A Sting Exclusive: “Our Great Awakening, Rebuilding in a Culture of Collective Trauma”, by Dr Hokemeyer

depressed woman

(Claudia Wolff, Unsplash)

This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by our one of our passionate readers, Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, an internationally renowned therapist and writer. The opinions expressed within reflect only the writer’s views and not necessarily The European Sting’s position on the issue.


It’s a challenging and rewarding time to be a therapist. Few of us have come through the past six months without thinking, feeling, or communicating a sentiment similar to, “I never expected to live through something like this.” When people feel de-centered, or knocked off their axis, that’s usually the precise time therapy becomes critically important. In the past six months, with more people opening up to and requiring therapy, mental health professionals have been in a unique position to take the pulse of what’s keeping people up at night. Weeks into the epidemic, it became clear that each of my patients was suffering from both individual and collective trauma.

The COVID-19 epidemic made it necessary for our collective to recognize that we were in the midst of a worsening mental health crisis. Subsequently, the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, as well as the ongoing protests against racial violence and injustice, have led human beings around the world to what’s being referred to as our racial awakening.

Across a handful of days, patients who had started therapy with me as a result of the powerlessness they felt from an invisible virus, began to struggle with another set of issues entirely: their racial identities, and the personal responsibility we have in re-shaping race and identity going forward. As the protests that erupted carried over into LGBTQI+ Pride Month, and people of radically different—and often non-binary identities—began to share the inequities they have faced for simply being themselves, this great awakening began to take root in our social consciousness.

While each patient is different, and every individual needs an identity-informed, responsive, and culturally competent plan for healing and wellness, I had to ask myself how to approach the commonalities I was seeing in my patients, our wider collective, and even in myself. It’s not enough for us to admit that we are experiencing a nationwide mental health crisis. We are in the midst of a crisis of individual trauma, collective trauma, and longstanding disregard of mental health.

Today, we awaken to the fact that we are—and have been—living in a toxic and traumatic culture full of social unrest, economic instability, inequality, unbalanced systems, and threats to our well-being. Awakening can be painful because it includes the realization that we—as individuals and a collective—are responsible for the change we want to see. No one else, and no institution or system, can do the work for us. Trauma recovery work involves creating a new legacy, cultivating the personal agency to create the healing and transformation we desire.

To start the process of recovery from the individual and collective trauma, I try to help my patients identify what they are experiencing. To be holistic and effective, this identification has to happen on the three levels of human existence: the interpersonal, intrapersonal, and personal. That is, we can only heal and rebuild from a crisis once its impact has been identified and named—for ourselves, within our relationships, as well as within our communities and cultures.

This moment in time is one I never expected to see in my lifetime. It’s also an opportunity this therapist hopes our collective will honor and respect. The work we all need to do as individuals mirrors the work we need to do as a diverse collective—understanding that all members of our society have not been granted the equity, inclusion, recognition, or safety that we all deserve. If we are experiencing collective trauma, that means we do share a cultural identity. Let’s use this moment to remember that there are strong ties that unite us as diverse people. That work can be nothing less than our shared awakening. This work is how we rebuild.

About the author

Dr. Paul Hokemeyer is an internationally renowned therapist, founder of Drayson Mews and author of the book, Fragile Power: Why Having Everything Is Never Enough (Hazelden, 2019).

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