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Empowerment and Healing: Exploring Liberation-Based Practices for Transformative Wellness

By John Sykes, MSW, LCSW, Founder and Owner of According To Sykes, LLC

March 20, 2024

Experiencing trauma can dramatically change the way you feel about and react to the world around you. Many struggle to process the complex emotions and impacts of a traumatic event or navigate the long-term effects of trauma experienced through ongoing neglect or abuse. Unfortunately, much like a physical injury, the only way to heal the emotional pain of trauma is through liberation and healing, allowing the mind-body the time it needs to process traumatic experiences and begin to recalibrate to our current reality.

When we bury our traumas, or try to avoid potential activations, we disallow ourselves the time we need to heal. While on the surface things may seem okay, the impacts of trauma filter through many other aspects of life – influencing relationships, overall mental health, and even the potential for addiction. Facing your trauma, although difficult, positively affects your ability to truly heal and move forward into a happier, healthier, and more balanced life.

According to Sykes, a liberation-based healing practice that stands on a platform and  idea of liberation as a central place for  healing and recovery process.  We believe that healing moves starts with an emotional decolonial process.  Healing requires that we start with unlearning harmful ideologies and learning traditional ways of returning to ourselves, our land, or ancestors. “Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed.  It means the damage no longer controls our lives”.  Akshay Dubey.  Taking the necessary steps to begin the liberation and healing process requires bravery.  Here are seven stops to help you facilitate your wellness journey.  Patience and grit are required at each step.  Certain steps may need to be revisited, and the entire process may need to be repeated. According to the Decolonizing Wealth Project,  these steps aren’t necessarily linear.

Step 1: GRIEVE:  Stop and feel the hurts you’ve endured.

Step 2: APOLOGIZE:  Apologize for the hurts you’ve caused.

Step 3: LISTEN:  Acknowledge the wisdom of those excluded and exploited by the system, who possess exactly the perspective and wisdom needed to fix it.

Step 4: RELATE:  Share our whole selves with each other and understand we don’t have to agree in order to respect each other.

Step 5: REPRESENT:  Build whole new decision-making tables, rather than setting token places at the colonial tables as an afterthought.

Step 6: INVEST:  Put all our resources where our values are.

Step 7: REPAIR:  Use resources to heal where people are hurting and stop more hurt from happening.  

Liberation-based healing practices are approaches to healing and wellness that focus on empowering individuals and communities to address systemic oppression and work towards liberation from various forms of marginalization, including racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, and other forms of discrimination and injustice. These practices recognize that social, political, and economic factors significantly impact health and well-being and seek to address these root causes as part of the healing process.

Some key principles and components of liberation-based healing practices include:

  1. Intersectionality: Recognizing that individuals experience multiple forms of oppression simultaneously and that these intersecting identities shape their experiences of health and well-being.

  2. Centering Intentionally Exploited Voices: Prioritizing the perspectives and experiences of those most affected by systemic oppression, including people of color, LGBTQ+ individuals, people with disabilities, and other marginalized communities.

  3. Community Engagement and Solidarity: Emphasizing collective healing and mutual support within communities, as well as building alliances across different social justice movements.

  4. Cultural Humility: Acknowledging the importance of cultural context in healing practices and approaching healing with humility, openness, and respect for diverse cultural traditions and beliefs.

  5. Empowerment and Agency: Encouraging individuals to reclaim agency over their own health and well-being, as well as supporting collective efforts to challenge oppressive systems and advocate for social change.

  6. Trauma-Informed Care: Recognizing the impact of trauma on individuals and communities and integrating trauma-informed approaches into healing practices to promote safety, trust, and empowerment.

  7. Healing Justice: Linking individual healing to broader movements for social justice and collective liberation and addressing the root causes of suffering and injustice.

Examples of liberation-based healing practices may include community-based healing circles, cultural healing ceremonies and rituals, grassroots health initiatives focused on addressing social determinants of health, and advocacy efforts to address systemic barriers to health equity.

Overall, liberation-based healing practices aim to not only address the symptoms of individual suffering but also to transform the social conditions that contribute to oppression and injustice, fostering healing, resilience, and liberation for all.

Ultimately, liberation and healing require both collective care and empowerment.  How do we begin.  We have to lean into our indigenous knowing that promote.

Indigenous practices encompass the diverse traditional knowledge, rituals, and approaches to healing, community living, and environmental stewardship developed by Indigenous peoples across the globe. These practices are deeply rooted in the cultural heritage, spiritual beliefs, and intimate relationship with the land of each Indigenous community. They offer rich insights into sustainable living, holistic health, and community cohesion. Here's an overview of various aspects of Indigenous practices:

Healing and Medicine

  • Traditional Healing Practices: Many Indigenous cultures have their own healing traditions that involve a combination of herbal medicine, spiritual healing, and physical treatments. These practices are often administered by traditional healers, such as shamans, medicine men and women, or other designated community healers.

  • Ceremonies and Rituals: Healing ceremonies, dances, and rituals are central to many Indigenous cultures, serving to restore balance and harmony within individuals and communities, as well as between humans and the natural world.

Environmental Stewardship

  • Land Management: Indigenous practices often include sophisticated methods of sustainable land management, such as controlled burnings to prevent larger wildfires, rotational farming to maintain soil health, and the cultivation of biodiversity through intercropping.

  • Water Conservation: Traditional methods of water management and conservation, including rainwater harvesting and the construction of sustainable irrigation systems, demonstrate deep understanding and respect for water as a precious resource.

Social and Community Practices

  • Restorative Justice: Many Indigenous communities have systems of restorative justice that focus on the restoration of harmony and balance within the community, rather than punishment. These practices involve mediation and reconciliation processes that engage both the offender and the victim, along with the wider community.

  • Eldership and Oral Traditions: Elders play a crucial role in Indigenous communities, serving as keepers of knowledge, history, and cultural traditions. Oral traditions, including storytelling, are fundamental to the transmission of wisdom, values, and community norms across generations.

Education and Knowledge Transmission

  • Learning by Doing: Indigenous education often emphasizes experiential learning and direct engagement with the environment, encouraging a deep connection with nature and community from a young age.

  • Spiritual Education: Spiritual beliefs and practices are integral to learning in many Indigenous cultures, with teachings about the interconnectedness of life, respect for all beings, and the importance of balance and harmony.

Cultural Practices

  • Art and Craftsmanship: Indigenous art, including weaving, pottery, carving, and painting, is rich in symbolic meaning and reflects the deep connection Indigenous peoples have with their environment and spiritual beliefs.

  • Language: Indigenous languages carry unique worldviews and knowledge about the environment, health, and human relationships. Efforts to revitalize and preserve Indigenous languages are crucial for maintaining cultural identity and knowledge.


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