Race-Based Stress and Trauma

Services for Race-Based Stress and Trauma


Racial discrimination is insidious, degrading, and downright dehumanizing; yet, it sadly still exists in the US, and can become so psychologically harmful that people of color can develop chronic and debilitating symptoms from it. We at BWC seek to acknowledge the lived-realities of people of color, and the frequent experiences of discrimination that they are likely to experience from birth through old age.

The experience of race-based stress and trauma can differ from post-traumatic stress disorder in critical ways. Namely, the trauma of racial discrimination is not only a “post” reaction to trauma (as if the feared situation or person is no longer present), racial discrimination is ongoing. To put it plainly, people of color are continuing to experience the trauma of racial discrimination on a daily basis, whether that means less obvious forms of discrimination (being followed around a store, something insensitive said to you regarding your racial heritage) or obvious forms (racial slurs, unarmed Black men being murdered, U.S. policies which unfairly and disproportionately incarcerate people of color).

The ongoing nature of discrimination make assessment and treatment slightly different from traditional PTSD treatment. Just like for traditional PTSD, treatment would involve talking about the thoughts, emotions, and situations where you were discriminated against in the past (otherwise known as trauma processing). Where treatment differs for race-based stress and trauma is talking about thoughts, emotions, and situations in the present day where you perceive all types of discrimination. Rather than creating exposures that expose victims of trauma to situations that remind them of traumas (traditional prolonged exposure for post traumatic symptoms), we will process real-live situations where traumas are in fact still occurring in the lives of people of color in the form of discrimination.


The ultimate goal of treatment is to help clients cope with existing as a person of color in a country where racial discrimination is still alive and well. Basically, people of color are sent constant messages, whether through media, direct communication, or microaggressions, that others will harm them or prevent them from accessing the fruits of the American dream only because of their racial identity. This can cause damage not only to the lives of people of color, but also to their own self-worth as a human being.

Along with processing past and current situations where discrimination occurs, there will also be a large focus on identifying ways to cope with the thoughts, emotions, and relationship problems that occur due to race-based stress/trauma. First we will focus on strengths a client already has, some have used spirituality, seeking more social support from communities of color, or even combining holistic healing and psychotherapy at BWC. Along with already existing coping skills, therapists at BWC will work to identify and teach new coping skills. Some examples are mindfulness meditation, breathing retraining, self-compassion exercises, physical exercise, or journaling.

Race-based stress and trauma is a complex and insidious stressor that has to do with messages assaulting who one is as a person, so BWC seeks to help you with racial wounds of the past, and help you develop armor to prevent harm from any current or future wounds. Keeping this in mind, by the end of treatment we want you to heal, and then thrive, despite living in a country which attempts to degrade your self-worth and limit opportunities.


Articles from Dr. Monnica Williams at Psychology Today:


Our therapists have published important research in the areas of ethnic minority mental health.


Williams, M. T., Malcoun, E., Sawyer, B., Davis, D. M., Bahojb-Nouri, L. V., & Bruce, S. L. (2014). Cultural Adaptations of Prolonged Exposure Therapy for Treatment and Prevention of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in African Americans. Journal of Behavioral Sciences — Special Issue: PTSD and Treatment Considerations, 4(2), 102-124. doi:10.3390/bs4020102.

Williams, M., Jayawickreme, N., Sposato, R., & Foa, E. B. (2012). Race-Specific Associations Between Trauma Cognitions and Symptoms of Alcohol Dependence in Individuals with Comorbid PTSD and Alcohol Dependence. Addictive Behaviors, 37, 47-52. doi: 10.1016/j.addbeh.2011.08.008

Sawyer, B., DeLapp, R. C. T., & Williams, M. T. (2016). Community violence exposure, racial discrimination, and barriers to treatment: Implications for African American males in counseling. In W. Ross (Ed.), The African American Male Series: Counseling African American Males: Effective Therapeutic Interventions and Approaches. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Sawyer, B., Williams, M.T., DeLapp, R. C. T., & Davis, D. M. (2016). The prevalence, symptomology, and treatment of PTSD in African American children and adolescents. In A. Breland-Noble, C. S. Al-Mateen, & N. N. Singh (Eds.), Handbook of Mental Health in African American Youth. Springer.

Malcoun, E., Williams, M. T., & Bahojb-Nouri, L. V. (2015). Assessment of posttraumatic stress disorder with African Americans, Chapter 11. In L. T. Benuto & B. D. Leany (Eds.), Guide to Psychological Assessment with African Americans (pp. 163-182). New York, NY: Springer. ISBN: 978-1-4939-1003-8. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-1004-5_11.

Williams, M., Cahill, S., & Foa, E. (2010). Psychotherapy for posttraumatic stress disorder. In D. Stein, E. Hollander, & B. Rothbaum (Eds.), Textbook of Anxiety Disorders, Second Edition (pp. 603-626). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Publishing. ISBN-10: 1585622540.

Williams, M. T., & Leins, C. (2016). Race-Based Trauma: The Challenge and Promise of MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy. Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) Bulletin, 26(1), 32-37.


Sawyer, B., Williams, M. T., Chasson, G., Davis, D., & Chapman, L. K. (2015). The impact of childhood family functioning on anxious, depressive, and obsessive-compulsive symptoms in adulthood among African Americans. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive & Related Disorders, 4, 8-13. doi: 10.1016/j.jocrd.2014.10.004

Chapman, L. K., DeLapp, R., & Williams, M. T. (2014). Impact of Race, Ethnicity, and Culture on the Expression and Assessment of Psychopathology. In D. C. Beidel & B. C. Frueh (Ed.), Adult Psychopathology and Diagnosis, 7e. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Chapman, L. K., DeLapp, R.C.T., & Williams, M. T. (2013). Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Social Anxiety among Ethnic Minority Patients, Part 1: Understanding Differences, Directions in Psychiatry, 33(3), 151-162.

Williams, M. T., Chapman, L. K., Wong, J., & Turkheimer, E. (2012). The Role of Ethnic Identity in Symptoms of Anxiety and Depression in African Americans. Psychiatry Research, 199, 31-36. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2012.03.049

Williams, M. T., Domanico, J., Marques, L., Leblanc, N., & Turkheimer, E. (2012). Barriers to Treatment of African Americans with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 26(4), 555-563. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2012.02.009

Mendoza, D.B., Williams, M. T., Chapman, L. K., & Powers, M. (2012). Minority Inclusion in Randomized Controlled Trials of Panic Disorder. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 26(5), 574-582. doi: 10.1016/j.janxdis.2012.02.011

Wetterneck, C., Little, T., Rinehart, K., Cervantes, M. E., Hyde, E., & Williams, M. T. (2012). Latinos with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Mental Healthcare Utilization and Inclusion in Clinical Trials. Journal of Obsessive-Compulsive & Related Disorders, 1(2), 85-97. doi: 10.1016/j.jocrd.2011.12.001

Williams, M. T., Abramowitz, J. S., & Olatunji, B. O. (2012). The Relationship between Contamination Cognitions, Anxiety, and Disgust in Two Ethnic Groups. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 43, 632-637. doi: 10.1016/j.jbtep.2011.09.003

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