I have noticed for a while now that psychotherapy (as well as psychiatry) is an extremely white dominated profession, both in terms of its theories and the number of therapists that are white. It has been too easy for too long for therapy to serve and be accessible to white people and white people only. This is not fair and this is not okay.
In her book The Challenge of Racism in Therapeutic Practice, transcultural psychotherapist, trainer and supervisor Dr Isha McKenzie-Mavinga writes about 'the myth that the work on racism is finished'. McKenzie-Mavinga explains that this myth 'inhibits the explicit engagement of black issues in the therapeutic process'. She writes that the 'lack of opportunity to express hurt caused by oppression contributes to internalized oppression. The oppression is sometimes re-enacted against the self and others causing low self-concept and feelings of powerlessness.'
The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network (BAATN) is the UK’s largest independent organisation that specialises in 'working psychologically, informed by an understanding of intersectionality, with people who identify as Black, African, South Asian and Caribbean'. Undeniably, psychological services are designed by white people with white people in mind. Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people get a raw deal when it comes to mental health for so many reasons. BAME people are more likely to live in poverty, have higher rates of unemployment, lower educational outcomes and experience more barriers to accessing mental health services than their white counterparts. A report by The Mental Health Foundation provides some useful information and statistics on BAME communities and mental health which I recommend having a look at.
One of the aims of the BAATN is to 'address the inequality of access to appropriate psychological services for Black, African, South Asian and Caribbean people'. The BAATN works in partnership with 'white majority therapy and training organisations that recognise racism, and the importance of undoing the impact of racism, as an essential part of being mentally healthy'. The network explain that their overarching goal 'is the individual and collective processing of our inner experiences for the benefit of ours and other communities, and to give a voice to a ‘black empathic approach’.
The 'black empathic approach' is a term that was coined by Isha McKenzie-Mavinga (2009). McKenzie-Mavinga described this 'approach as understanding and paying attention to the emotions evoked by racism.' This approach is rooted in empathy and is about giving responses that 'sensitively relate to a client’s racial and cultural experiences as they express them and as the therapist intuitively recognises them' (2009). ‘A black empathic approach’ points us towards a connection to feelings about difference and sameness, and a shared understanding of racism', writes McKenzie-Mavinga.
The vast majority of psychotherapy training programmes do not help therapists (the majority of whom are white) develop nearly enough tools to address and work sensitively with white privilege, racism and race-based trauma or abuse in the therapy room. Importantly, the BAATN 'seeks to influence the integration of this [black empathic] approach into mainstream psychotherapy training, literature and practice.'
I don't have statistics on it, but I would imagine many BAME people are harmed by therapists who have not integrated 'a black empathic approach', or a similar approaches, into their practice. I don't have statistics but I am sure that some therapists hold very problematic, damaging and racist views. As a white person I have not experienced this for myself first hand. This is because I am protected by my white privilege. I am looking forward to learning more by reading more books and blogs on this topic.
For as long as psychotherapy continues to be designed by white people for white people, BAME people will not have equality in the mental health system. Things have to change and the more people in positions of power address their white privilege and its workings within their profession. I am a teacher and I know my own profession has its own version of white privilege that negatively impacts BAME children.
A few days ago, Public Health England finally published the review into the disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19. The review shows that 'people of Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, Other Asian, Caribbean and Other Black ethnicity had between 10 and 50% higher risk of death when compared to White British people.' It showed that people of Bangladeshi ethnicity faced around twice the risk of death compared with people of White British ethnicity. Under what circumstances is this okay? BAME people are suffering *so* much more as a result of this pandemic than White British people.
Helpfully, the BAATN have compiled an online directory of therapists from an array of therapeutic orientations and specialisms, 'all of whom are experienced in working with the distinctive African, Caribbean and South Asian experience.' They also run trainings, events, mentoring programmes, produce podcasts and create book lists, to name just a few aspects of their work.
The BAATN are a not-for-profit orgnisation. They run the 'Each one Teach one' Mentoring Programme which 'nurtures Black and Asian psychological therapists through their training' so that they can contribute to mental health care in the UK. If you would like to donate towards this project, you can do so on their website.
Isha McKenzie-Mavinga, The Challenge of Racism in Therapeutic Practice (2nd Edition): Engaging with Oppression in Practice and Supervision, published by Red Globe Press
Sample chapter of the book
The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network (BAATN) website https://www.baatn.org.uk
The Mental Health Foundation report on mental health and Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/b/black-asian-and-minority-ethnic-bame-communities
Public Health England review 'Disparities in the risk and outcomes of COVID-19' https://cached.offlinehbpl.hbpl.co.uk/NewsAttachments/PGH/disparities_review.pdf
I would like to thank Kevin Dawkins from BPDvideo.com who emailed me to tell me about the work of the BAATN which inspired me to write this post. Thank you!