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Practitioner reflections on training around Muslim mental health

How can training be improved for mental health practitioners?
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I think in my degree almost none of it was catered towards maybe looking at psychology from a sort of spiritual aspect or more like different cultural aspects. I undertook an optional module on sort of prejudice and racism which looked at not so much mental health but just this psychological reasoning behind prejudice and racism in society. But that I think again was optional so that would be the closest thing that I came to it in like my formal education in sort of working with children and young people.
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I haven’t been formally
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trained or taught about these things at all, it’s more so working with clients and service users you sort of pick up and learn yourself certain things that people might be saying and you identify the patterns yourself rather than being told, so I think that’s definitely a gap in the field. In this current job obviously we work specifically with the BME community so I’ve received training for that, and that’s been amazing because some of it is quite simple stuff that gets overlooked in sort of more mainstream services for mental health and I think that’s been amazing to just learn about and reminds me of and be like oh yeah actually this is quite important when
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working with certain groups in mental health.
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Asma: can you give me an example? Yes so even sort of, this was one I found really interesting actually, eye contact in some cultures, prolonged eye contact is quite intense and sometimes disrespectful so it might be more respectable to like look at the floor or look elsewhere while talking. And in mental health like diagnosis a lot of the time to gauge someone’s overall well-being you’ll assess how they conduct themselves, their eye contact. And that is often a factor for like they might be referred for I don’t know autism diagnosis because of lack of eye contact or it’s quite a key indicator of someone feeling anxious and not comfortable, not making eye contact.
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Whereas if mental health professionals were more aware like actually this might be that person’s culture and it’s not so much to do with their mental health, it’s a completely other aspect of them, then I think that would be such a sort of light bulb moment for a lot of people and I think it would also prevent a lot of Misdiagnosis. So like learning that simple little fact I’ve like really kept that in mind as well actually and gone back to times where I’ve worked with people, excuse me, where I’ve worked with people who might not have made eye contact but I might have assumed that to be their mental health when actually there’s a different reason.
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It’s little things that you don’t consciously think of but then people from other cultures obviously might not be aware of these things at all so they might interpret it as something completely different. So I think yeah just like these little bits of awareness would be so good in more sort of mainstream mental health facilities or like Departments, services like it’s just super useful information for professionals to know.
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Asma: How about in degree courses? Oh yeah, definitely. I think in, well undergraduate degrees are quite generalised anyway but in certain modules like mental health modules, clinical psychology modules, this stuff would be super useful because you learn about working with clients and different types of people and what to look out for so like what the criteria is for depression, anxiety etc.
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And a lot of that is sort of like eye contact like I mentioned and stuff like that and so if you came fresh out of uni you would just assume that rather than if you were taught about these cultural sensitivities and a bit more aware of it, you could add that to your practice as an individual and I think that would make you a better practitioner and more sort of culturally aware as well. To be honest I don’t think that mainstream support is
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tailored enough, or maybe practitioners within mainstream support are aware enough of nuances to Muslim mental health so for example, like the belief in jinn and stuff. I think if a Muslim patient approached a mainstream mental health practitioner and sort of said these things they might feel judged or misunderstood and the practitioner would probably, well might misunderstand these things as sort of like delusional beliefs because I can see why the overlap would come with these things if you don’t understand the basis of them, or the religious sort of context behind them. So I think in mainstream services there’s probably not enough awareness of concepts of mental health within Islam and stuff that might
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influence a Muslim’s perception of their own mental health and might influence the way in which they take care of their mental health and might even abide by their treatment from a practitioner.

In this video, Marya Farag, mental health support worker at Diverse Cymru, considers her experiences of education and training and reflects upon whether she was taught the skills that would allow her to be Islamically sensitive in her approach to providing mental health support.

Marya holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology. She had only recently started work at Diverse Cymru when we spoke to her. Before this she had worked in a hospital setting providing support for children and young people.

Marya tells us that she had very few opportunities to learn about spirituality and cultural diversity during her degree. While working in a hospital setting, she acquired some skills through her own on-the-job experiences. Since working at Diverse Cymru, she has received training on providing support for ethnic minority communities, the target group for their support services. She describes her new skills as “amazing” and “simple” and mostly around cultural awareness. These seemingly small indicators of culture difference may represent a significant aspect of the religious lives of Muslim people that might be overlooked in mainstream support services, or even mistaken as a sign of mental health problem. Therefore, it can be very useful for practitioners to be aware of them.

She thinks that these skills would be useful for all practitioners to have, and that they should be included in mental health education and training, including in Psychology undergraduate degree programmes.

In the next step, we move on to consider the experiences of Muslim practitioners who work in religious settings when providing faith-based mental health support.

Over to you

Using your learning on the course, or your wider experience, can you think of one aspect of spiritual and/or cultural difference among Muslims that would be helpful for other practitioners to be aware of when providing mental health support?

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Understanding Muslim Mental Health

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