Cultural identity on the journey to clinical psychology

Cheryl Francis on access to training.

Psychology is increasingly aware of the reality that significantly lower proportions of individuals from Black and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds access psychological services. There have been discussions regarding what the barriers might look like and how these may widen the gap (e.g. Memon et al., 2016).

There is also greater understanding of the limited representation of individuals from BAME backgrounds completing professional psychology qualifications, and that a diverse workforce is key for improving access to mental health services (Turpin & Coleman, 2010). However, currently there is little consideration of an individual’s professional journey and how it may be impacted by their ethnic background. I note a need to develop awareness of how cultural identity may influence an individual’s performance, experience and professional development.

Drawing on my own experience, there is limited understanding that Assistant Psychologists from minority ethnic backgrounds, like myself, may notice a culture ‘clash’ between work and home due to our jobs in mental health. I grew up surrounded by South Indian Tamil ideologies, including the belief that mental health difficulties do not exist or are not as important as other issues. Conversely, my professional journey has focused on the detrimental impact of failing to address mental health needs. This has led to some difficult conversations with members of my cultural community in explaining my rationale for working in mental health, with no compassionate culturally sensitive space to discuss these issues during my professional development.

Western society places an emphasis on the importance of taking care of your own mental health and wellbeing. This is at odds with the Tamil collectivist view of family wellbeing at the forefront and considering how your actions may impact your family/community. I have learnt to find a middle ground between these opposing ideologies, to thrive as a mental health professional and not lose aspects of my cultural identity. These issues have made me wonder whether professional development is stunted by having an extra layer of complexity to navigate through, whilst also managing general concerns and difficulties within these roles.

There are likely several ways in which cultural identity may impact personal and professional development, depending on an individual’s cultural background and role within a service. It is important to pay attention to these differences not only to improve access, but to understand whether professional development is impacted negatively, positively or just differently. I believe that we have yet to recognise the experiences of individuals from BAME backgrounds during their path to a professional psychology qualification, both within our research and in further discussion.

Cheryl Francis
Assistant Psychologist
Community Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services North East Surrey

Memon, A., Taylor, K., Mohebati, L.M. et al. (2016). Perceived barriers to accessing mental health services among black and minority ethnic (BME) communities: A qualitative study in Southeast England. BMJ Open, 6, e012337.
Turpin, G. & Coleman, G. (2010). Clinical psychology and diversity: Progress and continuing challenges. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 9(2), 17–27.

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