Clinical psychologist Dr Jude Clark (52) from Kleinmond in the Western Cape has spent many years focusing on black women’s experiences and stories of violence and trauma with a focus on healing.
“Our personal stories of trauma are collective stories of survival, agency, and power, and I’ve always thought that individual healing is tied to social justice processes as a whole,” she says.
She is deeply invested in exploring what decolonised therapy, collective healing process, feminist politics, and what the ethics of love and care might look like for women of colour.
“My heart’s passion [is exploring] the personal and collective healing journeys of black women, creating spaces and processes that enable black women to explore and overcome those things outside and inside of ourselves that diminish our power and our joy.”
‘A chance adventure unlocks new world’
Clark was raised in the small rural community of Mangete, near Mandeni along the north coast of KwaZulu-Natal. Clark and her six siblings were raised in a mud house by her parents who taught children of sugarcane farmworkers.
“There was no access to piped water or electricity, and I think life had its challenges for my parents,” she says.
Numerous issues touched her life growing up. She would then find solace in reading, writing, and doing well at school.
“I was 15 when I decided that I was going to be a psychologist and was very clear and determined to follow that path,” she says.
“I am amazed in retrospect that I took the initiative to get my parents to take me to Durban to a career counselling centre where I researched what universities were out there and what scholarships were available. This was in 1986.”
She studied psychology as an undergraduate at Natal University with black students very much in the minority, and then did her post-grad at the historically black university of Durban-Westville, and her doctorate at Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK on a scholarship.
She claims that she has felt more like a community psychologist than a clinical psychologist. She remembers as an intern in a psychiatric unit of a hospital thinking of how “symptoms” are stories and how social conditions led to the pathologies that we then diagnosed as individual problems.
The South African experience
“For my master’s research, I conducted in-depth interviews with women who had given public testimony at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, looking at their experience of the TRC process through a feminist and ‘gendered lens’, particularly trauma. My doctoral research explored black South African women’s life stories, also looking at trauma, culture, and HIV/Aids in women’s descriptions of their lives.”
Clarke has co-facilitated processes of institutional transformation at South African universities. “
“I have also journeyed with NGO leadership, from community-based organisations to collectives of Human Rights Defenders, to United Nations agencies.”
The power of empathy and healing process
Clark lectured at university level for 14 years, balancing it with community work. She also worked closely with women recovering from trauma and facilitating processes in groups. In 2012, she left the university and focused more on being a practitioner, committed to exploring collective ways of healing for black women.
She then gave birth to Deep Wellness, an initiative and company that aims to go to the roots of “our disease” as black women (black, ‘coloured,’ and Indian) and “uncover what it means for us (black), personally and collectively to be on a path to fundamental and holistic wellness. Despite the many achievements that we are making and the new spaces we are entering professionally and socially, we are also in crisis as black women,” she explains.
Clark believes that black women’s physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual wellbeing, sense of identity and belonging and their connection to each other as sources of love and care, are being undermined daily in implicit and explicit ways.
These impact how we engage and perform in our personal and professional spaces and relationships, as well as how we connect with others and our own inner voice and spirit.”
Creating healing spaces for women
Deep Wellness runs retreats from one to seven days long. These retreats can be tailor-made for any group but are predominantly geared towards black women with deep wellness for black men in the pipeline.
“We explore how we can journey through oppressions (both on us and in us), tap into our power in healthy ways, and bring our best selves to the home and workspace.
“The vision is a world in which black women across generations, access our fullest power and use our individual and collective agency to bring about our deepest sense and experience of health, wellness, wholeness, and joy. We see this as a social justice issue, a feminist issue, a spiritual issue.”
The retreats are held in beautiful natural spaces with nourishing, whole foods that together help to renew and refresh attendees.
The aim is to create enabling spaces and processes for black women to:
- Reconnect with a deep sense of wellness and healing.
- Re-invest in our personal and collective agency.
- Understand the journey through our historical wounds and past traumas.
- Learn new skills to deal with racial and gender micro-aggressions and internalised oppression.
- Strengthen the life-affirming resources that have made us resilient.
- Build solidarity within and across class divides, social strata, and communities.
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