Counselling psychotherapist Ejiro Ogbevoen on creating Black Therapists Ireland, and meeting our needs in times of uncertainty…
March 25, 2020, and after a few cancelled events and a growing uncertainty about a deadly virus, I thought it might be a good idea to offer a webinar titled Self Care in Times of Uncertainty. My focus was on managing ourselves in the ensuing life circumstances.
I wanted to highlight that meeting our needs was fundamental to our wellbeing and we needed to think differently about how we met these needs in a changing environment. If we could recognise our needs and actively work towards meeting them, we were more likely to stay the long haul.
I particularly like the clear and simple description of our six human needs taken from the book Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins.
CERTAINTY – the assurance that you can avoid pain and gain pleasure. We view certainty like having all the answers, yet many of us have the certainty that we can manage our pain/pleasure experiences.
VARIETY/UNCERTAINTY – The need for the unknown, for change, for new stimuli. The pandemic has given us an unimaginable dose of the unknown. Some thrive through curiosity and patience while others seek the certainty of having answers.
SIGNIFICANCE – The need to feel unique, important, special or needed. The work environment provides the opportunity for this need to be met for many, for others it is family, friends, community.
CONNECTION/LOVE – A strong feeling of closeness or union with someone or something. We can explore our need for connection when we broaden our perspective from people to include things like ideas, movements, causes, subjects and so on.
GROWTH – The need for an expansion of capacity, capability or understanding. In my opinion, going up the levels of Candy Crush counts as growth. How about increasing understanding on that subject you have always wondered about?
CONTRIBUTION – The need for a sense of service and focus on helping, giving to and supporting others. We can start where we are with the people immediately around us and expand out.
The order in which we rank these needs is unique to each of us.
The webinar went down really well and the feedback was as I had hoped; that people felt supported, calmer, encouraged.
I love people. We are fascinating, resilient, unique with unending amount of hope even when we do not feel it consciously. Every day we wake up, no matter how hard. When we take that first step into the day, we take it in hope. Hope that it gets better, hope that we’ll figure it out, hope that somehow we can make a difference in our lives or the life of someone else. For me, therapy is about bringing hope to a place of knowing that our uniqueness is our path to authentic living.
One day in October 2020, I got a call from a young person who said they had been looking for a Black therapist for a while now and found it very difficult to locate me. This intrigued me as I never really thought about someone looking for me specifically because I am Black.
I tried to locate other Black therapists and it was impossible to find one in Ireland. I thought, ‘that’s not right’. If someone was experiencing emotional difficulty, it wasn’t fair that they should also be challenged with finding the kind of support they want.
So I decided I could do something about this simple but significant problem.
I asked myself, ‘Ejiro, if someone was looking for you, what would they search for?’ My answer? Black therapists living in Ireland. Bingo. I had the name of the website which I created within days. It was going to be a directory of Black therapists, who were accredited and operating a private practice open to seeing clients. I wanted it to be a resource for everyone to have the option of working with therapists they thought they would feel comfortable with.
Now the challenge was to locate other therapists to join this directory.
At this time, Ireland, like many countries in the world, was experiencing the impact of the death of George Floyd in the United States and the resulting Black Lives Matter protests. Black people who were previously hesitant about talking about mental health started looking for mental health support and social media was alight with information that included my name and a couple of other Black therapists. Like a flash, I was on to these therapists, telling them about my idea and everyone I spoke to was excited to be part of this resource.
The directory now has eight therapists, with another four therapists who are not available to take on clients at the moment. We have held virtual meetings and look forward to when we will meet in person.
Since the formation of this network of therapists, we have received a whole lot of recognition and huge support from across Ireland. It seemed like we were invisible, both to individuals and organisations alike. There is a significant gap in the provision of culturally relevant mental health support which we are now aiming to bridge.
December 30, 2020. The Irish Black community lost our own George, George Nkencho. Again many people were hurt, disturbed, confused, frustrated and angry. The killing in America which seemed so distant suddenly felt close to home. A client said to me in despair ‘I guess this is what we have to face now, being killed’. The Irish Black community actively pulled together and many turned to blacktherapistsireland.ie. Overnight our following on social media increased over by 300%, and continues to grow.
Our primary goal is to increase mental health awareness within the Irish Black community and the larger society. When each of us is well, the whole is bound to be well.
In February, we held a mental health awareness week, featuring ten webinars presented by therapists, wellness coach, nutritionist, fitness trainer and a yoga teacher. We feel privileged to be amongst the few people in Ireland who can provide the Black community with this vital support.
Everyone is welcome because we are an option for many who feel they may not be understood anywhere else. We have responded to all correspondence from simple enquiries to requests for workshops/webinars to therapy from people of all backgrounds.
BTI is a simple directory of Black therapists where anyone can reach out to each therapist directly. We are also a support network to each other as therapists.
There has been a bit of discomfort around calling this network Black Therapists Ireland, some people have claimed that it is racist and exclusive. Our response is, we are describing ourselves to make it easy to find us. Nothing about our name signifies that we choose the clients we work with.
The webinar in March 2020 had ended with the encouragement to be patient, be kind, beginning with self. Knowing what I know now in the current environment, would I change anything? No. I’ll reiterate, consciously take responsibility for meeting personal needs, be patient, be kind, begin with self.
Finally, how do I keep myself motivated? I practice the feeling of being okay, then do what I can. When I don’t know, I wait, I be patient, I be kind.