Destigmatizing Mental Health and Trauma-Informed Care for BIPOC communities

Destigmatizing Mental Health and Trauma-Informed Care for BIPOC communities

In the first episode of Practice Dirty, I sit down and talk with Hatty Lee, one of the co-creators of The Indwell Guide. In this episode, Hatty and I discuss:

  • How the book was created in response to #BlackLivesMatter and #StopAsianHate.
  • The impact of violence on BIPOC communities.
  • Destigmatizing mental health amongst BIPOC communities.
  • How breathwork changed her life and how she uses it as a tool to help her clients regulate their nervous system. 
  • How our brains need to be centered and grounded before we move our bodies, the brain-motion connection. 
  • What trauma-informed practices look like for people of color when it comes to the workplace.
  • How external factors are noise, and finding peace start with creating a home within yourself. 

Macala Rose (00:00):

Hello everyone, and welcome to our next episode. I am here today with Hat Lee, who is one of the three co-creators of the Indwell Guide. And today we're gonna be talking about mental health, self introspection, inner wellbeing, and how she and her co-creators came up with what I think is probably the best guide for mental health and self discovery available to men and women of color. 

Hatty Lee (00:40):

I'm Hatty and I have been a psychotherapist for the last 13 years now. And I have a group practice out in Los Angeles, California. And I am one of the co-creators of The Indwell Guide. I'm really excited to be here.

Macala Rose (01:01):

How did the three of you come up with the idea for the book?

Hatty Lee (01:09):

Well, first we were all friends already, and we never knew or thought we would ever do something like this. But if anything, we were, we were just talking on a pretty consistent basis during the pandemic. And I mean, if anyone remembers what that was like, that was crazy. It was really tough for everyone. 

And I think we were all dealing with mental health stuff and everyone that we knew we were dealing with anxiety, depression, just being socially isolated, feeling alone. And if anything, I think everyone was so unhappy with being at home. 

We realized even more so during that time that so many people were not feeling at home within themselves. And so that's kind of what, like sparks conversations amongst us. Like, okay, if there's something here and I think we might actually have something to offer to the world.

Macala Rose (02:04):

And what was the impact of some of the movements that were starting to happen during the Pandemic? Black Lives Matters, The rise in crime against the Asian American community in California? How was that part of the catalyst for the development of this tool?

Hatty Lee (02:23):

First of all, we were just so overwhelmed and it was really traumatic. Not just what was happening within our communities, but also what we were collectively witnessing things on the news and everything we were reading about happening to real people, you know, and just kind of the ugliness and just the nastiness that was coming out in our humanity.

I just saw so many people just in shock and unable to like, mobilize themselves to do anything about it. There's crazy things happening in our world. And at the same time there, it was impacting us in crazy ways on the inside. And then we were isolated. We asked:

  • How do we bridge and make, create a bridge here and close that gap? 
  • How do we help people begin to process what's even happening out in our world, but also connect that to people's individual stories and how that's showing up? 
  • And so, I mean, we were just being affected by all the disturbing things, you know, like, how can you not see it? 

I think it really provided an opportunity to start having some real conversations, not just with other people, but really with ourselves. And I think that's what, you know, the end well journey has been about starting that conversation with ourselves, one of the most important people. 

Macala Rose (04:04):

And what, what was the co-creation process for the book?

Hatty Lee (04:07):

Oh, gosh, it felt very chaotic at times because we were doing everything virtually. You know, we weren't there in a room together brainstorming and all of that. But I think it was a lot of vision casting, a lot of detailed planning, and a lot of self-introspection. We asked:

  • What is it that we're, what is a story that we're trying to tell? 
  • What is it that we're trying to share with the world? What is it that we're needing? 
  • What are we seeing that people around us are needing? 
  • And how can we really, you know collaborate to provide something that's approachable, that's digestible? 

We know that there's thousands and thousands of books out there, right? There are so many self-help books, so many educational books about the brain, so many books on breathwork, yoga, all the things!

And I think what we are hearing from people in our community know about these tools and practices, they just have no idea where to start. They're always asking, “Where do I go to begin? It's just so overwhelming. I don't even wanna start. Cause I don't wanna do it wrong.”

That's why I think when we were creating and Indwell, we were like, “You know what? I think we need to create something that's a step-by-step approach, not because life is so linear, but something that can help solve all your problems, in a way that works for where you’re at.” 

Macala Rose (06:27):

Why do you feel, you know, to just, I know we're gloves off, we're being very honest in this conversation, but it almost feels like mental health and self care has a certain level of privilege, and that does go into white, privileged version wellness culture. 

So as a psychotherapist, why do you, what have you seen and why do you feel that, you know, men and women of color, whether that's black, Asian, Indian, or combination there, of why has mental health not been at the forefront of some of our of, of those teachings that we learn as we, as we grow in life?

Hatty Lee (07:02):

This is one of the most important questions we were having amongst our group was, you know, what did we experience growing up in our community? And first of all, mental health was never a part of the conversation in certain communities of color. The story is always a story of survival, right? How do we survive? How do we hustle in this capitalist culture to kind of get on top, or, you know what I mean? 

Mental health? That's for people who are crazy. That's for the weak. That's for the people who just are never gonna make it in life.Those are the narratives that we've been fed early on. And so, like you said, it felt like it's always something that only privileged people get to do. 

You only get to self-care when you have it all, when you've made it, or when, you know what I mean, when you've earned it. But it was never like a prerequisite for being human and for doing the work that I believe we all have to contribute to the world. I'm hearing that same message and same story in a lot of the different BIPOC communities that I've been talking with.

Macala Rose (08:18):

How do you work with your clients to start to change that idea that mental health is only for the weak. That it's not a nice to have, it's not a must have. So how do you encourage them to start changing that narrative within their own minds?

Hatty Lee (08:36):

I don't really have to do too much convincing, because usually when my clients come in, they're in there for a reason. You know, and, and actually a lot of my clients, you know, they're people of color and there are a lot of clients who've been living this hustle, striving, and just burnt out life. 

They're actually beginning to notice that their bodies are shutting down on them. And they're beginning to realize, like, Oh, shoot, even though my mind is like wanting to do this, my body is not letting me. And so they're kind of being confronted with the reality of their humanity. 

I think it is just kind of helping, I do a lot more like connecting with that. Like, hey, like your body is saying one thing, you know, and your mind is wanting to do this thing that you've been fed all your life about how you're supposed to live in the world.

There's a disconnect there. How do we begin to turn and listen to your body communicating something that you actually need? How do we stop denying your needs and beginning to start listening to them one step at a time in small ways? 

So, I mean, usually I'm kind of encouraging my clients to start. Let's just start with something small and doable. We're not gonna completely change and flip your life, you know, upside down, but we're just gonna start with something small and see what happens. 

And they're always amazed, like, “Oh my gosh, I just took a break!” or “I just drank my tea slowly for five minutes without looking at my phone, and I just felt my body reset! And I was able to just be more present.”

Mental Health for Asian Americans

Macala Rose (10:12):

And I think that is what I felt as I used the book in my work. And so for example, it's like the day that I explored page 89 (one of my favorites parts) Soul, Who Are You? and I instantly started thinking of Michael Singer and some of the work that he talks about relating to our soul. We don’t have a soul, we are a soul in a human body. How do these simple or small actions start to build upon one another to bring about bigger and behavioral change? How does it help it sustain over time?

Hatty Lee (11:12):

Yeah. I think that's a real question. I feel like first the soul, like, that's such an ambiguous thing for most people. I think a lot of people come in and they're like, What soul? Like, you know, like, you know, what are you talking about? Right? 

I think the big things listen to the body and really help people to connect with like the true self, you know, the authentic self when there's no pressure, when there's no expectation from society to be a certain way when people around you are not telling you who they think you should be or, you know, all of that right? 

There is like this true self that's and, and we know it's a true self because we're full of peace when we're like embodying our true self, right?

So many times, there's so many societal things that get in the way of getting, embodying that. And I think when we help when people actually like to listen to that voice, and usually it's very quiet and it usually only comes when we're, you know, like flowing down and just like intentionally resting and things like that. 

I notice that people will start feeling really alive just starting to like, listen to that, you know? I think that that is motivation for people. And when you taste that once, like you keep on wanting to do more of that, you know, it gets addicting.

Macala Rose (12:47):

As people start to kinda feel, feel safe within that and experience that piece again, something so simple, but it takes a while to achieve. What has been the arc of that as a discovery process, and to help it become an embodied practice in their daily lives. How long does it take?

Hatty Lee (13:07):

That's why The Indwell Guide has been split up into eight steps because it's literally, it's a practice. And it's something we do consistently. And I think a lot of the time people will say in the beginning, like, Oh, I don't know if I'm feeling the effects of it, or I don't know if it's helping yet. 

I think the practice of creating these habits, they're basically habits and practices that we can incorporate into their lives. And, and the more we do them and the more frequent we do them, I think for some people they'll see changes within a couple days, some people weeks, some people months, right? 

But they start, it just kind of depends, I think the severity of how much we're needing to un rewire in the brain because the brain is so used to living a certain way that to integrate these practices, it takes a lot of intentional effort. 

A lot of like redirecting from that old way to this new way. I've seen it happen differently for everybody. I think that's why it's it very individualized process. I do see that with every person that I have ever worked with. These are some very consistent practices that are part of their lives when they are feeling well.

self-care mental health book for woman of color

Macala Rose (14:26):

What have been some of the successes with the eight steps that you've heard about whether there's someone, there's a client of yours or another practitioner who's used it in her work such as myself?

Hatty Lee (14:51):

You don't do all eight steps at once. What's been revolutionary for people is, for example, Step One is grounding your nervous system. And the reason why step one is grounding your nervous system is if you were to try to do Step Two, which is being present and being attuned to your environment inside, if your nervous system is dysregulated, you actually can't be present. 

There's no way you could do step two unless you have step one down, right? But so many times I have clients coming in and they're trying to go into analysis and, you know, like to get into theirs, like trauma, you know, they're trying to explore and connect the thoughts and do all this stuff, but during the session, they're completely dysregulated.

And even though we might make that connection or be able to pay attention, it does nothing for us unless we're able to have a grounded nervous system, right? I think a lot of people have been saying, “Oh gosh, I didn't realize that!”

Even though a lot of therapists have been telling me, “I didn't realize sometimes my clients are talking about these very insightful things, but they're just going in circles and rooming over them and it's not doing anything for them.” They have the insight, but they can't, it doesn't move them into change. Or change behavior, but it's because their nervous system is dysregulated. So, I think it's been really helping people to think a little differently about our bodies and how to relate with it. That it's not just like, do any random step.

Because I think in our, even in our, so, you know, just our culture, people are saying, Oh, like, you know, self care or like, do this, do that, or, you know what I mean? There's all this like information and people think, Oh, if I just do a random thing, yeah, it should help. 

But if you're dysregulated, sometimes we could be doing something good with a dysregulated system and it could actually be very damaging, it's like exercise, exercise is wonderful, but sometimes when we're dysregulated, we'll do it like so much to the point that we'll actually hurt our bodies because we're like not listening to our bodies, or we're just trying to cope or escape, right? So even there's a lot of nuance there.

Macala Rose (16:54):

When someone first starts on their journey, how do you, how do you advise them to start to regulate their nervous system and to ground?

Hatty Lee (17:02):

I usually start with breathing, breathwork, right? Breathing is something we all do already, and I don't think I actually learned this until much later in my clinical work. In that discovery, I learned the way we breathe can actually affect how we feel.

At birth, and you know, when I watch my kids, I see that they actually know how to breathe optimally, which is you breathe in through your nose and your belly rises, right? And then you exhale releasing all of that out of your body through your mouth usually. 

But when we get older, we actually do a lot of short breaths or or we just breathe in through our nose, and so we're not really releasing a lot of the air that we've just breathed in. And that's actually one of the signs of a dysregulated nervous system.

So for a lot of us, and I didn't know this until I started working on my breath, like I was chronically letting myself be dysregulated by the way I was breathing. For me, breathwork has been life changing. Like, I'm not giving the oxygen that my body needs in an optimal way. 

And so my body is not able to function and, and do what it's supposed to do, which is, it knows how to regulate itself, you know? And so I usually do a lot of deep breathing and you probably are much more experienced in some of the more specialized techniques than I am. There are so many ways to breathe, right? 

Another thing is movement. I didn't know this until much later, but there's actually more information that's getting sent from our body to our brain than our brain to our bodies. And that was like mind blowing to me because so much of our society and so much of what we learn is, oh, change your mind. 

It's always about changing your mind and then moving. But the science is actually telling us that a majority of the communication happens from the body to the brain. So that's why even the way we move our bodies can affect our brain and how we feel. 

And so that's why movement is really powerful and the way you move. I talk a little bit about this very briefly in the book, as well about bilateral movement. Which is where you move in a rhythmic right, left pattern. And what that does is it stimulates both parts of your brain and it actually helps your brain work better and process things better. 

Macala Rose (19:51):

Absolutely.

Hatty Lee (19:52):

Yeah.

Macala Rose (19:53):

One of the key central themes in the guide is feeling at home within yours. You have journal prompts and self-guided activities in each chapter about this. So many people think their happiness or fulfillment comes from external things. But really we've learned, and their science to prove it, it's about being at home within yourself. What does it take to kind of help someone realize that?

Hatty Lee (20:35):

This idea of being at home within ourselves, it really, came out during the pandemic because everyone was so unhappy being at home.

Macala Rose (20:43):

You know, their physical homes.

Hatty Lee (20:46):

And I felt like there was this parallel. With what was happening in our physical world with what was happening in our internal world. And so, you know, we kind of, we did this play off of this idea of being at home within ourselves and thinking about like, you know, even physically. 

How do we feel at home in our physical environment? We want to create safety. We put some of our favorite things, you know, we maybe pur we have keepsake, we have things that, you know, remind us of like our favorite memories. 

We have photos, we have, you know, maybe our favorite furniture or we have things that bring us joy. We have all these physical things. And I was thinking about like, what about our emotions, our inner home. What do we have in there that actually makes us feel at home inside our physical home? So the questions become:

  • How do we start building our home from within? 
  • What are some of the stories? 
  • What are the messages? 
  • What are the kind of memories that we need to really savor to feel at home within ourselves? 

We have to ask ourselves about the truths or the messages that we need. What we need to remind ourselves about who we really are that helps us experience that inner peace. So we work towards building, rebuilding or recovering some of those messages and, and practices and experiences so that we could feel at home within ourselves.

Macala Rose (22:47):

Love it. And I would love to get your insights on trauma informed care. And cuz you know, this the topic of every, you know, being trauma-informed is really, I think I see that as a huge conversation piece in, in 2023 because of everything that's happened during the pandemic. 

In mental health, trauma is a key theme. Everything from trauma-informed leadership to trauma-informed yoga. So can you kind of maybe break down what trauma-informed practice kind of actually means for someone. To kind of get beyond the trend of using it just as a general term, because it's much deeper than that, especially for people of color.

Hatty Lee (23:36):

Right? Right. Well, I mean, I think it's really the first it, it's really important to understand what trauma is, right? When I work with clients, people just, everyone comes in, or a lot of, you know, my clients come in, they're like, "Oh yeah, I have no trauma. I've never been traumatized." 

I've asked them, "You had nothing big happen?” And they can respond, “I was never in a natural disaster or got in some huge accident.” People just have this idea of what trauma is. But yet, when I’m working with them they're like, “Why am I experiencing so much anxiety? Why am I so depressed?” 

So when we approach trauma informed care, it's really important to acknowledge that trauma can impact anyone and everyone, right? And it doesn't have to be this like, big event or like being at war or, you know what I mean?

Whatever it is for it to be traumatic. It really depends on your unique makeup, right? So it could be your genes, right? We know that trauma passes through the genes which are called epigenetics. It could also be part of your temperament. 

We know that there are folks who have a more highly sensitive (HSP) temperament. Are you familiar with that? And that is literally neurological, right? It's part of who you are and that can make you more sensitive to the impact of experiences, right?

I think it's really influenced by people's individual history. Their upbringing personality, temperament genes, and the social support system. In the book, we have a section on trauma where I actually explain just what it is. Yep. That that piece was like really important for me to include in there, because I know that people have such a misunderstanding about it.

Macala Rose (27:09):

Oh, you did just fine. We were talking about better defining trauma-informed practices versus just the mainstream kind of catchiness that they're starting to achieve. So as we don't lose the meaning and the understanding of what it means.

Hatty Lee (27:32):

You know, even though like, you know, people might feel like they didn't experience anything that was bad, that bad, right? Just being in our, like society, leaves us vulnerable to traumatic experiences. 

I think just really understanding like, what is your experience and really letting people have power and ownership of their own experiences, and if they feel like what they experienced was traumatic, I mean, we believe them. We don't get to diagnose other people, you know? Think it's just very situational, very individual. And so anything could technically be very violating.

Macala Rose (28:23):

What would you advise a company in developing a program to support the mental health of their employees? Especially those that are people of color, exploring their identity or all these things?

Hatty Lee (28:49):

That's the #1 thing people are talking about. We've just started normalizing conversations around it. Where taking mental health days is encouraged and encouraged. Where you don't have to be so debilitated to take a mental health day, but, you know, just encouraging even rest, right? Just giving people permission to do that because I think people know their bodies and know themselves, right?

Macala Rose (30:13):

I love it. I love it. So I'm gonna bring it back to the book. So in terms of pursuit of purpose and passion, is there, is there a common theme that you see as people maybe work towards the, the end of looking at what matters to them and building a life that matters to them versus what society says?

Hatty Lee (30:49):

Yeah, I mean, everyone is so different, you know? But I think what's always true is that when people are connected with themselves in a more authentic way, and they have a very strong sense of who they are, it's so much easier to know what their passions are. What they're wanting to do, where they're wanting to go, you know? 

And so I feel like just what we do, it must flow out of identity and just a sense, a strong sense of knowing who we are. Structured it that way because I, I get a lot of people, I work with a lot of activists, I work with a lot of helpers, I work with a lot of people who are doing amazing things in the world, but it's not surprising to hear a lot of these folks say like, I have no dream for myself personally. 

You know, everything is so much about other people or the world. So they lose their sense of self even in that process and get burnt out, right? And so I think that's why I think, you know, a lot of times people are like, Oh, I wanna change the world, right? They'll say something like that. 

There is a lot of change that's needing to happen within themselves, and they're needing to reclaim and recover some of their own dreams. Even some things that might feel like it, I hear a lot of people say, “Oh, it feels selfish to dream for myself!”

You know, like, I hear that one a lot within our community. And I think you know, I think in those moments, I really help people connect with that younger, their inner child, you know, like, you know, when we look at our child. Oh, don't, don't do that.

I mean, some of us grew up hearing that. I think our evolved selves wouldn't say like, Don't do that. We say, “Hey, why don't you just do something you enjoy doing and keep doing it and just keep doing it, keep doing it.” And then it eventually turns into something. 

I feel like it's a lot of reparenting and helping people like dream for themselves and in that process of dream for dreaming for themselves, it literally provides an avenue for people to actually dream for the world and and not feel this like their own sense of identity attached to dreaming for the world. You know, I don't know if you know, if you understand what I mean when I say that.

Macala Rose (33:31):

I understand every single part of it. Okay. And I love it because you're saying, you know, put your own life mask on first, just like, yes. When you feed yourself, then you can serve that purpose that you want to ultimately help make an impact on. 

So by serving yourself first, you can then serve the world versus this current model where people serve the world and don't serve themselves, and they are burnt out, lack energy, lack direction, and can't even envision putting themselves that way. I love it.

Hatty Lee (34:08):

Yes. And, and a lot of times, even, I mean, some of these people, they do amazing things in the world, but it's not sustainable. And then they, it comes at such a huge expense to them, which is so counterproductive to dreaming for the world. 

A lot of times some of their own personal stuff gets in the way of even really impacting the world and even bigger ways, right? And so I think that's why like, you know, we, we need to have this relationship with ourselves to know how to relate with the world too, you know, because it's, it's all gonna like transfer over to at some point, you know, and it, and everything's gonna show and be exposed.

Macala Rose (34:47):

Absolutely. Hattie, thank you so much for taking the time to kind of journey through you know, the book, your story and, and everything about how this came to be and helping 

Hatty Lee (35:15):

Yeah, they just could just reach out by email or our Instagram handle, which is indwell underscore co and our emails, hellowell.co. We'd be happy to answer any questions.

Macala Rose (35:34):

I love it. I love it. I said, out of the, you know, 15,000+ self help and mental health books published each year in the U.S. If you were looking for one, then this is it.

If you have more questions on, breathwork, creating trauma-informed mindfulness programs, and creating better mental health support for your employees, reach out and schedule a chat. 

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