New faith-based mental health training program offers help for local communities of color

Faith leaders learning how to care for community using evidence-based trauma healing

SAN ANTONIO – “What goes on in this house stays in this house.” That’s the mantra Dr. Keely Petty is trying to dismantle in the BIPOC (Black Indigenous People of Color) community.

“To include our Hispanic and Latino population, our Asian population — anybody other than our Caucasian family,” Petty said.

Petty has been a longtime leader in San Antonio’s communities of color and is now the mental health training coordinator for the national health organization WestCare based out of the Ella Austin Community Center on the East Side.

WestCare just received a $650,000 grant from the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration to create a training program for people of color in faith communities.

As a pastor herself, she knows it is common in BIPOC communities for people to go to faith leaders for help with personal problems and even mental illness.

“I have to be able to do more than say, ‘Well, let me pray for you. Go and be well.’ Do not tell people they have a demon or they have an unclean spirit. No, we want to be able to say, ‘Oh, that’s happening with you? Well, we’ve got a whole wellness ministry within our church,’” Petty said.

The training is broken down into three sessions and subjects:

  • mental health
  • psychological first aid
  • crisis prevention, intervention, verbal de-escalation

“You can be in any environment, and someone can start verbally raging. It’s where they use their mouth to do assaultive acts,” Petty explained.

That de-escalation could be used with police officers, angry people in the community or within the walls of your home.

Petty said that type of education was historically never offered to people of color.

“If you go back to the beginning of psychology in this country, people of color weren’t a part of that dynamic to talk about what watching a lynching would do to us, what watching a beating would do to us. So there’s a whole other layer called intergenerational trauma, called historical trauma, that we also add to this training,” Petty said.

Rooted in isolation and racism is distrust of a medical system that once abused them.

“We are also trying to encourage African Americans to go into the field of therapy and psychology. We have unspoken fears about going to talk to someone anyway, but to have a space where I can go to someone who looks like me makes it all the more better in the promotion of mental healing,” Petty said.

She wants to break free of that historical trauma and fear through education and enlightenment.

“We can use our voice, we can use our wisdom, and we can use training as this to strengthen our knowledge so that we can promote self-healing communities,” Petty said.

San Antonio was the first in the nation to finish the initial training.

That first training session just finished and celebrated with a graduation ceremony.

While the training is aimed toward the faith-based community, anyone can take the training, including kids.

Petty is now gathering people for the next training cohort, which will start in April.

If you are interested in participating, visit the WestCare website or contact Petty through her website.

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About the Authors

Courtney Friedman anchors KSAT’s weekend evening shows and reports during the week. Her ongoing Loving in Fear series confronts Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She joined KSAT in 2014 and is proud to call the SA and South Texas community home. She came to San Antonio from KYTX CBS 19 in Tyler, where she also anchored & reported.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.

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