Therapy offered for anguished activists

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Nick Sciretta (left) and Daniel Perez (right), along with other Bernie Sanders supporters, march down Broad Street on Sunday afternoon protesting the Democratic National Committee.

As some mental health experts see it, being on the front lines of protest can exact an emotional toll on activists who might face verbal abuse for their beliefs or for whom pain or personal loss was the force for them to fight for change.

With Philadelphia now at the epicenter of protest in the nation during the Democratic National Convention, Center City therapist Damon Constantinides is rallying nearly 30 mental health professionals to create a network where activists in need of support can receive discounted or free counseling sessions.

"A lot of people feel unsafe on a daily basis, and that can bring up past experiences or other mental health issues that weren't really a problem, and now suddenly are," said Constantinides.

The therapist, who said he has been involved with activism in the past, said he began compiling the list of practitioners for the initiative, called Healing for Activists, about two weeks ago.

He reached out to friends and used Facebook to find professionals willing to offer their services. Therapists commit to reserving at least one weekly spot for interested activists. Activists in turn are to contact a therapist to make their arrangements. It is up to the participating therapists to decide how many sessions to offer. Constantinides said although no activists have reached out to him about the program, it is possible they have contacted providers directly.

Ebony Eubanks, a therapist at Peaceful Living Counseling and Professional Services in Northeast Philadelphia, said she contacted Constantinides because her practice already offers affordable therapy.

There is no vetting process to ensure those who receive a discounted or free session are actually activists.

"Part of my work is to uncover some of the traumas that each and every one of us experience," Eubanks said. "With activism, I'm sure that people are impacted by it because it holds such a significant influence in their lives."

Malyka Cardwell, a couples and family therapist at Philadelphia MFT in Center City, said she plans to offer a couple of free sessions. She said the cost of therapy is "one of the greatest barriers" to receiving treatment.

Racism can have a traumatic impact on people, according to research done by the Center for Mental Health Disparities at the University of Louisville, and this effect can be compounded for activists of color, said the center's director, Monnica Williams.

"They're out on the front lines and they want to do good and change the world, and it can be very confusing when they get hate from other people about what they do," Williams said. "Particularly young people are not equipped to deal with the negative messages, the abuse, the hatred, the slurs they end up dealing with."

Constantinides said the impetus for the program was the deaths of black men Philando Castile and Alton Sterling in police shootings.

Drew Geliebter, strategist for the DNC Action Committee, said mental health resources for activists are "immensely important," and Asa Khalif, a Black Lives Matter organizer, said he and other activists are planning on reaching out to listed therapists.

"I'm very grateful they offer this service," he said. "I know our people need healing, and if there are those services they should use them."

oexstrum@philly.com

215-854-2602

@oliviaexstrum

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