Integration of Body Mind and Spirit within Cultural Contexts
AIR Network: A Feminist Multicultural Model in the Professional Training Space
Phyllis C. Solon, PsyD, LP © 2021
AIR Network is a theory grounded in feminist and multicultural pedagogies, philosophies, perspectives and research. It is not, as such, a culturally specific theory or treatment model. It is a model for understanding who people are and how they get that way from a complex interconnected set of considerations and factors which include neurological, developmental, experiential, familial, cultural, and societal dimensions. AIR therapy is a model of seeing people who have been traumatized across multiple dimensions – individual, family, cultural, societal, historical - in the context of systems of domination that are ascendant in the world and have been for millennia. This is a feminist and multicultural lens on the world explicating how people, all people within their different settings and systems, are impacted by the systems in which we live. The theoretical perspective and the therapy take into account both adverse/risk and protective/resilience factors and assume that we are wired to connect, repair and heal, which happens best and most fully in the context of compassion, care and community. Those assumptions are based in an understanding of the cross-cultural reality that neurodevelopment and childhood sequences of development happen in the same way across the world.
The “treatment” as it were, then is to walk with people in understanding themselves and the systems that rob us/them of our humanity. The focus is on seeing whole people - in all of their identities, selves, cultures, values, wants, needs, ideals, and visions - at the centers of their stories and lives apart from the paradigm of dominance and submission, which is the colonizer paradigm, present in every area of life. The colonizer paradigm is one of total dominance and ownership and we will never be free unless we can continue to step outside of that paradigm in both large and minuscule ways. The will and the choice to step outside of that paradigm of dominance and submission into paradigms of integrity and freedom belongs to and is defined by individuals and communities. There are many different models of freedom with specific cultural aspects and different ones will fit for different people, families, communities.
The AIR model is a way to help people, any people who step into the work, to find and define their core from their own cultural, familial, individual values and to step into taking actions from that place. It is a model that acknowledges the impact of individual, familial, cultural, societal, and historical trauma on the lives of individuals, families, cultures, societies, and history -and what gets recorded as “history”. These systems of domination, supremacy, oppression, impact every person and all the creatures on the planet. That impact is different both immediately and historically based on how those systems are set up and whom they are designed to most benefit.
The acknowledgment of those acts of dominance, enslavement, genocide, rape, colonization, of mind, body, and spirit- and how those people and systems distort, maim, and cripple people, keeping them from their true selves whether individually or communally is part of the process of stepping free of programming and finding one’s center. From the center, values, spirit, resourced self/place one can move towards that which is life giving and in line with who one is.
Given the nature of teaching about experiences of profound trauma, many people have had to manage activation around a range of traumatic experiences that were triggered by the content. Given the different aspects of the identities of the developers and teachers of the model, specifically our racial identities in the current cultural context, there will always be some ways that our dominant cultural identities will be experienced as primary, which will co-opt our message as being a way for the oppressor to continue to “define” things for the oppressed. The very systemic power structures, patterns of dominance and submission and familial and cultural oppression/abuse that we have been teaching people, clients, students, and therapists, to identify and heal from for decades can become activated for people during this training. The replication of those power dynamics in a training such as this makes sense to a certain degree because there is a power differential present: the training is paid for, it requires a commitment of time and a certain degree of vulnerability, and it includes information that people are trying to gain access to and understand. We also have the power to determine how that information is presented. For these reasons, we strive to create an environment that is open, honest, and gracious so that people can show up with their own honesty, openness, and graciousness, particularly for the small group work.
All of us are simultaneously within and stepping outside systems of dominance and control and all of us have limited capacity to understand or see the true perspective of another. Because humans are limited and because we have all been raised in systems of supremacy - male, white, able bodied, hetero… - we will also all represent parts of those systems to each other, whether or not we intend to do so.
White supremacy and patriarchy and inextricably linked and the impact of those seep or crash into every environment where there are power and past trauma for those involved. White supremacy will not be dismantled without dismantling patriarchy because they serve to reinforce one another, narrowing access to and our experiences of ourselves and each other. This work looks different depending on which system we are dismantling and what knowledge we are deconstructing in any given moment. The process of decolonizing our hearts and minds and bodies within our communities is the work of many lifetimes. We will continue to teach about these things from our professional and personal experiences with the guidance of our teachers and mentors from an array of cultural communities, along with the testimony of our clients lives and healing journeys.
We will continue this work from a stance of grace, freedom and integrity. In the words of Audre Lorde, one of my teachers and a place I have been teaching and practicing from for over 30 years, “The masters tools will never dismantle the masters house.”
**Thanks to Chuck Benincasa, PsyD, LP and Quincy Guinadi, MA for their invaluable input