Megan Stewart has dealt with mental health challenges since childhood. There were moments when I thought about suicide.
“I’ve had these moments where…”Well, I wonder if anyone would even notice if I wasn’t on this earth anymore,” Stewart said.
Stewart started asking for help about 10 years ago, when she was living in Toronto. As a black woman, she said it’s important to find a mental health professional who is also black.
“It’s really about belonging and that deep connection that we all need as human beings,” Stewart said. “My therapist can associate race with trauma, or trauma from racist or discriminatory experiences.”
Although Stewart has since moved to Ottawa, she stayed with her therapist in Toronto after struggling to find another black mental health professional closer to home.
according to Study 2020 by the Ottawa Public Health, which surveyed and interviewed 130 black residents in the city, more than a third of those surveyed tried to access mental health services on their behalf or on behalf of others.
Among those who sought help, the report found that a significant proportion of them felt “negative bias or behavior” from doctors or mental health professionals who did not resemble or understand their life experience.
It’s a problem that advocates for black mental health and wellness have been holding back for years: There aren’t enough ethnically diverse professionals in the field to meet the needs of people of color.
The shortage of black psychologists
The deficiency is most acute in the field of psychology, according to Ottawa psychotherapist Kavoi Sawyer.
“We are in a mental health crisis in Canada,” Sawyer said. “Most of the people who suffer are ethnic people, and those people who suffer from racism are not getting the help they need from people who understand them and have lived experience.”
Unlike counselors and therapists, psychologists undergo more education and have the authority to diagnose patients.
Watch | Why finding the right therapist is so important for black patients:
During her 12 years in psychotherapy, Sawyer has met very few blacks working in the profession, compared to hundreds of white colleagues. The number of indigenous psychologists is even less.
“There are a lot of black lawyers. I know there are a lot of black doctors. I know there are a lot of black accountants. I know that most professions are racially diverse,” she said. “But when it comes to the psychology profession, it’s pretty rare.”
Dr. Helen Ofoso, also based in Ottawa, has been working as a psychiatrist for over 20 years. She said that she only met one black psychologist working during her career and a few others working in related fields.
“I just got used to it,” Ofoso said. “I don’t really think about it much – even things like George Floyd and the account that came after that.”
Monica Williams is the Canada Research Chair for Mental Health Inequality in the School of Psychology at the University of Ottawa. She said it is difficult to determine how many black and Aboriginal psychologists are in Canada because this information is not tracked by the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). But, she said, “the numbers are very low.”
“We know that there are almost unrepresentative numbers of psychologists of color in this field, and certainly not enough to meet the needs of communities of color,” Williams said.
The accreditation process is problematic
Sawyer, Ovuso, and Williams say the problem is the accreditation process for psychological professionals.
In order to become a certified psychologist in Canada, students must be accepted into a graduate program at a post-secondary institution or an internship program. Entry into the program depends on a faculty member agreeing to be their supervisor — a requirement Sawyer said is problematic.
“The faculty are mostly white and the students who are recruited or the students they belong to [their] She said that the show is also white. “The accreditation process is actually racist.”
Sawyer said she was rejected from the McGill University program and instead enrolled at a private university in British Columbia. Williams went to school in the United States and Ofosu’s parents were academics, which helped her get into the program.
Graduate student Glory Mulira also chose to attend a private university, after learning that it would be more difficult to get into a public university, “which is really disappointing,” she said.
Molira said the biggest frustration is the cost of attending a private university, sometimes as high as $45,000 for a two-year master’s program.
CPA Accredited Programs
Psychology programs in Canada are accredited by the CPA, which advocates say has the potential to force changes.
Sawyer, Ovuso, Williams, and a number of other professionals have called on the CPA to use its power to have institutions track the number of black and Indigenous students they accept into graduate-level psychology programs, ensuring that these groups are better off. an actress.
“There are no checkpoints where people are being supervised or there is no accountability for what these programs or institutions are actually doing in their programs,” Sawyer said. “The problem only perpetuates.”
Watch | Kavoi Sawyer says that finding a supervisor in graduate school can alienate black applicants:
CBC News has reached out to many post-secondary institutions across Ontario. Only the University of Toronto and Western University in London confirmed demographic survey initiatives among students for the purposes of improving equity, transformation and inclusion.
CPA officials said the change process is complex and takes time. And while the association could advocate for better representation in graduate programs, CPA chairwoman Dr. Ada Senakur said she was “not in a position to ask for that.”
“The CPA recognizes that there is a problem with representation within the profession and that we need to increase representation, as well as literacy around diversity,” Senacor said.
Senacure noted what the association believes are real barriers to blacks, Indigenous people and other racially diverse people seeking to enter the profession — the years of education required to become a psychologist, the pay and the small size of graduate programs.
Accreditation criteria under review
The CPA said it addresses issues through advocacy and outreach, including the formation of a human rights and social justice commission and advocacy work. Since 2018, the association says it has also worked to review accreditation standards.
“While this seems like a long time, for the kinds of strong consulting we do, you should be able to take that time to do it well,” Senacor said.
She said the amendments to the accreditation criteria would likely be submitted to the CPA Board for approval in 2022.
In terms of collecting race data, advocates suggest, Sinacore said it’s something the CPA is exploring. “There are some concerns about whether or not we can legally collect that data,” she said.
“We are committed to this work…and the members of the organization have been doing a lot of this work for some time. And even though we are doing this work, it doesn’t mean that there is not a lot of work to be done,” said Senakur.
But Sawyer and several psychologists say the CPA did not act fast enough. In response, they formed the CPA’s Black Psychology Department, which will advocate for greater diversity in the profession.
“Instead of using this beautiful system in a positive way to heal … we are actually engaging in more repression,” Sawyer said. “We can’t just sit back and accept this colonial way of helping people in Canada.”
For more stories about Black Canadians’ experiences – from anti-black racism to success stories within the black community – check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.