In July 2019 we completed our series of Let's Get Uncomfortable (LGU): Embedding explorations of race, ethnicity, culture and power in counselling and psychotherapy trainings encounter's. They have been remarkable in the energy generated to challenge and change the way training organisations currently explore race, ethnicity, culture and power in their trainings. Now that this cycle of encounters are complete we felt it was important to highlight some of the themes shared and explored. There is much to share, however, once we have figured out how best to do this, we will let you all know. But for now, here is a brief summary, start to finish.
Let's Get Uncomfortable was a seed of thought in our minds nearly two years ago. Shammi and Pretish had just opened the doors to Aashna and in the true spirit of our ethos, how we can be part of some form of action to promote change in how counselling and psychotherapy trainings explore intersectionality, from the trainees to the organisation heads.
We started to write down our thoughts and felt we needed to get this out there and be part of the movement we so powerfully believe in. Many have shared before us, paved the way and done so much to support trainings to work with race, culture, ethnicity, power and whiteness. This was definitely our experience from our training.
We decided to reach out to Therapy Today and the editor was interested in our article. Fast forward to February 2019, Aashna's Therapy Today Article is published.
We invited us all to get uncomfortable.
Let's Get Uncomfortable Encounters
As part of Aashna’s vision to generate dialogues and facilitate change around diverse issues, we invited several organisations and individuals who continue to work around these topics and value their immense experience. We were pleased to affiliate with The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network (BAATN), The Psychotherapy and Counselling Union (PCU), Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility (PCSR) and The Minster Centre to create a series of encounters to challenge organisations to put cultural diversity at the heart of their courses. We quickly started a working group. Our aim: to create a series of encounters inviting students, trainers, supervisors, heads of organisations and training organisations of all backgrounds to create dialogues and action around our key question: What would a more inclusive training genuinely look like?
First Encounter: Therapists of colour speak about their experiences of training
Led by Pretish and Shammi, the encounter started with time for all our guests to meet and greet over Gujarati food and some drinks. Taking seats on the floor covered with cushions. It was beautiful to see so many people for our most attended event.
We wanted to honour the voices of colour and privilege their experience. This meant for the first segment (and majority of the encounter) anyone who did not identify as a person of colour was asked to not take space. This was an interesting experience as it was challenging and uncomfortable for 'us' to keep the space for 'us'. This indicated the unconscious and at times conscious privilege of white individuals.
As our stories of training and beyond were shared, themes began to emerge from the powerful and brave narratives that were being shared. These included:
Assimilation of students in the training, unconscious collusion with our white colonising peers. Which then ask the question 'whose responsibility is it to raise awareness when this is happening?'
White privilege - This became apparent in the encounter where white voices shared their discomfort in their silence and some took the space which was for therapists of colour.
The brown voice which often can be silenced, hidden, not present, lost or not heard amongst the black and white voices.
Where are the other therapists of colour? who is not here and why?
Power in current structures and why we are stuck in a position of comfort.
Finding allies in organisations, but allies also feel alone. Allies need allies too.
Second Encounter: What would a more inclusive training look like?
BAATN's director Eugene Ellis led this encounter. Once again the therapists of colour voices led the encounter in a powerful exploration of what a truly inclusive training would look like. Much anxiety due to the sense of the enormity of what has to be tackled surfaced. The need for allies was echoed and that we are all in this together. The notion we all have a colour and all need to engage in the fight for inclusivity, tackling existing power structures and for an acknowledgement of whiteness and all that it holds. The key theme:
an invitation to take the emphasis away from individuals who are not white to exploring whiteness, which is often the majority in trainings and organisations.
Third Encounter: An Invitation to explore the challenges organisations face in being more inclusive?
This encounter was led by PCU's Chair Richard Bagnall-Oakeley and PCSR's Beatrice Millar. The encounter started with a powerful experiential exercise separating the white therapists from other people of colour. This set the tone for the remainder of the encounter where the theme of allyship was explored.
The key questions were explored:
What makes an ally?
Who's decides if you are an ally?
What stops organisations from being allies?
Once again this encounter proved to be an exciting, challenging, uncomfortable and powerful experience. We thank all organisations, training institutes and representatives from BACP that attended.
The Final Encounter: Bringing our vision together and creating a working group
The final Encounter was held at the Minster Centre led by by Alyson Jaffe, where we hosted over sixty attendees. A remarkable turn out. It was warming to be able to hold the end at our place of training.
The evening started in true Aashna style with Gujarati food and other foods kindly prepared by Minster staff and students. We all mingled before took our space in the conference room. The event began by listening to some Music from Alyson Jaffe's homeland. We were guided to explore our journey from the encounters and give a sense as a whole group how we like to progress. What have we learnt from this journey and how do we take action? Please have a read of Devan Thakeria's blog reflecting on his own process around the LGU encounters.
Shortly after the celebrations of completing my counselling diploma I found myself in a vacuum, one in which I needed to find some form of connection. This initially came in a form of a meet up group for black and Asian counselling students. During this meet up the anger in the room encased the neglect people felt from educational institutions and other peers. I found a form of belonging within that group but also left with sadness. I wondered why a group for black and Asian students has been set up, did that mean that any concerns of these students were falling on deaf ears in the outside world of therapy or not even voiced at all? By creating an "us", we created a "them" and how would anyone grow if "them" never knew the concerns of "us" and visa versa. In my experience of life so far most divisions create a land of misunderstandings...[read full blog]
Several individuals have registered their interest in a working group to join BAATN, PCU, PCSR, The Minster Centre and Aashna. We are overwhelmed with the response these series of encounters has generated, not to mention the drive to support change that is already happening.
Once again, Thank you to all that attended, donated to our ( Aashna +) service that offers a longer-term, low-cost service for individuals diverse communities and experience who may otherwise struggle to access therapy, and who continue to support us. We are meeting in the autumn with the new members and please watch this space, we feel thrilled to be continuing the Let's Get Uncomfortable process toward informing meaningful action and change.
In the coming year, as we move forward with LGU we will be developing an archive of resources here. If you have a suggested resource, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your suggestion.