A study of black issues in Counsellor training 2002 - 2005

McKenzie-Mavinga, Isha (2005) A study of black issues in Counsellor training 2002 - 2005. DProf thesis, Middlesex University.


Over the last two decades interest in multicultural dimensions of therapeutic practice has increased, reflecting political and social change, so that it is no longer confined to the page. However, the responses of some black counsellors and clients indicate that what has been and continues to be produced in transcultural literature has not sufficiently transferred into practice. This suggests a gap in counsellor training.

At the heart of the gap is the research question. How do trainee counsellors in Britain understand concerns about black issues, raised by themselves during their training or about clients during the therapeutic process?

Increasing diversity in student populations has paralleled legislative demands to provide services for the wider multicultural population. This raises a further question of whether training that fails to address the dynamics of racism, and experiences that relate to black peoples' is inadequate.

Developments in social policy are a necessity for creating frameworks to address power structures that maintain marginalised voices. The Race Relations Act 1976 (Amended Act 2000) now gives public authorities including Higher Education, a 'statutory general duty to promote race equality'. (CRE. 2002). The Act suggests that 'we' as a community of practitioners are responsible for change in the educational process. In view of this responsibility this study shows the challenges of enabling and empowering trainees to discover the voice of change within their training experience.

The study is based on evidence that counsellors training in a variety of settings had not received sufficient input to support the experiences of black people either in training or counselling settings. In addition, today's trainees have been asking questions about how to actively engage with black issues in the role of counsellor. To address this problem the study places counsellor training in Higher Education under the spotlight. It invites the organisation to be active in equal opportunities and combines qualitative with multicultural action research and practice at the source of counselling. Elements of these research paradigms supported the transformative and emancipatory nature of the study. However, a flexible approach to their use allowed for the diversity issues embroiled within the context ofthis study. This supported awareness of the ethical implications of 'epistemological power' and 'epistemological racism'.

Drawing on a pluralistic approach, the heuristic process of understanding trainee counsellors' relationship with the phenomenon of black issues was explored during training workshops. The study gave voice to trainee counsellors' concerns. It encouraged dialogue about relationships as black people, or with black peoples, that link to the therapeutic process.

The researcher's role as black facilitator, tutor, researcher and 'insider outsider' played an important part in both the challenging nature of this study and a model for developing safety and compassion to facilitate the process.

Interviews with five established counsellors trained at different points over a twenty year period showed that black issues was a missing element in their training courses. Primary data was collected from the shared concerns of a group of fifty students on three different counsellor training courses. Trainees from one of the courses were followed through into year two of their training. They were offered additional workshops and encouraged to address black issues within assessment criteria of their training. The impact of black issues in their training was shared at verbal evaluation meetings outside of course time. Trainees' narratives made a significant contribution to the primary data collection.

Findings demonstrated that themes such as fear and safety were features of trainees' process of exploring and understanding black issues. Three main concepts evolved.

These are called 'shared concerns', 'finding a voice' and 'recognition trauma'. The study showed that sharing concerns assisted trainees to find a voice where previously they felt silenced. Their narrative demonstrated that they were keen to find ways of opening a dialogue about black issues, but needed safety to unravel the sticky and often emotional impact of racism. Themes which emerged from the process were those of racism, guilt, history and trust. Reflexive representation of trainees' voices through the data showed that concerns about racism featured highly in their interactions.

The outcome demonstrated that firstly space for sharing and exploration in training can model greater confidence in dialogue about black issues in client work. Secondly, the different experiences of black and white trainees must be valued. Thirdly, understanding can be supported by modelling the process and dialogue on black issues. Fourthly, to support the emancipatory and transformative process of the training group the trainer's personal development process must include an understanding of racism and knowledge of black issues.

This document reflects creativity in both methodology and presentation. It allows theory to compliment practice and practice to develop counselling and research theory. It may be seen as similar to the reflexive experience of integrative
counselling. With this in mind, the reader is invited to share a narrative journey from fear to transformation.

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