Lisa C. Williams: “What is your goal when you work with someone?”
Shawn LaRé Brinkley: My goal in working with people who have experienced trauma is to help them find their voice again. To find their true identity, accept themselves, and find peace in their spirit. When they do this, their life can move forward. I don’t think a person who has experienced trauma is ever completely free of the trauma because it always there.
There are always going to be triggers that can bring up the feelings from the trauma, but they learn to manage their lives, manage their emotions, manage the triggers, and with therapy, they actually have a shot at having a productive life. After therapy, some of the negative habits, self-destructive behaviors that they may have been living with dissipate. They no longer engage in those behaviors; instead, they engage in behaviors that are life-affirming. They no longer live with the limiting beliefs that they had created based on what they thought of themselves from the trauma that they experienced. I help them develop coping tools.
Lisa C. Williams: “What’s your magic in helping people deal with trauma they have experienced?”
Shawn LaRé Brinkley: I think my magic is my personality because I’m warm and quirky. I also believe it’s because I am a trauma survivor myself.
When I was 25 years old, teaching dance to children and teaching aerobics to adults, I took a taxi to work, and as I was getting out, he took off—he dragged me two and a half feet in the taxi wheel and ran over the calf of my right leg. I was in traction for 30 days in the hospital, a wheelchair following that, and then crutches. I gained 100 pounds in about a year and a half. I went from being physically fit, active, a beauty queen, to being a hundred pounds heavier. The taxi driver was angry with me because, I didn’t tip him. He must have thought that I was a tourist or something because he took all kinds of crazy routes to get to my job. I had a big bag full of albums and costumes in it. As I got ready to get out, He said, “Nigga, Nigga, Nigga! No tip! Niggas in this neighborhood, all the time, no tip!” And I was like, “Okay, he’s crazy.” So, I stepped out of the cab, but while trying to get all of my bags, he took off.
Thankfully, some guys saw this happening, and they went chasing after the cab, beating on the car until the driver stopped. I was told this because I was unconscious. Then, next thing, I was in an ambulance and taken to the hospital.
Lisa C. Williams: “So, from that experience, how do you think your traumatic experience helps you in your counseling?”
Shawn LaRé Brinkley: Ironically, I had two other accidents, neither of which I was at fault, and one of which was another taxi situation. I was hit by a truck, as well as I was a passenger in a taxi that got hit from behind by a truck. I believe because, I get it, I can understand. I’m not talking about something that I don’t know. Now, thankfully, I’ve never had physical or sexual trauma, but I can imagine, if I felt violated in my experiences, the pain of that kind of abuse has to be even more devastating.
I don’t think your body always necessarily distinguishes the kind of trauma. I think there are things that are unique to a sexual trauma. Even though my traumatic experience wasn’t childhood abuse, physical abuse, or any of the other types, the empathy from my own experience allows me to work with people who have experienced their brand of trauma. With regard to working with children, it’s my love for children, my feeling of protection for children, that allows me to work with them. My understanding and experience of trauma helps me to understand what it is to feel hopeless. When you have experienced trauma, you feel like your body is not yours … I know because when I was 100 pounds heavier, I was living in somebody else’s body. I was a chubby girl living in a dancer’s body.
Lisa C. Williams: “What questions do people usually ask you about working with a therapist?”
Shawn LaRé Brinkley: People have a misconception of who a marriage family therapist is; so I often have to explain that we work with individuals as well as couples, families, and children. Our education includes how to diagnose and treat mental illness. Some questions I frequently get include, how I work, my process, my experience, etc. I have also even been asked how, as an African American woman, I can help a white woman. For that question, I explain that I am a woman, period, and the black woman part is just a bonus; because I can understand from varied perspectives her feelings of oppression as a woman, should that be her experience; as well as the parts of being a woman that are to be celebrated, should she need help with learning to do that. I find humor goes a long way to offset some of the awkward questions that might come up in a therapeutic setting. (Shawn LaRé, please finish this answer with something positive welcoming anyone to contact you.)
To learn more about Shawn LaRé Brinkley, please visit www.livinglovedhealing.org.