Navigating the Other Pandemic: Violence

While we have been washing our hands, wearing masks, and staying 6 feet apart to remain safe from COVID-19, there has been one thing we have not been able to escape….

Violence.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we have repeatedly witnessed and possibly experienced aggression and cruelty from others.

Multiple forms of violence have risen during the pandemic. The National Commission on Covid and Criminal Justice found that homicides, gun assault, and aggravated assaults increased during the pandemic.  Homicide rates in 2020 were 30% higher than in 2019 and aggravated and gun violence rose by 6% and 8% respectively.  Researchers speculate that domestic violence and child abuse also rose despite the lack of reports which may have been suppressed because victims remained in proximity with their abusers.  These violent acts occurred alongside mass shootings and police brutality.

While people spent more time at home and in front of televisions, they became privy to several heart wrenching cases of police violence including the murders of George Floyd and, most recently, Duante Wright.  Moreover, issues of direct violence against the Asian American community increased from 2600 to 3800 in a year. Thus, many of us had to contend with threats to our physical and emotional safety from a virus and violence.

Given the shear amount of aggression and discrimination within our society, the current rise in violence should be considered a public health crisis.  Despite the alarming numbers and the far-reaching consequences of violence, there is a paucity of research, funding priorities, or treatment interventions designed to reduce violence in our homes and communities. While this blog will do very little to ameliorate the myriad of feelings that we all are feeling, I hopes to provide some suggestions on how we move forward. Below, I offer key points for intervention, followed by recommended behaviors and changes:

  • Link Trauma with Violence—Current researchers focus on the impact of trauma on an individuals and communities. However, too often, treatment of trauma is the focus as opposed to eradicating trauma’s etiology. All psychologists must acknowledge that most trauma is the direct result of violence.
    1. We must speak to violence every time we are asked to discuss how to heal from “trauma.”
    2. We must recognize and respond to the fact that funding for research that explores intimate partner violence, community violence, police brutality, and war are limited when compared to other public health issues.
    3. The broad category of violence needs to be brought to the forefront to receive the necessary funding for research, interventions, and policy development.
  • Reframe Social Justice and Advocacy— The words social justice and advocacy are often consumed under the umbrella of cultural competence. Thus, people may think that these broad topics relate to helping diverse individuals gain access to power.
    1. Social justice and advocacy must become synonymous with eradicating violence and the culture of violence.
    2. By dismantling the culture of violence, we will not only advocate for marginalized communities and individuals, but we will also give everyone the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
  • Protect your Peace— To overcome the long reach of violence, we have to be consistent in building and maintaining peace. Researchers suggest that mindfulness, which teaches awareness and expansion of emotions, is essential in finding inner peace. Moreover, conflict resolution, communication skills and anger management skills may help maintain peaceful interactions.
    1. Psychologists may want to become a part of Division 48 as the field of peace psychology continues to grow.
    2. It may be helpful to integrate the ideas of peace psychology into our training and expertise to ensure that future psychologists are competent regarding integrating peace within our professional practice.
  • Spread Love— Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” These words highlight the need for us to cultivate and spread love within our hearts, homes, and communities.
    1. We can do that by increasing our kind gestures towards our family, friends, and strangers.
    2. Simple gestures of kindness include speaking to strangers, hugging our family members, and giving compliments.
    3. While we spread love to others, we can’t forget about ourselves. During these trying times, we must engage in self-love by respecting our boundaries, letting go of negative thoughts, and practicing self-care.

Violence is an ongoing problem. Its effects are as deleterious and as severe as the coronavirus. As counseling psychologists and counselors in training, we need national interventions to help eradicate this longstanding issue.  If you know of resources, interventions, and policies that may help individuals, families, and communities address violence, consider writing about them and submitting them to scpconnectsubmissions@gmail.com. It will take many of us, working together, to curb the power of violence in our communities, our clinical practice, our universities, and in our world.

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Shareefah Al’Uqdah PhD, Assistant Professor and Director of Training, Howard University Counseling Psychology Program

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