Spreading the Word is a feature of ISSTD News where we focus on the work of people who aim to spread the word about trauma and dissociation to the broader community. In this edition of Spreading the Word I interview Francesca Maximé who is a Haitian-Dominican Italian-American Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP), IMTA accredited and certified mindfulness meditation teacher and life coach. She is also an award-winning poet and author. Francesca’s work in trauma has recently been internationally recognised as she is the recipient of the 2019 International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies Outstanding Student Advocacy and Service Award.
Based in Brooklyn, New York, she hosts the #ReRooted video podcast on Ram Dass’s Be Here Now Network, and the now-retired #WiseGirl video podcast, available on iTunes, YouTube and other podcasting outlets as well as on her website www.maximeclarity.com. Francesca’s individual work and her podcasts have a special focus on trauma, with a particular interest in the collective trauma of racism.
For her podcasts, Francesca has interviewed many renowned neuroscientists, trauma specialists, activists, psychotherapists, and Buddhist and mindfulness meditation teachers including Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Dr. Judith Herman, Dr. Peter Levine, Dr. Pat Ogden, Dr. Janina Fisher, Dr. Rick Hanson, Dr. Dan Siegel, Dr. Mark Epstein, Dr. Vincent Felitti, Dr. Stephen Porges, Dr. Richard Schwartz, Dr. Diane Poole Heller, Dr. Bruce Perry, Dr. Diana Fosha, Dr. Percy Ballard, Dr. Shelly P. Harrell, Dr. Shawn Ginwright, Dr. Carol Gilligan, Dr. Emily Nagoski, Bruce Eckert, LMFT, Terry Real, LCSW, Resmaa Menakem, LCSW, SEP, Kate Kingren, LICSW, author Mark Matousek, law Professor Rhonda Magee, Grammy-winning bassist Christian McBride, Dharma Teacher Ruth King, sociologist Dr. Michael Kimmel and meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg, among many others.
KM: Hi Francesca. When I saw you posting on ISSTD World, I felt very excited to learn more about your work. Just to start off, tell us a little bit about yourself and what led you to join ISSTD.
FM: First of all, thank you for allowing me to speak with you today. I think I found ISSTD through Janina Fisher’s work. I’m not quite sure, actually!
My background, well, I was a journalist for almost 20 years… I was a news reporter and anchor/presenter and I covered a lot of really big stories, as well as the little stories. I went into journalism because I wanted to know, Why do people do what they do? I wanted to shed light on stories that maybe didn’t get a lot of light…to add nuance to stories.
But after a while, I saw that it was not what I wanted it to be, and my work was not impactful in the way I wanted it to be. I began to feel that there was more for me out there. Then I met a somatic therapy practitioner and began to learn more about mindfulness. I found I wanted to learn more about it, so I went on sabbatical from journalism. I went on a period of learning and studying and enrolled in a lot of trainings in areas like mindfulness, somatic experiencing, and more.
And so I shifted and started to do this work. As a journalist I was reporting on what happened but in this work…I have been learning about ‘what happened’ at a different level. I found that I want to share more about what I was learning.
KM: So now you see clients, but you also do the podcasts. Tell us a bit about how it works for you now.
FM: I didn’t want to give up everything about journalism. I had hosted my own TV shows and edited magazines and written a lot. There is a part of me that’s curious and wants to learn more – so about a year or two ago I started to call people and sort of said, “Hey, I liked your book…I liked your podcast, your lecture. Would you talk to me?”…A lot of people have said yes.
KM: Do you think that is because people know you, or do you just think as a journalist you are good at approaching people?
FM: A bit of both, but also I don’t tend to interview people that I haven’t studied. So, when I interview people, I’ve got the background, I understand. But as a journalist before I wouldn’t have wanted to interview these people…hadn’t studied the work. I had not done the practice myself.
KM: Can you tell me a bit about your aims now with what was once Wise Girl and has now changed?
FM: Yes, sure absolutely – So I named the podcast Wise Girl – I named it randomly – I was trying to make it about getting in touch with our own inner wisdom… but then I realised it was about getting in touch with our own inner wise child … so the name came out of an exploration about what our inner wise person has to tell us. It wasn’t meant to be flippant…it was all about psychology, neuroscience, social justice, but fundamentally it was about trauma.
I had this curiosity to work out more about trauma, complex trauma, and developmental trauma as well as why things like mindfulness work, how the nervous system works, and so on. After about a year of doing it, I was a guest myself on a podcast on the Be Here Now Network. After that I started to share my podcasts with them if they wanted to use them. They took a few, but earlier this year they launched a podcast for me, under the umbrella of the Be Here Now Network. This is called #ReRooted with a metaphor of digging down to find out our roots…finding what makes us strong, connected to the earth, grounded…For the next few months this will have a special angle on social justice, injustice and racial trauma.
One of the things I want to focus on is the way in which many of these trauma therapies work through a euro-colonised lens, in the sense that they are very individual. There are other modalities that focus on collective trauma. Working with things like collective racial trauma and community trauma – it’s a different story. I just don’t know how much we have done as trauma practitioners to learn some basic history, to understand how our modalities may or may not work for people who have collective racial trauma and what we might need to do differently if they’re people of color. So that is one of my big focuses. The other, newer focus is also on whiteness and collective racial trauma for white skin privileged folks and how this plays out internally, externally and relationally.
KM: One problem I see is that often our history is recorded through the lens of privilege. The version of history we most hear about is that of the powerful, the leaders.
FM: Yes, you always want to ask – who is not in the room? But if you ask that question, as I do – you get accused of being angry. That is the typical defence of those in power – to deflect and blame. Then we become dismissed as ‘the angry woman.’
Interestingly, when I was starting to do the podcasts, I found myself interviewing white men. I noticed this and I began to interview people of color and women… and I began to focus on issues of white/light skin privilege (and class), inviting white/light skinned privileged therapists and practitioners/teachers to really go inside and begin deeply interrogating whiteness as a race collectively, and white body supremacy (to quote Resmaa Menakem). I also ask them to explore what we are doing for the disenfranchised or marginalized communities that we could be serving – but aren’t – often due to our own discomfort or lack of knowledge. It takes courage to own up and be accountable for inherited privilege based on skin color – something nobody can control – even when you, as a light skinned person, perhaps also had a rough early life in many – but different ways – and made it through.
KM: Where do you think the trauma field can go with all this?
FM: We can take an example that western thinking holds dear, like evidence-based practice, and explore that. For some people, OK, psychotherapy may be helpful – but it’s likely more effective for a certain group or kind of person (at least as it’s practiced now, without greater insight and healing). We don’t see much “evidence-based research” around humming, drumming, knitting circles, quilting, African dance, etc., and yet – are these not nervous system regulation and trauma-healing modalities? Of course they are.
I want to ask, how can we embody more of this in our clinical practice? We can start by ourselves not being so weirded out by it and embracing it. We can start by looking at everything we had to give up culturally to assimilate to whiteness, and how that itself is carried trauma which has necessitated the adaptation of dissociation for light/white skin privileged therapists and practitioners. This can perpetuate and spill over into microaggressions and repeating of traumatic stress on others, implicitly.
It’s time to wake up and do the work, go inside with courage, hold one another with grace, and welcome our own vulnerability and curiosity about our “not knowing” around racial and social justice issues we’re not comfortable with. We can increase our capacity for distress tolerance as practitioners. These issues should be top of mind for every client session, as much as how their relationship/job/family is doing…these macro issues matter in a big way, too.
I think we need to focus on what we are holding onto. Why do we need to be ‘right’? Why do we have to be secure in our methodology? In our naming of things? Are we able to just focus on the journey? Are we, ourselves, stuck in a state of fight, flee, freeze? The most important thing for a clinician is to be able to be in presence with your client. Not only what you know, or how fancy your modalities are: to be able to be in your own body, embodied, aware of how you’re always regulating your own nervous system, and through that relational field, healing can happen. When we’re pushing ourselves away or stuck in a shame spiral, clients sense it. When we’re pushing them away or we’re uncomfortable with their shame spiral or their healthy anger, clients sense it. There’s nothing wrong with being embodied, human, imperfect, and grounded. That’s nirvana to me. This alone can be profoundly healing relationally.
Also, one of the best things we can do is keep getting complex trauma and dissociation recognised in the DSM, as well as getting racialized trauma recognized. I am not a great fan of that book, but it is what’s in power at the moment and we need to work within that.
KM: I can hear that a big part of your work is examining the wounds of racial trauma and as you say, that is not even something the DSM recognises. Where do you think we can go with that as individual therapists?
FM: I think we as trauma practitioners should do courses on understanding racism and its roots and systems perpetuating it, in every way. Who is really dissociating? Those who forget history and don’t want to take on, every day, that we’re living out privileges that were often earned by someone else, and while we often can’t help what happened in the past, we can become “woke” to it and do something about it now. There are some great courses around on understanding racism, undoing racism and implicit bias as well as courses on indigenous trauma, for example see https://whiteawake.org/. I have also done some podcasts on this (see link at the end of the article).
Our current blindness is unsustainable, for our collective wellbeing – which includes that of our original mother, mother earth. It’s time to wake up and do the work, go inside with courage, hold one another with grace, and welcome our own vulnerability and curiosity about our “not knowing” around racial and social justice issues we’re not comfortable with. We can increase our capacity for distress tolerance as practitioners. These issues should be top of mind for every client session, as much as how their relationship/job/family is doing…these macro issues matter in a big way, too. This isn’t about managing discomfort or taking a bath for self-care. It’s about internally expanding your capacity for being able to “be with” the hard truths of our history and current racialized world.
I think we need to also look at other frameworks which are less individualistic and about the inner psyche…all of that is important, of course, but as I was alluding to earlier, in other cultures there are frameworks that look at the role of the land, the collective, spiritual aspects, the community. This is so much more out there that’s expansive, but if that is not even in your framework because you come from a euro-colonised hierarchical model then you often can’t do this comfortably. If we only look at what we have determined is evidence-based practice, we are going to miss this, because things are structured in such a way that this kind of healing is ‘not okay.’
Also, for all practitioners: think about inclusivity all along the spectrum and make it part of our trauma trainings…so we are not in isolation. Make sure you require a certain percentage of your people attending are clinicians of color or other marginalized communities (whether they be survivors of ableism, racism, homophobia, sexism, you name it). And then sit back and let them speak. You don’t have to agree with everything but try to bring a friendly curiosity to their line of inquiry and point of view and widen your lens.
KM: Changing the track – where do you personally hope to go with all this? Are you just letting it happen?
FM: I am not trying to do anything. I tried to make a website and newsletter (Website is up! Newsletter, not-so-much) – but that’s about it. I am surrendering to the process, its organic, so I am open to possibilities. I am curious. I really enjoy working with my clients. I am enjoying seeing the positive changes in their lives, but I am also asked to do other things on a broader level, like training people to work with dissociative clients. I’ve been asked to develop an online course on racialized and social trauma for light/white skinned privileged therapists, which will come together in 2020. I’m currently hosting online trauma and embodiment classes/workshops/webinars for groups of therapists working with challenging clients, as well as hosting support groups for women around issues of grief and bereavement. Hopefully I’ll get my book out soon too, but I haven’t had much time to write.
KM: So you are expanding your work. That brings me back to “Spreading the Word”, which is how we started this whole interview. I am interested in the power of the podcast, which can be cost-effective, informative and reach around the world. Do you have a vision about what you would like to do with this, to ‘spread the word’ about trauma and dissociation?
FM: I am excited about this. I do have a vision. I’m excited about what I’m learning. What I would really love to do is a mindfulness and trauma healing TV show where I can bring this, in a more embodied way, to the audience. TV, being a visual medium, is more impactful. I’ve talked to a few producers about it but no bites yet. I think they can’t envision it the way I see it. I think it could be powerful. Teaching more online classes is also a goal. Presenting at conferences, perhaps, some kind of public speaking.
KM: You have interviewed some amazing people. Are there any particular interviews that stand out?
FM: My interview with Bruce Perry – he is such a great teacher and such a kind and compassionate human! Bessel van der Kolk – he knows so much, and the funny thing is so many of the folks who listened to that interview commented on the nature of our interaction, not the trauma content. Dr. Porges is a dear and I got to do a quick recap of polyvagal theory off the top, which was kind of cool. And the latest interview I did with Terry Real, which will be published in the fall of 2019 about spirituality and trauma healing. I think Dr. Carol Gilligan’s was impactful because she frankly discusses patriarchy (as did Michael Kimmell) and in my view, essentially says and shows how in and of itself, patriarchy is a way of systemically dissociating – cutting off parts of yourself in order to survive the colonial mindset and patriarchal culture: voice for girls/women and emotions for boys/men. And of course all the summer podcasts on racialized and social trauma like Resmaa Menakem, Tada Hozumi and Patti Digh.
KM: If you could provide some links for our readers?
For more information see links….www.maximeclarity.com and check out my resources or podcast subheadings, if you’d like to learn more about much of what we’ve discussed.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want more links.