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Being Muslim in clinical psychology

Tasmeah Zain writes.

12 August 2019

Recently, I have been driven to think about how difference and diversity presents itself within Clinical Psychology which has forced me to think about my own position. I am a young Muslim female who wears a headscarf. I openly wear something that identifies me as being different. You know I believe in something before I have even had the chance to say hello. Your views are shaped by the political context, the news stories that feature almost daily sharing another terrorist attack in the name of Islam. Wearing a symbol of a religion facing growing hostility makes me feel like I need to be a symbol of something different. I need to show everyone that Muslims are fun, happy and kind people. In trying to do this I already feel different.

Throughout my training I have worked in services where the majority of clients are white British. It is not just the patients though, in every team, by default, I feel different. There is a serious lack of diversity in Clinical Psychology and most mental health teams I have gone into. As a young person new to the profession it is difficult to know how to deal with these feelings of being different. I wonder about implicit biases that my patients and colleagues have.

I attempted to bring up discussions around difference and diversity in supervision, but my supervisors did not feel comfortable speaking about it. One supervisor told me they avoided discussing it because 'you probably get it everywhere you go'. It feels like there is a fear of talking about difference. Perhaps there is an anxiety that it will come across as racist? I'm not sure. I want to let you know that it is okay to ask how I feel within a team. It is okay to ask if I have fitted in. You might ask these questions to my white counterparts and not think twice. It is okay to explore with me how connected I feel to my patients. I might choose to completely ignore my race and religion and talk about how the patient being a different sex is bringing something up. Supervisors and peers need to be open minded and explore diversity when it presents itself.

I am different, but only a little. I wonder what it would be like for someone who wears traditional salwar kameez to work. The more diversity we see within the profession the more we will be able to celebrate that diversity. We need to create a society where 'us' encompasses the whole of humankind.  

Tasmeah Zain
Trainee Clinical Psychologist