Racial injustice ... Where is the love? A response to present societal responses on the death of George Floyd and to the UKCP statement

Divine Charura

Divine Charura

Professor of Counselling Psychology Divine is a UKCP psychotherapist and a Counselling Psychologist. He is Professor in Counselling Psychology and programme director for the Doctorate in Counselling Psychology at York St John University

I have thought long and hard about what to do and what I want to say following the events of the last few weeks and having noted the UKCP statement of 11 June 2020 on Racial Injustice which I deeply appreciated. I decided to write a response to outline my appreciation of it but also my own sense of what I see as some of the root challenges within our profession relating to dealing with diversity.

Following the death of Mr George Floyd, there have been many responses worldwide about the importance of taking an anti-racist stance, and rightly so. I thought I would like, however, to speak specifically on psychotherapy training and diversity because I feel that is an area in which, as a professional community, immediate action needs to be taken. Having recently submitted a manuscript for a co-edited book which focuses on Black Identities, White Therapies, respect in diversity and the significance of Identity in 21st Century Counselling and Psychotherapy (Lago and Charura 2020, forthcoming), I have drawn from some of the propositions which speak to the issue of not only racial injustice but also the root and systemic failure of attention to diversity in our psychotherapy profession. This includes, as rightly noted and acknowledged in the UKCP statement of 11 June, the need to break down barriers to accessing and completing UKCP training to ensure BAME therapists are entering the profession in greater numbers… and the importance of ensuring “all therapists have the cultural competence to meet clients and service users” that they work with and support,”.

First and foremost, as a black man, as a father of two very young children who keep asking me, ‘Daddy, why are all those people on TV protesting?’, professionally as a UKCP registered psychotherapist, as a practitioner psychologist, as a British citizen, I believe it is important for me to act as a way of standing in solidarity with those peacefully protesting as well as those engaging in constructive dialogue.

As an academic whose passion, activism and writing has been focused on the importance of diversity, love, and the trauma that results from discrimination, I believe we all must actively engage in action to address issues that are at the root of not only societal injustice and inequality but also within our profession. These include inequality, racism, human rights violations and certainly within our profession the barriers to accessing or completing psychotherapy trainings for those who have BAME heritage. I have witnessed and engaged in dialogue with some BAME therapists colleagues who have completed their training, and I have also spoken to many more who have not completed their training because of a range of personal and systemic challenges. In all cases, the recognition and all too well-known pain from some of the microaggressions that were faced and battled with through psychotherapy training continue for them. These include, challenges in facing discrimination within society, the lack of inclusive diversity training across the board, the minimization of their experiences of discrimination and the profession’s contradiction between voiced commitment and actual training practice.

As a UKCP trustee myself, and as a regional representative for therapists from all modalities in North England, I deeply appreciated UKCP speaking out on injustice and would like to focus on a plea for a particular aspect which relates to the importance and need for a shift in training standards pertaining to a review of the curriculum. Whilst I appreciate there are some institutions that have increasingly been offering diversity training, I believe it is important for us to have dialogue and take more action and change in training practice on diversity. It is also important in line with this to recognize the importance of transcultural competencies for all therapists.

I have asked the question in my title ‘...Where is the love’, primarily because in some of my writing, I have noted the long history within our profession of acknowledging the centrality of love as key to our work (Charura and Paul 2014). For example, many influential figures and forerunners of psychology and psychotherapy, including Carl Jung, Donald Winnicott, Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth, Carl Rogers, and other writers such as John Lee, Robert Sternberg, and Helen Fisher, have made reference to the importance of love and the impact of its absence on the human psyche. The philosopher Martin Buber continually spoke about valuing the other through an ‘I-thou’ relationship; Freud referred to psychoanalysis as ‘a cure through love’; and Carl Rogers unreservedly stated that the kind of relationship that he hypothesized and experienced as healing was one in which what is offered is ‘unconditional love’. At the same time there has been a plethora of critique about their own commitment to issues of diversity, particularly given some of their attitudes towards those BAME communities. Undoubtedly their contributions have been invaluable in developing psychotherapy and counselling modalities and for that we are indebted. Nonetheless, it is important to ask the question of whether our commitment to their important contributions suffice, without reflection on how they fit in 2020, especially given the challenges and diversity we now face (Charura & Lago 2020).

Up till recently, the issue of diversity, racial injustice, the negative experiences reported by BAME trainees and qualified therapists and members of the public from BAME communities raises cautionary conversations and a shrouding in silence of their experience which does not always reflect love.

Despite this, for a few decades there has been a continual and essential increase of those who have written about transcultural and intercultural matters, race and culture within psychotherapy, anti-discriminatory practice, the experience of BAME therapists and love, respect in diversity, critique of Eurocentric theory in psychotherapy training, and so on. To name a few, please see Kareem and Littlewood (1992) on intercultural therapy; D’Ardenne, & Mahtani (1999) on transcultural counselling; Lago & Thompson (1996/2006) on race and culture in counselling; Thomas, (2000) racism and psychotherapy; McMurray (2004) culturally sensitive evidence-based practice; Liamputtong (2008) doing cross-cultural research; Mackenzie-Mavinga (2009) on black issues in the therapeutic Process; Lago (2011) whose book offered a diversity of perspectives from many BAME therapists on transcultural counselling and psychotherapy; Moodley, Epp, & Yasuf (2012) on counselling across the cultural divide; Lee, (2013) on multicultural counselling and antiracist practice; Thomas (2013) on colonial history and its implications for counselling and psychotherapy. Lago, and Charura, (2015) on transgenerational trauma and Love; Charura and Paul (2015) Love and therapy; Lago and Charura (2020, forthcoming) critical perspectives and radical propositions on diversity.

I note these authors as a small sample of the identification of the importance of different cultural voices who have offered a stimulus for dialogue that is much needed today. As someone interested in research, I have drawn in my own psychotherapy practice from some of the authors who argue that psychotherapy curriculum and research practices should change. That is, to shift from seeing diversity as something to tag on to what we do, and more to accepting different cultural voices as worthy equal knowledge-generation partners, in psychotherapy and counselling research, teaching, learning and practice (Charura and Lago 2020).

An issue I have found interesting is the number of professional bodies, (nationally and internationally), in which there is a long history of those therapists from BAME communities not feeling always at home or indeed not being made to feel at home, within the main professional bodies; not feeling heard and then eventually forming separate groups which continue to focus on championing diversity, and challenging systemic racism within the fibre of the curriculum and profession. There are so many groups to mention, but briefly, they have for example: The Association of Black psychologists ABPsi (founded in the USA since the 1960’s), Asian American Psychological Association (1972-Present); The National Latina/o Psychological Association (NLPA) (1970’s till present). Within the UK, some therapists are also members of these aforementioned groups, but there are also thriving and well-established groups such as The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network- (BAATN), Muslim Counsellor and Psychotherapist Network (MCAPN) and others.

In brief, to give context, such groups as I understand it, have all aimed to promote anti-discriminatory practice, social justice, cultural psychology, racial/ethnic identity and multicultural competencies. They have also aimed to address institutional racism and the failure of psychology, psychotherapy, or counselling training programs to recruit and retain minority students. Lastly, they have identified the importance of culturally sensitive research, and addressing challenges faced by those from Black, Asian, and ethnic minority or faith communities within society. Ultimately, they have also offered psychological expertise informed by an understanding of the lived experiences of people who identify as Black, African, South Asian, and Caribbean or those affected by prejudice because of the colour of their skin.

Sadly, within most of the psychotherapy, psychology and counselling professional bodies within the UK, there has been a history too of internal diversity committees or what were known as ‘Divisions of Race and Culture’ or ‘Race and Cultural Education in counselling’ groups forming. However, for a range of reasons the majority of such groups did not survive. At times it has been very sadly because of a lack of commitment and engagement from the wider members of the professional body and at times toxic dynamics which have ensued or other reasons from both within and without these groups. Whatever the case, to go back to my title… ‘Where is the love?

More poignantly if we have no space to have dialogue and reflection about issues of diversity, prejudice, injustice, space to listen to each other about our lived experiences and the psychodynamics such as the counter/transference in our profession or within society, then how do we change the perpetuating factors that influence these realities?

If we have no dialogue but instead break away into our silos or remain silent about why it is not good enough to only have a two-day training or weekend trainings on diversity, then what happens to the evolution of our profession? After all, theoretically and practically after many years of training we should be competent to work with a diverse range of clients/patients within society. Can we truly do that after a weekend or a module on diversity?

If we do not have dialogue about identifying the real barriers that those with a BAME heritage face in accessing our profession, and take sustained action in breaking down barriers to accessing and completing psychotherapy trainings, then how do we ensure that we have done everything we can to ensure that BAME therapists are entering the profession in greater numbers?

If we do not speak out about injustice, given that we are some of those who have unique training in working with the psyche, if we do not make time and engage in dialogue and exploration about ways of psychologically supporting those who have been insulted, tyrannised, oppressed and murdered by the acting out of unconscious and conscious, destructive, and oppressive layers of the psyche, then what is the place of our profession, specialist training, skill and, above all, what use is our many years of training to our society and humanity?

It was these sorts of questions that made me take time to write and respond to the UKCP statement, which I fully support as it names some of the themes of what must be done without hesitation or flinching. A shift in our psychotherapy education curriculum is an expression of the shift in the geopolitics of knowledge in which modern epistemological frameworks for knowing and understanding the world are challenged. This relates to no longer accepting the Eurocentric or dominant psychotherapy perspectives as the universal and best ways of understanding the world. Rather, a shift to critiquing and understanding that psychotherapy practice and research approaches, evidence and curriculums are not unbound by geohistorical and bio-graphical contexts. Nor are we as psychotherapists outside of the societal turmoil we are seeing on our screens and witnessing on our streets.

I believe the UKCP statement is a call for a radical shift in challenging racial undertones, and all forms of ‘isms’ that breed discrimination in society and in our profession. It is a statement which, as noted, admits that The ‘UKCP (and all the psychological professions) need to do more to reflect the communities we serve’. I do also know that in the case of UKCP, the commitment for supporting those who need financial support such as through the current grant available for UKCP Trainee members starting their final year/two years of training is not only for the benefit of individuals, it also strengthens our profession by supporting trainees from groups who are under-represented such as from BAME groups.

So, by way of concluding, my plea to try to re-contextualize and offer the stimulus for dialogue, consider the following:

  1. Given that this paper is a response to the UKCP statement on racial injustice, I feel it is important to reiterate as has been said by many others, that the therapy community must commit to anti-racist practice.
  2. I do hope that the different professional bodies and groups in which BAME therapists have for many years explored these matters, and UKCP, come together to engage in constructive dialogue. This should also involve all of us as therapists within our regions exploring ways of coming together and engaging in constructive dialogue. If this is to be successful, it should be informed by non-defensive attitudes and openness to listen and share our perspectives on contributing to change.
  3. A shift and change in the psychotherapy curriculum to embed diversity training in a way that is more than tokenistic, in teaching and facilitating psychotherapists drawing from a range of sources which offer experience on issues of diversity. It is important to accept these as equal knowledge-generation partners, in psychotherapy and counselling research, teaching, learning and practice.
  4. A shift and change in the psychotherapy curriculum which encourages and fosters a psychotherapy research culture that engages with the challenging issues affecting those marginalised. For example, as noted in the UKCP statement, how black men showing signs of mental distress and why they are far more likely to be criminalised – as reflected in the massive racial disparities in the police’s use of the Mental Health Act (sectioning). This is important because research, is the gateway for evidence-based practice and practice-based evidence which we depend on to inform psychotherapy practice.
  5. Exploring other ways in which psychotherapy training can evolve to enable those without or with limited financial resources can access training. For example, through offering full time routes that can be funded through government loans as happens with other professions, such as medicine, paw, Psychology etc.
  6. Ensuring that all therapists have the cultural competencies to work with all individuals and groups regardless of their culture or difference. (This point also mirrors a part of what was noted in the UKCP statement.)
  7. Where is the Love?

Given the current geo-socio-political challenges in society and in our profession today, I feel that we cannot talk about anti-discriminatory practice, fairness, opportunity for all, within our profession if we do not embed some of these ideas.

To end, I am encouraged by the UKCP statement on racial injustice and hope that we can all take action.


Charura, D. and Paul, S. (2015) Love and Therapy: In Relationship. Karnac Books.

Charura D., and Lago C. (2020) Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, Aaron Beck, Carl Rogers, Abraham Maslow et al did not live in Europe in 2020. A radical call for decolonised, psychotherapy research and practice. In Lago and Charura (Eds) (2020, forthcoming) Respect in Diversity: The Significance of Identity in 21st Century Counselling and Psychotherapy. [title to be confirmed]. PCCS Books.

D’Ardenne, P., & Mahtani, A. (1999) Transcultural Counselling in Action: Vol. 2nd ed. London: Sage Publications Ltd.

Kareem, J. & Littlewood, R. (1992) Intercultural Therapy: Themes, Interpretations and Practices. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific.

Lago and Charura (Eds) (2020, forthcoming) Respect in Diversity: The Significance of Identity in 21st Century Counselling and Psychotherapy. [title to be confirmed]. PCCS Books

Lago, C. & Thompson, J. (1996) Race, Culture and Counselling. Buckingham: Open University Press. (2nd. Ed’n.,2006, Lago.).

Lago, C. (ed.) (2011) The Handbook of Transcultural Counselling & Psychotherapy. Maidenhead, UK: Open University Press.

Lago, C. and Charura, D. (2015) Working with Transgenerational / Intergenerational trauma: The Implication of Epigenetic considerations and transcultural perspectives in psychotherapy. The Psychotherapist, April, 59, 23-25.

Lee, C. C. (2013). Multicultural Issues in Counseling: New Approaches to Diversity. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

Liamputtong, P. (2008) Doing cross-cultural research: Ethical and methodological perspectives. London, UK: Springer.

McKenzie-Mavinga, I. (2009) Black Issues in the Therapeutic Process. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

McMurray A., (2004) Culturally sensitive evidence-based practice. Collegian, 11(4).

Moodley, R., Epp, L. & Yasuf, H. (Eds.) (2012) Counseling Across the Cultural Divide: The Clemmont Vontress Reader. Monmouth: PCCS Books.

Thomas, L.K. (2000) Racism and Psychotherapy: Working with Race in the consulting room, an Analytic View. In Kareem, J. & Littlewood, R. (Eds.) Intercultural Therapy, Themes Interpretations and Practice. Oxford: Blackwell Scientific, 2nd Edition

Thomas L. K. (2013) Empires of Mind: Colonial history and its implications for counselling and psychotherapy. Psychodynamic Practice. Vol 19, No.2, May 2013. Routledge, UK.

UKCP (2020) UKCP statement: Racial injustice, June 11, 2020. Author. Retrieved from https://www.psychotherapy.org.uk/news-and-events/equality-diversity-and-inclusion/

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