For World Mental Health Day, we reflect on the cultural impact of psychoeducation as one of the many mental health services provided at The Maya Centre.
10 October 2022
By Hannah Uguru
World Mental Health Day falls on 10 October every year, and 2022’s theme is “Make mental health and wellbeing for all a global priority”. With this in mind, we’re promoting the value of our 6-week psychoeducation courses, which are delivered by qualified counsellors in English along with community languages, such as Turkish and Somali. These courses are designed to empower women to navigate their mental health on their own terms. While in-depth counselling has profound and tangible outcomes (see client testimonials via our My Voice project), some women aren’t ready or just don’t want to do it. Yet, they still seek information, resources and emotional support to understand what mental health means to them and to cope with everyday stresses and relationships This is where psychoeducation delivers something unique.
What is psychoeducation?
At The Maya Centre, we define psychoeducation as “finding our way into specialist counselling by learning about the ideas and tools which underpin good mental health for women”.
Melanie Dottin, Clinical Director at The Maya Centre, speaks on this process in more depth:
“Therapy isn’t the only pathway to healing. For a lot of women, who may not really have the psychological language, therapy might not be a step that they’re ready to take quite yet. It can be quite daunting to go into therapy. It does take courage, and it does take a level of awareness or willingness to make some changes or come to terms with some things that have happened in someone’s life. So, we recognise at The Maya Centre that there is a level of vulnerability and risk going into therapy — to trust in people where you may have had many experiences of you trust being broken by people close to you and those people who generally should have loved and cared for you most. So, to ask you to come and trust someone that you don’t know with your innermost thoughts and feelings and secrets that you may have told no one is a big ask. However, the need for healing is necessary.
“So, with psychoeducation, it’s a nice way to begin therapy, like a segue into healing, or even recognising that some healing is necessary — but it’s much more gentle. It’s in a group setting, a normal, quite a small, intimate group. It can be online or in person, and you also get to share with others who may have had similar situations or experiences. Another thing about psychoeducation [is] it can be quite topic-specific. So, it can be just focused on grief self-esteem or relationships. That allows you to be quite focused on something and not have to pull so many things out of your experiences and allows you to be quite present.”
In many cultures, therapy remains taboo
Approaching mental health concerns in a non-restrictive and judgement-free space can be difficult even in the best circumstances, as there’s an underlying fear of appearing weak or vulnerable in front of others that affects us all. Among people of the Global Majority, this aversion is often compounded by experiences of discrimination and cultural sentiments that deviate from the dominant society. For example, religion plays an important part in racialised communities, with people of colour being more likely to be religious than white British people in the UK. Many may turn to concepts of divine punishment and healing to explain psychological suffering. Increased shame and stigma around poor mental health may follow suit, as one’s mental state can be deemed a reflection of one’s morality. Depending on their level of piety, a person from these groups may be more likely to resort to metaphysical cures, e.g., fasting, prayer or spiritual ceremonies, as opposed to psychotherapy.
Hostile and unwelcoming experiences with mainstream society can also cause people from minoritised migrant and refugee backgrounds to double-down on religious beliefs as a means of preserving a sense of unique cultural identity, as defined by cultural defence theory. Additionally, religion and spirituality can be sources of comfort amid realities of racism, sexism and poverty, as expressed through trends of greater religiosity in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East compared to the West and among women than men.
In these contexts, psychoeducation can act as a gateway to empirical approaches to mental health that can work in tandem with spiritual and religious understandings of emotional wellbeing.
Therapy is often inaccessible — psychoeducation workshops democratise mental health knowledge
Accessing therapy can be challenging:
- The private route is often cost-prohibitive. A one-hour average session for in-person therapy is between £60 and £90; for an online service, it’s between £45 and £60, according to UK Therapy Guide.
- Discounted or free counselling services usually come with long waiting lists — 1.6 million people are currently on the NHS mental health care waiting list, with one in three people on it for a duration of three months or more. As a charity providing free mental health and wellbeing support to women in Islington and surrounding boroughs, we try our best to serve as many women as possible, but we also have to navigate a backlog of referrals at times.
- Finding a therapist you feel comfortable building a strong relationship with is hard enough, but for minoritised women, this proves even more difficult. For these women, their race or culture may underpin their trauma, so finding someone who mirrors their heritage or can speak their language may be essential when looking for meaningful care. 75% of our clients come from minoritised or Global Majority backgrounds.
- Language used within the mental health and Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sectors can be intimidating and alienating, especially if English is not your first language. Terms such as “depression”, “phobias”, “coercive control”, “codependency”, can be introduced and discussed within psychoeducation from the perspective of how the women themselves use language to express and understand their experiences.
Psychoeducation theory in practice
Below, we hear from three counsellors at The Maya Centre, who help deliver our diverse psychoeducation courses, detail their impact in practice.
Ayan Abdi talks about the impact of our Somali women’s psychoeducation group:
“As-salamu alaykum, my name is Ayan, and I work at The Maya Centre as a Somali therapist. The Maya Centre offers a culturally sensitive therapy space for women who are unable to access therapy in mainstream services due to language barriers. The Maya Centre also offers psychoeducational workshops, and here, we hold very honest and open discussions around mental health, and we take the opportunity to raise mental health awareness.
“The next workshops will start on the 17th. October, and this will focus on the mental health of Gen Z. Here, we’re targeting Somali women and girls aged 18 to 25. More information will be provided by The Maya Centre on this.”
Melda Celik talks about the impact of our Turkish-speaking women’s psychoeducation group:
“Being a minority group, anywhere in the world, is a difficult thing. To survive in a different country without knowing the language or not having much of a support system around you is difficult and, in this way, [we’re] giving an extra layer of support to them (Turkish-speaking women). [We’re] giving opportunity for them to feel at home, feel safe, feel familiar and included — that is The Maya Centre’s main purpose.”
Fiona Reynolds talks about the impact of our Black women’s psychoeducation group:
“The benefit of the psychoeducation workshop is that it breaks down what mental health is. It gives them (clients) bite-size learning experiences that not only educate on mental health but allow them to learn about themselves and scale them in a way outside of therapy, to prepare them for therapy and help them to make better-informed decisions and more controlled — self-controlled — choices about what their next steps are: looking after themselves health-wise, physically, but more significantly, their mental health.”
Available psychoeducation courses
Recent and upcoming courses include psycho-education for Turkish-speaking women, refugee Afghan Women, Somali women, Black women, young Black women aged 18-30 and South Asian women. We are always open to new partnerships and welcome ideas for new groups within our Centre, or as outreach to the local community.
Wellbeing groups are another alternative to psychoeducation
Thanks to funding from The National Lottery Community Foundation, we are also rolling out a range of wellbeing workshops for women via the Women’s Hub. Just as psychoeducation can act as a gateway into therapy, our wellbeing workshops can be an opening into psychoeducation. They’re generally a relaxed and informal space to meet other women in the community with shared attributes, with groups for neurodiverse women, Somali women, Black women, women with disabilities and women from refugee and asylum-seeker backgrounds. Find out more about this by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and CC’ing Women’sHub@mayacentre.org.uk and email@example.com.
How you can help this World Mental Health Day
Donations from our supporters enable us to continue innovative work like this, along with other emotional wellbeing services and projects focused on enfranchising disadvantaged women. This World Mental Health Day, can you help us with our mission? Please donate and make a difference.