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Mental Health Support is for All: Decolonising Therapy and Why 

Therapy, a vital resource for mental health support, has traditionally been moulded by cultural norms, inadvertently creating barriers for diverse communities when therapeutic tools and techniques aren’t tailored to their unique needs. As we reach the culmination of Black History month, let’s learn more about how therapy has been ‘colonised’ knowingly or unknowingly, and how its decolonisation can be brought into effect. 

Understanding the Colonial Imprint on Therapy 

Historically, therapy practices have evolved within cultural frameworks that might not consider the nuances of different communities. The lack of cultural inclusivity within therapeutic approaches unintentionally erects obstacles for those whose experiences and worldviews diverge from the dominant cultural narrative. Recognising this gap is crucial to bridge the disparities in mental health support. 

One such example is the uneven access to therapy. Marginalised communities often face challenges due to socio-economic differences and stigma when accessing therapy. Statistics show that white populations tend to access therapy more, benefitting from better resources and familiarity with the system. Studies also suggest that there are more white therapists than any other community representatives, leading to a lack of understanding and representation for diverse groups. 

This absence of relatable therapists is a significant barrier that discourages seeking help. Stigma, lack of culturally sensitive services, language barriers, etc are some more examples of how cultural barriers may discourage diverse communities from seeking help. 

Power Dynamics in Therapy 

Power dynamics play a significant role in shaping the therapeutic relationship, and can be influenced by various factors, including cultural backgrounds, societal norms, and the identities of both the therapist and the client. Consider a scenario where a person from a marginalised community seeks therapy from a therapist belonging to the dominant culture. The differences in cultural values, norms, and experiences may inadvertently create a power dynamic. This can potentially lead to the client feeling unheard, misunderstood, or disempowered within the therapeutic space. 

Decolonising therapy aims to transform these dynamics by integrating cultural humility and understanding into therapeutic practices. Therapists must actively engage in ongoing learning about diverse cultural perspectives, showing willingness to adapt the therapeutic approaches to suit the unique needs of each individual. 

Initiatives and Networks for Inclusivity 

In recent years, lots of community-specific services have been established to decolonise therapy, focusing on marginalised communities that are often at the receiving end of cultural disparities. Platforms like the Muslim Counsellor Directory and the Black Asian Therapy Network in the UK are two such initiatives that go a long way in connecting individuals with culturally responsive therapists. Moreover, these networks facilitate a supportive space for discussion, knowledge-sharing, and mutual growth.  

The active engagement of therapists in these networks isn’t just about professional expansion; it’s a conscious effort to contribute to the ongoing process of decolonising therapy. Through shared experiences and expertise, therapists enhance their ability to tailor their practices, promoting a more inclusive and respectful therapeutic environment. 

This ongoing journey aims not to segregate services but to ensure universally accessible, culturally sensitive tools and techniques. It’s a commitment to crafting a therapeutic landscape that is equitable and considerate, catering to the unique needs of all individuals, irrespective of their cultural backgrounds. 

If you’d like to find out more about racism and its impact on mental health, Mind offers helpful resources here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/racism-and-mental-health/  

If you’re a counsellor seeking to be a part of a culturally responsive organisation, please email your interest at placements@quetzal.org.uk. 

If you or someone you know is in need of help, fill out our referral form here: https://quetzal.org.uk/get-help-counselling/

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