Building Community in an age of Crisis: Learning from Texts on Resilience and Liberation

Freedom Oklahoma, a non-profit that fights for LGBTQ+ rights in the State of Oklahoma, recently sent out an email that wished readers a “Happy Transgender Day of Visibility!” The email went on to note that, “In these uncertain and isolating times it is more important than ever to find ways to connect.” The shift from a focus on crisis to a focus on resilience is mirrored in current research with transgender and nonbinary (TNB) people. One major critique of TNB research and scholarship is that academics tend to focus on the difficulties faced by participants. The incredible resilience in marginalized communities (TNB people in this example), however, tends to get buried beneath a focus on the pain and immensely oppressive forces of society.

Our negative focus during times of crisis grows, of course, out of good intentions. Counseling psychologists generally want to identify problems and to address the oppressive climates that negatively impact our participants and clients. We do this by designing treatments, pushing back against oppressive climates, utilizing culturally appropriate interventions, and so on.However, scholars, researchers, and community organizers call us to push back in times of crisis, to foster liberation and resilience in ourselves and in the communities we serve.

In this moment of great difficulty, we may benefit from the invitations of advocates who call us to explore our own need for liberation and resilience in the face of hardship.  Our current Society of Counseling Psychology president, Dr. Anneliese Singh, wrote a foundational article about moving from affirmation to liberation that is filled with important guidance in these trying times. Drawing on Dr. Singh’s work, we offer points of reflection inspired by Liberation Psychology and stories of TNB resilience.

In the painful age of COVID-19, we are invited to persist and to search in earnest for:

  • Amelioration
    • We must adopt appropriate social change and advocate for empowering policies within our local systems (e.g., clinics, universities, practices) and our global communities (e.g., APA, Div. 17, state and local governments) to combat impacts of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable among us.
  • Transformation
    • We must encourage friends, colleagues, and leaders to adopt supportive change for those affected by COVID-19. Though we feel pushed to make quick changes, we should always consider the lasting impact of those changes on our communities and on the people we serve.
  • Acknowledge and Monitor Privilege
    • As individuals, we must acknowledge our own privileges and safety nets. We must not let our own feelings of safety lull us into complacency so that we miss opportunities to uplift others who are most effected by the threat of COVID-19.
  • Community Building
    • Even as we are separated by distance, we can come together as a community. The work we do now, under the stress and strain of a global pandemic, will contribute to a shared identity and social cohesion that will stand the test of time.
  • Openness to Innovation
    • We must share a willingness to listen to individuals and/or community needs and to create innovate solutions as circumstances evolve. This is a painful time, but it may give rise to deep insights and foundational changes in the power structures and communication systems at the core of professional psychology.

Community is deeply important in this time of quarantine and separation. Even when we are unable to connect in person (at our family reunion, CPC, and elsewhere), we can do the important work of community building and resilience. If we commit to focus on liberation, from our various corners of the world, as a community across distance, we will only become stronger advocates and more effective counseling psychologists. When we meet again on the other side of this crisis, let us be liberated and unstoppable.

Grace McDurmon (she/her/hers) is a sophomore in psychology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Grace works in the Diversity and Rural Advocacy Group (DRAG) lab, researching transgender and non-binary inclusion in sport. Upon graduation, Grace plans to pursue doctoral training in counseling psychology.

Douglas Knutson (he/him/his), PhD, is an assistant professor in the counseling psychology program at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Douglas is co-coordinator of the Diversity and Rural Advocacy Group (DRAG) lab. His research focuses on transgender and nonbinary affirmative interventions, rural health, and gender identity.

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