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Therapy is seen as something white. It means you've been trained by white people in a
white organisation, and that you are part of the oppressive white psychiatric system.
What's more, I was thought of as being nosy, asking people to discuss their deepest
feelings with me, and as a psychotherapist I could 'trick' them into saying something they
didn't want to say.

Confidentiality was a question too. This was a community centre, and people didn't want
their deepest feelings and fears talked about. It seemed as though it would be disloyal to
one's family and one's community. So why should anyone share their feelings with me? I
hadn't been around long enough.

My first job was to design a poster advertising my 'wares', and produce a leaflet explaining
what art therapy does. I also had to convince a multi-disciplinary team of black mental
health professionals that my behaviour was professional in my socialising with the client

I had to find my own way to join in the shared madness, in-house jokes, language skills.
'Do you eat beef June?' said Dave, the manager of SACHMA. 'I don't want to turn into a
mad cow!' The exchange took place in a roomful of women suffering from mental health
problems. I kept my eyes on Dave as I said it, and wasn't aware of what I'd said until

I went through hell trying to catch myself before I was caught using an inappropriate
phrase in the social group setting. However, I was told off for saying, 'I can't do that' and
was told, say 'I can!' The ethos of SACMHA is 'You can do it'. They are positive about the
need to raise the self-esteem of all black people. The lack of self-esteem is a major factor in
mental health.

Working in a community centre means moving away from the psychiatric system of
hierarchy and power. Professionals and service users share a communal space. The
divisions are sometimes difficult to see. When I first worked at SACMHA it took me a
long time to find out who were the professionals and who were the users! Respect is the
key word. Nobody is so mentally ill that they cannot be treated with respect, and, in turn,
treat others with respect.

But I was in for a shock.

2. Rampton

After two years of knocking at the door, SACMHA now ran a social group, ‘Backayard’, for Black
patients at Rampton Special Hospital outside Nottingham. The first time I visited Rampton was
on December 22nd, 1997. We were giving the Christmas show. They were each allowed to bring
one white friend. Normally there are only Black patients allowed in the Backayard group. These
‘groups’ came about through the insistence by Suman Fernando, then Chairman of the Mental
Health Act Commissioners, on social occasions for the various ethnic groups in the hospital.
Black and minority ethnic staff have also been appointed.

My first impression of the Backayard group was that there were a lot of young Black men here.
Some had grown old here. There were also quite a few young black women.

SACMHA got on stage and we sang two songs, ‘You’ve got a friend’, ‘Lean on Me’. Todd, a
Rastafarian musician sang ‘The River of Babylon’ which went down very well. It felt like what it
was: a ‘Freedom Song’. People stood up waving their arms and fists.