Many of the blogs this year happened as a result of personal experience or a question I wanted to pose. This is another where I am attempting to arrive at an answer whilst travelling – whilst writing. Recognising that the journey is as important as the destination can be a useful point to hold.
Change Squared I attended a lecture at McMaster’s university recently, delivered by the researcher/writer/political scientist Dr. Debra Thompson. The lecture invited me to begin asking myself about progressive change. I also attended a number of lectures about psychedelic use in psychotherapy. Esther Perel interviewing in brief Julia Samuel about growing through discomfort and finally attending presentations on alternative practice in psychotherapy with BAATN. The commonality between these experiences engage change at a number of levels. In all of the conversations there was an understanding of processes ending. I would suggest that at each discussion there was also a sense of newness. Ideas being born or starting again in fresh clothes. Offering different ideas on the inherent separation from the past.
Change – Fragile Beauty
Support I am inside an experience of significant change currently. Inviting me to travel. Pain wholly present. There is also recognition of release. Parts of my reality have been impacted by loss and as a result forever changed. Other parts of life have stayed the same. Julia mentioned in her conversation with Esther – that emotions move slower than other human intelligences. Appreciating change is an iterative experience. We don’t get it in one gulp. We arrive with the knowing in stages. This idea resonates for me. The world has had to make necessary adjustments as a result of CoViD19? The process for the adaptation happened in stages. We lurched from lockdown to release and back. The experience protracted and confusing. For many a sense of autonomy, identity and control were frustrated. The process of grief and bereavement may well have been a way to manage the pandemic. Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance, Celebration, Peace, Rest the last three being my extension of the process of loss.
Illusion When we step beyond the illusion of control, something else is allowed to be realised. Wrapped inside the illusion of control is boredom. Creativity and discovery are seen as unnecessary. Play too put outside an encounter that has the potential of radically challenging and changing all that we thought we knew. When we can hold 3 truths of certainty, discovery and uncertainty as equal partners a trinity is formed leading to growth. I have described psychotherapy before as an art. Mainly because the unknown remains a constant partner amongst the process of healing. For the artist who is about to create an inquiry leads to capturing a feeling that was first something unknown. It is the cat in Shrödingers thought experiment. In psychotherapy the art is in what takes place between client and person collaborating in the healing encounter.
Change – Renewal of Ideas
*Syncopatico Recently I shared in a ‘Clean Space’ that 2 trinities are formed when counselling. There is the client sharing their thoughts. Hearing their thoughts and then interpreting their ideas. This initial trinity I would stand by as being a primary catalyst that encourages the change the client seeks. The secondary catalyst is how the space between client and psychotherapist supports what is shared, how it is heard and then what is then used. A synchronicity is offered on a continual loop.
Less is I have attempted to show below with the resources a direction of travel. When we accept change and move with transformation, we grow. When we do what is necessary to acknowledge change’s existence our acclimatisation causes less pain. This is not to say that change happens easily or without pain. Denial however, causes more. Serial and NY Times new podcast series below offers a visceral reminder of the time we are living in. We Were Three presents fact that is undeniable. Perhaps we can hold uncertainty, hope and humour in another tri partisan awareness, as old certain ideas crumble?
Change – Simple and Complex
Resources An introduction to Debra Thompson discussing her experiences of race in Canada. Sharing her insights on writing the book ‘The Long Road Home’ with Dr. Ethel Tungohan Esther Perel sessions are a collection of short psychotherapy conversations with thought leaders in various fields. I have found Esther’s thought extrapolations wonderfully capture ideas. Julia Samuels in conversation with Will Ryecroft about her book ‘This Too Shall Pass’ expand on the ideas shared with Esther. By attending a number of presentations by leaders in the field of psychedelic psychotherapy, I was reminded of the Netflix show ‘How to Change Your Mind’. The idea of change being a fundamental human experience that can be enhanced by natural substances. Another thought – ancient cultures and traditions holding centuries old knowledge offer keys for expansive human development. Therapy Outside by BAATN offered a range of presenters discussing their approaches to psychotherapy. All addressing change within the art of counselling. We Were Three is the latest instalment from the Serial podcast series discussing a difficult truth about CoViD19 and the denial response to accessing care. Dr. Debra Thompson on Academic Aunties Esther Perel Sessions Julia Samuel Coping with Change interview for Waterstones with Will Ryecroft Psychedelic Assisted Psychotherapy Summit Therapy Outside: Approaches Beyond The Norm BAATN conference Serial We Were Three
Backlinks Re-imagining Loss Pt 2 8 stages of grieving. Cat Theory Illusion for links the idea of known, unknown and both ideas being true. Braver A link to a way to have old defunct, maladaptive ideas crumble.
What is a clean space? I am borrowing from psychotherapy’s understanding of clean pain and dirty pain here. The idea for clean space is a transmutation from Resmaa Menakem’s book, My Grandmother’s Hands, and a conversation with a friend. In the book Resmaa defines ‘clean pain as choosing integrity over fear and standing in that fear with integrity and moving towards the unknown. The alternative path is responding from dirty pain. Dirty pain is when we respond to fear and conflict from our most wounded parts. Responding from dirty pain only creates more pain, both for ourselves and for other people.’ Kevin Reese.
Adapt Faster For the past few months I have been engaged in conversations with Joshua Isaac Smith. ‘Clean space’ is a new concept for us to consider. We wondered what ‘clean space’ would mean? A room devoid of clutter, debris from the past, smoke, mirrors, egos, distraction and expectation. A ‘clean space’ would be filled with windows. Allowing safe passage of the used and damaged out, and on the new breeze, fresh exciting ideas and plans.
‘Clean Space’ existing as a hopeful tentative NOW.
Empowered Recently I was amongst 20 Black men at McMaster’s Black Student Success Centre for an Empowered conversation. Being with groups of Black and Brown men, has been part of my psychotherapeutic experience since joining BAATN in 2010. Forming The Black Men’s Therapy Group, collaborating to start The Diversity Space at NHS Oxleas, being a counsellor of Kwanda’s Mens Groups, attending and co-facilitating the True Roots Check-In and Chat gatherings and now the Empowered experience at McMaster’s University have all been ‘clean spaces’. Every experience supports an understanding of how rare meeting in an unencumbered way can be.
These Days I wrote last year, about when Black people gather in numbers larger than 2, in spaces that are considered White, often that group is interrupted or stopped from happening. Noise, disruption, a perceived harmony considered out of alignment the cause. A closer examination could be that witnessing Black people together laughing, discussing, enjoying time peaceably can cause suspicion, disharmony, an old yet fully present order – disrupted. The observer offset by a preconceived notion that a group of Black men are planning something. Leading to revolt. In solidarity groups arrive at causes that determine outcomes and act accordingly to achieve necessary change.
Ready The Empowered event at Mac’ was the first of it’s kind at the University. Members of staff (2 sports coaches, a lecturer/PhD student) students from different years and areas of study and me came together to watch Black Boys. A film about the Black Male experience in America, and then discuss our understanding of being a Black man in Canada. The skill of withholding rather than exploding, being assertive versus aggressive, non reactive when encountering micro and major aggressions, the exhaustion of constantly being on guard. Like being in an invisible straightjacket against one’s will…
Rebound Speaking with Joshua, who wondered about an organisms tendency to shrink, retreat, respond in fear when new stimuli are introduced. Prompted me to write this short blog. Our conversation helped me to think about synapses and encountering difference. Does the brain re-wire initially encountering challenge? Do synapses retreat breaking connection momentarily? Only to reach out and form a link later and then re-enforce that link with others. Or once a synaptic link drops, is the link permanently severed? Being in safe spaces, ‘clean spaces’, do synaptic links regrow? Do we regrow once danger and perceived threat disappear?
Exponential Growth I believe we do in ‘clean spaces’. If the human has a tendency to self actualise, to improve continually, Black men witnessing another (others) in a space being vulnerable, can identify that the masculine can be compassionate and however that male wishes to recongise and express themselves. That was what I witnessed. A willingness to step outside of a pre-set mold. Tentatively we began to unfurl and live in space without filters. We became hushed, listening intently, focused. We found time to articulate our ideas and experiences like a testimony for the gathered to know ‘You are not alone.’ ‘I see you.’ ‘I have felt that way too.’
You, Me, Us Being in service to another, is being in service to self, to one’s family and community. ∞ (infinity) is an act of Ubuntu. When as a species (human) we can accept that no person is more important than anyone else on the planet. Death then can be an equalising concept. This final experience has us all in repose, be you a queen, a member of a Junta, or a salesperson. Having access to ‘clean space’ for Black men I imagine contributes to a sense of being seen, heard, valued and fulfilled. I am fortunate to have been a part of the inaugural Empowered event and look forward to many others at McMasters, and beyond. The request from ourselves to humanity is less to seek permission, but taking the necessary steps to live well as Black men.
More of Experiencing ‘clean spaces’ more than once, leaves me questioning about how members of the Empower group found their time? I am also interested to know how to increase a sense of security and ‘clean space’ beyond designated times and places. As a psychotherapist I am interested to know what the bite point is. When do ideas of connection bloom towards collaboration, action and then implementation? Having access to ‘clean space’ could be the catalyst.
Moving energy collectively forward.
Little is achieved without community around.
The first ‘clean space’ may well have been the family unit…
Resources Black Boys hyperlinks to the site of the film. The link below is a Blog discussing the film in some detail by The Curvy Critic Sonia Lowman. With I stand Alone, the outro of this piece of music bites down on the kernel I have been mulling on throughout this blog. Patrick Stump presents an idea on repetition. Without ingenuity nothing new can be introduced. Amongst community – everything is out for reinvention. Black Folk introduces a wonderful love song to Black People about the Black experience. As insightful as the music is wistful. Poetry filled with pointed observation. Again we observe community. Clean Pain links to a short piece by Kevin Reese who looks at his life following release from prison and integrating with community. Jason Reynolds has a 4-part podcast where he in his smooth baritone, observes life post CoVid19 alongside his mother’s influence. Community for me is more than 1. QLS Classic with Common, highlights Common’s rise from Chicago to being a global figure. Note how he observes community, influence and movement that helps to shape his career. Black Boys by Sonia Lowman a review Robert Glasper, Common, Patrick Stump I Stand Alone Tank and The Bangas Black Folk Clean Pain and the necessity of healing – MSR Radiotopia Presents My Mother Made Me – Jason Reynolds Quest Love Supreme – QLS Classic: Common
**Backlinks Adapt Faster – Joshua Isaac Smith Canada links to the Blog Encounters of the 3rd Kind Black Student Success Centre or BSSC at McMasters Uni BAATN The Black African and Asian Therapist Network The Black Men’s Therapy Group Blog The Diversity Space Blog Kwanda’s Mens Group Blog True Roots Blog Ubuntu: Recovery – White Supremacy Blog
**Whilst I find backlinks useful in the main body of text. They can be distracting for you the reader. I would be interested to know if you find links at the end of the writing helpful.
Many of these blogs are born from a filtering of information from a range of sources. Some arrive whilst in conversation with friends and family. The below is a hybrid of both. A large thank you to my sister Edwina and Ms. Amarpreet Ajji who both steered me through a number of tough realisations.
Adverse Hooch is well known as a legal and illegal alcoholic drink. In America – pruno is the colloquial equivalent. Moonshine is another name of illegally produced malted alcoholic beverages. Why am I writing about illegal liquor one might be inclined to ask? “Adversity is the mother of all invention”. My mum was fond of saying. This is my offering.
Locked In Having worked at over 10 prisons in the UK, and witnessed the ingenuity persons in prison extend themselves to – brewing alcohol illegally, there is a truth to my mum’s saying above, that I wanted to explore here. The common experience of hardship creating solution. If there wasn’t difficulty, poverty or war, would development of the advances that exist in the world currently be with us?
Community Links Living in Canada I am unable to be employed. My migrant status is under review. My ‘In Country’ application has been in process for over a year. In that time I have had chance to volunteer my support as a psychotherapist for True Roots as a panelist, and also as a co facilitator of their men’s monthly check in and chats series, ACCA as a volunteer co-ordinator for the organisation’s Individual and Family support programme, and most recently as a member of the St. Leonard’s Society of Hamilton that support individuals with rehabilitation after a custodial sentence. There is also a piece of work at McMaster University in Autumn I am looking forward to be involved with. I haven’t stopped engaging in purposeful activities it looks different at the moment.
Combustion The sloth of my application currently being processed by Canada’s immigration service is at the centre of my reasoning for Hooch. My ability to work and contribute, as in the UK, is hampered by slow processing. A low-grade frustration builds like a storm cloud. Similar to the lazy afternoon pull and erasure of dry wipe marks from a board that once held the allure of valuable information. The teacher oblivious, uncaring or both. Queue the classroom explosion.
Brew Hooch is a bi-product of ingenuity meeting boredom, opportunity and time. The blogs are my attempt to produce something potent and as therapeutic in a collection of words as hooch are for those behind ‘the wall’. Offering a taste of freedom. By writing I ease the storm cloud’s weight. If each letter were a droplet of rain, perhaps by the end of this year the rain cloud could become like cirrus – light as wisps of steam caught in rarefied air.
Expense Existing as a non-entity has perils: unaffordable health care, costly health and car insurance, inability to join the labour force, nonexistent credit rating, poor social mobility or cultural capital. Confidence repeatedly dashed against the rocks of doubt ‘Will this ever…?’ I am not alone in sensing the vacuum. A hoovering up of all that was known about a temporaneous life before the move is common for an immigrant.
Slow Down Whole communities have travelled from one country into another, and sometimes into yet more. Some – held in an infernal holding pattern such as Tom Hanks in the film Terminal, knowing the turmoil of life in absentia. And more living with the daily concerns: imminent threat of permanent removal re. ICE, deportation holding centres, dashed plans to reunite with family, job prospects and hopes of starting to live once more, following the global lockdown – held just beyond reach. An added sting of not knowing reasons for the omnipresent delay.
Process As a former sourdough bread baker and investigator of the subtle art of Kimchi (Sauerkraut restores gut health too) I wonder about the end of my waiting experience. I recognise that there is a fermentation taking place. A general awareness of developments I am not involved with. The experience – maddening and wildly frustrating. Space is taken to think a little, and share some of my thoughts with you. For me the sharing is the main point of writing these truncated missives – fermentation’s produce – Hooch.
Resources The ACCA links to the Afro Caribbean Canadian Association’s website, where you can find out a little bit more about the organisation is achieving in Hamilton. St Leonard’s takes readers to the SLSH website, one can take a look at all that this inspiring organisation does. Sourdough takes you to the almost fool proof method of creating and crafting a sourdough bread by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall. I am yet to make Kimchi. When I do I will follow Sue’s recipe. There are a range of studies that introduce the concept of our guts being our 2nd brain. Sean Brock is another find on Netflix who has an interesting take on flavour, pickling and fermentation. The article by Sandor Katz looks at fermentation’s power to transform cooking/baking. I enjoyed reading their interpretation of brewing cultures to transform ingredients for a diners culinary pleasure. A House Divided by Code Switch introduces a family that reside in the US under different policies of immigration. A number of complexities arise from their differing legal status. My Lying Eyes by This American Life explores the complex experiences of migrants to the US. Some appear to be allowed quick safe passage whilst others are left with a complex and dangerous route. Bassem Youssef introduces a number of important reflections about civil unrest, seeking justice and being an immigrant. The Stoop’s excellent coverage of Black life introduced a micro tear in the fabric of being othered outside of North America. Code Switch A House Divided This American Life My Lying Eyes Pod Save The World – Bassem Youssef The Stoop – I’m Black and I’m Jameela
For a few months now the idea of connection has been spinning. A few concepts have been attempting ascendency. Their want – to remain as consistent lenses for viewing the world through. These lenses tinted by the topics of: Shame, Open hearted state, Vulnerability, Listening, Attention and Intimacy. Merging together they have made a mind soup. Appealing in colour. Rich in flavour. Texture silky with some identifiable and unknown contents awaiting discovery therein. It’s the after taste of umami, that has my head to the side – questioning…
Vulnerability – Intimacy A counselling conversation recently, wandered close to the cliff edge of danger, curiosity and discovery. Most do. My hope with the below is that I can summarise and offer some of what was covered. Many of the counselling engagements I have throughout my working week pull and stretch understanding along a range of different paths. We were observing vulnerability as a component of being with others/another. That being amongst a space of vulnerability, is ultimately a goal often ventured but not soon realised. My mind turbo charged – whispered ‘but what of intimacy?’
Attention Deficit I shared my understanding of the world’s lurch toward certainty and attention with the client. When the opposite of attention, offers just as many outcomes and rewards. As likely to resolve a few human wants. I’ll share my basic understanding. We have a world focused on assessing and evaluating what can be made use of. What can be managed safely. If there is profit or gain. What can be left, lost or discarded. Veering wildly away from risk. Presenting the unknown unknown as problematic, unchartered and dangerous. In Narcissus is Us, I wrote about the draw of hiding behind a mobile device that offers the promise of connecting with others, but increasing a feeling of separation and loneliness. Our detriment. By venturing an unknown, new learnings, experiences and appreciations can be gathered. Are these encounters not as valuable as the ones we know and expect?
Switch Tracking Attention can be useful. By becoming aware of global issues, we can ask ourselves and others difficult questions and be willing to listen for answers. Humanity is curious by nature. Often we want to find reasons for things working the way that they do, or not. We can then find possible solutions. Alternatively flicking between a number of sources, to entertain ourselves is often the outcome of our attention being used. I wonder at what cost? Netflix’s ‘The Social Dilemma’, offered a useful interpretation of where our global attention is affixed. Our ‘seeing’ a range of images, stories, videos, links to sales and profit for an elite few. Attention is a way of being used to support financial reward for companies globally – not us, the user.
Pause for Cause My interest here is what are we losing, or have already lost? Could our attention deficit cause disconnection? Would we be aware of this trend? The CoViD19 pandemic, the global racial reckoning after the public murders of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the rise in technological dependency and entertainment, potentially may have instigated a turning away from trusting relationships with each other and specifically within ourselves. Use of telecommunication devices such as: Google Meet, MS Teams, Skype, Zoom, WhatsApp Video Call, Apple’s FaceTime, offer a semblance of remaining in contact with and a newer way of connecting with others. I wonder if “the being with” is the same? Is there an unknown component being lost? In my case, living on a different continent to those I support. I am dependent on mobile communication and working agilely. Does convenience increase or decrease contact?
Vulnerability I will use Brené Brown’s counsellor’s words to begin this part of the discussion. Vulnerability is both *exfoliatingly excruciating and **excitingly exquisite. Vulnerability is similar to walking a tightrope across a canyon. There is both risk and beauty to be had in both. To know that there could be pain attached to being vulnerable, can make us less willing to share much of ourselves. There could also be a wonderful sense of release, relief and resuscitation with letting go – the armour and shield. When we are in a place that we feel is safe enough. That the company we keep can bear witness to our vulnerability. We can get to the next more pleasing experience of being with, with less distance, less fear more empathy and a sense of being held.
Opening In last years post On Shame I placed emphasis on how to use shame to support growth. Both Hilary Jacobs Hendel and Brené Brown in their books, and interviews, share what living in an open-hearted way, looks and feels like. Another perspective of what learning arrives once Brown’s and Jacobs Hendel’s work takes root. We become engaged with the possibility of daring greatly, being compassionately congruent, and living within the scope of intimacy. The idea of engaging consistently in an open-hearted way, presents challenge. Would we be able to, with the world sliding towards the solipsistic? I wonder what do we gain from the pretense? That a me-centric view of the planet has us on course to irreparably damage ourselves and the biosphere we inhabit. A rise in mental illness could illustrate that the construct of the world we are living in, is unhealthy. Perhaps there are other ways to be in the world?
Dive Of late my concerns are about the bare-naked truth of limited interaction with others. Telecommunication has limits. Hearing and seeing, can be experienced from afar. But what of the sense of felt presence of being in the same space/room with another, with others? What happens to the intimacy of non-verbal communication? The hand gesture that is not seen as a result of the glitchy nature of WiFi, or the LAN cable disconnect, power outage? My client wondered if vulnerability was similar to a person going for a swim at their local swimming pool. Bathing suit on. Walking out carefully along the mid level diving board. Bouncing up and down. In full view of everyone else, but not piking and diving into the pool. Vulnerable yes. Intimate not yet.
Listening To experience unity and no degree of separation, the pool into which we dive is to be receptive. We were vulnerable bouncing up and down on the diving board. We move from vulnerability to intimacy when we leap forward into the pool. The water, willing and able to embrace us well. With the capacity to support if we were poor swimmers. The want to be intimate and vulnerable with others is linked to the spaces and people with whom we could share our tenderness and theirs. If the listening environment is primed and ready to accept, hear, understand, sharing will be an easier happening between those in the room/space. A few examples of altered listening were provided whilst I was training to become a counsellor/psychotherapist. We were asked to share a story with another student sitting opposite us. Who showed obvious signs that they were not paying any attention to what the storyteller was saying. Yawning, feigning sleep, mouthing the words this is so boring. I witnessed one student, stand and walk off! The vibe of these encounters felt uncomfortable for both the teller and the listener. A listening environment, in time becomes as valuable to a personal exchange as the “what” is shared in those spaces.
Unity Intimacy being the submersion. The hitting the water. Pushing up from the bottom of the pool. Bubbles. Breaking the surface. Gasping. Ejecting water from the mouth. Treading water. Feeling the cool. Spreading fingers and swishing the water in full play. Swimming the full length of the pool. Intimacy then, is bringing oneself into an experience of being with. Recognising self as separate from and yet being willing to fully commit, engage and be for however long enmeshed and inside of. Willingly being embraced and held by that other. Looked after by many trusted others. And you them. Intimacy is an act of trust. An act of faith that they, you, can exist as a oneness. Separation the umami taste of the soup. Within an intimate encounter, an ingredient that aims to dissolve union. Or possibly to enhance it.
Algorithm To move from distrust to intimacy, I wonder what the way of growth would be? Distrust, Dislike, Disappointment, Ambivalence, a positive experience, many positive experiences, Questioning throughout, Acceptance of what is, Testing self, Testing others, Failure and willingness to starting again – many times, Independence, Pauses, Building Resilience, Empathy, Compassion, Disciplined hope, Trust, Vulnerability, Intimacy…?
Event Horizon The path I propose to intimacy would likely be non-linear. My guess would be that the journey would be with a number of restarts from various positions listed above. I believe at our core, we seek connection and are excited by the prospect of being intimate (honest, open, collaborative, risking vulnerability) with others. 2020 was a beginning of a different way of living for many on the planet, perhaps there is another pull, daring us towards –
Resources The Anthropocene and all that is to be discovered in an ever changing human/non human landscape are subjects that Ayana and Dr. Bayo sit down to discuss. Dr. Bayo conjures in discussion with Ayana, a plethora of viewpoints through which to learn, question and revisit our understanding of spaceship earth. Masterpieces and Messes with Brené Brown and Jason Reynolds observes the up and down nature of discovery, loss, heartbreak and getting suspended from school for doing the right thing! A wonderful dance to listen to. Mistakenly Seeking Solitude uncovers a long-held myth. Being by oneself, holding oneself in abeyance does not make us happier, talking to strangers does. Dr. Laurie Santos with guests explain. Maya Shankar uses this podcast to investigate how significant events in hers and her guests lives leads to break through’s discoveries and successes. Failing can lead to break down and break through and intimate connection. For the Wild podcast with Ayana Young and Dr. Bayo Akomolafe Unlocking Us Brené Brown and Jason Reynolds The Happiness Lab – Mistakenly Seeking Solitude with Dr. Laurie Santos A Slight Change of Plans – Meet Maya Shankar in Conversation with Michael Lewis
As the year begins to wind down to the holiday season with Winter’s Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa an African American Cultural Holiday and New Years. I am writing my almost penultimate blog of the year to log an awareness of both an implicit and explicit form of othering. Some cultural and religious holidays are internationally celebrated others are misremembered. This time of year where the hours of darkness far outweigh the hours of light, festivals of light are an attempt to remain enlightened. At the end of November I was a panelist on the last True Roots conversation of the year. Emotional Emancipation Healing circles was the focus of the discussion as well as Black Mental Wealth and Black Excellence. Amber Golden, and Therese Taylor-Stinson highlighted that restoration happens when we come together, and look at what has hurt us, make healing a priority and support each other to move.
Mixing Celebrating Christmas is amalgam of pagan festivities and of Christian beliefs. The date of Christ’s birth is largely unknown. Historians identify possible months of Jesus’ birth from April – October. The 25th of December wildly accepted as Jesus’ birthday is very likely to be a falsehood. Winter’s Solstice in the Northern hemisphere occurs every year on the 21st of December and is the shortest day. For some the 21st of December marks the ending and the beginning of the New Year. The shortest day is a recognition of the end of the Earths spin away from the sun and towards longer and warmer days. For pagan communities aware of Sun and Moon cycles an element of magic and thanksgiving observed the shortness of this day. All days that followed would only increase time spent in the light.
Like Kwanzaa is a construction of an ideal for the African Diaspora to celebrate amongst itself a 7-day ritual of community appreciation and cohesion. Kwanzaa is named after the first fruit of the harvest. A feast to give thanks to the community. There is a double meaning to harvest that includes the children and their re-acclimation to values that support the unity of the family. The argument returns to one I presented earlier this year, of finite and infinite games. What springs to mind about Kwanzaa is the union of old and new, those members of the community who no longer exist in physical form and yet are remembered as still belonging to the unity of the family. An appreciation of life yet to be is also a cornerstone of the cultural celebration of Kwanzaa. In 1998 I ventured to visit family in New Jersey for the ‘Holidays’ and was awed by my cousins observance of Kwanzaa. My cousin had a dismissive view of the commericalised Christmas holiday celebration. Some of the words I write here are a remembrance of the sharing and learning he offered me back then.
Year Review Christmas represents for many the birthdate of Christ. The 24th and 25th of December is a time of celebration – seeing family – eating – coming together – eating – wrapping presents -eating – giving presents – receiving gifts – eating – looking back over the year – planning and imagining for the year ahead – napping and eating if there is any room! Christmas is also a time of mass anxiety, upset, commercialism, stress, money and credit card over use, increased debt and increased profits for many retailers. Christmas sales are almost as important as black Friday deals, Boxing day sales, New Years sales and Easter sales. For many, the meaning of the 21st and 25th of December has been all but erased. Interpreted as “What am I going to get?” For many more there is anxiety and stress. Christmas is an unwelcome yearly phenomena. Forever bearing down on willing and unwilling observers. The Christmas march, begins from the first of January every year, and the accompanying concerns the ‘Holiday’s brings, grow continually. ‘It’s for the children’ some say still. I wonder if the smiles of collected parties, adults included on the ‘Big’ day are equal to the 3-4 weeks of anxiety – elevated heart rate, serotonin and cortisol release of preparations previous to the 25th every year?
Increase Light An eclectic and inclusive celebration would in the least recognise the traditions celebrating light festivals the world over. A conscious global community would observe: Diwali, Hanukkah, Winter’s Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, the Gregorian calendar’s New Year, and the Winter season concluding with the Chinese New Year every year. My reasoning is that I feel unity arrives as a outcome of awareness, collaborating and exemplifying human connection – sharing both difference and sameness can decrease hostility towards the unknown.
Outline What I have specifically enjoyed about Kwanzaa is the representation of joyous fulfillment extending beyond 1 day. Most of the celebrations mentioned above are either singular or successive. Spanning either 24 hours or a number of days. Kwanzaa is a non commercialised and community centred celebration observing the African family living in *Diasporan lands (Absentia). Every and all dimensions of family is what I am interested in recognising beyond the nuclear. The 7 days of Kwanzaa highlight the collection and connection of the African family gathering. Each day of Kwanzaa are known as: Umoja, Kujichagulia, Ujima, Ujamaa, Nia, Kuumba, Imani. For me each day invites a sense of collective success and wellbeing. Inviting mental wealth amongst, strength within the collective and that then meeting each individual as a residual product. I position Kwanzaa as an ideal against the wealth sought in individuality, the incessant greed of possession, and the frequent belittling of others for their lack.
Umoja – Unity Umoja the first day of Kwanzaa. Lighting of the first central Black candle marks the beginning of the 7 day cultural harvest festival. The other 6 candles 3 Red and 3 Green are lit on the following days. For members of the African community living in absentia Dr. Maulana inspired by the Watts riots in 1966 imagined a weeklong celebration incorporating ideas from his studies of African traditions. For me Kwanzaa is a representation of Black mental wealth and an example of Black excellence made manifest. Some of the symbols and phrases can be identified in Southern, West and East African countries. What Dr Maulana has been able to ‘see’ is a gathering of Diasporan African people under 7 guiding principles. Achieving self acceptance and self awareness with an aim to release self from mental and physical subjugation. The African family in unifying would appreciate our inherent excellence, the strength, ability to persevere, to lead, create, challenge, be vulnerable, and to love despite uncountable barriers and obstacles. Kwanzaa invites all to know and love self and know and love family.
Kujichagulia- Self-Determination The act of self determination is to live life with little outside/other influence or determining/governing factors. Doing what is needed and sometimes wanted from a position of curiosity is to be governed by one’s own interest. The motivation feels different when another is advising telling or yelling at you to do something you may not want to do, or need to do. Self determining is to recognise that all choices even the act of not making a decision has an equal and possible outcome. In relation to Self-Determination for the African family, excellence is truly what we are. Attributions of maligned unwanted, discarded, projective identified qualities and stereo types have been incorrectly ascribed. Operating with a belief of not being enough is an unconscious representation of growing up in a number of systems that do not value, or refuse to acknowledge us as anything other than 3/5ths human. Dr Clint Smith’s How The Word is Passed book link below explores the lie in detail. The acceptance of self-determination also inspires the community to know itself. To appreciate ones personhood and of those who came before, and those yet to be born. The resilience of ancestors surviving an inhuman system afforded us a light that is impossible to erase.
Ujima- Collective Work and Responsibility I understand Ujima and the idea of collective work as primarily centred on the organisation of family including extended family and the community overall. As a counsellor/psychotherapist I am in regular conversations with clients that are grappling with their disillusionment of family and also looking to re-structure, reshape and repair these relationships. The work of healing is both individual and collective. The responsibility of advancement can and often does start with one individual and often leads to many taking up the cause. On the 3rd day of Kwanzaa the family is to observe what work has been carried out to support everyone’s wellbeing. What has been harvested in effortful engagements, received as a result of gifts and what time has been given to others to manifest health. Those whose efforts are often unseen, or taken for granted are invited to come forward and accept their role in holding and guiding the family group through the year’s challenges.
Ujamaa- Cooperative Economics In a world that is predicated on profit and loss, wealth and poverty, accumulation over waste and destruction Ujamaa observes the benefits of collaboratively working together to improve an individual’s, a family’s and a community’s economic ability. The 4th day of Kwanzaa observes that consumerism, capitalism and the cultural lay religious practice of Christmas robs some communities of wealth, humility and compassion. Presenting an idea that some deserve not to have a good end of year celebration as these groups are the wrong type of humanity and thus deserve judgement, scorn and little from the table of good sharing. The principle of Ujamaa centers the idea of coming together for the family’s good – humanity’s wellbeing.
Nia- Purpose The 5th day of Kwanzaa is Purpose or Nia. I am mindful of a saying I came across a few years ago. Mark Twain is reported to have said ‘Two most important days in your life: The day you were born and the day you discover why. ‘ Offers a useful perspective to the understanding of purpose. I am taken back to working for Together for Mental Wellbeing and developing training on Tertiary Desistance. Purposeful endeavour is an engaging concept working with people in prison and those once returned. Discovering one’s purpose is a little like inspecting interiorly and finding the one thing or the connected parts of the self, that are beyond passion and can be seen as life’s work. (My mind has ventured to Dave Eggers ‘A Life’s Work of Staggering Genius’) Purpose is appreciating ones inherent and earned skills and to make use of them to support self and others. My born with skills are to artistically represent what is seen, heard, felt, smelled and tasted. The earned skill is psychotherapeutic and being able to write missives to direct understanding. Bringing both together are the blogs purpose. I feel that my specific purpose is in translating concepts of psychoanalytic thought artfully for those who share an interest in healing.
Kuumba- Creativity I witness creativity in almost everything. For instance architecture and living on a housing estate perhaps was a beginning of my noticing the art in a concrete clad environment. The block I lived on had a central atrium with plants and trees growing up from the ground floor up towards the light of the first floors. Natural beauty contained/constrained by the concrete that sounded it. The 6th day of Kwanzaa observes the act of creating a better world. For me the act of creating often begins with an inner spark of something or an experience that is inspirational. The want that follows is to reconfigure, reimagine and reorganise the inception to be something more. Transmuted into physical and active form. Dr. Maulana was able to make use of his studies and understanding to reimagine an end of year celebration to reconstruct the African family. A repurposing of his studies willfully applied to restoring Africans living in absentia. Kwanzaa observes a themed approach to live well.
Imani – Faith The 7th day of Kwanzaa is one of celebration and to acknowledge faith in oneself, family, and community followed by deliberate mindful action which can create opportunity for change. Faith in the ancestors. In those who came before. Faith in those living amongst the community to support those engaged in affirming activities. Faith in those yet born to continue righting the keel of the ship so the remaining journey arrives at a just port. The aim to manifest good returns on the energy of their time and commitments. Kwanzaa a non-religious practice. Kwanzaa aims to raise awareness amongst those who are looking to support their community rather than continually investing in companies and businesses interested only in profit. Placing the global African community as an after thought, a peon to larger market forces.
Celebrate In conclusion festivals that light darkness are representative of human ingenuity and genius. A conversation about misrepresentation of the myth of Christmas has assisted my appreciation of the holiday’s origin beginning in Egypt. What Dr Maulana Karenga has offered with Kwanzaa is an interpretation of his African research for global application. In order to support global unity. From the 26th December – the 1st January, my aim will be to observe the 7 principles of Kwanzaa. Another way to mark the ending of one calendar year and make space for the one that follows next.
Resources The TED talk by Dr. Cheryl Tahede Grills was shared by Kimberly Cato of True Roots prior to the conversation in November, priming panelists and guests for a wholly beneficial and uplifting conversation about EEC . Kwanzaa the official website for the end of year celebration. A wealth of information about Kwanzaa the originator and useful resources for communities wanting to observe the African American cultural holiday. I enjoyed Tarana Burke’s and Brené Brown’s interview on Unlocking Us. What is shared between the two is how vulnerability in African-American communities is a difficult ask. Tobe and the Originals to the list of resources arrived as I poured through a number of music videos. Their movement and creativity are a force to be reckoned with in that the principle themes of Kwanzaa are inherent in what I saw in the interview and in some of their music. TED Talk Dr Cheryl Tahede Grills Emancipate From Mental Slavery Kwanzaa – The African American celebration Brené Brown, Tarana Burke and Jason Reynolds You Are Your Best Thing Tobe and Fat & the Originals discuss Love, Erykah Badu and Breakthroughs Unlocking Us Brené Brown and Dr Clint Smith How The Word Is Passed
When Marlon James the author of Black Leopard Red Wolf offered at a book signing in 2019, that ‘It’s about healing’ he presented me 2 insights in one. This is often the way with the wise. A single sentence containing as many meanings as one wants to ascribe.
Own Self As a writer, Marlon James’ books have invited a sense of closure to misremembered, misrepresented pasts. Stories about Black Africans living in *Diasporan lands are often exotified embellishments. Built upon lies that fall from colonisers mouths and minds as if fully formed. Tall tales have positioned the African in precarious positions and amongst endangered real and imagined landscapes. With diminished ability of self governance, self determination or self improvement. Placing white saviorism in the middle of a mistaken history. Cut stories, as though ripping a past in half could interrupt it’s eventual and inevitable realisation. We see beyond the lines painting the African either in unfavorably bad light or out of the picture. Here I am remembering the last episode of High in the Hog 4 part documentary and ‘The Harder They Fall’ movie.
Simmering The insight Mr. James highlighted was that by writing (creating) we can access healing and that by telling our stories in our own way within language from cultures adopted, we add to the healing pot. There is something about seeing the words and art that you think, being pulled from you and thrown across a page (such as this), a scroll, a wall, a canvas, caste in clay, poured into jewelry, or a clothing design made, into a picture or a film or piece of music, a dance, a move in sport. The spark of that inspiration is then left to affect another. Witness and harness it to their own end.
Re-calibrate Therapy has become almost a lesser than activity. Synonymous with celebrities doing the work to move beyond past harmful experiences. Healing has meaning and therapy seems to encompass everything from Osteopathy, Neuropathy, Light and Sound assisted treatment and, I have been found guilty to be using the abbreviation too, in Walk and Talk Therapy. (What I was later to learn is that ecologically enhanced/assisted psychotherapy can alternatively be used. It’s wordy though.) The term therapy is an abridgement. The argument I am presenting is about meaning making. What we mean when we say therapy – is treatment. Engaging with another trained in the art of psychotherapeutic/psychoanalytic treatment. A form of healing involving a client discussing with a trained professional. Supporting pain from their past to be assuaged.
Upended Two representations have recently been offered on TV, that psychotherapy is a tool used to ruin or invite in a healer’s unrest. The two cases I am choosing to highlight here are characters bent on utterly destroying each adherent. My concerns are about two shows ‘Hypnotic’ Netflix, and ’The Shrink Next Door’ Apple TV. There are clear boundary issues that are crossed and transgressed in both. I wonder if they ever really existed for the therapists involved? My concern is that a mislaid belief about psychological attempts at healing will be unconsciously accepted as truth. In turn then, the bent towards accessing additional support will be interrupted. The seemingly global succession of mindfully engaging with some psychological intervention willfully overturned.
Complex Because – for me healing is a multi modal and multidirectional phenomena. Healing travels into the past, amongst the present, and supports an understanding and use of the future – simultaneously. I mean that when a counsellor, psychotherapist, psychologist, healer is supporting an individual or a group or a couple they are working amongst and with a range of differing and sometimes competing factors. Healing can include the client’s history, family, intimate partners, work patterns, associates, aspirations for the future, sleep, diet, exercise, rest, entertainment and past experiences. In couples and with group the experiences everyone brings to a healing encounter can be magnified. With group support the experience is as if another living entity is involved with the process as with the people involved – almost.
Where There Is Light Then there are the shadow aspects clients don’t wish to bring to therapeutic encounters. Both Carl Jung and Freud called this the Shadow Self. The Shadow Self is the part of ourselves we do not want to own or claim we know, because of it’s often distasteful, deplorable desires and dreams. Previously I mentioned Smaug the Dragon in the Hobbit as a depiction of the mortal dilemma. As humans we are as impressive as the Dragon, as deep and as cavernous as the dungeon Smaug inhabits and as precious as the horde of gold the Dragon rests upon. When we can embrace all seemingly separate parts of ourselves then…
Laboring Healing is to recognise all parts of the individual including the split off shadow aspects of the self and support a repair that has hurt persons hold all aspects of themselves carefully, with kindness. As mentioned before if we cut parts of ourselves off, we are doing a disservice to our whole being. We cannot fully access who we authentically are. If a part of ourselves is forever banished we spend energy on the look out for the usurper to return and disrupt. We perpetually anticipate the interlopers inevitable resurgence. Perhaps we are to address healing as an ongoing active engagement with no predetermined or presumed end. Like a story without conclusion. Perhaps what Marlon James was introducing as the concept of healing, is to be continually tilled and tended to as soil…
It is all about healing!
Resources The Mindful Cranks podcast introduces Manu Bazzano who supports an idea of mindfulness, meditation, psychotherapy and letting oneself go. Hana and Leila presenters of The Stoop podcast look at accessing psychotherapy and what causes some members of the Black community to either seek support or not. Eldra Jackson offers his story in this TED talk as a way to describe what happens when a trauma is denied exposure and the opportunity for healing to take place. Stormy Monday explores the music habits some persons in San Quentin prison use to look after themselves. The Mindful Cranks with Manu Bazzano The Stoop On The Couch TED Talk Eldra Jackson Masculinity Ear Hustle Stormy Monday
The blog below is a collection of thoughts, around the theme of setting up a singular focus, focus group. In short the beginnings of a manifesto in support of Diversity Spaces.
Since leaving University of Greenwich in 2012, and being introduced to BAATN in 2010, finding a community of Black and Asian therapists, I have sought to find a space of relative comfort amongst the Psychological profession. Psychology has been mistakenly identified as a White domain, however numerous cultural and ethnic groups have engaged with psychological ideas long before Freud popularised his dangerous method.
Setting Up Engaging with the early phases of development with Diversity Space alongside trusted colleagues felt just, after the charitable organisation experiences. The challenges met, were mostly overcome in the early phases of Diversity Space. Organising sites to meet. Arranging times to gather, discussion about if minutes of each meeting were to be taken, or if they were necessary to share with the NHS Foundation trust of how we were using time. All efforts were in order to hone and re-enforce the need for what the Diversity Space was. In a short period, D.S. achieved a number of worthwhile outcomes.
1-2-3 3 outcomes of note – the delivery of White privilege training to highlight what members from diverse communities experience whilst engaging with ‘White spaces’. A second outcome – were a number of conversations with the head of the NHS Foundation Trust’s Chief Executive and their team attempting to take the department into a fair and equal organisation to work. The best outcome for me was to witness a coming together of members from diverse communities and professions within the NHS foundation trust. Meeting to discuss and reach outcomes of how to develop the organisation to face and embrace the changes needed to have the trust be EDI (Equality, Diversity, Inclusion) focused.
Space to Think The experience of belonging to a professional group of practitioners that understand what is at stake in not having representation at all levels within an organisation was of great importance to me. Being a member of the African diaspora we engage in an uncivil set of circumstances. Like being in a war of attrition continuing to deliver much needed highly skilled tasks under fire and being debased, and abused whilst completing them. The practitioners I worked with at some of the prisons I supported, not only understood but offered space to be heard and plan possible ways forward. Speaking with those who shared the idea of a community of professionals all working towards a similar outcome: that of being understood, respected, listened to and seen by the NHS foundation trust we worked for was a highlight. One of the effects of being othered and the hobbling caused being discriminated against, can be the impact on ones thinking/feeling/behaviour whilst at work and away from…
Outcome List Below a list of outcomes the Diversity Space sought during Oct 2019 – Oct 2020.
Valuing contributions of members to the host organisation. Sharing perspectives of Black/Indigenous/Asian Mental Health . Discussing the impact of working at one level and being paid at a lower one – challenging outcomes of interviews/seeking feedback. Critically evaluate a perceived hypocrisy of hypocritic oaths of caring professions. Highlighting the impact of working within a biased/unfair/racist culture/organisation (The NHS ). Completing meaningful endeavour whilst within a former colonial country (The UK). Reducing the stigma of access to psychological/therapeutic support in prison/medical centres for Black and othered persons in prison. Sharing the Diversity Space vision and voice through a range of mediums including (prison/NHS) radio, podcasts, news articles/online articles. Share resources that inspire amongst Diversity Space members leading to change for individuals and within the organisation. Inspiring change for ourselves, for those we support and the organisation we work amongst. Enlist collaborators and allies to represent the groups aims at meetings, when the main body are unable to be present. Seek endorsement/buy in from key members of staff to move the needle.
Old Thinking that writing/transcribing a few lines of policy could change a culture is unfortunately unrealistic. For a system of oppression to be removed an approach could be to understand the problem and challenge what is faced continually, unapologetically. The effort takes renewable sources of energy and a motivated team of conspiring individuals to continue the work. Having access to a limitless source/resource helps. Belief in something larger than the team or an individual is important to arrive at a point close to the eventual goal. Holding a compassionate perspective can be invaluable in the attempt to topple an endemic vicious historic power structure. Developing a team of members that endorse the changes and are willing to speak about the journey, the challenge and also the small wins is important to continue the momentum and interest of the endeavor.
Reality Check The challenge is broad in that there are few elements of life that are unaffected by racist policy and racist decisions. The writing of these ideas have affected societies that we live in so much, rather than question the way in which the world has been drawn we accept and try to make use out of what is available. There are a number of aspects discussed in the episode Made To Be Broken by This American Life which touches on some of the concepts discussed above beautifully. The episode is found in last weeks resources list.
Collect Having a team of skilled professionals at hand, sharing a race aware lens supported me in redrafting a proposal for setting up and introducing a therapy group for Black Men at one of the prisons we worked. The team’s advice namely was about collecting evidence that a group for Black Men in a specific prison was indeed necessary. The core group of Diversity Space members displayed keen awareness of what may prevent a needed group therapy initiative to falter, stall and die.
Data The peers of the core group of Diversity Space advised that I collect data. Specific numbers provide evidence that a problem exists and that there is need for said challenge to be tackled. Data gives clear identification of numbers, listing important characteristics of persons that are affected or could be engaged with. Data would observe: Age, Sex, Race, ethnicity, cultural background, Place of Birth etc. The aim to confirm that a service is hitting a target audience and meeting a need.
Discovery If I had asked a number of professionals at various levels within the prison about the need for diverse access to mental health support, to address the lack of representation by Black and Brown people in therapy, a number of important ideas may have been gathered. Discussing some of the concerns with men and women at the prisons and community spaces Diversity Space members serviced could have revealed what caused low numbers to be engaged with therapy.
Trust In order for diverse communities to access support a service is to be noted for their ability to meet an asked for need. Development of trust is engaged with in successive incremental encounters. The success of a programme, project, research with a designated group can be measured by the groups willingness to attend, engage, develop the programme and increase the knowledge/awareness of everyone involved. A mark of success for me, is how a group over time skillfully withstands ruptures to engagement. Grumbling once a programme restarts, yet willing to encounter the tapestry of building a meaningful project after a project begins again.
Understanding Belief in European models to address Global South community’s concerns is a moment to begin pausing and develop listening that can incorporate culturally appropriate therapeutic methods to support growth health and wellbeing. Emotional Emancipation Circles would be a useful approach to work with African Diasporan communities and groups. A low representation of a diverse staff base, providing mental health support is often an experience that Global South communities encounter when visiting health centres. I lightly touched on similar factors in a previous post. One way to increase belief in models of care is to have representatives of a local community delivering that health provision. My imagination holds ideas similar to low representation of persons from the Global South delivering care. Preventing and spurning access from communities that could benefit from neighborhood provision of support.
Mapping By gathering insights from a range of sources, could provide a number of useful approaches to create access points for communities that would previously not have accessed support – to engage. Currently peer support works and has been a useful way to introduce psychologically informed guidance to clients that would otherwise avoid or decline mental health support. Re. EWB mentors at HMP Swaleside and Together’s Service User Mentoring scheme.
Answer Address the challenges that are presented with creative and open-hearted solution focused idea generation. Gather ideas of old and reimagine them along with ideas from the populace to be served. A service ‘done to’ dooms all. A service ‘done with’ can only succeed because it achieves alongside learning and reviewing and changing and adapting continually.
Resources The EWB Scheme at HMP Swaleside is an engaged programme of work for persons in prison engaging with counselling skills to support other persons in prison that may be struggling with life inside. Together’s Mentoring Scheme for persons who have returned to the community from prison links former prison residents with voluntary support mentors that are successfully navigating life outside and away from prison. I am listing Code Switch’s episode on This Racism is Killing Me Inside again, because of the dual content of what is discussed, and to present what is meant by surviving the allostatic load and not being able to fully discharge the psychological build up. The costs weigh on individuals greatly. Hence the need for Diversity groups. The Untold Story Policing speaks strongly to the notion of being organised and being ready to step into protect what’s important. Jay Ellis strongly advises how policing can be reformed by groups of people coming together and strongly stating what they do and what they don’t want. With Resistance I have gone back to the initial podcast that was highlighted by This American life podcast. This episode looks at divergence amongst a protest group and the paths people take to achieve a similar goals/outcomes. School Colours podcast from Brooklyn Deep I have listed before in Why Listen, as there is something familiar and frustrating to hear about a school district that has largely been written off by a city’s school board. Residents, parents and teachers do not sit idly by and allow their school’s dismemberment to happen in their neighbourhood. No, they organise and loudly fight – admirably. The BBC’s Black Power documentary illustrates what happens when unity meets purpose. I hope to be able to watch more of the telling of this story from Canada. Radiotopia’s new show S*** Hole country offers an entertaining view of being an Afircan in America and an American in Africa. Yes Afia uses the phrase the previous incumbent of the White House used to describe African countries. There is something refreshing to witness the re-mix and re-interpretation of a dour *imbecellic phrase to juxtapose investigative journalism alongside identity. The link to the Diversity Space is how Afia uses the podcast to begin questioning and questing with herself, the African Diaspora and her 2 countries of origin. Code Switch This Racism is Killing Me Inside The Untold Story Policing Nix The 6 Resistance Is It Too Revolutionary? School Colours Agitate! Educate! Organize! Black Power: A British Story of Resistance – BBC S*** Hole Country Quote Unquote
I continue thought on being something other in the psychotherapeutic profession. Whilst the experience is singular, I know I am not on my own.
The Problem A problem halved, is a problem that is shared. Or so we are told, and a few believe. Many hold to a sense that they alone carry the burden of their thoughts and worries. Often withholders are surprised by what happens when they begin to discuss concerns with a trusted other. At times the trusted other is an outsider to their lives. Strangely, anonymity helps entrust the listener and the sharer to intimately examine past and present hurts. This – the relationship between counsellor and client, coach and coachee, mentor and mentee, perhaps also teacher and student.
Taught The experience I have had of being othered has been a part of the caring profession for as long as I have been aware of the double standards held within the profession. Caring and caring less about those who are identified as other. Therapy is to be an experience of supporting individuals, groups, organisations observe the problem(s) and provide support in moving into the beyond. Completing my training as a counsellor at Uni of Greenwich, I have grown increasingly aware of the long held and embedded ideas that accompany being Black and working in the psychological profession. By omission of African, Asian, and global community influences and contributions to the psychology profession, an unspoken idea remains prevalent of Black and Brown bodies delivering care. Some notions may include identification of African Diasporan practitioners as inferior, incapable, unintelligent, possessing poor communication skills, lacking in technical ability and seen as a low quality substitute compared to qualified ‘professional’ (White) mental health practitioners.
Difference Stratified At most – 6 weeks worth of teaching for the 3 years I was at Greenwich, involved an awareness of Gender, Race, Religion, Age, Culture, Class, Economic status, Education, Sex (G.R.A.C.E.S.). Millions of topics relating to equality were lightly grazed. I am grateful for being introduced to BAATN in my second year. I had no awareness that BAATN existed, and have enjoyed what I have learned from being a member.
Standing Amongst I once described being at one of BAATN’s men’s gatherings as being not only seen, but heard, understood, recognised and valued. My presence was accepted as amongst. A hugely significant and powerful moment of realisation for me. Ralph Ellis’ book Invisible Man offered a useful frame to know what a Black man might experience beyond the sanctity of his home.
Pscyhotherapeutic Beginnings The profession I am a part of is yet to appreciate Black people as amongst and belonging alongside difference. The understanding I have is that a supremacy is incapable of holding a compassionate view inside a nihilist agenda. Europe birthed an idea of psychology that was largely Eurocentric, built on Greek foundations of Philosophy. For me, the link to African (Egyptian) beliefs and traditions is undeniable. The contention I have relates to the progression psychology has taken since the 19th century. Becoming centred and refined on an understanding that gaining more knowledge of the subconscious, will reveal our path to healing. But as the ancestors invite us to be aware, to truly know self is to also be aware of our physical nature too. The body has as much influence on how we think and feel as does the subconscious. The investment made to dust off the research into psychedelics and psilocybin, invites a further leap from mind singularly to mind body and spirit connections. Is this not where those in Middle Earth centred some of their beliefs and understandings of humans living on the planet eons ago? How have we lost this information and what has made ‘Psychology’ the purview of a select few Frail Pale Male Stale people. Freud the genus but the belief in the European model of therapy being best, has many other global traditions behaviours and practices scrapped and made to be valueless muck.
Prometheus I am in a part of the book ‘Work Won’t love You Back’ by Sarah Jaffe, where the author looks at intimate labor and observes how largely Black and Brown women are treated in professions that care for others professionally. I wonder if the inbuilt label of being classed as unskilled and unvalued is also cast upon Black and Brown mental health professionals? We aren’t what the model of a highly skilled professional in text books looks, sounds and behaves like. It is at the institutions that change is to happen. What is taught, how it is taught and by whom it is taught has got to change. Informed this week that Wales is to introduce Black History teaching to all of it’s curricula will in Wales address the change that is to happen globally. The West did not travel the globe liberating people from eternal darkness. The West plundered the Global South for it’s wealth and plunged nations and billions of people into a modern form of windowless shadow. The gloom that persists is the one that hides the light of realisation from plain sight and holds to high ransom (debt, imprisonment, indentured labour, substandard education, threat of war) for those seeking to enlighten the masses.
Over and Under Engaged in similar work a Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist a belief is held, that roles such as these are the purview of White highly skilled, highly educated women and men. Caring professions in the West are heavily over-represented by a main ethnic social and class group. That deliver services to ever over-populated people represented by G.R.A.C.E.S groups, in institutions. Schools, Child and Adolescent Services, adult education and prisons are a small list of a mismatch between the numbers involved in delivery and receipt. Observing mental illness and support on offer at hospitals, residential short and long stay facilities, psychological interventions in the community, again I am struck by two experiences of over representation by those providing care and those on the receiving end of it. I wonder what those who provide care to those receiving care believe, think, feel about their knapsack of real or presumed privilege?
Supervision Attending an online supervision group I note the welcome received, (tight, brief, a hint of something undefinable yet all too present). Generally I like to arrive early to the meetings. I hear and regard the effusive positive welcome and list of accomplishments other therapists are lauded with. A warmth, recognition of something similar/familiar, a thing not spoken but still wholly palpable. I understand we like people who in some way mirror ourselves. When met with a frequent experience of being unconsciously or consciously reviled a weathering happens. Aware of the apparent unconscious bias I say nothing of the discomfort these experiences cause. I do not want to be the rabble rouser. The upstart, bringing contention and upset, where others feel sanguine. But some degree of psychological pain experiencing the deletion of my attendance happens. I am at a loss of how to make use of the feeling so as to experience this edition of supervision well. A better solution may be in non-attending. Or showing and saying little (another form of non-attendance), or even being the one who throws each meeting into necessary checking of insults felt and throwing hurts back to be managed by the group. An hour or 2 is not enough to fully disgorge the malcontents held, and I wonder what ultimate good is caused?
Always Seen, Often Ignored Being othered and feeling an inconsequential value within the counselling psychotherapy profession is a common experience I note. Being the only Black person, nay the only Black man (on screen) at a meeting of mental health professionals is a scene on repeat. I am shocked less by these moments. There can be little comfort in solitary confinement. The scene (me alone or to be counted amongst a smaller population of global majority attendees, alongside a larger whiter group of people) has presented itself many times before. The threat of being discovered as not as good as, pointed out as the fraud or made the subject of biased judgement lurks peripherally. One is unable to hide in plain view.
Intimately Labouring What would I like to happen instead in group? Would platitudes, and over ingratiating welcomes make me feel better about attending mostly White gatherings? For me, the change would be about a sensate shift towards feeling less at the wall, clamoring to flee. Fearing attack from an unknown assailant. My preference that all at a space, potentially, are unknown unknown allies. That are doing the emotional, psychological, spiritual work to lessen the sense of distance between G.R.A.C.E.S groups of people, of which I place White people amongst.
Canvas The sense of attending a space where all in attendance are (un)consciously aware of the lack of representation from Global South communities could reduce unease. The challenge ahead is staying with the sense of discomfort. The *taughtness of an environment in time will lessen. Even when the experience is incredibly difficult. It’s the example of my Spidey sense going off at the Pizza Place, letting me know that an unknown foreign agent (fear) is malevolently spoiling an experience. The deciding factor, an awareness that perceived difference does not make anyone lesser or should jettison them from a room. If a space is filled with curiosity and a willingness to make it beyond – to the other side of the challenge then mostly all are usually lifted further along. A new path of awareness can be engaged with. An appreciation of the complex richer connections made across aisles, ages and other forms of perceived stratification and otherings enhance learning. To be applied by continually evolving professionals.
Therapy Today The latest edition of BACP’s counselling magazine Therapy Today (October 2021) offers a wonderfully rich complex yet balanced review of Black therapists engaged in changing the psychological landscape of counselling and psychotherapy in the UK. ‘On the shoulders of giants’ the title of the magazine, looks at a range of professionals. Offering examples of the many women and men who have battled to steer important changes made for the improvement of the profession. My reasoning is ‘But we all have hearts, minds and bodies with which we think, feel and move with’ and so a mass experience of living whilst human can be identified, installed and ideally utilised for the fulfillment of all.
Resources The term allostatic load was the first time I recognised what prejudice, othering and the effects of racism are for Black and brown bodies is medically noted as. Code Switch podcast, discusses what Weathering is and how it can affect people. An earlier blog listed the second link. Black (African American Psychoanalysts) speak of their experiences, training and working with members of the public. When I first watched the documentary I was both affirmed by what these esteemed colleagues discuss and also slightly dismayed. An inherent sadness is present within the pride of being a Black Psychoanalyst and the reality this title holds a mirror to. The link to the Podcast takes you to BAATN’s site. listing the richness of the Black African And Asian Therapists Network Podcast series of talks and presentations. The highlighted episode with Arike and Eugene discusses what steps training organisations could take to become globally influenced, engaged and representative of, in relation to psychological teaching. The podcast was both encouraging and conscious of the work still ahead for many colleges and universities staff students and graduates. The last resource may have been missed in the shuffle. Listed amongst the resources discussing a Pizza shop experience. Jennifer Mullins discusses her journey to become a therapist the learning she experiences in both the class room and most importantly outside of the institution are both inspirational and illuminating. Black Psychoanalysts Speak BAATN Podcast Creating Partnerships Training With Organisations: Lets Talk About Race Decolonise Therapy interviews Jennifer Mullins
Further Reading I am yet to read the Race Conversation by Eugene Ellis and Black Identities, White Therapies edited by Divine Charura and Colin Lago. My listing them here is to highlight that I am still learning and growing. Race Conversation in Psychotherapy by Eugene Ellis Black Identities White Therapies edited by Divine Charura and Colin Lago Privilege and Otherness in Counselling and Psychotherapy: Mockingbird by Dr Dwight Turner
Following last weeks post, that observed experiences of being othered, ostracised and shamed, attending a cultural phenomenon a nativity play. I continue this blog series observing a *recentish example of being the other remaining mute, and finding safe side bar.
Charitable Work A few years ago, I worked for a charity where the strange experience was of being othered and held outside of. It is not because of what some staff said specifically. Most are aware that saying racist, sexist, homophobic things at work will lead to reprimands or dismissal. Racial abuse was not metered to me as a member of staff but was in the acts that had me do double takes. Questionable acts were observed discussing cases involving marginalised communities that either worked for the charity or were supported by staff.
Tops The feeling was of not being seen, listened to, wanted, being valued and insights shared – not appreciated. As I progressed from new employee, to my first, second, third and final year with the organisation, I started to notice the holes. I shared my understandings and points for growth change and development with managers and was either ignored or the ideas petered out to nothing. The organisation whilst heavily committed to engaging in change with those worked with, was less invested in making changes amongst itself for increased employee satisfaction. Handing to a manager Brené Brown’s 10 point manifesto for improved employee satisfaction was an example of mine, to shift an experience towards health. See Below from Brené Brown’s ‘Daring Greatly’. A sense grew in me that for as long as I worked within the charity even if I made it through the glass ceiling, I would be furthermore cutting myself crawling around on the broken glass to potentially make improvements.
Square Peg Me being seen as the other, were based on a few factors: my training, age, race and the way I saw and interacted with the world was different to most of the colleagues I worked with. I saw my difference as a strength. Others may have seen my position, as a former prison counsellor, problematic. I did not fit. They psychologists, me an integrative counsellor. My support of probation services in London was quietly daring. Sharing insights with probation officers of the psychological lives of their service users. The feeling of familiarity to the experience service users had whilst working with psychologically trained staff did not escape me. The awkwardness, the implied superiority, the speaking over and talking down to, often present. The awareness could not be brushed off, packed or folded away. An interpretation I have of the experience is that within the charity I was looked on as criminal, outside I was hero? The binary can cause ruptures in thinking. I could code switch and was okay chopping it up with service users and probation staff alike. ‘Power amongst and power to’ helped build rapport to perform my practitioners role well.
Mirroring I often sat across from people who looked like me in probation services. A feeling as if a fellow returnee from behind the wall, often present. My crime – working whilst Black amongst a charity that chose to look the other way. Focusing on delivery, winning new sustainable and long reaching contracts, rather than it’s culture and treatment of staff. The charity was long in service and yet poor in dynamic development. Tied possibly to governmental funding cycles and predicting positive outcomes to grant applications. Other Black staff working for the charity either left their work contracts early (sometimes within weeks) or found ways to make their set of circumstances work for them. I spent over 3 years thinking I could change culture, by kindness and cakes. Small acts could, I believed fell the juggernaut of racial oppression and the sense of othering I frequently found myself battling amongst, questioning lofty ideals.
Singular Whilst amongst a staff team, I felt some responsibility to influencing the culture. I was not alone in wanting to positively affect things but when seen as an outsider, one often cannot change what occurs in the building shouting from the pavement across the street. I read Daring Greatly in September 2015 and thought there were a number of insights shared in the book that really brought in to sharp awareness what the charity could do. I enjoyed the chapter ‘Mind the Gap’ that looked at organisational culture determining specific changes that improve experiences for all. Brené Brown lists questions that could potentially push an organisation to be aware of the unease had in areas relating to; errors, vulnerability, (**pain) shame and blame. Brené concludes observing what an actively responsible culturally aware organisation, does to support a staff team and their work. Invite communication! It is a shame that the charity I worked at, was criminally motivated to bring change only on their own terms.
The Count I once mentioned the concern the charity may have had like this to 2 other Black members of staff. 1 is a manageable concern, 2 a problem, 3 a gang, 4 looks like an unmanageable riot 5 or more – a hostile takeover and at worse a mutiny.
My comments were made amongst a huddled meeting during a comfort break, outside on a cold, grey mid morn. The informed colleagues observed a perceived sense of paranoia from others when we rejoined the main group. I wanted to mark the occasion as important for the rarity of being seen together and seeing ourselves in a fleeting moment of solidarity – happy. When asked what were you lot talking about? Attempting to snatch the moment away. We knowingly smiled and said “Nothing that should bother you, much.” The suspicion confirming the hypothesis. We were trouble for a number of unobvious reasons. This moment sowed an important seed for me.
Street View Being an outsider, I am often first to notice the roof smoking and catching fire. The possible routes to safety and what improvements can be made to support all who work in the building mitigate against future disaster! I am also on hand for the rescue teams when they arrive, accounting for all staff leaving the building and who may remain inside still and where they might be. We may have heard the saying ‘Prevention is better than cure’. An example could be of internally questioning what has some team members not be vocal or even in the room when choices, plans and change decisions are being made? The uneasy hard to reach one is often that which provides the most insightful answers and ways forward.
Cycle Within a circle, each point lies equi-distant from the centre. Being amongst can feel both precious and magical. When I think of community settings, I bring to mind gatherings that enable a circle to form. Within a circle, hierarchy and importance are difficult to assume. We are all at a point equal to the other. Recognising the importance of the whole together represents one truth. The sum total of the various parts and individuals is another. One is no more relevant or important than the other. To be discounted harms the whole, which is the point I attempted to arrive at in the White Supremacy series. Whilst silenced and left to remain outside of, the remaining whole cannot be as powerful or as life altering in relation to human development of all our experiences on the planet.
Resources I have wanted to use this particular episode of Resistance since I listened to it earlier this year. The fit for me is, listening to Jermaine Guinyard walking a difficult path in Nebraska with his family. We listen to a story of being willfully excluded by a community and the pain that follows. We also hear how Coach G over time turns an impossible tide.
A distant memory has been unearthed. As thoughts often do – tugging on a few more to join their masquerade ball. These series of writings are in support of another.
A form of racial attack in the form of exclusion is often not documented, fear of further reprisal or silencing disbelief – can stall efforts seeking justice. I will aim to draw out both the strangeness of experiences like these, and also the self questioning that arises in the pieces that are to follow.
Mockingbird Dr Dwight Turner’s Intersections of Privilege and Otherness in Counselling and Psychotherapy, summarise in a myriad of ways what it means for Black, Asian and members from Global South communities to live in former colonisers countries. Dr Turner pays attention to what his experience was to be trained in counselling and psychotherapy. Mockingbird does well to observe: Feminism, what members from the LGTBQi+ communities continue to contribute to the lexicon of intersectionality, the poor and working class, as well as embodied experiences of the disabled, a community since 2011 I count myself among. Assimilation into community and acceptance is granted partially at significant personal cost. A loss of identity, culture, sense of community, language, a knowing of oneself is summarily deposited outside the exclusionary zone of becoming a therapist and adjusting to living amongst…
Past It Dr Turner also shares his disquiet of being a lecturer and accosted by a student. You may have seen images of #thisiswhatapsychotherapistlookslike after an encounter where he met *affrontery. My fantasy is of a White woman stating “But you don’t look like a psychotherapist, you look more like a bouncer!” The caring profession is littered with redundant opinionated professionals with outdated views that belong in centuries past.
Altered The first remembering of difference that has floated up for me, is a primary school excursion. I cannot remember if it was a class trip, or a venture to reward an achievement for friends of mine and I. We had gone to see a play at a theatre in London. As children, we may have found some thrill being away from school, but may have found the play of little interest. The play was either a nativity or a pantomime. A cultural experience I had little knowledge of, or interest in. After watching for 20 minutes we (my friends and I) found fun elsewhere. What I vaguely remember is being told off. Reprimanded for throwing wet balls of tissue paper at ceilings and at friends. Playground behaviour at a reputable establishment. A teacher growing redder and angrier at each of us, saying words that were meant to hurt and shame. They did! I can remember leaving the bathroom, head bowed, with a heavy heart. Something of significance had transpired, an element of innocence removed or dented.
Mushy I also remember some of the boys being resolute that they were going to tell their parents. Which they did. I can remember 2 parents attending a meeting with the school a week later. Not mine. I carried my shame without disclosing. Fear of further punishment and their disbelief stopped me. What fails to be recalled are the exact events, the teachers words, what nativity play we saw, what theatre and what reason I had of not being aware enough of the hurt she had caused my friends and supposedly – me. Something other may have been said, decrying of our inner city, poor, council estate dwelling, or lack of appreciating a cultured artistic performance. Her anger, disappointment and confused rage – causing us all to register with shock that the teacher only saw our demise. We, supposedly trapped eternally to live our lives on the housing estate. A heady and unworthy blow, delivered for simply not enjoying a play. We, making a wet paper towel mess of a theatre bathroom and being held as criminally deviant as a result. She may have used strong and shaming words. Adding further to her sense of the wrongdoing and branding us *whip-handedly. Instituting my first experience of the ‘them and us’ polemic idea.
Culture The idea of who was acculturating whom is what I am now left fathoming. Perceived difference does little to engender a feeling of shared interest, warmth, curiosity or journeying to discovery. We witness as citizens on our planet, an increase of ideas towards separation, division and increased animosity against the other. Displacing a growing state of anxiety. Answers lie in what Dr Kelly suggest below…
Resources The below link is to the excellent podcast by Ibram X Kendi who interviews the university professor Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley about misguided notions of superiority and capital interest. The link to the writing above is the perception of which ideas of betterment are seen as valid and overvalued and what ideas are vanquished as valueless. Ibram X Kendi Be Anti Racist podcast Capitalism