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  • Writer's pictureDr. Sophia Aguirre, Ph.D., CGP, FAGPA

Understanding Racial Trauma

Racial trauma is a term coined to capture the harmful impact of race-based stress, racial harassment, racial violence (including witnessing such violence), racism, and discrimination on the mental health functioning of People of Color. It can be caused by both individual and systemic racism, and can have a profound impact on mental and physical health. Individual racism refers to the prejudice and discrimination that is directed at individuals or groups of people based on their race or ethnicity. It can take many forms, including microaggressions, hate crimes, and police brutality. Systemic racism refers to the ways in which racism is embedded in the structures and institutions of society. It can manifest itself in things like housing discrimination, employment discrimination, and the criminal justice system.

While individuals of all racial-ethnic minority groups (i.e. Latinx, Indigenous peoples, etc.) are at risk of experiencing racial discrimination and racial trauma, Black Americans are especially at risk, as anti-Black racism is individual, systemic, and historical. Additionally, it is important to consider the compounding impact of belonging to multiple marginalized and oppressed groups, including (but not limited to) race, gender, and sexuality, and how these intersections interact and increase susceptibility to experiences of racial trauma.

What are the symptoms of racial trauma and race-based stress?

Racial trauma can have a number of different symptoms, including:

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

  • Hypervigilance

  • Irritability

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Substance abuse

  • Suicidal thoughts

Coping and Healing from Racial Trauma

If you are struggling with the effects of racism, please know that you are not alone. There are many resources available to help you, and you deserve to feel safe and supported. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for racial trauma, as the best approach will vary depending on the individual and their unique experiences. However, some general strategies that may be helpful include:

  • Acknowledging and processing your feelings. It is important to allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up for you in response to racial trauma, such as anger, sadness, fear, or shame. Bottling up your feelings can only make things worse. There are many ways to process your emotions, such as talking to a therapist, journaling, or engaging in creative activities.

  • Connecting with others. Building strong social support networks can be very helpful in coping with racial trauma. Talking to friends, family, or other people who understand what you are going through can help you feel less alone and more supported. You may also want to consider joining a support group for People of Color.

  • Taking care of yourself. It is important to make sure you are taking care of your physical and mental health when coping with racial trauma. This includes eating healthy, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly. You should also make time for activities that you enjoy and that make you feel good.

  • Seeking professional help. If you are struggling to cope with racial trauma on your own, it may be helpful to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor. A therapist experienced with addressing racial trauma and working with People of Color can provide you with support and guidance as you work through your trauma.

Therapy for Racial Trauma & Race-Based Stress

If you are interested in seeking therapy for race-based stress and racial trauma, it is important to find a therapist who is experienced in working with this issue. The Aguirre Center for Inclusive Psychotherapy provides individual therapy, group therapy, and relationship therapy which can help you heal and recover from race-based stress and racial trauma. If you are ready to start your healing your journey you can get started through any of the steps below:

  1. Visit our Getting Started Page to request an appointment with one of our talented therapists.

  2. Learn more about our team of therapists and contact one of our therapists directly if you resonate with what they share on their profiles.

  3. Review our Frequently Asked Questions page to learn more about what you can expect about the services we offer.


It is important to remember that healing from racial trauma is a process that takes time and patience. Be gentle with yourself and allow yourself to heal at your own pace. There is no right or wrong way to heal from racial trauma, and what works for one person may not work for another. The most important thing is to find what works for you and to be patient with yourself as you heal.


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