The results of a recent study published in Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology suggest that the communal mastery of Black and Latina women may protect against the development of PTSD symptoms. By communal mastery, the researchers refer to a community-oriented way of coping where people can manage life difficulties through attachments with family, friends, neighbors, and significant others.
“How women cope with trauma exposure in an important factor affecting psychopathology risk and recovery. However, research has historically focused on individualistic coping behaviors while more communal or collectivist coping styles have seldom been explored,” the authors, led by psychologist Michelle Miller, write.
“Ethnic and racial minority woman may benefit from greater efficacy-through-social attachments, and exploring this avenue of coping offers a dimensionality to understanding coping processes of populations often underrepresented in research.”
Women in communities with low resources are more likely to experience trauma or witnessed traumatic events and are at higher risk of developing PTSD than the general population. Additionally, the discriminatory stress lived by Black and Latina women due to racism – from systemic forms to microaggressions – increases the risk of developing PTSD in this population.
People of color have developed ways of coping with race-based trauma. Most research has focused on individualistic coping processes or strategies, such as problem-focused coping (actively trying to solve a problem to reduce stress or anxiety), emotion-focused coping (finding ways of reducing the emotional distress that comes from stressors or events), and passive coping (e.g., avoidance, denial, substance use), but few have studied communal or collective forms of coping. Social support, whether instrumental (assisting with tasks or material support) or emotional (receiving empathy and care from others) from one’s community, positively influences recovery from trauma. But other social forms of coping have not been studied.
There are cultural and sub-cultural differences in individualistic and collective coping processes, and thus learning more about communal mastery might be beneficial for understanding and identifying coping strategies used by women of color that can reduce trauma symptoms.
The purpose of the study was to understand the relationship between mental health, communal mastery, and other individualistic forms of coping in a sample of Black and Latina women who live in under-resourced urban communities. The researchers screened 153 Black and Latina women at an outpatient clinic that serves this population. 131 participants met the criteria for the study and were recruited. Most participants (96.2%) had experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, but only some met the criteria for depression (19.1%) and PTSD (12.2%) diagnosis. In addition, they took questionaries about their trauma history and exposure, their communal mastery, individualistic forms of coping, social support, and symptoms of PTSD and depression.
The study results showed a significant negative association between communal mastery and symptoms of PTSD and depression. This means that those who had more communal mastery had fewer symptoms and/or less severe symptoms.
Communal mastery was also associated with social support and adaptive forms of coping. Social support was also found to be negatively associated with both PTSD and depressive symptoms. After accounting for other factors, communal mastery was still negatively associated with PTSD symptoms but did not show a significant relationship with depression.
This study adds to the growing literature that seeks to expand collectivist approaches to psychology and healing. However, this challenges some psychotherapy approaches and other psychological interventions that focus on individual forms of coping and alleviating distress.
Although further research is necessary, the authors suggest that mental health professionals and others who seek to reduce PTSD symptoms and the effects of trauma should encourage communal mastery in people, patients, and community members.
Although coping with trauma is important, it is also necessary to address the social factors that lead to a traumatic experience to prevent PTSD and complex trauma, increase well-being and quality of life, and promote social justice.
Miller, M. L., Stevens, N. R., Lowell, G. S., & Hobfoll, S. E. (2021). Communal mastery and associations with depressive and PTSD symptomatology among urban trauma-exposed women. Cultural diversity and ethnic minority psychology. (Link)