Trap Therapy is working to destigmatize mental healthcare in Milwaukee
If you walked into Gee’s Clippers and saw the DJ table and the snacks, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a party. Trap Therapy events are intended to feel like a celebration. In reality it’s a kind of group therapy session focused on destigmatizing mental health care in Milwaukee’s Black and brown communities.
Its founder, Tarsha Wiggins, was hearing concerns from people in her community and wanted to create a space where people could share these feelings and get help working through them.
"Some of the things I commonly hear from people is about trauma, is about healing, it's always: how do I heal, what does that look like?... [my work is] normalizing some of the day-to-day emotions that people feel, when you feel hopeless and helpless, especially in the height of the pandemic feeling like things weren’t going to get better," she explains.
Wiggins is a licensed clinical social worker and certified alcohol and drug counselor who found her own mental health suffering during the pandemic. So she launched Speak Wellness Behavioral Health & Consulting and began hosting Trap Therapy events in different spaces around the city. The name comes from a style of rap music known as trap, which is an integral part of these sessions.
She says, "It’s essentially using urban music, hip-hop music, to drive and guide meaningful and dynamic conversations around mental health. We’re using music to help people let their guard down, release their natural endorphins and allow us to have some really uncomfortable conversations around things that’s happening in their minds, in their bodies, in their families, and in our community."
The events are free to participants and feel a bit like a religious service with some major twists. Instead of a choir, there’s a DJ. The sermon doesn’t stem from religious texts, but focuses on understanding the importance of mental health care and the many affects of trauma. There’s call and response from Wiggins to the audience, and like any good sermon, it focuses on our common experiences, our collective struggles, and how we can start healing.
Wiggins says these similarities are intentional.
"We wanted people to come to something that they’re accustomed to, something that they’re familiar with. And you’ll also notice that with Trap Therapy they’re often located or conducted in areas in the community that people are familiar with, know how to get there, know how to locate it, things like that. But the element too that, you know, call and response, that familiarity - that is something that just innately brings down the guard ... when you walk into a place, you feel heard, you see yourself, you are comfortable," she explains.
It’s that atmosphere that keep attendees, like Jerrae Govani, coming back to each session.
"The first time we went it was kind of small, really intimate, but now you know, it’s getting a buzz, it’s growing. You see that she’s making the connections and doing a really good job of - I feel like a really good job of being vibrant and connecting music, connecting art, and you know, medical science. So I love the educational piece, but I love the fun piece too, because we get to turn up and have a good time," she says, laughing.
Justin Biddle, another attendee, was at Trap Therapy for the first time, but is likely to come back again.
"I do believe that mental health is a very important fact within our community. A lot of people don’t view it as important as it should be viewed. I love that Tarsha brings together something that we can all relate to and also something as important as mental health and therapy," he says.
That speaks to Wiggins ultimate goal: destigmatizing mental health care and reshaping people’s views on seeking help.
"What I love most when we are in trap therapy is when we have our break-through sessions and we have those moments where we take intermissions: seeing people engage in that conversation outside of the information that was just shared, where when you see that lightbulb goes off and it’s like - that happened to me, that explains this ... One of the things I always will hold near and dear to my heart is when people say: I never considered seeing a therapist before, maybe I should," says Wiggins.