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‘We have more access than ever to Muslim & Culturally sensitive counsellors’ says Myira of the MCAPN

The barriers that the Muslim community face when accessing mental health services are no secret.

Cultural and language barriers are just some of the hurdles that lay between Muslims getting the support they need. General funding cuts to the NHS and a lack of accessibility also play a vital role in whether people reach out for help. This doesn’t just affect Muslims but all minority communities that find themselves in a vulnerable place.

However, despite all the hurdles that the Muslim community face when it comes to accessing help, a shortage of culturally sensitive therapists isn’t one of them. In fact, we’re living in a society where there are more Muslim counsellors and psychotherapists than ever before.

I spoke to Myira Khan, BACP Accredited Counsellor and the founder of the largest directory of Muslim Counsellors & Psychotherapists. Founded in 2013, the directory has grown from a LinkedIn group to a network of 6,000+. We spoke about the barriers in place that prevent the Muslim community from finding the help they need.

“Accessibility generally is still problematic across all communities. Mental health services, particularly counselling and therapy, are woefully underfunded.

We live in a UK Society with a free point of access, the National Health Service. Yet despite this, accessibility to a counsellor or therapist is still very difficult across the board.

“Having said that, accessibility to a counsellor, from a minoritised community, whether that is through culture, ethnicity, or faith has gotten better.

“When I first set up the network, I noticed there were many more practitioners who were coming to the network with a similar experience to mine, which was that I saw very few Muslim practitioners.

Coming into the network was their first opportunity to meet other Muslim practitioners, but in recent years I’ve noticed that the profession, very slowly, is starting to become more diversified.

“I think it’s about making the distinction between accessibility via a free NHS service versus the type of accessibility you get when you go privately. We don’t have the choice via the NHS services. Over the years I’ve seen the choice and breadth of accessibility has grown exponentially in the private area.

“To go into private practice is to be seen.”

“I think that’s why the majority of minoritised counsellors become private practitioners. It means that clients and communities who want to access that particular type of counsellor can do so.”

Everyone deserves to be supported in their mental health in the same way that everyone deserves to be treated for their physical health.

Overcoming barriers

Despite more working professionals representing the community and becoming part of the change they want to see, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done to bridge the barriers for Muslims that need mental health support. According to a recent report, more than half of British Muslims have suffered from poor mental health. Results also highlighted that 37% of young Muslims went to nobody the last time they had an issue, which was significantly more than their elders.

The next generation of British Muslims are navigating a myriad of struggles which can often lead them to feel alone with no one to turn to, especially as they are navigating a different national identity than the ones of their parents.

Myira shares her thoughts.

“Despite understanding that there are more Muslim and ethnic counsellors in the industry, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in our own communities in destigmatising getting help for our mental health, undoing trauma and leaving toxic learned behaviour at the door. Often time people are concerned more with what other people think than getting the support they need.

When we talk about barriers to counselling, barriers can absolutely exist. Those barriers are at the counselling service and are within the communities themselves.

Barriers also form in our minds as we think no one will be able to understand or there are no culturally sensitive therapists. As a practitioner, it’s important to be able to acknowledge both types of barriers and to think about how we can pull some of these down.

The reason we have the counselling directory is not only to remove the accessibility barrier but to also remove any doubt that there aren’t any culturally sensitive councillors that exist because we absolutely do.

On our directory, we have clients representing every continent and we have counsellors representing a diverse range of ethnicities and languhat’s really important because we want Muslim communities to get a sense that it’s possible to get counselling with somebody who matches their faith, ethnicity and culture.

How the Muslim Counsellors and Psychotherapist Network are breaking down some of these barriers

With the MCAPN being the largest therapy directory to date, it was important to Myira to make it eatos in order to reduce barriers for potential service users.

“It’s really important to us that there are very few steps in the process to actually be sat in front of the therapist. If you go through a larger service, or certainly through the NHS, you’re put into a system and have to wait.

“They can go into the directory, search through the profiles, identify counsellors who they think fit what they’re looking for, and then they can be contacted directly through call or email. There’s no middleman in that respect.

“To be able to find a Muslim counsellor of a particular ethnicity or language becomes a lot easier this way.

It’s also really important that we maintain professional standards. We are the only directory of Muslim counsellors that ensures that every practitioner is qualified and registered with an accredited, professional body.

“At the point when people get onto our directory, it’s because they’re at crisis point. They often come to counselling as a last resort, having already been to a local service, perhaps to their mosque, local Imam, friends and family.

“Going to an untrained professional can cause an incredible amount of harm and potentially end up in abuse if they don’t go to somebody who is professionally trained and registered.

This is highlighted through statistics, with up to 95% of Imams in America saying they spend significant time each week providing informal mental health counselling to their congregation despite having little formal training to do so.

We recognise that people often contact and reach out to counsellors and therapists at the point when they are at a crisis point.

“We know that it’s getting better in the sense that more people are accessing counselling or therapy much sooner in their process. Equally, we recognise that many clients come to counselling as a last resort.

“We understand that there are many reasons why they wait until it gets to that level. However, we equally want to stress that people do not need to wait until it gets to a crisis point to access therapy. It is not a case of having to suffer a certain amount before reaching out.

If you need support for your mental health or know somebody struggling, you can access the Muslim Counsellors and Psychotherapist Network here. Some alternative resources are below.

Muslim Youth Helpline – 0808 808 2008

Muslim Women’s Network hotline – 0800 999 5786

Samaritans – 116 123

Remember, help is there if you need it. Don’t suffer in silence.

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