Digame: Boricua Therapist Natalie Gutierrez Talks BIPOC Trauma & Healing

Latine Natalie Yvette Gutiérrez, LMFT is a Certified Internal Family Systems Therapist in New York of Puerto Rican heritage

Natalie Gutierrez BIPOC trauma

Photo courtesy of Natalie Gutierrez

Latine Natalie Yvette Gutiérrez, LMFT is a Certified Internal Family Systems Therapist in New York of Puerto Rican heritage. Much of her work is dedicated to providing trauma counseling to Black, Indigenous, and people of color healing from intergenerational trauma and complex post-traumatic stress. She explores the personal struggles of today with the impact of ancestral trauma, systemic racism, and oppression on a person’s spirit and inner world. Natalie helps folks understand and release the cultural and familial legacy burdens they carry. She authored The Pain We Carry: Healing from Complex PTSD for People of Color set to be released in October 2022.  The book provides tools to understand and heal from repeated trauma and how to reclaim wellness through reconnecting with yourself and your ancestral wisdom. It also covers intergenerational trauma, how trauma is connected to grief, and how it can affect both the mind and the body.

Which Latina(s) have had the greatest impact on your life and why?

The woman in my family have definitely had the greatest impact in my life, especially my mother. My mother has taught me so much about perseverance with minimal means, being generous and caring to others, and what it looks like to be willing to listen to your child when they disagree with you. Also, Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s life story is an inspiration for me today. She reminds me to stand by what I stand for, even when I’m the only person like me in the room. They’re all pillars of strength in my life’s journey, for sure.

If you could meet a Latina icon who is no longer alive, who would it be and why?

Definitely Selena Quintanilla! She meant so much to me growing up. I remember learning that I could be myself through watching her be herself, singing Spanish music despite once not being a “perfect” Spanish speaker. For me, Selena represented this goal toward freedom, humility, unapologetic laughter, and love for others. She was such a big role model for me as a kid.

What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

I had a supervisor once share a quote with me as I was struggling with imposter syndrome. The quote was “It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you’re not” by Denis Waitley. That really stood with me, because so much of who I thought I was came from internalized racism and oppression. I internalized many messages from White Supremacy culture and ableism. In the past, I’ve talked myself out of applying for jobs telling myself I wasn’t enough, evaded opportunities that would put me in the public eye, because of all the things I told myself I was that were mostly untrue. And I’ve had to unlearn and release this internalized messaging so that I could rediscover all of who I really am, and be vulnerable enough to allow people to see all of me, too.

If you could pursue a career in an industry other than your own, what would it be and why?

I couldn’t imagine doing something else, I love the healing work I do. But if I had to choose, it would be a toss-up between journalism and archaeology. I love to learn about other people, places, and cultures and I’m an avid traveler, so reporting on current events of people from around the world, and learning about important events in history to understand humans more sounds fascinating to me.

Who was the first person to believe in your dreams/goals?

Me. I’ve dared to dream and have believed I could achieve them, even when my inner critic and voice of self-doubt says I can’t. There’s a fire within me that refuses to be extinguished. Perhaps, it’s the encouragement of my ancestors also telling me they believe in me too. Some dreams I’ve spoken aloud, some have lived within and are seeds waiting to sprout. Growing up, I’ve usually spoken my dreams to my mother, who has supported them even when she thought they were a long shot. I remember wanting to be a fashion model once (and was accepted into Barbizon Modeling School) and my mother paid for my modeling school despite us having minimal financial means. My mom has struggled and sacrificed a lot, even tucking away her own dreams, so that I can see mine come to fruition.

What do you wish more people understood about what you do?

I wish more people understood that holding space for others is a lot of emotional work, even when I love to do it. That many therapists are underpaid and our work is undervalued, even though the world cannot be without us. Who will our doctors, lawyers, judges, teachers, community members go to for emotional and mental support if therapists weren’t around? I wish people would know that we are forever changed when meeting with our clients. I’ve hurt too when my clients have hurt, cried when they’ve cried, and wondered if I was doing right by them. I’ve been inspired by my clients, hurt by my clients, and have grieved over and with my clients. I want people to know that I will always be a human first. That I am a human that does therapy.

What motivates you?

You do. People of the global majority inspire me every day. Our collective healing motivates me to do what I do. My children also motivate me. The wish for the liberation and healing of Puerto Rico inspires me. I want to leave this Earth plane knowing in my heart that I’ve done my part to contribute to the healing of its people, especially for those that have racialized and other marginalized identities. Healing work is soul work for me. Love of humanity motivates me to be this change that I want to see in the world (nod to Mahatma Gandhi) and use my healing gifts as medicine to share this love.

How did you end up on the professional path you’re on now?

I have to say getting my Master of Arts Degree in Marriage & Family Therapy was actually a detour. For the longest time, I’ve wanted to be a clinical psychologist and do research. However, after going through depression in college following the divorce of my parents and all the family rupture that came from it, my grades weren’t high enough to get into doctoral programs. I knew I wanted to try, so I took a few years and worked as a clinical research coordinator, and also volunteered in a hospital in NYC and the Bronx to gain more clinical research experience.

Two years later, I decided to move to Hawai’i, and apply for the Masters Degree in the Marriage & Family Therapy program. It was through my internship, and the work I did after graduation that I began to find my niche with trauma work, and where I actually started becoming the clinician I wanted to be. I challenged supervisors and policies that weren’t inclusive of Black and brown bodies and pivoted to offering support in my private practice that integrated the impact of the larger system on client’s nervous system and their spirit. This makes the most sense to me—getting a sense of someone’s story, and the story before their story, and the story of the systems in place that they exist in.

What is your greatest professional achievement so far? Personal achievement?

My greatest professional achievement is definitely completing my manuscript this year! I’ve always wanted to write a book, and the book I’ve birthed has been written from the heart centering the lived experience of Black, Indigenous, and people of color whose stories are untold and forgotten. I am excited for its release in October.

As far as personal achievement, I definitely think all the work I’ve done internally to love myself, forgive myself, and grow to be who I am rather than who the world wants me to be, has been my greatest achievement. I am forever a work in progress on this healing journey, but I am here to intentionally break cycles of intergenerational trauma so that my kids can live their lives less burdened than I did.

What is a goal you have that you haven’t accomplished yet and what are you doing to get closer to accomplishing it?

I would’ve initially said returning to graduate school for my PhD, but there’s a deeper, more meaningful goal I want to see myself accomplish—and that’s to open a trauma healing center in Puerto Rico for healing retreats and psychotherapy. I want this healing center to have energy healers, womb healers, therapists that work from a decolonial lens, ancestral medicine practitioners, and psychedelic medicine workers. I want folks to channel their creativity and inner-children, I want to create a space for meditation and introspection, community and groups, for collective uplifting and witnessing. We can’t do this healing journey alone, and I have this vision to create this space on the land of my ancestors. I just finished buying a home in Puerto Rico, so this is the first step on the journey of many.

What pop culture moment made you feel seen?

Definitely being a teenager when NSYNC was a thing! I loved them, and even met them once (and gave JC Chasez this really long love letter with my picture and phone number- he didn’t call lol). Back in those days, my cousins and I would take the NYC train to wherever they were performing to see them, and spent many hours at home learning all their dance routines. Music and dance have always been important love languages for me. They have been a way to connect with family, channel playfulness and joy.

How do you practice self-care?

Self-care has been a journey for me and by that I mean sometimes it’s a roller-coaster ride. I’ve inherited this legacy burden of over-working and over-achieving to fulfill this feeling of self-acceptance. I’ve really had to give a pep talk to the parts of me that want to go full steam ahead and push through moments I’m sick, feel scared or sad, and just complete whatever task. And every time I’ve pushed through, my body has eventually set the boundaries for me I couldn’t set. This has historically looked like me getting sick with stomach pain, headaches, exhaustion, and shutting down. Lately, my self-care has looked like slowing down. Being okay with disappointing others if it means I’m not disappointing myself. It means saying “No” to someone if the “No” means saying “Yes” to me.

I continue to offer tenderness to the younger parts within me that are so scared to miss out, disappoint others, not be perfect at something and I let them know it’s okay to be free. That self-preservation is vital to my liberation and our collective liberation because that is when I am at my best. I cannot pour from an empty cup, no matter how much I wish I could. So, I allow myself to rest more even when I feel guilt or sadness, as an act of resistance against a system that wants me to work and hurt myself out of existence. My favorite things to do are walking in nature, listening to music and dancing, laying on the beach and listening to the waves, hugging and kissing my children, and reading poetry.

Quick Fire:

Shoutout an Instagram account that could use more love and tell us why you’re a fan:

There’s so many people I want to shout out, and I couldn’t narrow it to one so here are three: I really appreciate Biany (@embodymagic) who shares beautiful tarot guidance on their IG, and Dr. Lydiana Garcia (@dr.lydianagarcia) talking about ancestral sweetness and reclaiming her gifts. Lastly, I want to amplify the work of Oumou Sylla (@connectwithoumou) who supports BIPOC at the intersections of LGBTQIA+ and teaches the skill of setting boundaries.

Shoutout your favorite Latina owned business and why:
Latinx Therapy and Latinx Parenting because both platforms and businesses do so much powerful work to empower and bring awareness to the issues hurting Latinx communities. I also really appreciate the artistic work of Salon Boricua (@salonboricua), Taina Sisters (@tainasisters), Art By Sir (@artbysir), and Samuel Lind and have much of their artwork represented on the walls of my home and office.

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