Rainbow Rant: To be a better activist, get therapy

Do it to be a better, happier you

Joy Ellison
Community groups and interfaith leaders gathered to hold a rally protesting the violence done to Asian Americans at Bicentennial Park in Columbus on Saturday, March 20, 2021. Participants condemned the murders of eiight people killed in Atlanta and other instances of hatred towards Asian Americans.  Abby Bogard, 12, left, hugs her mom, Nancy Pyon, after Abby's emotional speech to the crowd about the discrimination she faced by being both African American and Korean American. They are from Columbus.

The left needs therapy. We need it not because we’re snowflakes or perverts or anything else that Fox News might call us. We need it because we’re human and because many of us are hurting. We owe it to ourselves — and to each other. 

Imagine a movement for justice of which it is a pleasure to be a part. In it, we would skillfully support each other as we faced the violence always visited on people who challenge oppression. We would be prepared to deal with conflict within our organizations and address harm directly when it happens. What I’m describing isn’t perfection, nor is it impossible. It’s the kind of change we can embody when we prioritize the healing that therapy makes possible. 

Yes, therapy is no substitute for an economic system that meets everyone’s needs. Our healing won’t be complete without an end to the systems of oppression that harm our psyches. But here’s the thing: Getting therapy can help us more effectively demand systemic change. 

Before I go further, I need to acknowledge that psychiatry has often been wielded against queer and trans people and other oppressed communities. It can be more difficult for minorities to find therapists who share our experiences and values than for other people, but it’s far from impossible. The effort is worth it. 

Therapy can help us turn our experiences of oppression and violence into sources of emotional intelligence instead of ongoing pain. It can help us be more resilient, allowing us to stay centered amid the difficult situations that activists navigate. It allows us to make more strategic decisions. When we feel better, it’s easier to persuade people who disagree with us, whether our opponents or our fellow activists. That all adds up to more effective movements — and happier lives.

The hard truth is that many on the left are in desperate need of support and care. As people who have survived violence and discrimination and as inheritors of intergenerational trauma, we face mental health challenges that many more privileged people simply don’t understand. It’s hard to imagine that we can transform the world without transforming our pain, as well.

Therapy isn’t the only thing we need, of course. We also need community care, like mutual aid projects, support groups and deep friendships. Spirituality, exercise and creative practices will also be helpful for many. However, for me personally, they haven’t been a substitute for professional help and medication. Therapy is no panacea, but it can be a lifesaver. 

One of the cruel jokes of mental health is that when you really need help, getting it can feel impossible. Calling a therapist and arranging an intake appointment isn’t hard unless depression or anxiety are already kicking your ass. But as activists, we are specialists in the impossible. Think of it as a march for your own well-being. Treat yourself as an organizing project. Ask for help from your community if you need it. You deserve to put the same effort you put into helping other people into getting help for yourself.

Therapy isn’t accessible to everyone; I know that all too well. Those of us privileged enough to be able to access it should do so, because our own healing will help us better support our comrades who can’t afford professional help. Further, we can join in projects that make therapy accessible for the most vulnerable in our communities. Care can beget care.

Our movements for justice are miracles. We are creating a new world despite everything stacked against us. I am confident that we will eventually succeed, but we need and deserve healing now. We need therapy.