It can be tricky doing therapy in communities where the field’s reputation is mixed, and people often feel more comfortable turning to the church for help with mental health issues than a clinician who may not understand their experience. It’s why Black Therapists Rock member Daphne Fuller stresses the importance of meeting clients where they are when working to help and empower people of color. And it’s why, in her holistic therapy and coaching practice, she makes sure to build a treatment plan around each client’s unique concerns.
Fuller does talk therapy and mindfulness, meditation, sound, Reiki, and yoga with clients. She’ll even toss Hip Hop, Reggae, and R&B into some of her integrative classes to send home the point that these forms of healing are for everyone. Guided by the concept that how we think about and treat ourselves matters, Fuller has been using social media to spread her message of therapeutic wellness practices beyond her town of Fayetteville, North Carolina, to underserved communities across the globe.
Psychotherapy Networker: What set the stage for the work you do today?
Daphne Fuller: Basically, I always felt like an underdog and felt for the underdog, and I’ve always been a person who loves to talk to people about their problems. I had a good upbringing, but as a teenager, I experienced domestic violence and depression and found that other friends of mine did too. We’d get together and share with each other and talk about how things could get better for us. I loved those conversations. I still do.
PN: So how did you finally embrace becoming a practitioner?
Fuller: In college I studied psychology and found it interesting, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to be a therapist. Then a professor talked about the idea of the self-fulfilling prophecy. This concept—that the way we think can influence how we feel and what we do in life—was it for me! I was hooked on the possibility that by transforming how I thought, I could lead a happier life—and I wanted to present this possibility to others.
PN: Was it a straightforward path to therapy from there?
Fuller: I started in special education and teaching. Eventually, I wanted to help in a more therapeutic way, so I went into school counseling. But even then, I felt that I couldn’t really help in the ways I wanted to. I had teachers bringing kids to me as if I had a magic wand that would fix their behavioral problems in the classroom immediately. Don’t get me wrong, a good school environment is important, but I knew life outside of school was really hard for these kids. I knew that for many being in school was the most normal and consistent part of their day. I wanted more time to work with them on their social and emotional problems, and to work with the adults in their lives. That was difficult for me with so many other school responsibilities.
PN: You work mostly with adults now and have a holistic therapy practice. Why is the emphasis on yoga and related practices so important to you?
Fuller: For me, yoga has helped me understand that I don’t have to think through everything: I can breathe instead. It’s helped me stay in the present and know my truth is here and now. When I saw how it benefitted me and my friends, I wanted to share it with others and created a group yoga program called Yoga for Self-Love and Compassion. And because of the population I work with, I have a lot of clients who are struggling with trauma trapped in their bodies. For this reason, I’ve also started a one-on-one, trauma-sensitive yoga program.
At first, some of my clients aren’t interested in doing yoga, meditation, or mindfulness. They assume, because many of those practices emerged from Eastern spiritual teachings, that it could conflict with their religious beliefs. Or they think it requires them to get into poses that they believe they can’t do. Many are also afraid of intrusive thoughts coming up. But I tell them that yoga is really about breathing and grounding. It can help them become more aware of the connection among their thoughts and experiences and the stress they hold in their bodies. It can show them ways to overcome that stress.
Also, many of my clients have shared with me that they hesitated to seek out therapy at all. Although we’ve come a long way, there’s still a stigma when it comes to mental health issues in the black community. We talk through a lot of their concerns and beliefs in intake because it guides me in making sure that therapy is a space where they don’t feel they’re being forced into things. It’s important that they feel they have a say in their own treatment.
PN: Who inspires you to keep doing this work?
Fuller: My mother has always encouraged me and told me I can be anything I want to be, even now that I’m a woman in her 40s. And my son is an inspiration. Also, Deran Young of Black Therapists Rock has been a huge influence on me and given me the platform to tell my story in her book. I had a history of unhealthy relationships and suffered from anxiety and depression for years before finding these practices and starting to live authentically. Accepting myself and being so publicly honest about who I am has catapulted me to a new place.
PN: What are your hopes for the field?
Fuller: We need more representation of people of color and more of an emphasis on social justice in the field today. Also, I’d like there to be more emphasis on how yoga can help with a lot of issues, including anxiety and depression and trauma. It can help us recognize self-defeating thoughts and empower us on our own healing journeys. And it can be as simple to incorporate into everyday life as sitting back, placing our palms on our thighs, and just concentrating on breathing in for a count of 4-3-2-1, and out for 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1. There. See how it works?
Photo © Daphne Fuller
Tags: 2019 | African American | black issues | body | community | community mental health | Cultural differences | Cultural identity | Cultural values | Cultural, Social & Racial Issues | culture | Mindfulness | mindfulness yoga | Personal & Professional Development | Professional Development | yoga | yoga and meditation | yoga therapy