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Can therapy ease the trauma of US racist attacks and systemic racism?

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Can therapy ease the trauma of US racist attacks and systemic racism?

Chinese-American mental health counselor Monica Band started getting a flood of calls and emails soon after former US President Donald Trump began blaming China for the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

News followed of the killings of six Asian-born spa workers in Atlanta and brutal attacks on people of Asian descent nationwide. Band’s mostly Asian-American clients in the Washington, DC, area have been spat on, called racist names and in one case physically assaulted on a commuter rail line by an assailant yelling, “Go back to China!”

To help, Band is drawing on a still-developing treatment field pioneered by African-American clinicians who have been working for years to help ease the debilitating pain of racist attacks and systemic racism that can be passed down generations.

Black Americans are suffering amid heightened visibility of racism since the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last year and numerous other high-profile killings.

Talk therapy and other treatments have been developed for survivors of such catastrophes as war and customized to meet the needs of people from different cultures and backgrounds.

To help people cope with stress, the Association of Black Psychologists organized online group therapy “healing circles” during the trial of the former policeman who killed Floyd, New York area psychologist Jennifer Jones-Damis said. That trial ended with guilty verdicts earlier this month.

Therapists say individuals traumatized by racism can experience flashbacks, crying spells and unrelenting worry. Repeated exposure to graphic images and rising attacks make some fear leaving home and feel vulnerable.

Rising hate

The Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism tracked a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans of 149 percent in 2020 in 16 major cities compared to 2019 in the wake of rhetoric blaming China for the pandemic that started in that country.

The number of people seeking help also rose – and counselors to treat them are in short supply, according to therapists interviewed by Reuters. Band in February started a support group for people who suffered anti-Asian hate incidents or were upset by attacks on others. She also works one-on-one with clients but has a months-long waiting list.

Of about 3,700 Americans of Asian-American and Pacific Islander descent surveyed by DePaul University psychologist Anne Saw, 75 percent said they believe the United States has become more dangerous for them, preliminary data shared exclusively with Reuters showed.

Of 421 people who agreed to be interviewed about racist incidents they had experienced and reported to the group Stop AAPI Hate, 95 percent said the United States had become more dangerous, said Saw, who conducted a portion of her research in collaboration with the group.

About 40 percent of the 421 Stop AAPI Hate respondents said they had experienced at least one symptom of racism-based traumatic stress, including depression, hypervigilance, anger, intrusive thoughts and lowered self-esteem.

“We’re seeing numbers of folks experience anxiety depression, racial trauma symptoms that are like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Saw said.

But trauma caused by racist attacks or racism does not have a formal mental health diagnosis.

“If a phenomenon is not named, it is generally not recognized and when it’s not recognized, it’s not treated,” said New York therapist and author Kenneth Hardy, a pioneer in the field of racism trauma.

Over the past year, more than 400 clinicians have sought training in one of the few formal protocols for treating racial stress and trauma. Psychologist Steven Kniffley’s 12-week program at Spalding University in Louisville, Kentucky first helps clients to learn, for example, whether they have internalized racist views of themselves. Next, words or other means are used to retell and process experiences. Finally, tools for dealing with future incidents, such as seeking support from observers, are discussed.

Connecticut therapist Danielle Spearman-Camblard said she would like a diagnosis of racial trauma added to psychiatry’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. A designation would make it easier to bill insurance companies for treatment and show that the psychological effects of racism are real, she said.

Robert Carter, a Columbia University psychologist who led efforts to educate mental health professionals about the impacts of racism, said racism-caused injuries should be treated. But he said people who have been impacted by racism are not mentally ill and should not be subjected to the stigma that can accompany a diagnosis.

Carter opposes the use of treatments developed for post-traumatic stress disorder for patients who, for example, develop anxiety and hopelessness after being denied an apartment or a job because of race. He believes the stress caused by racism is different psychologically from trauma.

Dr. Paul Applebaum, who chairs the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM steering committee, said an upcoming new edition of the manual will not list racial trauma as a condition, but will explicitly reference racism as a possible underlying cause of several diagnoses including depression.

Tracy Park, 37, didn’t seek therapy, citing a dearth of Asian-American counselors, after she and her family were targeted by racists.

In February 2020, as COVID-19 began to spread in the United States, the animator took her toddler and newborn baby to a Los Angeles park.

As she pushed her stroller toward the exit on her way to the library, a white man shouted at her: “Get your coronavirus babies the f–k out of here!”

Her 65-year-old mother was threatened by another white man later.

Park, anxious and at times depressed, developed trouble sleeping and was constantly on guard.

She found solace among a group of mothers who had also experienced anti-Asian hate and held online “unpacking sessions.” And she wrote a “zine” expressing her anger and other feelings.

But “I’m still scanning the horizon looking for anyone charging toward us,” Park said. “And that’s no way to live.”

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CryptoPunks NFTs sell at Christie’s for $17M, double expectations

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CryptoPunks NFTs sell at Christie’s for $17M, double expectations

A collection of nine so-called CryptoPunks were sold at auction as non-fungible tokens for $16.9 million, roughly double what Christie’s estimated the digital art would fetch.

It’s the latest sale of NFTs to bring in eye-popping valuations, piquing interest in the space. NFTs are digital assets that represent ownership of virtual items like art and sports memorabilia. 

Ownership of NFTs are recorded on a blockchain network, which supports cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin and ether.

CryptoPunks were one of the earliest NFT projects and have risen in value as collector’s items. The project included a total of 10,000 small pixel-art portraits of people, zombies, aliens, and apes. Larva Labs, which created the CryptoPunks project in 2017 on the Ethereum blockchain, says on its website that the series “inspired the modern CryptoArt movement.”

When Larva Labs created the figures in 2017, it kept 1,000, but gave away the rest for free to anyone with an Ethereum wallet. The collection of CryptoPunks sold at the Christie’s auction house came directly from Larva Labs. Christie’s did not identify the buyer. 

Each CryptoPunks figure was algorithmically generated and has unique attributes, from hairstyle and glasses to hats and smoking accessories. 

The nine that sold at Christie’s included some that had rare traits, which boost their value. CryptoPunk 635, which has a blue face, bandana and sunglasses, is one of just nine so-called alien punks in the entire 10,000-piece series, Christie’s said. Another of the nine sold, CryptoPunk 2, is sought after for being the second in the entire series.

The interest in and value of CryptoPunks has risen along with the NFT movement in recent months.

Over the past 12 months, 9,524 of the 10,000 CryptoPunks have exchanged hands, according to Larva Labs. The total value of all transactions tied to the NFTs is $740 million, Larva Labs says.

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Gurney’s Montauk launches new ‘Bungalows by the Sea’

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Gurney's Montauk launches new 'Bungalows by the Sea'

Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Spa has partnered with style icon/celeb event planner Jung Lee, of Fête NY, to launch Bungalows by the Sea.

Lee will also be at Gurney’s teaching flower-arranging classes this weekend.

Each private oceanfront “bungalow” holds up to six people and boasts a seasonal menu with curated cocktails created by Lee and Robert Hamburg, the new exec chef of Gurney’s Montauk.

Lee will also be working with Gurney’s for weddings on the property.

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COVID-19 pet boom has veterinarians backlogged, burned out

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COVID-19 pet boom has veterinarians backlogged, burned out

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — During the gloomiest stretches of the pandemic, Dr. Diona Krahn’s veterinary clinic has been a puppy fest, overrun with new four-legged patients.

Typically, she’d get three or four new puppies a week, but between shelter adoptions and private purchases, the 2020 COVID-19 pet boom brought five to seven new clients a day to her practice in Raleigh, North Carolina. Many are first-time pet owners.

Like many veterinarians across the country, she’s also been seeing more sick animals. To meet the demand, vets interviewed by The Associated Press have extended hours, hired additional staff and refused to take new patients and they still can’t keep up. Burnout and fatigue are such a concern that some practices are hiring counselors to support their weary staffs.

“Everyone is working beyond capacity at this point,” said Krahn, who added evening hours last year.

Approximately 12.6 million US households got a new pet last year after the pandemic was declared in March 2020, according to a COVID-19 Pulse Study by the American Pet Products Association.

Meanwhile, fewer people relinquished their pets in 2020, so they needed ongoing care, experts said. And as people worked from home and spent more time with their pets, they’ve had more opportunities to notice bumps, limps and other ailments that could typically go untreated.

Vets were already struggling to meet the pre-pandemic demand, with veterinary schools unable to churn out enough doctors and techs to fill the void.

Krahn left her North Carolina practice three months ago and now oversees nine veterinary and animal hospital clinics across Utah and Idaho under Pathway Vet Alliance.

“All of my practices are booking out several weeks in advance. Clients are actually calling around and scheduling appointments at multiple locations,” and even resorting to emergency care facilities, she said.

Banfield Pet Hospital, one of the largest national providers of preventive veterinary medicine, had approximately half a million more pet visits in 2020 than in 2019. And its telehealth service more than doubled in volume from March through the end of last year.

Thrive, another veterinary hospital primary care group, with 110 facilities across the US, reported a 20 percent increase in demand during the pandemic. Both repeated a common refrain — as humans spent more time with their pets, they were more in tune with their ailments — big and small.

“With COVID, a lot of people became powerless to the ones closest to them,” said Claire Pickens, a senior director at Thrive, “but the one thing they still had the ability to control was caring for their pet.”

Clinics have been forced to streamline, having patients fill out forms online or by phone pre-appointment because hiring additional staff often isn’t an option.

“The industry is growing at a rate that it can’t fill all the roles needed to keep up with the increased demand for services,” said Pickens.

Veterinary positions are projected to grow 16 percent by 2029, nearly four times the average of most other occupations, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. Vet tech jobs are expected to increase nearly 20 percent in the next five years.

“We are still short staffed despite active seeking of additional staff,” said Dr. Katarzyna Ferry, Veterinary Specialty Hospital of Palm Beach Gardens.

Verg, a 24-hour emergency and specialty hospital in Brooklyn, reported a 40 percent jump in emergency care since the pandemic began. That’s also meant more pet hospitalizations, straining various specialties like surgery and cardiology.

“The demand continues to grow,” causing extreme weariness in a profession known for its big-hearted workers, said Verg’s chief medical officer, Dr. Brett Levitzke.

“Fear of the unknown with the pandemic leads to more intense emotions from our clients,” said Levitzke. He’s seen expletive-laced outbursts and threats from pet owners and also outpourings of love, with cards and baked goods. After the toll on the staff became noticeable, they hired a compassion fatigue specialist for support.

“Unfortunately, compassion fatigue, anxiety and depression already plagued our profession and the pandemic has certainly taken it to another level,” Levitzke said.

Krahn said she sold her North Carolina practice to Pathway and later took an administrative role with the company in part to provide practical and emotional support to veterinarians, knowing the toll first-hand.

“As veterinarians, its our job to care, but we also take care of people through their animals,” said Krahn. “Doctors and support teams struggle with caring for themselves in a way that preserves them to be able to keep doing this.”

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