School of Health

Tackling a lack of diversity in the counselling profession

Published on 16 Aug 2021
Maryam Riaz

We Empower - At Leeds Beckett, we’re building partnerships and an approach to teaching that breaks down barriers to mental health support for BAME communities.

Maryam Riaz, Lecturer in Counselling and Mental Health, remembers being the only person of colour as a trainee counsellor. Now, in her role at Leeds Beckett, a key area of her work is to encourage people from all backgrounds to consider the profession, and to train her students to become culturally aware and work confidently with diversity and difference.

There’s still a long way to go when it comes to attracting BAME students to study therapy and mental health courses. Maryam’s only too well aware of the issue, “My personal experience of being the only person of colour as a trainee counsellor and subsequently working as a BAME practising counsellor highlighted the lack of qualified practising counsellors. We are working to hard to increase diversity across our counselling and other therapeutic degree programmes.”

And we’re taking action. Our latest milestone has been partnering with local mental health charity, Northpoint Wellbeing, to support Black, Asian and other people of colour who are traditionally under-represented in the counselling and mental health professions.

What we’re doing to create change

  • Partnership  launched with Northpoint to offer bursaries and provide mentoring for BAME students
  • Educating students on different cultures and how this may affect counselling needs
  • Embedding diversity and inclusion values throughout the modules
  • Preparing students to work effectively with difference – culture, ethnicity and gender being key

During the pandemic, mental health charity Mind found people from BAME communities were particularly affected.

As society faces up to the discriminatory impact of coronavirus on particular BAME groups, including rates of infection and tragic loss of life, our survey provides evidence of how people within these groups are also being hit hardest by mental health problems, stemming from economic impact of COVID-19 on areas such as housing and employment.

Marcel Vige Head of Equality Improvement at Mind, ‘The Mental Health Emergency: How Has the Coronavirus Pandemic Impacted our Mental Health.

Diversifying the workforce

The partnership with Northpoint will help students become qualified therapeutic counsellors by offering a number of fee bursaries for the MA Integrative Counselling course. Northpoint will provide additional mentorship for bursary-holders and provide Student Membership of the Black African and Asian Therapy Network.

This opportunity brings hope and inspires to bridge the gap of inequality in counselling and psychotherapy services. I have faith this innovative project will develop the counselling and mental health care services for BAME communities and inspire a new generation of practising therapeutic counsellors.

For Maryam the benefits of the project are clear, “If we have a more diverse cohort, then we can broaden where students go on placement and reach out to less represented organisations and communities.”

But the partnership is just one way we’re creating change, Maryam is also addressing these issues around diversity directly through her teaching.

Teaching through experience

Maryam has extensive experience in this field. In the past, she has worked for the NHS, community mental health teams and charities. Now she’s supports people as a private BACP qualified therapist alongside her teaching. Maryam explains, “It’s important that I can draw on my own experience and provide students with examples.”

She teaches on a range of Leeds Beckett courses including BSc (Hons) Counselling and Mental Health, BSc (Hons) Therapeutic Counselling (Top-Up) and MA Integrative Counselling. One of her top priorities when teaching empowering students work with differences and be culturally sensitive.

Confident and competent

But Maryam knows that you can’t just dedicate one module to diversity and inclusion. “Diversity is woven throughout our courses. Whatever area we’re looking at, we try to make it inclusive and identify areas of difference.”

We want our graduates to be open-minded. It’s about working extensively to develop interpersonal skills, which we do alongside nurturing academic qualities. By addressing potential challenges, we want students  to feel confident and competent now and in their future career.

Ready for the world

After graduating from the BSc course, you could go into many areas of mental health, not just counselling. Because our diversity and inclusion values are embedded throughout the modules, you’ll become more aware of the issues and be able to introduce ideas for working with diversity or difference within any organisation you become part of. 

I believe development happens through dialogue. We create a safe space where students can grow – they go into the workplace being able to challenge inequality.

Maryam Riaz

Lecturer / School of Health & Community Studies

Maryam is an experienced lecturer teaching in Counselling and Mental Health courses offered by the School in Psychological Therapies and Mental Health. She is a BACP registered Psychotherapist.

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