Podcast: Myira Khan

24 March 2021

In our third podcast episode, Myira Khan, founder of the Muslim Counsellor and Psychotherapist Network, joins Kadra and Alethea to discuss the mental health challenges facing racialised communities, particularly Muslim communities.

Myira shares pertinent insights from her own practice about the need for a more representative workforce, and the barriers that stigma and language can create for people seeking mental health support.

Listen to the episode on Spotify or iTunesThe full transcript is available below.


Show notes: 

Music by scottholmesmusic.com




Alethea Joshi (AJ): Hello, and welcome to Centre for Mental Health’s podcast. Here at the Centre, we are dedicating to eradicating mental health inequalities by changing policy and practice. So recently, my colleague Kadra Abdinasir and I caught up with Myira Khan. Myira Khan is a counsellor, but she’s also the founder of the Muslim Counsellor and Psychotherapist Network. And it was a truly fascinating conversation; we talked about the mental health challenges facing racialised communities, particularly Muslim communities. We discussed the impact that being minoritized can have on people’s mental health, as well as the multi-faceted impact of stigma. Myira shared her insights on the need for culturally-informed approaches and a more representative workforce, as well as the language barriers which can stop people getting the help they need.

AJ: So I am delighted to be here today with Myira Khan. She is a counsellor, supervisor, counselling tutor and the founder of the Muslim Counsellor and Psychotherapist Network and we are so excited to have her here today and I’m also here with Kadra Abdinasir who is our Head of Children and Young People’s Mental Health here at the Centre. So we’re just really excited to have this conversation. So, hello to both!

Kadra Abdinasir (KA): Hi.

Myira Khan (MK): Hi.

KA: So, Myira and I caught up a few weeks ago and shared each other’s sort of work in the mental health space, thinking about working with marginalised and racialised communities specifically. But I reached out to Myira following a Clubhouse room I joined about Muslim women’s mental health. I thought it was really, really interesting. Lots of questions came up and you know, themes around being unable to access support, where to go for help and you know just, it just struck me how so many women were suffering in silence and I was like – Do they know about Myira’s network? What a great resource to kind of point them to, and I thought it would be really great to, you know, have a conversation with Myira about some of the work she does in this space.

And so I guess just to sort of like kick off with the first sort of question we had: What sort of mental health challenges do you see in your work, you know, facing racialised communities? And any insights that you have around intersecting experiences of Muslims and Muslim communities and Muslim women as well?

MK: I think it’s really important to recognise that for any client who comes from any kind of minoritised or racialised community that, whilst they will be struggling with what I what I can call the regular and potentially kind of common mental health issues or struggles, what impacts on that even more is then their experience of being racialised and minoritised, and then all the “isms” that they then have to experience; all the barriers and hurdles and struggles because of that being racialised that they then have to struggle and go through. So that compounds, then, their mental health struggles.

So it’s about recognising that those two things are kind of happening and that the two are also kind of interrelating with each other as well.

KA: Yeah that’s really helpful, thank you. And I think the sort of added domain of religious discrimination, especially, you know, since 9/11 has impacted Muslim communities and actually demonised them and criminalised them in so many ways. It’s like another sort of factor that I see, just you know, within my own community, and why people feel sometimes they can’t come forward because there’s other sort of negative stereotypes surrounding some of that.

So yeah, just touching a little bit more then on stigma and what role that plays. How can we challenge some of the misconceptions surrounding stigma within racialised and Muslim communities?

MK: I think there’s something around: stigma works both ways. Kind of a two way relationship and connection. I think there is stigma both within the community and then there is stigma attached to the community. So stigma appears in those two ways and so it’s to recognise that within Muslim communities, there is stigma around mental health, counselling therapy, going and getting professional support because of community potential values, community dynamics, social dynamics and constraints, that occur within, very often, predominantly collectivist communities.

And so there is stigma there to then go outside of the family, go outside of the community to go and get the help. So stigma exists within the community. When you then add to that the stigma that then is attached to, projected onto the community, that then creates even further barriers and hurdles to also going outside of their community to go and get help. And even then, if somebody, an individual within that community, wants to do that, they then face those external stigmas and barriers, and then of course, all the worries and fears of being judged, being further racialized, being further discriminated against by going, and then getting that help. So there’s barriers on all these different layers. As I said, kind of first of all, let me get over first of all, the hurdles and barriers within my community, and then even after I’ve jumped over all of those, gosh, then there are all these hurdles external to my community and hurdles potentially within the mental health system as well, so it’s hard work. By this time someone actually ends up in counselling, gosh, how much emotional gymnastics they’ve had to do then to actually get there and access the help. It’s taking a huge amount of resilience actually.

KA: Can I just ask, in your practice, have you seen any progress being made to kind of, I really like the distinction you made there around within the community and attached to the community. Have you seen any sort of overall progress being made over the last couple of years around this or you know, is progress being made in one of those more than the other as well?

MK: I definitely think progress is being made and I think it’s being made actually two-fold, yes, to do with both of those stigmas. So first of all, what I’m definitely seeing is an increase in many more Muslim and minoritized, ethnic minoritized people from our communities actually going and becoming professional counsellors and therapists. So there is something around, partly to break down the stigma within communities, well, if we have people from that very same community, then, working professionally, great, that’s helping, that’s definitely helping more people from within the community to access counselling.

Simultaneous and parallel to that, then, we are also working incredibly hard then to create a mental health system and actually counselling and therapy itself that is what I would call culturally sensitive, faith sensitive, that has cultural humility within it. So again that twofold approach. Let’s get more people from those communities in the profession, and then let’s make the profession itself much more available, accessible and applicable, and sensitive to the needs of people from those very same communities.

So yeah, those two things are working in parallel and over the years I have seen that starting to make some real inroads. And first and foremost, where that’s definitely reflected is then just the sheer amount of people that are coming from those communities and accessing counselling. I’ve definitely seen an increase in referrals. I’ve seen huge numbers of people come by via the Muslim Counsellor and Psychotherapist Network to access counsellors via the directory that we have on there. So we specifically set up a counselling directory that is exclusively of Muslim practitioners. And so again, just getting rid of some of those initial barriers and hurdles within our communities so clients can immediately access somebody who’s not only professionally trained and registered, but also can offer them both cultural and faith sensitivity in the work as well.

I think there is something around, we need services that are faith and culturally sensitive as an embedded part of what they offered to all clients, as well as services that are specifically aimed at particular communities. And the reason I say we need both is because it is not that one is better than the other, but rather they’re meeting different needs at the end goal in one way or another. I think there is something around, if we call these kind of the more ‘generic’ services in which any client can then come and access, and it’s not based on identity, actually being culturally and faith sensitive, is actually about working, what I call, working within diversity.

So for me a big part of the work and the push that I have at the moment in the work that I do, is to really push for all counselling services, processes, training to have working within diversity embedded as a core part of the work, so that services then can work with all clients. Because it’s an aspect of identity, it’s an aspect of really seeing the client in front of you. And I think whilst that gets covered potentially marginally in training courses, I see it as a far, far larger factor of working with any client. So on the one hand I really want all services to be culturally and faith sensitive as an embedded core part of how we work as counsellors. Part of our ethical framework. Part of our counselling competencies in counselling framework or counselling process. But because the profession is vastly under-representative of all the different diverse communities they then serve, this is why we also need that second type of counselling service, which is then services that meet the needs and as well as the representation of particular communities. Especially because I think what is so important for some, I think for all communities, but I think particularly for racialized and minoritized communities, I think it’s really important that they feel that they are going to a service and seeing a professional counsellor or therapist who then represents them or an aspects of their identity or aspects of their community. Because essentially what clients are then asking for is, ‘I want to be seen for me, for the individual that I am’, and so by sitting opposite and being in therapeutic relationship then with a counsellor who can understand that, and is visibly representative of that, again, there is something about a client being fully seen for who they are.

AJ: So helpful to think about that and you were saying so much there, but kind of it felt like you were partly saying that, it’s partly that this is so core to who we are, isn’t it? As people, that faith is often a huge part of who we are and you need people who can actually just understand that, and so even whether it’s in faith-specific or in more generic kind of NHS services, we need therapists and therapeutic relationships that actually can speak to that really core part of our of our identity. But then also as you were saying, huge under-representation both within the profession but also you know, we did our Commission for Equality final report back in November, and looking at how some communities including some racialized communities can really struggle to access the right help when they need it in a way that’s actually helpful and effective. And so I think you’ve really spoken to that need for specialist services that actually, as you say, people who look like them, who can really relate on that level. I think that’s it’s so critical, isn’t it.

MK: Absolutely, and just as you were talking there, what I was reflecting on was, not only is it important that the therapeutic process itself is cultural and faith sensitive, so that’s something around the service and the setup and how the counselling is being offered. So it, in a way, is that sensitivity, then, is contained within the service. But also we need that sensitivity to be contained within the practitioner as well. And so it has a dual role, then, in it being part of the process and the work but also there and proactive and part of the process within the practitioner as well. And so that’s why yes, we need services to be faith and culturally sensitive, but not external to the practitioner; it needs to be within the culture of the service, but it also needs to be within the practitioners as well, the two then need to be complementary. And so I think that’s why it’s really important that yes, services are faith and culturally sensitive, but that the service can only do that if the practitioners are as well.

KA: Yeah, exactly, and I think we see the value of that complementary approach now in light of the pandemic. So thinking about actually how faith groups and, you know, community groups led by racialized people are just a huge asset in terms of helping people overcome bereavement and grief associated with Covid. There was a big report out that came out over the summer by an organization called BAMEstream, which just really highlighted the huge demand in culturally specific bereavement support and just really recognizing, y’know, Muslims, Christians, Jewish communities, every faith group have been unable to practice their usual rituals and routines for funerals, and hopefully that’s something that sort of partnership approach, as well as having the universal NHS mainstream services and the targeted, culturally specific support, that the two have come together quite successfully in many areas. And hopefully that’s something we can learn from, and have statutory services really empowering faith leaders and community leaders to do more of this work and fundamentally as well, funding them properly. That’s been one of the biggest sort of barriers for community-led organizations in this space.

MK: Yeah, absolutely. And speaking to that kind of collaboration that’s needed as well, there is something around, things can so easily be pushed back into the community and say, “well, that’s what your community needs. So yes, where are your community leaders and get them to do it”, or whether it’s kind of that the head of services or the head of a mosque for example, or the head of a community centre or of a community. And I think it’s really easy for it to kind of be pushed back into the community, but I think in doing so, I think there’s a real danger in that, because what ends up happening is, the process of us being minoritized then gets embedded in how we’re being related to, in how we then can look after ourselves. And so there is a real danger, then, in communities going “OK, we have these needs. OK, we’ll get on and do it ourselves”, which I think there is some call for that, but also it needs to be done in collaboration with mainstream services. It needs to be done in collaboration with larger or mainstream organisations so that communities then in accessing help don’t end up having to kind of almost turn inwardly for that support, but then it’s not there because it’s the very same people that are struggling.

So I think these collaborations and these kind of coalitions that are coming out and we’ve seen emerge through the lockdown and certainly over the past year, we’ve certainly seen the emergence then of communities or coalitions and collaborations actually addressing these points, whether it’s through bereavement counselling or whether it’s through webinars and seminars to support mental health and wellbeing and self-care. And it’s certainly something that the Muslim communities have come together to do. And a number of Muslim mental health organisations, then, for the past year have been offering, we’ve been coming together every month to offer monthly live webinars and every month it’s been a different topic or issue. And it’s ranged from what would have been at the very beginning of lockdown, of course, then, how to support your mental health during lockdown all the way through to exactly what you’re talking about Kadra, which is, how can we support family members or other people then within our community that that are grieving and have been struck with bereavements? All the way through to, how to cope with home schooling, how to cope with family who you’ve not seen. It’s been such a wide-ranging series of webinars every month because of course, in the past year, it hasn’t just been around the direct impact of Covid such as IE bereavement. That’s an obvious theme, and clearly something we’re seeing a lot of then in terms of the referrals we’re getting through, high increase in people wanting to come for bereavement counselling. But it’s the domino effect. It’s the isolation, the loneliness, the ‘I’ve not seen the rest of my extended family in a year’. Or home schooling or kids being at home.

And so the ramifications, the repercussions just of the lockdown in and of itself, we need that support in place for our communities, otherwise it’s just not there. But again, it needs to come from within the community to think about what are the needs first of all, but then those needs need to be met, inclusive of mainstream services. Otherwise it just becomes a vicious cycle and it ends up being communities, then, that become isolated and burnt out because they’re looking to people within their own community to support them. And whilst I absolutely love my job, if it was left up to the Muslim counsellor within your community for doing all of that, gosh, it’s not going to be very sustainable, is it? And so it needs this collaboration and these coalitions to come together and put out information, do webinars and seminars, hosting live meetups. My network certainly, the Muslim Counsellor and Psychotherapist network, since last March, the moment lockdown came in, up until July, we had weekly meetups, online zoom meetings and they were open house for any Muslim mental health practitioner, because we recognize that, you know, there would be severe burnout otherwise within the profession because of the real demand for our time and energy. So yeah, we’re happy to think about all of those different things, rather than just directly thinking about the client. It’s also about the sustainability of the professionals from our communities as well.

KA: Wow, such phenomenal work, I’m in awe of all the things that you do, and you know it’s just fantastic to hear about the webinars and just how hugely important they are. I’ve seen, just, you know, my local mosque here in London doing quite a lot of fantastic work around the promotion of the Covid vaccines. And, you know, bringing translators in to communicate that and just a huge difference that’s having in terms of, you know, building confidence and also involving local decision makers. They should be coming to where communities are and not expecting communities to come to these virtual town halls or groups that they create in spaces that are predominantly white or of people who have and holds a lot of power. I think there’s a lot more work to be honest with you that they can be doing around that, and communication with, tapping into networks like yourselves in this space.

And definitely we did some work, I think it was around May last year, looking at both the direct and indirect consequences of Covid and again, of course, we know about the disproportionate impact the virus itself is having on racialised and minoritized communities, but you know, as you say, just all those huge indirect consequences around education, unemployment, and these are huge issues that moving forward, we just have to have a new vision for what the system looks like and how it’s centred around really disrupting and ending those cycles of inequality and disadvantage.

MK: I just want to come back to one point Kadra you made, which I think is really important. And that’s around language. And we spoke earlier about the need for generic mainstream services, but also faith and culturally sensitive services. And one of the big reasons why those faith and culturally sensitive services are needed is because it offers counselling then in additional languages, and immediately then removes those language barriers for clients. I’m just thinking that on the directory, we have such a wide range of counsellors who offer counselling in various additional languages. And just off the top of my head I’m thinking Arabic, French, Polish, a range of all the different Asian languages: Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, Gujarati, Bengali and then through to Middle Eastern languages of Arabic, but also Uruba, we’ve got other African languages, and so again, I’m sat here going, ‘how will you ever be able to find that range of counsellors in any mainstream service?’ You just wouldn’t, and even if there are services out there that do offer counsellors who offer all those different languages, it is often because the service itself then is again targeted at particular communities or they are a centre specifically set up for cultural diversity. And so I’m thinking again about the need from, actually the calls from within our own communities that then say actually, what do we need to reduce some of the barriers and the stigmas? And you said earlier, Kadra, language is one of them, amongst lots of other factors. But language alone can certainly eliminate barriers for many clients, because they can then access a counsellor who speaks their mother tongue or their first language immediately goes, ‘Yeah, I’m going to go to counselling’.

KA: Yeah, absolutely, and I think if people aren’t able to access a counsellor who shares the same background and language, you know, thinking about what more can be done to support interpreters within the health system overall. Just you know, just in my personal experience, I don’t think they get enough training or support to do the work they do, and often they really lack the competencies and mental health literacy, and sometimes put people in harm’s way unintentionally. And that’s again just due to the lack of like processes around that, being brought into sit in on somebody’s session at the last minute. So there’s also those challenges that I think we need to think a lot more around how we build up and diversify the workforce across the profession, including those who come in on an ad-hoc basis in that way.

AJ: Yeah, that’s so true, and just what you were saying, Myira, about, I mean, it’s such an obvious point isn’t it, about language. But just thinking for myself, I can’t imagine having to talk about the most intimate and personal details of my life in a language that is not my mother tongue. Like, how hard and how challenging that could be.

KA: And you know, even just in my language of Somali, I think I only know of like 5 words that relate to mental health and they all pretty much mean the same thing. But if you are very skilled in the language you would know and pick up on other ways people might describe their symptoms which you know isn’t like a dictionary definition of anxiety or something along those lines. It’s a real skill, isn’t it?

MK: Yeah, and I’m also thinking of the nuance in language as well, that, for clients who are working in a second language or possibly even a third language because of the counsellor they’re working with and there is no interpreter available, that they’re having to really grasp with a very limited vocabulary, and in doing so, then, they aren’t able to articulate what they’re really feeling and what their real experiences are. So almost in a way, it goes back to this idea of not being seen again, and not being fully heard. And so there is something around, it then lacks the kind of cultural sensitivity, if you’re then working with the client who’s having to use a second or third language in the room, because you’re missing a huge percentage of what they would otherwise be able to talk about, and that’s literally because they don’t have the words.

KA: And of course there’s nonverbal communication as well. I just wondered if you had any insights or experiences around how, you know, people might use other forms of therapy like art therapy, for example. Is that something that’s been effective as well with some groups?

MK: Yes, yes, there’s a whole range now of different types of therapies that take into consideration, not just kind of talking therapy. So yes, art therapy, play therapy, drama therapy, all sorts, animal assisted therapy, all sorts, so it can take away from the need to kind of rely purely on verbal language. But again, the huge disadvantage then is the availability and accessibility then of practitioners, who are currently and faith sensitive to do that work as well. So it’s a bit like saying, ‘well, we have an alternative’, but then the alternative itself may not be suitable either.

I think again it goes back to this idea of it’s about kind of the perfect mix of both suitability of the counselling modality, the culture of the counselling service you access, and then thirdly the therapist and their cultural and faith sensitivity. And it’s almost like the perfect storm if you’re able to get all three. And what I find then is that out of those three, what gets in a way prioritized, or what might be the first tick box that clients then will do in order to find a counsellor or counselling that they think will suit them, is out of that choice of three (counselling modality, counselling service, and counsellor, they will always look to, ‘who is the counselor?’ They will use the counselor as the filter through which, ‘is this somebody I want to get counseling with?’ The service and the modality tend to absolutely come second and third, because the first thing clients will do is go, ‘well, I want a counselor who is culturally and faith sensitive’. And then that will be the reason why they will come to me or to a colleague.

KA: That’s super interesting, and I think there’s also something about you know, the first counselor you might meet or the first mental health practitioner you might come across might not be like your perfect match as well. I wondered something around, people not giving up if they don’t find the right practitioner the first time round, because that can also be a tricky relationship to establish, isn’t it?

MK: Yeah, I always talk about shopping around for your therapist. You have to find somebody who you feel is a good match for you and not every counsellor is a good match for every client. The metaphor, the visual that just came into my head then was the idea, you know, Cinderella and the glass slipper. But it is that idea of, you know, it just fits nicely. And so I always recommend to clients that when they first embark on looking for a counselor is, yeah, shop around, go and book yourself in for assessments with a few different counselors who you think might be suited based on their profiles or what’s written on their websites.

But don’t feel that you have to stick with the first counsellor that you see. And actually, only by being able to go to a few at the beginning do you actually have something to compare to. If you only go to the first one and then start counselling with that first counsellor, you’ve got nothing to gauge against. You’ve got no idea of, ‘oh is this counsellor as warm and friendly and as empathic as a counsellor could be?’. You don’t know that until you’ve gone to a second or third, and very often in these assessments, you go for an assessment first with the counsellor, and then after that you can decide whether you want to actually book in for them and commit to weekly therapy with them. A lot of counsellors will offer that assessment either at a reduced fee or they’ll offer a shorter assessment time for free. I know some of my colleagues will offer a 15-minute free consultation on the phone. In that 15 minutes we’ll get a sense of each other and know whether you want to then book in for an assessment or not. For others it might be you go in for a full assessment. There might be a fee or it might be half price or free, but you’ve always got to remember that when you book in for an assessment, there is absolutely zero obligations to then go and commit to that particular counsellor.

Think of it in a very strange way. Think of it as a first date; you’ve got no commitment for a second date. So absolutely just shop around and and see what therapists are out there. There are thousands of therapists that exist out there and just in the UK alone, there are of us. So you won’t be short of finding somebody, but I think it’s really important that you find somebody who you feel understands you, that gets you, that you feel safe with and you feel comfortable with. I think it’s so important that you feel you are being emotionally held and contained by your [therapist], that they are empathic and warm. And it’s really important that you feel safe with them, anything that feels off, anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, anything that feels that this is crossing boundaries or this just doesn’t feel right, then if it’s something that you feel able to talk to the counsellor about, then do that. But never feel obligated and to stay with a counsellor who then you feel that you’re not getting, you know, a good service from.

KA: Just like ending a bad relationship.

MK: Absolutely yeah, we work with the endings in counselling all the time. And you’re right, Kadra, it is a relationship, is a therapeutic relationship, but it’s still a relationship. So there is a process to building up the trust over time. There is a process to feeling safe and comfortable to come every week and to share such intimate detail about your life with essentially a stranger. It takes a huge amount of courage, a huge amount of vulnerability, to do that. So you absolutely want to make sure that the person opposite you, the person that’s listening to and taking it all in and empathizing with it, and really, what I call kind of ‘being a witness to your story’, that they are somebody that you want to do that journey with, that you want to go through that process with them alongside you.

AJ: That is such wise words, Myira, for anyone trying to start that therapeutic journey and seek help for the first time. And I think that’s so true about shopping around and just kind of… It takes a lot of perseverance, though, doesn’t it? I can speak from my own experience just of going through that process, but as you say, it’s definitely worth it. And we just wanted to know a little bit more about your network, so the Muslim counsellor and psychotherapist network, so yeah, I guess your journey to setting it up, and maybe, were there gaps that you were seeing that you wanted to address through it? And yeah, just tell us a little bit more about that.

MK: Well, I set it up back in 2013, so it feels like a long time ago, so a lot has happened in the network in my practice and profession since then. But interestingly, I set it up because of the gap. I set it up because when I trained, I did not come across a single other Muslim practitioner when I was during my training. I didn’t see a single other Muslim practitioner in the institution that I was being taught at, nor amongst the teaching staff or on the placement that I was in. And so I left and qualified and went, ‘surely there are more?’. This is going to sound really, really aged, but at the time obviously, Little Britain was very popular back then and I remember thinking, ‘I can’t be the only one in the village’, if anyone gets that reference. And so I remember thinking, ‘I can’t be the only Muslim practitioner in this profession’, and so what started off, and is actually still going to this day, I set it up as a LinkedIn group. Literally set it up one day and went ‘Yeah, what can I call it? Muslim Counsellor and Psychotherapist Network’. ‘Cause I wanted to network and meet other Muslim practitioners. I wanted to not feel that I was the only one, I didn’t want to feel a lot of the things that I think we’ve been talking about today in terms of visibility and representation, and feeling isolated and alone. And I thought, gosh, if I’m feeling all of these things, somebody newly qualified, about to kind of start off in this career and in this profession, I don’t want to do it while I’m going to feel like the odd one out. I don’t want to do it where I feel like, I’m always going to be on the periphery of this profession and actually have that experience of actually being marginalized and minoritised within the profession. We have it enough being racialized and stereotyped. And I thought, gosh, I can’t have that as well in the profession.

And so yeah, what started off as a LinkedIn group very quickly grew into, you know, seven gosh eight years on now, a network that is both aiming to meet the needs of Muslim practitioners, so we have our website. We have a counselling directory and newly launched this month, supervision directory. ‘Cause again, getting lots of emails in and I was getting a lot of individual phone calls as well, of people asking for, again, faith and culturally sensitive supervision. So there’s that parallel process going on as well. So we created platforms for Muslim practitioners to be able to network and meet. So every month we have a monthly online meet up for all our members. We have a monthly online peer supervision meeting. We have the monthly webinar that we offer publicly, that’s one of the outputs of the network as well, and we also have quarterly forum, so we have a forum for trainees and students. We have a quarterly forum for those in our network, the members who might be tutors, trainers or teachers that are teaching counseling as well or psychotherapy. And then thirdly we have another quarterly meeting and that’s our book club. So we have all of these different spaces for counselors and members to come and kind of meet one another. We also have our WhatsApp group. So kind of all of these different spaces and platforms for not only practitioners to meet one another, but also to really kind of get in touch with that kind of professional development and best practice and support for their work as well. So whilst on the one hand, it’s very social, it’s also very practitioner-focused as well. I want people in our community to really kind of succeed within the profession and not feel alone.

External to that kind of practitioner focus, the network, then, does lots of work in terms of our public profiles, so we’re across social media, we have, you know, your Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. But it’s about putting out there all this information around Muslim mental health, around breaking down the stigma that were spoken about earlier, so that then essentially, by having the counseling directory, having the website, we are then directly connecting up clients from our communities with counselors and equally then connecting up counselors with supervisors. So essentially I’m kind of joining the dots, I’m the connector and the network is the connector between the practitioners and the clients within our communities. So that’s kind of the second half of what the network does as well.

KA: That’s super fascinating. As you know, I’ve been signposting everybody I know to the network who’s been asking for support. So I guess you are just such a phenomenally influential leader in this space through the work you’re doing with the network, but also you’re working with other groups, like the Diversity and Inclusion Coalition in Counselling and Psychotherapy to look at how they can address this more widely across the profession. But I guess I wanted to know a bit more from you around what you think needs to be done at a decision-making level, either nationally or locally, to create a more racially inclusive mental health system and workforce? If you had any key messages that you wanted to kind of promote to the powers that be?

MK: I suppose two key messages, but they’re closely linked. One is radical reform of the training that we give to practitioners, in the sense that working inclusively, working within diversity, offering therapy and therapeutic services and processes that are faith and culturally sensitive, that needs to be addressed at training level. Because guess what? The trainees become qualified. The qualified then work in the services, and so it absolutely is a feedback loop. So the second part of that is so, first of all it’s about the training. And then second of all it’s then, how does that then actually get implemented and embedded within services? And I’m not talking here about a tick box, a bolt-on, I’m talking about where it needs to be embedded as part of the core aspect of training, in the same way, it needs to be embedded as a core aspect of delivering a high quality, quality-assured, suitable, sustainable therapy and mental health service. And that’s for NHS services, but also across private practices, counselling charities or third sector counselling services as well. But if it gets addressed in training, then we need to also address how does it get embedded and implemented in the actual services as well?

KA: Thank you, that’s really helpful and it’s also, I guess, encouraging to see that the sort of like recent antiracist movement is gaining a lot of momentum, and you know it is kickstarting some of that thinking in training of the workforce and just overall systems reform, and you know, hopefully with Covid and all of the changes that are due to come up within the NHS, that’s something that we can embed organically, through these new systems that will be emerging. One would hope.

MK: Yeah, it’s on the one hand, it’s a real sadness that it took the murder of George Floyd, that it took the BLM protests, that it took Covid, for all of a sudden people to sit up and go ‘Oh, we actually do need to make fundamental changes here’, but I really do hope that what comes out of tragedy is then a real positive change for those very same communities that have been affected by it.

AJ: Myira, thank you so much, genuinely find that stuff fascinating on multiple different levels and I could have just listened to your day. So thank you so much. You just speak with such wisdom and clarity and I love it!

KA: I feel like it’s been a counselling session.

AJ: Yeah I just feel really encouraged, and just so grateful for what you’re doing.

MK: Well no, thank you for kind of inviting me on. And I always really appreciate being given kind of these platforms because you know, again, I’m just thinking back and reflecting that, gosh what started off as me feeling kind of so on my own in my training and then when I qualified, and then like you know, the fact I’m part of that diversity and inclusion coalition, and I totally spearheaded Kadra to chair that and I’m on the panel, so I was totally like ‘yeah, we’ll get Kadra to chair it’.

KA: I’ll be like, ‘everybody else, shut up, I just want to listen to Myira!’

MK: Just mute everyone else’s microphones! But for me, it was like that moment where I’m like, ‘Oh!’, like the very first meeting we had on zoom and I sat there and I had total impostor syndrome. ‘Cause I was like, I’m sitting around a virtual zoom table here with all the major professional bodies and training institutions and then me and my, what in my head is like my little network. And actually I think there’s just something around, I’m always really humbled then by the fact that the network is around the table, such as that, because for me, it’s grass roots stuff. You know I’m sitting around the table where these organisations are multi-million pound organisations, the people in the meetings, you know the actual individual kind of people, are one people in a team of hundreds, and I’m sat there going, ‘I’m a team of 1’. The network is solely run by me and I do everything. So there is something around, the reach it now has, it’s like so much more than I ever could have imagined, when it’s me just beavering away on my own and just getting on with it, and having spoken about this for years, ever since I qualified, delivering training, travelling the country, delivering training and working cross-culturally and pushing that message. And I’m just like, oh gosh, it took the last year, then, for actually people to hear it.

AJ: Hope you enjoyed the episode – we could have gone on talking with Myira all day. And you can let us know what you think by getting in touch via our website. And we’d also love it if you’d consider donating to our work; you can do that by visiting www.centreformentalhealth.org.uk/donate. See you next time.

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