Here's What to Do if Your Past Trauma Is Affecting Your Mental Health, According to a Trauma Expert
The founder of Latinx Therapy talks mental health, her heritage, and growing up in a home that didn’t believe in therapy.
Sundays are a day to recharge and reset by hanging with friends, turning off your phone, bathing for hours on end, or doing whatever else works for you. In this column (in conjunction with our Instagram Self-Care Sunday series), we ask editors, experts, influencers, writers, and more what a perfect self-care Sunday means to them, from tending to their mental and physical health to connecting with their community to indulging in personal joys. We want to know why Sundays are important and how people enjoy them, from morning to night.
Adriana Alejandre, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of Latinx Therapy, a counseling community and directory aimed specifically at Latinx patients, first realized she wanted to be a mental health professional when she became a single, teen mom during her first year in college and had no idea that the "intense sadness and disconnection" she felt from her son was normal. "I did not know that I had postpartum depression," the now-30-year-old tells HelloGiggles. "A professor spoke to me during office hours and encouraged me to visit the counseling center."
However, it was difficult for Alejandre to open up because she felt ashamed for being in therapy. "Growing up and when I got pregnant, I was told by my mom that problems are to be kept in the family, so disclosing about my feelings to a therapist felt wrong and I only stayed for three sessions," she explains. But those short counseling sessions made her realize how much she was holding inside and how much she wanted to help others to no longer feel how she once felt. So she earned a degree in psychology, followed by a Masters in marriage and family therapy. Then, the idea for Latinx Therapy took shape.
"After realizing how Westernized and non-diverse the world of psychology is, I decided to make it a goal to open my own practice after getting my license to open services to my community," Alejandre says. "So now I am the founder of a national organization, Latinx Therapy, and the owner of my new group practice, EMDR and Trauma Therapy, where I mentor pre-licensed clinicians and offer sliding scale services to BIPOC."
And in the midst of the pandemic and racial injustices, Alejandre is doing as much as she can to help others. "Currently, Latinx Therapy is offering pro bono services to undocumented farmworkers and those uninsured in janitorial/maintenance capacities in hospital settings during COVID-19. I gathered a list of 100 therapists to offer these services in Spanish," she says.
Over the last year, Alejandre has also had to make many other changes, both personally and professionally, due to the situation. "All of my work transitioned 100% online during the pandemic, but through communication and back-up plans for technology mishaps, my clients and I have made this transition smoother," she says. Also, "[making] sure that my clients know what we are going to work on in the following session goes a long way for their anxiety and expectations."
HelloGiggles (HG): How has your relationship with therapy over the years impacted your mental health, especially being Latinx?
Adriana Alejandre (AA): I grew to accept therapy once I realized that talking about my problems to a trusted professional was helpful to me. When I was younger, learning about the confidentiality laws allowed me to trust the process more. Once I accepted that I benefited from therapy, my mental health improved, and I finally allowed myself to apply to graduate programs, create new friendship circles, and get a job with a better paying job.
I feel like in therapy I learned my true potential, and felt the energy of my potential in a way that also was emotionally safe. Emotional safety is something that, with being Latinx, has been difficult for me because my parents had a lot of unaddressed trauma that I didn’t realize until I began my own work. Not all Latinx families have unaddressed trauma, but in my case, I think this was something that motivated me to specialize in trauma and break the cycle of intergenerational trauma.
HG: What are some practices or regimens you suggest others do if they feel like their trauma is affecting their mental health?
AA: If your trauma is affecting your mental health, I suggest reaching out for help to begin processing what you have been holding on to for days, months, or years. This help can be through a mental health professional or a friend that can support you in finding resources or another service. But the best thing to do is to begin externalizing what both your mind and body have trapped from the trauma.
When trauma begins to resurface and cause intrusive thoughts, nightmares, body aches, or any other symptoms of trauma, instead of avoiding these things, give them attention and find your new self-care routine that can address each of these because avoiding only prolongs these symptoms and your path towards healing.
HG: What physical activities have you been doing lately to help you connect with your Latinx heritage?
AA: I connect with my Latinx heritage by keeping in touch with my family members and listening to my body. I like to nap to recharge.
HG: How do you suggest others physically connect with their bodies to heal from trauma?
AA: For some, this is going to require a mental health professional or a healer due to the trauma and the history that they’ve had suppressing or unaddressed it. For others, that have the support and emotional capacity to connect with their bodies, I recommend body movement such as stretching, dancing, or simply walking. Allow yourself to honor your body’s basic needs, like sleeping, drinking water, using the restroom when your body needs it. All of these are ways we can connect while maintaining boundaries and a routine for our bodies.
HG: How have you been trying to stay connected with loved one during this time?
AA: I have learned a lot being quarantined with my loved ones and I think one of the learning lessons with my son has been that everyone’s needs change daily, and that’s okay. For my son, I stay connected with him by giving him more time on his own. Just because we are coexisting and under the same roof 24/7 does not give me emotional access to him or any other loved one I am quarantined with. This changes from home to home, but for us, we make sure to have bi-monthly family chats where we talk about both positive and negative feelings or things that we experienced. This has been working really well for my family.
HG: Through your psychotherapy services, how have you been trying to support your patients during this time?
AA: My practice, EMDR and Trauma Therapy, focuses on bilingual services, EMDR, and trauma among adults. I have had to become really flexible with scheduling and hiring an associate to assist with sliding scale slots. We have also been providing Instagram lives on the Latinx Therapy platform and group consultations focused on mental health.
HG: Are there any products that you’ve been gravitating towards lately to help with your mental health?
AA: Brujita Skincare products smell and feel so good on my skin. These facial products are essential for my self-care routine. Creating a routine at night before bed with these products has helped me stay grounded and allow me to center my thoughts as I drift off to sleep.
HG: How do you connect with your joy during this time?
AA: I started attending marriage therapy with my husband, who is also a therapist, to help us during quarantine and that has been great for us. I have also enjoyed watching novelas, long series on Netflix like Grey’s Anatomy, and going on beach cruiser rides.
HG: What is your advice for people who want to explore trauma therapy but don’t know where to begin?
AA: Remember that everyone’s journey starts differently. In general, I recommend finding support, even if that is with folks outside of your family. Find emotional and physical safety before beginning and begin to read or listen to podcasts that can teach you about your specific trauma. If you are ready to begin therapy, contact your insurance and ask for behavioral therapy or mental health therapists in your area. If you do not have insurance, you can search our directory, latinxtherapy.com, to find a Latinx therapist.