someone going through a difficult divorce), we tout only the strength and seeming resilience shown as if it is a badge of honor to not break down during such tragedies. If history teaches us anything, it is that silence kills. We must work together to end stigma. We must admit and acknowledge when we are struggling. We must make it OK to say, “I am not OK.”

One thing the Millennial generation understands and gets my total admiration for is their openness and proud ownership of their issues and ‘isms.’ They wear their issues like a crown for all to see, and true to their generational nature highlight their battles and make a platform of them to help others. From Prince Harry’s admission of his early struggles with depression, to Chance the Rapper’s acknowledging his PTSD from urban violence, to Kid Cudi very openly admitting his battles with depression and suicidality — these youngins are launching a very public campaign to destigmatize help seeking. As the Good Book says, ‘…A little child shall lead them’ and the Bible aint never lie! Say what you want to about Generation Z but right now, they lead the fight to end stigma. And I stand boldly and courageously with them.

Do your part in May. Educate someone. Admit that there have been times when you were not OK. Check on your people. Donate some dollars to the cause, or join the annual NAMI walk that every major city has on May 20th. For more information on how you can advance this cause, especially during this seminal month, go to

Be well,

The Good Dr. Nik


Dr. Nicole Alford is a DMV-based clinical psychologist, writer and prolific blogger, teacher, media commentator and compassionate activist working to raise mental health awareness and end stigma. For more information on her professional services, view her website at, and follow her @TheGoodDrNik on all social media platforms.

 Lessons From the Couch, About the Couch: So you can coach me too, right Doc?

This is the third entry in my series on psychotherapy entitled Lessons From the Couch, About the Couch. This series seeks to educate the potential consumer of counseling/psychotherapy about important aspects of therapy, and how to go about smartly engaging in the process in order to maximize benefit.

I have a confession: I watch Iyanla’s Fix My Life series. And I have to admit, it became a bit addictive and I found myself  hardly able to WAIT until the next week’s episode! And then I started to think about why.  And it dawned on me — it has all the makings of good entertainment; melodrama, a hook, something the viewer can identify with, and a twist to keep you from channel surfing and never coming back. But those attributes of the show, yes The Show —  the drama, the hook, and the entertaining — that was exactly the problem with it. People’s pain, and issues, and desire to be whole should not in any way be held out for public consumption (in my opinion). It shouldn’t be for entertainment purposes. It shouldn’t be for the voyeurs to gawk at. How people experience pain is personal. The work they do to alleviate it adaptively is personal. That brings me to my question: What exactly is the difference between psychotherapy and coaching?

While Ms. Iyanla does not market herself as a psychotherapist, what she does comes across as therapy.  And it starts out very similarly to how a real, therapeutic relationship with a psychologist or counselor begins.  For example, initially Ms. Iyanla tries to establish a rapport before easing into the sensitive issue(s). In many respects, it would appear to the therapy unsavvy layperson that there is very little distinction between coaching and counseling. But then it starts, and I am reminded that no, this aint therapy.  The change in tone. The loud voice. The perhaps overly assertive (code word for what some might call aggressive) confrontation. The touching and hugging and rubbing of backs. The up in yo’ face. The very things that I love about the show because it’s just great entertainment and keeps pulling me back, — is the very problem that I have with it. No, this aint therapy!

See, it would be unethical for psychologists to get in your face, yell, or raise our voices in anger or frustration. I get it though. That’s what sports coaches do. And maybe that’s just Ms. Iyanla’s tactic. It is not customary to have so much (if any) physical contact with the patient at all. We are trained and cautioned to have very strict boundaries. Emotionally, physically, and ethically.  For the five or six or seven years of clinical training we do, we are indoctrinated to knowing about boundaries and understanding lest that WE ourselves are a tool in therapy. And everything we do, say, feel, react — EVERYTHING is interpreted by the client. Can impact the relationship.  That is a key difference between coaching and psychotherapy.

Mental health professionals understand that it is the relationship that fuels the change.  And we know how fragile the therapeutic relationship is. Perceived insults or slights can indelibly impact it. And when that occurs, there is no sustainable change that can occur.

So boundaries, the ethics and strict professional standards, and the regulation of our professional practice by law are key differences between mental health professions and coaching. Anyone can become a coach. And while there might be a couple hundred hours of training needed, there is no process of vetting. No process of intense supervision, feedback or opportunity for correction.

The focus on the past (because we understand that to move forward, you oftentimes first have to go backwards), the type of client (we work with pathology, mental disease, and people who at times are very entrenched in their illnesses), and the many years of academic study, rigorous clinical training, supervision, and practice to hone our craft are important differences that separate us from coaching. Last, but certainly not least, counseling and psychotherapy are based upon the sciences of psychology, human behavior, neurobiology, and physiology among others. We have over a hundred and twenty years of research and scientific study to back us. And we use the research to form the basis of our interventions.

What we (psychologists) do is treatment. While we fuel change, motivate, and seek to shape human behavior just like coaches do, we treat. Period. We treat the wound. We dig deep and look for the wound because nine times out of ten, there is a wound. It isn’t always in the form of abuse, or assault. Sometimes it is much less salient, but just as profoundly impacting on a life. We know that there is always a wound. And that wound, and that lack of healing is what keeps people in a perpetual state of stuck.

So naw, I can’t coach you. I cannot put on my metaphorical happy face and cheer you along to the job, salary, business or life you dream of.  While mental health professionals aspire to move people forward, that’s simply not all we do. I can figuratively hold  your hand, take you on a long journey, guide you to the deep places, find the hurt, partner with you to heal the hurt, and allow you to own your story. I can empower you to be the best you by empowering you to do the hard work. And being perhaps the only constant you have ever had in your life while you do it. Once you’ve done that, the job, the salary, the life…will follow.

Don’t get it twisted; there are some uber talented, TALENTED coaches of all sorts. And there is a place for coaches. And yes, I still do love so many things about Ms. Iyanla! But the place for the coach is not with the couch, or with those who would be best served on the proverbial couch. And the techniques should not in any way mirror psychotherapeutic techniques.  Because simply, coaches do not do therapy. They encourage, they motivate, they empower, they move people towards their life goals and towards positive change. But that is not therapy. And that is not treatment. And the very best coaches understand that. And they don’t blur the very definite lines. And with that, they are ok.

There is room for both of us. There are more than enough people in need of some type of assistance. We’ll take the people in need treatment. And we’ll leave the coaching to the coaches.

Be well,

The Good Dr. Nik


Dr. Nicole M. Alford is a DMV-area Clinical Psychologist in private practice. She is a prolific blogger, teacher, mentor, compassionate activist and media commentator. To learn more about Dr. Nik’s services, please visit, and please follow her @theGoodDrNik on all social media platforms.

Lessons From The Couch, About The Couch: How to find a really good, effective therapist. (Or better yet, where’s that darn needle in this haystack)?

This is the second entry in my series entitled, “Lessons From The Couch, About the Couch.”  As we are on the cusp of Mental Health Awareness Month (May, annually), and with the advent of spring, what better way to set yourself up for a new beginning than to set yourself on a path to a New You?  The road to this novelty, for many, begins with psychotherapy. But finding a good therapist can itself be a barrier to seeking services; particularly for people of color.

Finding a good therapist is hard. While therapists abound, (and to be perfectly honest, at times it feels like there’s one every corner), we differ in style, therapeutic   and level of training, treatment paradigms, skill sets, and of course fees.  Here are my tips, from the couch; both as a therapist and having served at times as a client. Here are some things to look for and to be aware of when trying to find a therapist:

  1. Know who you are going to, and what they can offer:  There are various types of mental health professionals, and they each vary in terms of education and training, expertise, and types of professional services they can provide.  Understanding these differences is key.  For example, psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors (MDs) who specialize in the diagnosis and pharmacological treatment of mental disorders. In others words, they can write prescriptions and administer certain types of medical treatments that must be performed by a physician (like ECT). Most psychiatrists only do diagnosis and medication treatment and management; NOT psychotherapy.  Psychologists have either a Ph.D. (doctorate of philosophy) in psychology; this is an academic degree with an emphasis on both clinical skills and research on mental disorders and  psychotherapy, OR a Psy.D. (a doctorate of psychology). The latter is a relatively new professional degree with an emphasis on clinical training; research — not so much.  Many clinical and counseling psychologists directly practice psychotherapy, but we are all trained to do psychotherapy.  Social workers are master’s level practitioners whose training is really more so on the welfare and community services available to families, groups and individuals. Clinical social workers are trained specifically in psychotherapy and the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, as are licensed professional counselors (LPCs), another type of master’s level clinician. However, the latter 2 categories have half, if not less than half of the years of clinical training and education than psychologists or psychiatrists; that said, there are many kick-ass, clinically astute social workers. So decide which clinician might be best based upon your issue(s) and potential treatment needs.
  2. Search for a therapist like you search for a babysitter (the parents know what I mean!):  This is a serious matter. You wouldn’t let just anyone care for your kid; do you really wanna just let anyone care for your mind? So here I  appeal to the consumer in each of you, and I encourage the consumer of psychotherapy to take this bull by the horns! Research finding a potential therapist just like you would a babysitter. Be meticulous and detail-oriented in your search. Your therapist should be vetted. This could mean getting recommendations from trusted friends or family members (yes, many of them might currently be in therapy or have been in the past, and may be willing to share resources and experiences).  You can read the online profiles on the therapist’s website, their profile on your health insurer’s website, or on any of the major psychotherapy referral services. This will give you a feel for his or her educational and professional background, areas of specialization, style, etc.  And last, call and engage the therapist you are considering in a brief discussion. Interview the therapist and ask important questions such as how long he or she has been practicing, how many cases of (depression, anxiety or whatever your issue is) has the therapist seen, etc. Get a vibe, and then think about the conversation you just had. Did you feel rushed? Did you feel heard? Were you given an opportunity to ask questions and were your questions answered? This will give you some indicator of therapist professionalism, demeanor, and style.  And this might likely give you some understanding of whether or not this is the person for you.
  3. Use your available resources to find a therapist:  Your medical doctor likely has a vast network of both medical and mental health professionals, and could therefore be a good resource to tap into (especially if you like your doctor, respect his or her professional recommendations, and have developed a good relationship with your physician).  Second, many churches also have direct links to community-based providers or Christian counseling practices. Another untapped resource is the state! Our tax dollars paid to the state go towards vetting, licensing, and regulating the practice of mental health practitioners. Every state has a board of psychologists, social workers, and/or counselors that has a public website whereby you can search for a specific provider, search the status of his/her license, and learn whether there are any active ethical complaints or malpractice suits against that person. I strongly encourage this type of search be done on any potential therapist you are considering employing.
  4. Assess your needs and choose accordingly:  Do you need someone to see your child? Are you looking for a couple’s counselor? Are you a Christian and only wish to see a Christian counselor? Do you think you would feel more comfortable with someone who is of the same cultural background? Did you have previous therapeutic success with a certain type of therapy or intervention? These are all important questions that should absolutely drive your selection of a therapist.  Find someone who has the expertise, years of experience, and training in the area that you are presenting with. For example, if I am a veteran with a diagnosis of PTSD, but I want to see someone outside of the VA system, then I would look for people who are certified in trauma treatment, and who have experience treating veterans and/or those with PTSD. If I need someone to see my child, then I want someone who has vast educational training and experience and perhaps special credentials in working with children (i.e. board certified in child/adolescent psychiatry).
  5. Trust your gut: All too often, we Monday morning quarterback the situation that ensued when we didn’t listen to our initial gut feeling about a situation. The minute a therapist says or does something that makes you feel uncomfortable or fearful, or makes you question his or her ethics, or does not answer your basic questions, it’s time to switch. Now keep in mind, you should feel uncomfortable in therapy — if it is all roses, if you are only hearing what you want to hear, then nine times out of ten you are not being totally open and forthright in the sessions. However, what you should not feel is whether or not this is ‘right,’ sexually hit on, disrespected, or any of those emotions. The therapists office, and demeanor, should communicate safety and compassion. If that doesn’t exist, trust your gut.

Where to look:  Last, there are a number of free referral services that exist solely to help consumers to find local mental health providers in their area, that take their insurance, and which list specific areas of expertise. and are the two largest ones that millions of people turn to.  Second, each state’s psychological association has a referral list on their website. Google your state’s psychological association and start there. And lastly, your health insurer’s website will also list in-network providers, by specialty.  However, also keep in mind that you can also pay for you mental health treatment out of pocket, which allows you to be the driver and to be open to see whomever you choose. Flexible healthcare spending accounts can reimburse you; just make sure the therapist provides you with the appropriate documentation. You can also seek reimbursement through your insurer, however, check first to ensure that out-of-network mental health benefits are reimbursed — and at what percentage.

I really hope this helps to demystify the ofttimes gargantuan task of finding a good therapist. And I wish each of you the very best in your quest to change. The more of us that really do the work on ourselves, the better off the world will be.

Be well,

The Good Dr. Nik


Dr. Nik is a DMV-based Clinical Psychologist, prolific blogger, speaker, media commentator and compassionate activist. For more information about her services, go to http://www.TheGoodDrNik.Com, and follow her @theGoodDrNik on FB, Twitter, and Instagram.


No Time To Be Silent

black face white hand

In the wake of the massacres of Brother Alton Sterling and Brother Philando Castile, both fatally shot within a 24 hour time period, this is no time to be silent.

Tuesday, in Louisiana, 37-year-old Alton Sterling was fatally shot as he tussled with two white officers outside a convenience store in a predominantly black neighborhood. The shooting was caught on tape and went viral online. The next day in Minnesota, 32-year-old Philando Castile was shot to death during a traffic stop. His girlfriend posted a video of the aftermath live on Facebook, saying he had been shot “for no apparent reason” while reaching for his wallet, as an officer had asked.  And then the malefic reply to both events by Micah Johnson, a combat veteran who killed five officers and wounded seven others, in addition to two civilians. Like many I found myself struggling to make sense of just what is going on.

I found myself at a loss for words.  Nothing to say.  Nothing to post.  Nothing to write.  And if I am honest, not wanting to feel.  Because to feel would leave me overcome with a tidal wave of grief, anger, fear, and God only knows what else.  It would leave me to acknowledge the sad reality.  And why acknowledge reality when denial is such a wonderful thing?  And when ignorance really is bliss.  But alas, the events of the past few days, weeks, months, years can no longer be ignored.  The reality must be acknowledged.  After having said nothing about these tragedies, I realize that this is not time to be silent.

I know that after 400 years of inhumane treatment, of being likened to animals, raped and lynched and murdered and put down and passed over and ignored like the invisible man Ellison wrote about — takes its toll.  I know that in this 21st century we still face situations reminiscent of the Jim Crow days of old; occurring under the guise of “progress.” I know that there have been more police killings of Black people in the last year (2015) than were lynched in the worst year of Jim Crow (1892).  I know that in 2015, killings of Blacks by police accounted for 26% of deaths, and that we are on the trajectory in 2016 to likely surpass that number. I know that our community is angry.  And I know that anger is a righteous response.  Justified.  No one can question that.  But what we do with this anger, and how we respond to this situation will dictate whether we live up to the truth of who we are. Will we rise?

I know that we are the descendants of Kings and Queens.  And we are warriors.  Make no mistake, this is war.  It is a battle against archetypal spirits of evil, and a history entrenched with maltreatment and injustice. Unconscious biases and conscious discrimination have existed for as long as we have been in America. Therefore, our weapons must not be physical.  We must not resort to the id-mentality of tit for tat; a life for a life.  No, we must be strategic.  We must be thoughtful.  We must recall our past victories. We must deftly use our powers, and those of us in power must not be silent. I repeat: THOSE OF US IN POWER MUST NOT BE SILENT.

There are a few key members of our community whose voices reverberate. Their platforms are global and they are tethered to the purse strings of Wall Street.  Like puppet masters they can pull a string and poof — stocks rise or fall immediately and exponentially.  These African Americans must not be silent.

The Black church, which has historically been the backbone of the African-American community, and THE instrument of mobilization and leadership for social and political change, must not be silent.  It is time for Black pastors and the Black church as a whole to rise and take its rightful place as the leading agent of sociopolitical change, healing, and reconciliation.  The Black church can and must play a key role in setting the stage and the tone for our community moving forward.  The church must not be silent.  Silence = death.

And last, you, you, and you must not be silent.  Do not disenfranchise yourself.  Exercise the rights that so many fought so hard to ensure that you have.  Speak, write, blog, picket, lobby, boycott, and for God’s sake VOTE.  Your voice is mighty.  The pen is mighty.  The dollar is mighty. And together we are mighty. Once we realize this; once we truly realize who we are and the power we have individually and collectively, it is then that we will truly overcome.


Dr. Nik


Reprinted with permission from Harvest Magazine.

Dr. Nik is a Clinical Psychologist, Life-ologist, author and educator in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.  Follow her on Twitter @theGoodDrNik.

How to Cope With National Tragedy

The recent events in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas have left many feeling some kinda way.  While some of us don’t know exactly what we are feeling, others can readily identify the one or various emotions they might be experiencing; and some may be experiencing emotions intensely.  As if the events of the past few days have not been tragic enough, we have been unable to escape the reminders, and are left to relive the first moment we heard or saw news of these events.  Our brains are being constantly bombarded with print and streaming images of civilians and police officers being assaulted, shot at and dying with not a free moment to process the apparent dichotomies.  For the record, my goal here is not to use this as a forum to air my personal beliefs; but rather, to use this opportunity to help us deal with what I have termed trauma by media.

Trauma by media is a cluster of symptoms experienced as a result of secondhand exposure, (i.e. indirect exposure), to a life threatening or fatal event via print or broadcast media.  Symptoms can range from anger and rage, from sadness to frank depression, from worry to anxiety and fear, to nightmares and more.  And these can lead to sleep difficulties, the inability to focus one’s attention on matters unrelated to the event, engaging in maladaptive behaviors to express one’s frustration and upset or numb one’s emotions, and can impact the ability to function effectively in one’s day-to-day life.

Make no mistake, we’ve been here before.  But we’ve not implemented the lessons learned.  As a nation we became vicariously traumatized during 9-11 due to the constant media coverage of the day’s events.  Notwithstanding the impact of the tragic loss of lives and the terror that the nation felt, seeing and hearing the stories over and over again solidified the horror in the minds of many and crystallized the trauma in our brains.  The graphic images of people jumping of out windows are forever etched in my mind; like they are for many of you.  As a result, there are many who can no longer see images or even talk about 9-11 without it evoking strong visceral reactions — and we were not even there nor did we suffer a personal loss.

Unfortunately, given the state of world affairs, there is  no lack of newsworthy stories, and the future is ripe for horrific and mind-boggling tragedies to report on.  In light of this, how do you keep yourself reasonably well-adjusted, able to focus, and not given to the emotional ups and downs that these tragic times and unfortunate events can cause?

  1. Tune out:  I think this is the single most helpful piece of advice that I can offer.  Turn off the TV and/or radio, disconnect from all social media, and just take a break from the non-stop coverage of the event.  Give your mind a break from the constant bombardment of images and information, and give your brain the opportunity to make sense of the confusion.
  2. Don’t isolate: Isolation, while needed at times to refuel and recharge, is never a good idea when one is in a state of emotional crisis.  So resist the urge to isolate yourself.  Talking about the event with others is a way to process what has happened in a healthy way.  But, be careful about engaging in very heated discussions or debates.  The goal here is to move towards a state of emotional acceptance and to stabilize oneself from the state of mental disequilibrium; NOT to get oneself so riled up that you are worse off than before!  Being around others and doing something social can also serve to distract you from all that is going on.
  3. Resist the urge to numb:  Your mind will want to forget.  You will want to be out of the uncomfortable emotional place that you are in.  Resist the urge to numb your feelings using alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, or any other extreme behavior.  This will only cause other difficulties down the road.
  4.  Get involved:  Doing something helpful and in assistance to a person or group directly affected, or picking up their cause, can be cathartic and emotionally healing for all involved. For example, many people volunteered their time, energy, and/or money after 9-11, Hurricane Katrina, and other national tragedies.  Organizing a food drive, a clothing drive, a blood drive, etc. were ways that people channeled their grief into compassion and action.
  5. Be part of the solution:  In the present case, there are many adaptive ways to channel the anger and frustration that many are feeling.  Mobilize or take part in peaceful protests, write or blog how you feel, lobby or start a petition, and be a part of the process of political change.
  6. Tap into your spirituality:  People oftentimes find a sense of peace, solace, and acceptance by tapping into their faith.  Be it through prayer, meditation, consultation with spiritually like-minded people or with your religious leader, this can be a very healthy way to make emotional peace with tragedy.  While we might never know the answer to the question of ‘why,’ the ‘how’ to move forward positively may become readily apparent.
  7. Seek counseling: If symptoms persist for more than a week or so without improvement or your functioning worsens with time, consider seeking mental health counseling.  For some who have histories of trauma from childhood, military combat, or other life events, these types of nationwide wounds can resurface unresolved issues.  Your health insurer’s website, your state department of mental health, or your state board of psychology would be initial places to look for a licensed practitioner in your area.  Your primary care physician, and even friends might be other places to start.  The point here is to stay ahead of the curve, and find professional assistance as soon as possible.


Nicole M. Alford, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist, Life-ologist, lecturer and educator in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.