My name is Debbie Roe, I’m a psychotherapist working for the mental health charity and 3rd Sector voluntary organisation Touchstone Leeds in partnership with the Leeds Mental Wellbeing Service.

I’ve worked for Touchstone for over almost 10 years. When I joined I knew it was a diverse and forward looking organisation. I didn’t know however just how transformative it would be for me personally to work there. As a white person, had I never come to Touchstone I’d hazard a guess I would still be ignorant of many of the issues that face black people and people of colour every day.

I’ve been on my own personal journey of discovery there, alongside many of my colleagues and it all started with meeting Alison Lowe, our Chief Executive. If you’ve ever met Alison you’ll understand when I say she leads from the front. She is truly inspirational, tireless, a can do person. I too come from a minority and often oppressed group as a trans person. Touchstone has made me feel so welcome and valued for being my authentic self.

Over the years, at Touchstone I’ve had the benefit of training on LGBT+ issues, transgender issues, Islamophobia, equality and diversity, listened to inspirational speakers and leaders invited from other services and attended national networks for minority communities, to name a few.

Within our own part of the service, Improving Access to Psychological Therapies or IAPT, I’ve had training in working with persons seeking asylum, using interpreters, delivering behavioural activation therapy for Muslims, cultural competence, supervising others working with BAME clients, white privilege, unconscious bias training, to name a few more.

In particular, we received strength in vulnerability training from DISC which was profound.

My Manager Richard Garland is another leader who has inspired me massively, coming from a human rights perspective and championing anti-oppressive practice and my colleague Simone Stephenson – Bellwood, whose strength and commitment to continually question and challenge the system has been a guiding light for me.

This was the fertile ground that encouraged me to attend the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, Equality and Culture Special Interest Group where I learned that what we were already doing in our service was actually a beacon of best practice for all IAPT services across England and Wales. We feature in their Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Positive Black Asian and Minority Ethnic Service User Positive Practice Guide. At its launch, I went to London to do a presentation on our Stabilisation Skills for Asylum Seekers Pilot.

It’s at the SIG that I was introduced to the Racism Walkway by Dr Beverley Daniel Tatum. She describes how as white people we are on an escalator that is constantly heading towards the ongoing oppression of black and people of colour. White supremacists and racists are running on ahead and if we disagree, we might turn our back, but we’re still heading in the same direction. It’s only when we apply the laws of physics and run in the opposite direction, which can be tough on an escalator! Can we begin to challenge structural inequality. Just standing still and pretending or denying it’s not happening just makes us part of the problem.

More recently, following George Floyd’s murder, I began researching anti-racist practice in psychotherapy. Our Westernised models of psychotherapy of identifying the source of people’s misery within them and ignoring the environment in which it occurs needs to be challenged. We’re ignoring the elephant in the room when we do this and miss the transformative healing that can occur when we put down our systematic approach to how we do things and really listen to the very real human stories of people from oppressed communities. When we acknowledge our differences and privileges and get in touch with how things really are it’s challenging but authentic, it makes us vulnerable too.

This reminds me of a short story by an American philosopher called Wavy Gravy, a circus clown by day – “Contrary to the self-assured image we work so hard to present to each other on a daily basis. We are all half-baked experiments-mistake-prone beings, born without an instruction book into a complex world.” We’re all in the same soup.

I recently read, “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race,” which in the earlier parts of the book describes the history of the slave trade in Britain. On my usual morning walk through my village one day I realised that all the houses and buildings were likely bought and paid for through slavery. What brought me joy everyday now made me feel ashamed. My head span a full 180 degree’s. Systemic racism is the default in the West; it is intrinsic to its culture, history and identity. And as time has moved on, so have we. So it’s not OK anymore to celebrate what caused suffering for a great part of our present day community.

Bob Davis; a black American professional musician who questioned why after never having experienced racism, when he moved to another town in another state was he singled out for degrading treatment and abuse. He had the courage to one day meet the leader of the Kul Klux Klan and against all odds struck up a friendship with him that lasted years and attended many of their rallies to challenge their perspectives. They were able to do this because they realised that fear narrowed their thinking and that mutual respect and acceptance broadened their views.

That’s what black history month means to me. Recognising and realising the massive contribution that people of all backgrounds and cultures and ethnicities have had on our day to day life as it continues to unfold every day.