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Digital Seminar

Racial Trauma and the Polyvagal Response: Mind-Body Healing for African American Clients

Candice Richardson Dickens, MAC, LCPC, LCADC, CCTP
2 Hours 06 Minutes
Feb 17, 2021
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Digital Seminar
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Not only were African Americans disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 due to rampant socioeconomic disparities, but other brutal reminders of systemic racism continue to erupt across the country and in the news. Daily microtraumas and a feeling of not being physically safe or valued in our society lead to a state of stress, anger, hypervigilance, mistrust, shame, and fear. This recording explores how neuroceptions and the Polyvagal pathways shape the adaptive reactions of African Americas to race-based stress and trauma—and what clinicians can do to address them and the related emotional burdens we all carry. Discover how to: 

  • Create a safe, healing space for African American clients 
  • Identify triggers and symptoms of racial trauma, as well as how it’s processed in the brain 
  • Use mind-body techniques to deregulate the stress response and promote feelings of empowerment and safety 
  • Explore how therapy is affected by the emotional reactivity of both Black and non-Black clinicians when treating Black clients 


- PESI Australia, in collaboration with PESI in the USA, offers quality online continuing professional development events from the leaders in the field at a standard recognized by professional associations including psychology, social work, occupational therapy, alcohol and drug professionals, counselling and psychotherapy. On completion of the training, a Professional Development Certificate is issued after the individual has answered and submitted a quiz and course evaluation. This online program is worth 2.25 hours CPD for points calculation by your association.



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Candace R. Dickens is a PESI Faculty Member and Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Maryland as well as the District of Columbia. She is currently pursuing her PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision at Saybrook University. She is a strong advocator for creating culturally sensitive counter spaces that promote racial/ethnic healing, identity formation and group resiliency. Her proudest accomplishments as an advocator for racial healing are found in her creating the BIPOC Provider Directory Color of Trauma and Healing, and founding Kujichagulia, a BIPOC therapeutic counseling group for African American female students attending Bowling Green State University. She is a popular speaker and has been featured at major conferences such as NAADAC National Conference, the Maryland Tuerk Conference, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors of Maryland Conference, Black Mental Health Alliance Conference, the Psychotherapy Networker, and Boston University School of Social Work.  


Speaker Disclosures:
Financial: Candice Richardson Dickens has employment relationships with CRA Counseling & Consulting Agency and Life Care Bridge. She receives a speaking honorarium and recording royalties from Psychotherapy Networker and PESI, Inc. She has no relevant financial relationships with ineligible organizations.
Non-financial: Candice Richardson Dickens an executive board member for The Night of Peace Shelter. She is a member of the Maryland Association of Imago Therapists and the American Counseling Association.



  1. Evaluate the role the Polyvagal pathway plays in the African American client’s reaction to violence, police brutality, acts of racism, and discrimination.  
  2. Investigate how microtrauma impacts the psychosocial development of African Americans from a historical perspective. 
  3. Demonstrate how to identify and treat reactive symptoms and behaviours associated with the microtrauma of racisms, such as defensiveness and excessive worrying about safety and death. 
  4. Assess how the therapeutic process can be affected by the emotional reactivity of both African American and non-African American clinicians when treating African American clients.  
  5. Employ mind-body techniques in conjunction with Internal Family System theory to effectively deregulate the stress response and promote feelings of empowerment and safety.  
  6. Analyze activated trauma memories involving violence and acts of racism.


Implement tools that address the impact of micro and macro-trauma on the psychosocial development of African American clients 

  • Introduction and application of self-soothing grounding, and deep breathing techniques as tools to de-escalate traumas.  
  • Application of the DBT describing skills to increase awareness of the present moment 
  • Review of how mindfulness can be used to increase awareness of symptoms and microtrauma reactions  

Introduce Microtrauma as a fear-based conditional response to situations that elicit terror and powerlessness.  

  • Review literature on trauma and the brain response 

Examine the role the sympathetic nervous system plays in their reactions to microtraumas.  

  • Review nervous system  
  • Discuss parasympathetic response (ventral vagal)  
  • Parasympathetic stress response immobilization  
  • Sympathetic Stress Response: Mobilization Flight/Fight Response  

Provide clinical treatment interventions that determine levels of reactivity and offer treatment modalities.  

  • Reprocessing of memories  
  • Deep breathing techniques  
  • Grounding and tapping  
  • CBT thought stopping and disputing techniques  
  • Introduction of SUDS and Body scanning techniques 

Incorporate trauma and shame reducing techniques in sessions to help African American clients access memories that keep them stuck in the narrative of victimization  

  • Recreating the shame  
  • Self-affirmations  
  • Creating a practice of self-compassion and non-judgmental stance

Target Audience

  • Counselors
  • Social Workers
  • Psychologists
  • Psychotherapists
  • Therapists
  • Marriage & Family Therapists
  • Addiction Counselors
  • Case Managers
  • Physicians
  • Nurses
  • Other Mental Health Professionals

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