The Implicit Bias Test, recommend by the late Dr. Thaddeus Birchard, offered data regarding cultural, gender, sexuality, faith and other prejudices we may unconsciously hold. Conference participants were asked to take the confidential exercise beforehand. In the small group discussions on the day purely generic themes were usefully explored.
Myira Khan shared her deep knowledge and experience of being a Muslim woman in a predominantly white country and profession. Her wish was for us to integrate working within diversity and not with diversity so that we are fully present for the client without judgement or attempting to justify or to rescue. Some key aspects of this work are:
- The importance of creating a space in which the client feels it is safe.
- To work in an anti-oppressive, racially diverse and empathic manner.
- For white people to work through the negative impact of ‘white privilege’.
- To offer counselling underpinned by equality and respect for the client’s lived experience and the need to flatten any power dynamic perceived by the client as belonging to or actually ‘owned’ by the counsellor.
- To use non-oppressive, non-judgemental or marginalising ‘language’ so that the client avoids feelings of ‘other or minoritised’.
- Care must be taken with language – unhelpful nuances can cause harm.
Working with Diversity: Myira’s creative exercise involving two circles placed opposite each other, one for the therapist and one for the client, illustrated well the racial discrimination and power differential that can adversely affect any therapeutic relationship and the client’s health and mental wellbeing. The counsellor is perceived as normative, centred and neutral – the power is held here. The client feels discriminated against, their identity is diverse, different and unseen which may lead to feelings of not being good enough, powerlessness and a sense this therapy room is not a ‘safe’ place.
Working within Diversity: the counsellor understands their own identity and its power dynamic and empathically accepts the identity and lived experience of the client. They are each different and in relationship within the therapeutic space. The counsellor works in a consciously anti-racist and anti-oppressive way. The client is heard, accepted and senses this is a ‘safe’ place.
Myira said: ‘All counselling and therapy is working cross-culturally. Because every single client has their own culture, identity and lived experience’. Explaining we need to learn to be anti-racial, anti-oppressive, language sensitive and so Working within Diversity’.
David Weaver openly and honestly shared his experiences ‘without filter’ as a Black man from a Caribbean heritage (of which he was clearly proud) with racial issues both professional and personal and which he covered for all non-white people. He is a constantly pro-active advocate for change and again highlighted a need for white people, white champions, to understand the power and influence they have to make significant changes within racial diversity. Both he and Myira had talked about ‘white privilege and fragility’ and the importance that this is challenged! His talk invited us to look outside of the counselling room, to the world around us and the racial and other injustices, daily dangers and poverty that many experience. David reminded us to think about allyship in its comprehensive terms – it cannot just be theoretical learning it prompts us as counsellors and psychotherapists to be more aware and pro-active even if such thoughts provoke unsettling or scary feelings. He said his mother always told him ‘if you want to point a finger, remember there are three pointing back at you’! Wise words, wise woman.
Sandy Vado and Marvis Stewart, both part of the HACP family, generously shared their insights and experience with Helen and I as we put the conference together. They also agreed to be part of its Q&A panel together with Myira and David, its chair. Feedback showed the panel had been a ‘great platform for audience participation’ and that its members shared their vulnerabilities and experiences, offering honest, informed and sometimes challenging answers to questions raised. The balance and cohesion between the four of them showed in their level of experience and the different viewpoints and issues they raised. Four was definitely an excellent number for this task and their openness regarding their own lived experiences was certainly humbling.
Myira Khan and David Weaver shared their knowledge, passion and personal experiences of the need for Black, Brown and all marginalised communities to no longer experience racial discrimination, other discrimination or oppression resulting in fear of accessing help or therapy. This situation must change professionally and personally so that therapists and their professional bodies ensure the non-judgemental equity of access to therapy for all in an anti-oppressive and anti-racial way – working within diversity. An enormous thank you to Myira, David, Sandy & Marvis. for your time, wisdom, sharing and challenge.
The venue, Chilworth Manor Hotel is an attractive and nurturing place, and the staff were willing, polite and pleased to help even when we had to ask them to improve something.
This conference also only happened due to invaluable support of our administrator, David Brown and, on the day, from our colleagues John Baker, Sinead Mitchell, Lottie Passell-syms, Dawn Astle-mcdonald and Dyvia Sharma. We also thank those who supported us but could not attend: Julie May, Graham Shavick and Mark Bourne.. What surprised and amazed us all was the atmosphere co-created by everyone present from the moment we opened up to the end of day. The feeling in the room was electric, empowering and full of energy, something none of us had quite experienced before and about which a number of people favourably commented. Usually such wonderful atmospheres take a little time to create and then effort to maintain, but not on this day.
On behalf of Helen, David, myself and HACP a deeply felt thank you and well done to everyone – our journey working within diversity has begun.
Suggested Reading Material
You are Your Best Thing: Vulnerability, Shame Resilience and the Black Experience. 2021. Eds: Tarana Burke and Brené Brown. Vermillion, London.
Black Identities and White Therapies – Race, Respect & Diversity. 2021. Eds: Divine Charura and Colin Lago. PCCS Books, Monmouth.
Overcoming Everyday Racism: Building Resilience and Wellbeing in the Face of Discrimination and Microaggressions. 2019. Susan Cousins (with contributor Cheryl Hill). Jessica Kingsley, London.
Making Sense of Microaggressions. 2021. Susan Cousins & Barry Diamond. Open Voices.
White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for White People to Talk About Racism. 2019. DiAngelo, R. Penguin Books.
Whiteness and White Privilege in Psychotherapy. 2016. Dottolo, A. L. & Kaschak, E. (Eds.). Abingdon: Routledge.
Why I’m No Longer talking to White People about Race. 2018. Reni Eddo-Lodge. London.
The Race Conversation: An Essential Guide to Creating Life-Changing Dialogue. 2021. Eugene Ellis. Confer Books.
The Mixed Race Experience – Reflections and Revelations on Multi-Cultural Identity. 2022. Naomi and Natalia Evans. Square Peg and Imprint of Vintage, London.
BRIT(ISH) – On Race, Identity and Belonging. 2018. Afua Hirsh. Vintage, London.
My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Healing our Hearts and Bodies. 2021. Menakem, R. Penguin Books.
People Like Us – What it takes to make it in Modern Britain. 2020. Hashi Mohamed. Profile Books, London.
Small Great Things. 2016. Jodie Picoult. Hodder & Stoughton, London.
A Spark of Light. 2018. Jodie Picoult. Hodder & Stoughton, London.
The Dynamics of Power (2nd Edition). 2017. G Proctor. PCCS Books Ltd.
The Good Ally: A Guided Anti-Racism Journey from Bystander to Changemaker. 2021. Nova Reid. HQ and Imprint of Harper Collins Ltd, London.
Intersections of Privilege and Otherness in Counselling and Psychotherapy: Mockingbird. 2021. Dr. Dwight Turner. Routledge, Oxon.