By Steve Jones
During a moment in which the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and others have renewed and heightened the focus on racism in America, a specialty clinic at Spalding University’s Center for Behavioral Health has served a unique role in raising awareness and providing therapy for victims of race-based stress and trauma.
The Collective Care Center, which is a division of the comprehensive Center of Behavioral Health psychological services and training clinic, is the only mental health clinic in Louisville – and one of only a few nationally – that specializes in racial trauma.
Over the past several months, in the wake of the killings of Taylor and Floyd, the Collective Care Center has offered free telehealth services to dozens of clients during the pandemic, helping them process and cope with the racial trauma they’ve experienced throughout their lives.
The clinic fills a need in a country in which 96 percent of Black citizens report daily experiences of racism and discrimination, said Spalding School of Professional Psychology Assistant Professor Dr. Steven Kniffley, who leads the Collective Care Center while serving as associate director of the Center for Behavioral Health (CBH).
“We do the work that we do because we recognize that there’s this unique form of trauma that Black and Brown folks are experiencing that can’t be explained away by (more commonly discussed forms of) physical trauma or emotional trauma,” Kniffley said. “And we recognize that the earlier that we can intervene, the better support that we can provide.”
Kniffley is a frequent public speaker who leads talks and seminars explaining racial trauma, estimating that he’s given more than 100 community presentations since March. Since June, about 400 clinicians, including ones in Africa, England and the Caribbean, have participated in training workshops developed by Kniffley on racial trauma and therapy.
Kniffley said socioeconomic status and educational status do not provide buffers against the experience of race-based stress, noting that in Louisville, Blacks have about the same life expectancy regardless of if they live in the West End or East End.
People experiencing race-based stress may include those who have been direct victims of discrimination, targets of racial slurs or witnesses to a traumatic event. People can also be vicariously traumatized by seeing disturbing images and news accounts of traumatic events involving race.
“We would ask, ‘When was the last time you experienced a racially traumatic event?’” Kniffley said. “‘How distressing was that to you? In what ways is that distress showing up for you? Are you having a hard time sleeping? Are you feeling anxious … around your surroundings?’”
He said race-based stress is nothing new, but only in recent years has it been more formally recognized as a potentially serious physical and psychological health factor that may require professional help.
“From a public health standpoint, racism can literally kill you,” Kniffley said, “because it can contribute to depression, anxiety, and it can also lead to high blood pressure, diabetes, low birth weight.”
The Collective Care Center is able to offer free therapy services through the support of community partners. In one such partnership, Heine Brothers’ Coffee recently announced that it would donate $1 to the Collective Care Center for every bag sold of its Mountain Dream coffee.
The increased impact of the Collective Care Center has coincided with the overall growth of the Center for Behavioral Health, which serves as a training clinic for many students in Spalding’s Doctor of Clinical Psychology (PsyD) program.
The CBH offers a range of mental health services to the public at an affordable rate, using a sliding scale based on income and home size. The clinic offers psychological assessments and individual, couple, group and family therapy services with children, adolescents, adults and older adults.
Over the past two years, visits to the CBH have more than quadrupled, now averaging about 115 per week, according to Dr. Norah Chapman, director of the CBH and associate chair of the School of Professional Psychology.
The CBH, located in Spalding’s Mansion East complex at 851 S. Fourth St., continues to offer in-person assessments while conducting therapy sessions exclusively via telehealth during the pandemic.
“I think now, more than ever, people are isolated and anxious in the uncertainty of our times,” Chapman said. “Receiving mental health care and just having somebody to (help people) feel less alone or maybe validated in the experiences that they are going through is crucial.”
Chapman said a next step for the CBH is developing a specialty clinic for women and families dealing with the emotional toll of infertility, pregnancy loss and other postpartum issues.
Chapman said the CBH has probably become the largest PsyD practicum site in the city, with students gaining the experience of working with clients while under the supervision of Spalding faculty members who are licensed clinical psychologists, such as herself and Kniffley.
“I have tremendous pride that Spalding University is behind the CBH and the CCC in our dual mission of training doctoral students and working with underserved communities, including ensuring that racial trauma treatment and healing are offered in our community,” Chapman said.
For more information on the Collective Care Center visit behavioralhealth.spalding.edu.
– Steve Jones is with Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky.