Protesters sit in the street during a protest in Philadelphia a day after Alton Sterling was killed in Louisiana.

Protesters sit in the street during a protest in Philadelphia a day after Alton Sterling was killed in Louisiana.

PHOTO BY DURRELL HOSPEDALE

Philly doctor builds discount therapy list for Black Lives Matter activists

Dr. Damon Constantinides wanted to do something. Tragic incidents of police brutality had captured the nation’s attention, and he was no exception. He’d been to protests, but hitting demonstrations regularly was tough to juggle with a toddler at home.

So Healing for Activists became that something. Constantinides, a licensed clinical social worker, put together a directory of local therapists who are willing to offer one-hour slots to Black Lives Matter activists at a reduced rate, or donate the time altogether.

The list online counts 17 Philadelphia-based therapists. Constantinides told Billy Penn that five more therapists have signed up since. The directory has been living on his professional site for about two weeks now, but Constantinides launched the dedicated site Sunday. Eventually, it will host directories for other cities; a DC list is already in the works.

“I’ve worked with activists in my practice and would love to have people who are doing work that feels really hard have additional support if they feel like they need it,” Constantinides explained. “I also know that not everybody needs it. I don’t want to be like, ‘Wow, if you’re doing this work, you must be buried.’ I don’t feel that way. [But] there can be a lot of trauma connected to putting your body on the line.”

Dr. Monnica Williams, director of the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville, researches race-based stress. “My training and study has been on post-traumatic stress disorder for a long time, and the two look very much alike,” she told the New York Times. She has also found that African Americans may experience “vicarious trauma” during tragic events. Constantinides noted that many Black Lives Matter activists are people of color, and may come from underserved communities in regards to mental health. With the stressors of racism in America and recent events, they may also be traumatized by encounters with police, he explained. (The suicide of organizer MarShawn McCarrel spurred a larger conversation on struggles with depression within the BLM movement.)

To enlist participating therapists, Constantinides hit up peers, wrote to listservs, posted to Facebook. The ticket was to agree to terms of the special: At least one free or low-cost space for an activist. “In private practice that means you’re going to give that hour every week,” he clarified. The reduced fees are left to “the discretion of the individual therapist.” The time frame is left undefined— some patients might need weeks, others months. To his knowledge, no organizer has signed up yet, so each remains open.

Constantinides recognizes that interested activists might prefer a mental health professional of a certain gender or ethnic background: “We want to encourage people to choose a therapist that feels safe for them.” Racial background isn’t noted with the list, so potential patients so inclined should be advised to do their Googles.

The program is loose, by design. He wants it to accommodate what mental health professionals donating time are able to provide. He first posted the list the day after disseminating his call for participants, with no marketing budget. This hurry was also on purpose: With the RNC underway and the DNC around the corner, Constantinides said he’s “feeling like the sooner these resources are available to people the better.”

After receiving responses from other therapists outside of Philly, he decided to include their lists on a larger site. Right now, Healing for Activists only features his Philadelphia list. The DC directory, which already has around 30 specialists, should be added by the end of the week. The site’s name became so because DC’s list includes massage therapists, acupuncturists and other practitioners. The Philly list will eventually expand in the same way.

What does Constantinides recommend for people who may not need this offer, but want to take care of themselves? “The number one thing I encourage people to do is to reach out and be a part of community. And a lot of people use social media, but also just showing up in person,” he explains. “Humans, we need to have contact with other people to heal and to grow. We’re just built like that.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to show up at a vigil or a big event. Making sure that you hang out with people at least once a week. I think that’s an important part of building resilience.”

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