Racism within the UK remains structurally embedded in the fabric of society.
The history of colonisation and race science, and current socio-political climate, influence how Clinical Psychologists are trained, how mental health services are structured, and how racialised individuals are ‘treated’ when accessing therapy. It is well known that racism is a contributing factor to distress and mental health difficulties yet there is very little research examining how racism is talked about in therapy. Whiteness enables power and privilege to dominate, to the detriment of racialised individuals, and exists as an invisible norm. With this in mind, the researcher was interested in the experiences of white clinical psychologists talking about race and racism in therapy.
This study interviewed fifteen self-identified white clinical psychologists about their experiences of talking about race and racism within therapy. Interviews probed participants on what hindered and facilitated these experiences.
Thematic analysis from a critical realist perspective identified three overarching themes, each with their own subthemes: ‘I’m not a racist, even when I get it wrong’ (‘managing feelings of unease’, ‘certainty in audience’, ‘what my whiteness does’) ‘Proximity to racism’ (‘easier to do nothing’ ‘integral to clinical psychologist’s role’) and ‘Commitment: “anti-racism is a lifelong journey” ’ (‘holding the power for change’, ‘stuckness: don’t stop there’). Experiences were influenced by supervisory relationships, team dynamics, participant’s DClinPsy training, and personal values and upbringing.
The findings were linked to previous research on whiteness, power and talking about race within other therapy professionals and discussed in relation to Ryde’s White Awareness Model (2009). Recommendations for training, clinical practice and policy were made, and the researcher concluded by signposting to anti-racism resources and a call to action for clinical psychologists.