‘It's about giving a voice to people who can bring so much to the table’
Psychologists Afsana Faheem (above, right) and Dr Kate Cooper (above, left) were on the cusp of hosting a conference at the University of Bath about cultural diversity in psychology when Covid-19 struck. Frustrated by their event’s inevitable cancellation, they went back to the drawing board and repurposed their plans into a podcast. They have since built a large following tackling one of the most intransigent and important challenges in clinical psychology.
'What About Us? Cultural Awareness in Clinical Practice' is now a platform for a wide range of researchers and clinicians from diverse backgrounds to tell their stories, raise awareness about diversity, and inspire the next generation of professionals in psychology.
Can you tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?
[Afsana] I'm currently a lecturer at the University of Bath. Growing up in Birmingham, as a Muslim, Pakistani, British woman, I've always had a passion for working with people from diverse and disadvantaged communities. As part of my role at the University of Bath, I developed the cultural competence and working with diversity units [for Bath’s MSc in Applied Clinical Psychology]. My PhD research looks at whether evidence-based therapies are effective for those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic groups, focusing in particular on Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT).
[Kate] I’m a research fellow at the University of Bath, doing a National Institute for Health Research fellowship about autism and gender identity. I'm also a clinical psychologist and I work in Child and Adolescent Mental Health. I have done clinical work with refugees and asylum seekers in the UK and in Greece.
How did the podcast come about?
[Afsana] Originally the plan was to get practitioners to come into the university and talk about their experiences in a conference-style workshop. When Covid happened, everything went into lockdown so the event had to be cancelled. I just thought, you know what, why don't we just put a podcast together?
What would you say is important about introducing more diversity and raising awareness?
[Kate] For a lot of patients, whether it's about cultural background or ethnicity or gender, it can be really important to see yourself reflected in the clinicians that you work with. Not to have that as an option in so many clinical services is problematic. If it's mostly white practitioners trying to understand what's going with someone from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background, things can be missed.
[Afsana] I think it's about giving a voice to people who can bring so much to the table. Maybe they don't get that exposure within teaching, literature or clinical settings. It’s important to note that we don’t always know the answers. Sometimes topics will come up that we don't really know much about, so we're learning as well and I think that's the beauty of the podcast. I'm in awe of all the speakers that have joined us so far.
Why did you call it What About Us?
[Kate] It does encapsulate, I think, a feeling that a lot of people have when they step into a mental health service to see this kind of very homogenous group of clinicians. I think the title kind of sums up that feeling that a lot of people might have.
What impact has the podcast had?
[Afsana] Some of the nicest feedback we've seen over the last year has been clinicians getting in contact saying they've used some of the examples that speakers have given within their practice. We’ve also seen [ideas from the podcast] being implemented in some clinical practices. This has included incorporation of our podcast in cultural awareness training programmes and good practice guidelines. Clinicians have also told us that by listening to our speakers, they had begun to consider their own personal identity and how this interacts with others [clients and colleagues].
What are you hoping to achieve? What's its purpose?
[Kate] I represent the dominant group within the profession, you know, white, middle-class female. And that really feels like a problem to me, if there isn't that diversity. If you look at the undergraduate population, you see a somewhat more accurate representation of the demographic in the UK and then as you go up to masters and doctorate level you see people from more diverse backgrounds dropping out. I just really wanted to do something to stop that from happening and to tell stories about people from diverse backgrounds to help people from similar backgrounds feel that they could take those steps.
How have your personal backgrounds shaped your journeys as psychologists?
[Afsana] I come from Birmingham, which is very diverse. The stark realisation that there's a problem came when I was doing my PhD. I travelled pretty much across the whole of the UK trying to interview therapists and that's when I realised, there's actually an issue here.
You have interviewed a very diverse range of professionals. Is it fair to say you hold a broad definition of cultural awareness?
[Afsana] There are so many different layers to it. It's not necessarily just culture per se but it can be related to other factors such as religion, socioeconomic status, race and so on.
[Kate] We have talked about having more LGBT voices. And yeah, just trying to keep the definition as broad as possible. I think it'd be interesting to have people who are just starting their journey, as well as the role models.
Does raising cultural awareness feel like an uphill climb?
[Afsana] I think if you speak to some of the clinicians it sometimes comes across as that. I believe having conversations around the table is important. Even if we can [just] start with that.
[Kate] Back when Black Lives Matter was in the headlines, there was this real sense of energy around this area, and it felt like a lot of progress could be made quite quickly. For me it's about thinking about ways to try and keep that momentum going.
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