Race and therapy

I felt honoured to be asked to speak to a group of therapists about working with difference, focusing on African Caribbean clients.  The whole process of preparation and execution has been really instructive.

I wanted to share my 7 steps on this part of my journey as it may trigger something for others:

1.  As an African Caribbean counselling student I felt I had to struggle through the training without that part of my identity being included.  We were very good on ancestral characters but these seem not to link to real world experiences of differences.  The training was very holistic and addressed many parts of my growing self and included thoughts, behaviours, imagination, spirituality and body awareness but no aspect seem to address how it might feel to be a black female in the white female world of therapy.  The male minority and gay minority (all white) felt able to voice their feelings around their experience.  I imagine encountering staff who mirrored those aspects of their identity helped this; there were no black members of staff.

2. Since graduating I have explored my growing sense of what it means to be a black female counsellor – in my personal life, in the community, in group therapy, with clients, with other black female therapists.  With other black therapists there is some mirroringso I get my thoughts and feelings reflected back and this deepens my awareness and growth.

caribbean queen

3. With group therapy and peer support there is a long-standing, mutually agreed, confidential set up.  We share our individual struggles and we are supported and challenged.  They do it to me and I do it for them.  This involves great trust and highlights our awareness of who we are now and our continuously deepening individual and relational journeys.

4. Being asked to do this talk meant that the subject of race and therapy is more acceptable as a discussion topic to the profession in general and is no longer unspoken.  By agreeing to do the talk I would now break my silence on the subject, practiced so well during my training. Back then I felt it best to leave it off the agenda rather than force the subject onto people who were, on the whole, not very interested.  I did not wish to make people feel uncomfortable or guilty and knew it would be a lifetime’s journey into this and other parts of me.  It is not possible to explore everything in 3.5 years and therapists continue in personal development outside of what we do for our clients.

5. So now I find I am being given space and voice and I have given myself the same.  But what does that mean?  Am I now the black expert?  Could I possibly speak for all African Caribbean people and their experience of therapy?  Is it about migration, family structure, education, housing, racism or slavery? Where do I start and what do I want them to know, understand and experience at the end?

6. I prepared as best I could, given conflicting ideas of what I wanted to achieve.  I arrived to an all white audience as I had imagined.  Who were they and why had they come when other chose not to?  I feel exposed because they know who I am and I am about to let them into some very personal experiences, thoughts and feelings.  Although there are theories and concepts, this subject is personal to me, and not just delivering continuing professional development.

7.  There were so many ways it could go.   Here is what happened:

a) I prioritised engagement and discussion as I wanted to know where they were in their experience of difference and what queries they had.  I’ve sat through too many equality sessions where people attend because they have to but they take away nothing.

b) I wanted an honest style where people would feel able to ask anything they wanted. I guess I chose education and authenticity over being challenging.  For me a lot of therapy is about raising awareness and connecting to unconscious thoughts, feelings and beliefs so this is what I could facilitate here too.

c) My desire to be open and responsive meant that I paid less attention to structure and this is the area to improve for the next talk.

So this whole process has been very helpful for me, and I enjoyed facilitating the session.  It feels very much like a moment in time, a turning point. How do you relate to the differences you find in the world?  Have you been silent on something then decided to speak up?  Leave a comment below to carry on the conversation.

How I nourish my body

As counsellors we are sometimes accused of focusing too much on feelings but how we feel about our bodies influence how we take care of this precious gift.  I recently watched a documentary on wounded ex soldiers trekking to the North Pole and was reminded of what our bodies can do.  I discuss this in my book An A-Z for your life.

How do we nourish our bodies?  How do we decide what to eat and drink and what to say “no!” to?  For some it is all about taste.

A recent blend: kale and raspberries

You may eat the foods you were raised on, replicating recipes from your parents.  I do a bit of this but I now live in a different part of the world, in a different time and a different household.  Plus with increased indoor living, stress, technology, pollution, central heating and ageing my bodily needs must now be different.

How do I optimise what I feed my body?  Is it a combination of taste and heritage?  The health guidelines recommend 5 portions of fruit and vegetables, plenty of water and not too much alcohol, caffeine or fizzy drinks.  My diet is close to this but I have a few niggling health issues that have no medical solution.  I am convinced that fine-tuning what I eat and don’t eat is the answer.  Diets tend to be about slimming and I have never really dieted.

I have been thinking of making some changes to what I eat to see if it improves my health concerns.  Some months ago a friend loaned me a book about eating for your blood type and I find the arguments very convincing.  It seems to be scientific and by relating to specific blood types I can be sure that it takes my body chemistry into account.  This feels much safer than just choosing something that is in vogue but based on different body types, or genetic background than my own.  Apparently, our blood type go back further in our ancestry, and is a more useful key to our optimum diet than race or current environment.   Alongside this I’ve been reading up on green smoothies and raw food.  Incredibly these are compatible and imply some overall truth.

Having read the book on blood type I am very keen to try tweaking my diet towards the optimum for my blood type.  I don’t claim to understand all the science behind it but I do know that some foods are more easily digested than others.  I am not yet ready to give up meat but I do love fish and vegetables so these can be part of the majority of meals.  Probably the biggest difference is being able to be more specific about the fruits that are best for me, and those that are not as good.  A few of my favourites will be shelved whilst I try this out.  It’s my first attempt to follow some sort of diet and feels like a big commitment to trust my body’s nourishment to this approach.  A wide range of foods are included: – carb, veg, fruit, fish, greens, red wine – so this is not particularly difficult.  If I link my reading on green smoothies and raw living this is not so much a change of what is eaten but how it is prepared. What will be cooked, juiced or blended? It is less about menu and more about recipe.

As a holistic practitioner I am intrigued that it also targets the most suitable exercises for different blood types.  It suggests, for example, that those with blood type O would benefit from eating lots of meat and undertaking high energy exercises whilst for those with blood type A, being vegetarian and practicing gentler and more meditative exercises such as Tai Chi and Pilates are likely to be beneficial.

So how do you nourish your body?  We are all making these decisions everyday.  Does it depend on taste, family background, cost, convenience or public health information?  

Are most plays about unhappy men?


I recently enjoyed Kevin Spacey in Richard III at the Old Vic. I had seen several Shakespearean productions although not specifically this play.  It was a brilliant production directed by Sam Mendes and Kevin Spacey was great in the role.  The team wanted the audience to fall in love with the dialogue so the performance covered an absorbing 3 hours!  They gave us enough time to get hold of the setting and the characters. Kevin Spacey as Richard III was captivating and charismatic.  He was also bitter, angry, manipulative, egocentric and altogether not a nice person.


A couple weeks later I went to see Butley with Dominic West.  This is the story of a university professor and his relationship with his mentee over a period of time.  I am a big fan of Dominic West and his acting was superb.  During the play we find out about the lengths and depths of their relationship, the other people in their lives and gain some insight into the changing power balance between them.  Although it is possible to feel sad for Butley and the situation he finds himself in, one is not really drawn to him.  He is bitter, angry, repressed, emotionally blind, lost and emotionally cold.  It was quite a sad ending in that the character seemed resigned and hopeless.


I was very disappointed with the ending in Butley. I don’t think I need an upbeat happy ending. Also, characters don’t all have to be nice because that is not realistic, but is it too much to hope for depth and transformation?  I wonder if this will become a new criterion for the plays I choose to see.   It may be that I expect more from the theatre than from the film industry.


Have you seen any plays recently and how did you relate to the characters?