This week, we would like to introduce you to Dr. Zelaika Hepworth Clarke who is a self-identified “Jamerican (Jamaican-American) Sexopher” who specializes in human sexualities, gender and relational diversity, clinical and cultural sexology, African-Centered social work, anti-racist sexuality education, critical auto ethnography and Osunality. Osunality is defined as an African-centered, sex positive post-colonial paradigm that affirms diversity in sensuality, sexual pleasure and eroticism. We are thrilled that Dr. Clarke will be bringing her unique expertise to our Ayana Therapy community. In this blog we explore what mental health means through the eyes of a Jamerican Sexopher.
1. Why did you become a therapist?
After reflecting up Bob Marley’s Redemption Song, I followed my intellectual curiosity on how we could emancipate ourselves from mental slavery with the advice that none but ourselves can free our mind. I took this inquiry seriously and integrated it into my doctoral dissertation study on African eroticism. I was curious about unlearning negative effects of colonialism and began to take responsibility for my own healing and emancipation.
Upon awakening ancestral wisdom and healing capabilities within, I wanted to share my gifts and skills with others interested in self improvements, overcoming atrocities and healing. My therapeutic practice is an act of love and a commitment to myself that I will not hoard liberation but rather share opportunities for emancipation and healing with those who choose to work with me. I became a therapist so that I could align my purpose and passions with my skills and areas of expertise to contribute to the improvement of the collective (and individual members of diverse communities). Providing healing services are one of many ways I like to participate in the decolonial project, while supporting self-determination, sovereignty and (erotic) justice.
2. What do you want your potential clients to know about your unique approach to the therapeutic process?
I provide a non-judgmental, anti-erotophobic (pleasure affirming), compassion, and strengths-based approach to facilitate transformation, opportunities to unlearn and build tools for healing, resilience and liberation. I tailor my techniques (I’ve gained from personal healing journeys, being trained as a social worker and clinical sexologist) to best serve my clients/ constituents. I listen deeply; witness you in the moment with a liberatory gaze. I love unleashing one's erotic genius, nurture embodied wisdom, externalize "problems" and employing neurodecolonization (or decolonizing the mind by unlearning negative effects of internalized oppressions) through mindfulness to create new neural pathways for growth and healing when appropriate. I don't use a standardized approach as each wound requires different healing.
3. Do you feel that it is important to share aspects of your identity with your client?
I feel building rapport is important and this might include sharing aspects of my identity when requested. Usually, if clients are interested in aspects of my identity, I have no problem sharing. I am open to utilizing any parts of myself or personal experiences if it can be beneficial to the conversation, healing process, self-improvements, reframe or expand mind(s). I don't feel obliged to follow standard [racist, cissexist, heterosexist] clinical recommendations of “never disclose personal information to your client”. I prefer sharing in safer spaces where we can “come in" to rather than being in unsafe environments where there is pressure to “come out” in. Knowing yourself can be key to the therapeutic process.
4. What advice do you have for folks managing anxiety and depression while obeying physical distancing ordinances?
There are healing capacities that can be found in our embodied wisdom and different tools available that we can use to enable us move through challenging times. First, I recommend rest, hydration, sunlight, and deep breathing. I have found the practice of giving thanks and being aware of what you are appreciative of can be helpful in shifting energy. Tune into the pleasures of your senses. What are your favorite sounds, favorite tastes, most beautiful sight, things you enjoy to touch or being on your skin, or smells that conjure joy?
It could be beneficial to think of the people and things you love, and reach out to loved ones via technology (phone calls, video chats, emails, or snail mail). Sometimes writing can be cathartic, singing or humming, dancing or other pleasurable movements can assist us in managing our increased awareness of disappointing aspects of life. Laughing and or crying can be helpful in releasing and transforming affect. Learning to practice mindfulness, including radical self-acceptance, self-compassion and self-forgiveness might be useful. Being aware of the relationships we have with ourselves and offering non-judgmental observation with lots of love, compassion and care during difficult times.
Being gentle with yourself as you navigate different ways of mourning, negative emotions (like rage, anger, sadness, etc.), process atrocities, pain or deal with this collective trauma. Set some intentions for the day to manifest different possibilities; sometime we need to alter expectations of ourselves as we deal with stress to be more realistic. Earthing (picking up the vibes off the ground by touching it), forest bathing (look at or surround self with trees) and spending time in nature can also be helpful options if available. Each moment is a new moment to transform.
5. What would you say to someone who has given up on searching for a therapist because they’re having trouble finding someone who understands them due to their race, sexual orientation or history?
Thank you for existing and reaching out for assistance as it seems that you have had the intention of improving your life. I appreciate you trying and reaching out for support. In the beginning of your search, you might have found more therapists that are not in alignment with your healing. While it can be challenging to find a great therapist, there are many professionals that might be a good fit that you might not have found yet. I like that Ayana is working to increase individuals' chances of matching with therapists who are more likely to understand.
We would like to thank Dr. Clarke for sharing her thoughts with us. Ayana Therapy will continue to amplify the voices of clinicians like Dr. Clarke. We are honored that she has chosen to partner with us as we strive to improve access to all forms of mental health care in traditionally marginalized communities.