The NHS Race and Health Observatory have recently published a hugely important independent review on 'Ethnic Inequalities in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT)'.
The findings that people from Black and minoritised ethnic groups have historically faced poorer access to NHS talking therapies is alarming, though, sadly, not surprising.
The disparities in waiting times, outcomes, and the inherent cultural insensitivity in the system highlight that the mental health sector is yet to fully embrace a universally accessible model of care.
Cultural sensitivity and understanding should be at the core of all mental health services; especially those offered through public services such as the NHS. We know that traditional Eurocentric models, such as the major NHS offering of CBT, do not always resonate or prove effective for people from diverse ethnic backgrounds with their own unique experiences, challenges, and perspectives. As the review rightly pointed out, outcomes improve significantly when access to therapy is streamlined and culturally sensitive therapy is available.
This supports the work we have been doing in regards to our Direct Access to Counselling campaign; the importance of allowing people to choose the type of therapy that they feel would most benefit them. By also ensuring therapists have the training, resources, and freedom to understand and address cultural differences, which is something we offer through CPD courses, as well as through the work of the Coalition for Inclusion & Anti-Oppressive Practice, we can bridge the therapeutic gap and offer everyone an equal opportunity at mental and emotional wellbeing.
Building Upon the Findings
We agree with the report's call for more recruitment of ethnically diverse and culturally sensitive therapists. A more representative workforce can better understand and address the needs of a multicultural society. Our campaign seeks to make this a reality by opening out referrals directly onto Accredited Registers, which will allow those seeking therapy to choose a practitioner that they feel they can connect with; for some, their therapist's cultural and ethnic background may be a vital part of that. There is no need to train further therapists, though, as the report suggests. The workforce is already there.
In addition, the report's findings on the challenges faced by non-English speakers and those who hold faith as significant really resonate with the Society. Direct Access would allow people to choose therapists that can cater to these specific needs, whether it's a therapist who speaks their language, understands their faith, or both.
Our Register has long given people looking for therapy the option to filter by languages spoken; this is something that the Society has always recognised as important to clients and members of the public looking for a therapist.
The Way Forward
The Society wholeheartedly supports all those seeking to create a system of support for mental and emotional health that is inclusive, equitable, and reflective of our diverse society. We firmly believe that the Direct Access to Counselling campaign can play an instrumental role in achieving this vision.
We will continue to urge decision-makers, healthcare providers, and the wider community to invest in providing a solution that is accessible to all, irrespective of their ethnic background, language, faith, or any other facet of their identity.