Turning The Other Cheek May Save Your Soul, But What About Your Mental Well-being?

Counselling specialist, Karen Carberry, shares the importance of mental well-being and why Black people should get counsellors who understand their culture and history

Talking about one’s mental health and mental well-being has historically been a taboo in the Church. As a family and systemic psychotherapist, I work with children, adult individuals, couples and families. I have often witnessed the dilemmas of Christians and non-Christians, who struggle with internal feelings of ‘righteous anger’ when encountering an offence to their character or feelings, rather than following the guiding scriptural principles on how to manage emotional upsets. 

Family breakdown can cause generational wounds and therefore the Scripture, ‘Honour thy father and thy mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you’ (Exodus 20:12), can be troubling to those with adverse early childhood experiences, who are then looking for help to either move on, process the difficulties, or find healing through therapy.

With the recent demise of Tina Turner, many are switching on to watch the acclaimed film ‘What’s love got to do with it?’, and asking themselves, what happens when the person you ‘turn the other cheek to’ is your husband or wife (Matthew 5:38-40) and how can I get support to manage my emotions, our couple relationship, and/or the effects on the children? Find a specialist to work with who is experienced in this field and understands the stigma that is often held within the Black community regarding therapy.

I often work with clients who experience workplace bullying, harassment, racism and micro-aggressions – those small incremental slights that chip away at one’s confidence and may be racially motivated. What happens when you honour your line manager at work, and he or she is consistently abusive, demeaning and degrading you in front of your colleagues or in secret?  The Scripture, from 1 Peter 2:18: ‘Servants, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but even to those who are unreasonable’ may seem unjust and, left untreated, the unattended complexity of thoughts and feelings which arise may materialise as anxiety or low mood. 

In wanting to access treatment, one may worry that the way in which they are exhibiting their emotions — for example, sullen, tearfulness, crying, and poor sleep — may be called into question if the therapist doesn’t understand that there are different ways people from the global majority express their disquiet and concerns.  

Our new book, Therapy in Colour: Intersectional, Anti-Racist and Intercultural Approaches by Therapists of Colour published 15th June by Jessica Kingsley Publishing, is important in that it connects the reader with how Black African, Caribbean and Asian lives are not only impacted through the journey of life, but that each person also responds in nuanced ways dependent upon their belief system, upbringing, cultural and colonial history. The chapters are written by experienced therapists who open up in-depth narratives on how the lives of people of colour — and their responses to life — may contribute to mental health, and are helped through tailor-made theoretical interventions, with proven culturally responsive treatment that works.

How do I make sure I receive the right therapist for my needs?

It is important that your counsellor, psychologist or psychotherapist is qualified and experienced in the area in which you would like treatment and support. Check that they are accredited and registered with an accountable organisation, like the BPS, UKCP, BACP, AFT, who ensure their members are supervised; engage in continuous professional development; and have insurance in place for their private practice.

If you are paying privately, then you will need to ensure you are financially responsible for making payments for each session. If you are accessing a non-fee-paying therapeutic service through the NHS or another organisation, you are within your rights to ask to see someone from your cultural background, or who is experienced in working with clients/families from your ethnicity.

You may find that your employers provide free access to short-term therapy through an Employment Assistance Provider (EAP). Access may be through HR, Occupational Health, or directly through a secure telephone number. Again, you can request to be referred to someone experienced and from your cultural or religious background to help you feel comfortable within your sessions.

Karen Carberry is Acting Chair for AFT; Head of Family and Systemic Practice for Orri, and co-editor of Therapy in Colour: Intersectional, Anti-Racist and Intercultural Approaches by Therapists of Colour

You can get more information from the following organisations:

British Psychological Society (BPS) www.bps.org.uk

United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) www.psychotherapy.org.uk

British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) www.bacp.org.uk

Black, African and Asian Therapeutic Network (BAATN) www.baatn.org.uk

Association for Family Therapy and Systemic Practice (AFT) www.aft.org.uk

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