Every therapist should have a copy

book cover

Working Within Diversity: A reflective guide to anti-oppressive practice in counselling and therapy

Myira Khan

Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Price: £22.99

ISBN 978-1-83997-098-6

The key messages in this book are concisely described in the title, and the most poignant word is ‘within.’ It was written by a professional who describes herself as a Muslim, ethnically minoritised woman who could also be considered an expert by experience. The reader is invited to recognise that the therapist or counsellor needs to understand their own part in practice and process, and work from ‘within’ rather than ‘with’ diversity to acknowledge and explore their own identity and the part this has to play.

We are guided to rethink what the concepts of diversity and identity mean and the impact of the therapist’s identity as well as the client’s. This is to understand, as fully and as best we can, the systems, structural, political, cultural, historical, societal, community and familial contexts the encounter is taking place in.

However, it is not a lofty, theoretical exploration from an expert perspective. The author ensures, via practical and reflective exercises, that the reader has an opportunity to explore the dynamics of power and privilege or oppression, marginalisation and minoritisation by first shining a light on their own situation and completing their own identity wheel. We are participants, not observers and are not ‘normal.’ We are working ‘within’ instead of ‘with’ diversity, as working ‘with’ diversity implies a definition that the counsellor is normative, and this endorses the power imbalance.

We are guided through a practical, well-structured five-part model to promote anti-oppressive practice and flatten the power between counsellor and client or supervisor and supervisee, encouraging true collaboration, curiosity and understanding.

The book provides a logical path with exercises, therapeutic tools and searching questions to assess, engage, and establish a working relationship that is emergent rather than directive. We are encouraged to acknowledge inequalities and recognise that there are two truths. 

The structure of the book allows it to be used as a ‘map’ and for the reader to dive deep into the parts that interest them most or the parts they wish to explore first. The five-part model covers:

  • Structural and systemic contexts of counselling
  • Counsellor identity and intersectionality/client identity and intersectionality
  • Power
  • Therapeutic relationship
  • Therapeutic process.

Concepts such as diversity, culture, faith, beliefs and spirituality; ethnicity and race; intersectionality and identity; and landscapes and belonging are explored at a level aimed at a deeper understanding, acknowledging that every individual has their own unique identity and that no two people are the same.

This excellent book is essential reading for anyone working with people who wish to enrich their practice, in particular counsellors, therapists and supervisors. It not only provides answers to ‘what’ is meant by working within diversity but also ‘how’ to work within diversity.

Debbie Brewin is an accredited therapist, supervisor and trainer, and the author of Boosting Your Mental Wellbeing: 10 minute steps for stressed healthcare professionals using CBT and mindfulness.