Review of Findings: The Use of Acupuncture for Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and Post Racial Battle Fatigue

Current research.

My current area of interest is the use of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine to treat the racial health disparities suffered by African Americans in the United States. Specifically, the effects of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS) and Post Racial Battle Fatigue (RBF). Both are caused by the prevalence of Systemic White Racism (SWR) found in the United States against People of Color (POC).

PTSS defined by Dr. DeGruy outlines the historical and epigenetic effects of several hundred years of chattel slavery and systemic disenfranchisement of African Americans. While the effects are many the three main characteristics: Vacant Esteem, Marked Propensity for Anger and Violence, and Racist Socialization. Her work explains the source for many of the negative emotional scars and behaviors common in the African American community.

RBF is the term coined by WA Smith. It describes the huge negative emotional impact for African Americans, and other people of color (POC), who have to live voiceless in a world that purposely treats them as less than their white counterparts. Never having the capacity to feel safe, respected, or equal in hostile white dominant environments have a deleterious effect on the body and the mind. His work was revolutionary just for calling attention to the obvious. That being stuck in constant racist environments, with no ability to defend oneself, for school or work has a negative impact on the physical and mental health of African Americans.

The International Handbook of Multigenerational Legacy of Trauma describes the effect of huge traumas on a populace and most importantly their descendants. The section of this book on African Americans is so small as to be negligent. It does describe in great detail how huge traumas, like the Jewish holocaust, Hiroshima, and more, had not only negatively impacted on the people who lived through the disaster but also on their children. These children are more likely to have their own health problems including nervousness, anxiety, behavioral problems, depressed immune systems, increased inflammation, digestive issues and more.

Chinese Medical Theory.

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM) is a system of medicine that actually acknowledges emotions as a source of disease. Anger, grief, fear, worry, and joy can be both the result and the outcomes of an imbalance in the body. Long before epigenetics became a buzz word, AOM understood that children can inherit their parents emotional and physiological baggage through the Kidney Jing. All emotions in AOM effect the Heart, which houses the mind (shen) or spirit (Auricular Trauma Protocol: An Acupuncture Approach for Trauma Spectrum). Therefore, all trauma causes a Heart Shen disturbance.

So several hundred years of chattel slavery, followed by nearly two hundred years of systemic oppression, have created a situation where African Americans have a huge health disparity gap that is completely understandable from the perspective of AOM. While western medicine is perplexed that POC have higher rates from the 15 leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, stroke, diabetes, kidney disease, hypertension, liver cirrhosis, and homicide. (National Vital Statistics Reports) Looking at from the AOM view it makes perfect sense. Generations of living angry, afraid, and abused are going to do some damage.

Treatment plans.

A little bit of lost acupuncture history is the fact that social activist groups like the Young Lords and the Black Panthers were instrumental in bringing acupuncture to the united states. In the 1970s they began performing acupuncture at the Lincoln detox center not just to help people kick the habit. They also understood that the treatments would help the community deal with the daily horror of living as a POC while dealing with SWR. Mutulu Shakur was instrumental in teaching people how to do what is now known as NADA. Having access to this daily treatment had a huge impact on the well-being of POC in the community. (Mind, Body, and Soul)

Treatment for POC should be daily. It is nearly impossible for POC to not experience a “microtrauma/ microaggression” every day. Or in other words a new racist experience. Whether it is directly from another human being or through media POC are hurt repeatedly from SWR usually several times a day. There is no one way to treat this level of trauma. Especially because this type of global trauma will present differently for each individual.

Some suggestions for treatment include a daily global treatment that balances out the Chinese Liver System, Chinese Kidney System, and Chinese Heart System would be ideal. Together they treat the emotions of anger, fear, and lack of joy. Dr. Tan balancing of the Shao Yang/ Jue Yin or Shao Yang/Shao Yin combined with NADA or Auricular trauma protocol has been very effective in my clinical practice. I have also had great effects with what I call the “chill out trinity” which is DU-20, Yin Tang, and Ren-17. Other possible treatments include the Abdominal acupuncture protocol for trauma and scalp acupuncture.

Herbs are too complex to have a general formula other than maybe Suan Zao Ren Tang and Xiao Yao San. While they should definitely be included they will be skipped here because they really should be formulated for each presenting individual. Adjunctive modalities such as cupping, gua sha, moxa, massage, should be used liberally as appropriate to help reverse the negative impact of this daily trauma. Other lifestyle possibilities include restorative exercises like yoga, Tai Qi, and horseback riding. Daily baths with Epsom salts as magnesium is awesome for helping the body transverse the effects of stress; its also a common deficiency. The use of essential oils to help the body use the olfactory sense to bring about calm. Nutritional advice while useful is not practical as many POC live in food desserts and cannot afford adequate nutrition.

Unfortunately, there are several problems with compliance facing POC. Most live well below the poverty line. This makes access to treatment outside of their financial capacity. Also, due to this country’s propensity towards gentrification, most of these auxiliary health services are too far to be accessible for POC. Having to travel to them will place POC in all white neighborhoods where they are at a greater risk for re-injury from SWR not to mention harassment from local law enforcement. Another barrier is the history of medical apartheid in the united states. (Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present). POC are well aware they have been victims of abuse and medical experimentation over the course of this country’s history. This fosters an extreme mistrust of medical providers. Combine this with the fact that most POC will experience some level of racism from their providers, intentional or not it still happens, makes it nearly impossible for POC to be able to seek out or receive adequate treatment.

Alternative approaches.

Because of the pervasiveness of this problem, any approach to help reduce the allostatic load that also does not reinjure is useful. Acupuncture counseling, exercise, hypnotherapy, reiki, sound therapy, meditation, craniosacral, any type of massage, or anything that helps to alleviate stress is absolutely appropriate.

Biomedical considerations.

The fact that there is a difference in how weathering on the telomeres of POC it would be a useful biomedical marker to measure the outcomes of treatment. (Race/Ethnicity, Poverty, Urban Stressors and Telomere Length in a Detroit Community-Based Sample) Anything the leads to the reduction of any of the 15 leading causes of death or an improvement in the uterine health in women of color (WOC) would be way to effectively judge the usefulness of treatment. For example, a sustainable drop in rates of hypertension, diabetes, strokes or heart disease without the use of western pharmaceuticals. Fewer birth complications, maternal and infant morbidity, increased birth weights, lower incidences of dysmenorrhea due to fibroids or endometriosis would be other effective markers. As we are only truly turning to look at the horrors of the effect of SWR on POC these are generalities at best.

Community resources.

Resources of POC are few. Programs like COINTELPRO and now an actively racists president and leadership have made it nearly impossible to bridge the gap. One resource not currently being utilized are community acupuncture clinics. The clinics are cost effective and do not rely on insurance to be able to provide cheap treatments. The down side is that these clinics offer limited services and are not found in communities of color.  However, when POC are able to receive regular treatment profound effects can be seen in their bodies and their minds. It saddens me the number of POC who truly do not understand how incredibly stressed out they are.

An additional marker of success would simply be an increased number of POC seeking weekly treatment for their stress instead of the just push through status que attitude. Self-care is practically demonized in communities of color. More of these individuals seeking and receiving care would begin to shift the idea that self-care is only for the white or affluent individuals.

Summary of key learnings.

I am still learning the width and breadth of the problem. I know that the work must continue and that it is too large for me to tackle on my own. The medical establishment including AOM must learn to look for and treat the signs of PTSS and RBF not only in adults but also children. I have learned so much not just for myself but also for my people. I have spent my whole life trying to understand my own pervasive health problems including struggles with dysmenorrhea, anxiety, migraines, depression, and kidney problems. I got into this medicine to be able to take charge of my own health. I could not understand the lagging results in myself and other POC. As I have investigated I now know why.

We are trying to heal on the battlefield. We cannot heal in the midst of the daily trauma any more than a wound whose scab is constantly being picked. Fortunately, now being aware of the problem a solution can be implemented; my suggestion is the regular acupuncture treatments. It would be wonderful to see NADA clinics pop up all over the nation like coffee shops. I look forward to continuing to learn.

About the author

Tenisha Dandridge LAc. graduated from Bastyr University in 2008 with a BSAOM and MSAOM and is a Doctoral Candidate at PCOM. She has been practicing acupuncture since 2009. Currently, she has a private practice Everyone’s Place as a mobile acupuncturist in Sacramento, CA.

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