Psychology, BAME and I

23 October 2019

I had just started BAME in Forensic Psychology, an initiative to inspire, motivate and support people of a BAME background into starting a career in Forensic Psychology. Then I heard, via LinkedIn, about a night that aimed to gather Psychiatrists and Psychologists from different fields but with one very important thing in common. I messaged the organiser, Keisha York (founder and the Director of BiPP and MSc in Organisational Psychiatry and Psychology at Kings College London) to get involved. Our shared ground would be an integral part of who I am.

I was hoping to become better equipped to help others, and to get people to join me on supporting fellow BAME candidates. I was more than happy to simply get to help the attendees to their seats, but what I really wanted was to share my journey towards getting accepted on the Forensic Psychology Doctorate at the University of Nottingham. To my great excitement, Keisha replied to suggest that my ‘knowledge and experience navigating the field would be perfect for our panel discussion in Structural Barriers and Inequalities in Accessing Psychiatry and Psychology Careers’. In that second, all of the emotional pain and hardships that I had encountered during my career immediately dissipated. It had all been for a good cause. Finally, I would be able to talk about what I had gone through and use my personal experiences to guide others.

Feeling like the only black person trying to make it in a white-dominated field that is Forensic Psychology was more emotionally arduous than I could ever imagine; and for me, this is just the beginning. ‘I have never seen or heard of a black Forensic Psychologist’, I was once told when I shared my career plans with a peer. ‘Then I will be your first’, I responded.

At the event, from Clinical to Forensic and Counselling Psychologists, to passionate Mental Health Workers, university lecturers, and funded PhD candidates, I was in awe to see black people succeed in what a lot of people would call the ‘dog-eat-dog world’ that Psychology is known to be. Here we were, talking passionately about how we can actually make it, especially by advocating for and attending events such as these. What trials and tribulations might we encounter, how could we overcome them, to make the most out of our different experiences and all the while offering to help one another. That support is something I had only recently found in my personal journey.

During the night we attempted to discuss hot topics such as ‘The structural barriers and inequalities in accessing Psychiatry and Psychology careers’, ‘Expanding in diversification and decolonising the curriculum’, and ‘Developing resilient, mentally healthy communities’. We listened to the career journeys of some of the BAME psychologists and PhD candidates; these were insightful and thought-provoking discussions. 

The reason I say ‘attempted’, is because this requires a lot of time, willingness to understand (from people of all backgrounds) and a visible action towards change. After never expressing our own personal views, there was so much to say. Some questions were inevitably left unanswered, and others were left to be pondered upon, to reignite in others of similar backgrounds their passions and ambitions.

The one thing that we expect that people gained from that night is for them to know that they are not alone. BAME Pre-Qualified individuals who want to succeed in these fields do exist, and that includes them. The outpouring of communication we have all individually and collectively received in relation to the BAME in Psychiatry and Psychology event was and still is amazing! It sold out twice in a space of just over two weeks, had people sign up to a waiting list and we had over 100 attendees; the second segment of BiPP is currently in the works. 

Keep your eyes peeled and your hopes, ambition and hard work up. 

Ana DaSilva

Trainee Forensic Psychologist and PsyPAG representative for the BPS Division of Forensic Psychology