I continue thought on being something other in the psychotherapeutic profession. Whilst the experience is singular, I know I am not on my own.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Cover photo Black and White Dice by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash
Invisible person photo by Laura Thonne on Unsplash
Eyes on the prize photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash
Office window smiles photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash
Orange Tie professional photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash