Decolonising Professionalism and Leadership

I met with the co-lead of the Professionalism and Leadership unit here on the University of Surrey’s Clinical Psychology Doctorate. We had the opportunity to talk about decolonising the curriculum and how specifically this impacts the unit he co-leads.

The importance of decolonising

Decolonising the curriculum is useful, not only because of the ethical component, but because it enriches our thinking. The importance of doing this within academia is that it helps to deepen our thinking and critique perspectives which we have long-held as the truth.

Particularly when thinking about Professionalism and Leadership it’s important because of the power that comes from leadership. If those who are in charge are not aware of the challenges of racism within this country then they could end up perpetuating it further. But if those in power are aware then they can use their position to influence things for the better by highlighting the wrongs, being role models and creating movement in the right direction.

Also when developing professionalism it is important to accept that this is an ongoing process of learning, you will never get to a point where you are able to do things perfectly. The idea is to accept that sometimes things will offend or upset people but wanting to learn from these challenges and grow from them.

Steps towards decolonising

For this unit decolonising was on the agenda right from the beginning. The course made it clear that they value inclusivity and thought about these issues actively. Some of the first steps when decolonising includes thinking around what it even means. This includes many tasks including thinking about how a unit is taught, the literature recommended alongside, incorporating other perspectives as well as critiquing more widely held views also.

Some of the steps which have been started within the unit include joint lectures with service users and carers, inter-professional learning from other disciplines, making changes to the reading list etc. These changes reflect the significance of encountering diversity and appreciating how others are affected by these issues.

While there hasn’t been as much done as would like we reflected together on some of the future plans and upcoming changes that he would like to put in place which included: speaking with external speakers to get them involved in the agenda, how they can make changes to teaching, consultations with people from the global majority in positions of leadership. The importance of involving people whose lives have been touched by these issues into the curriculum to enrich the learning.

There has been an excellent response to these changes from the trainees, we believe this is because they have started on good footing with introductions on anti-racism, privilege and inequality. The course have made it clear that this is something the staff take very seriously.

Challenges when decolonising

Some of the challenges we discussed when thinking about decolonising was how much information there is to get across to trainees regarding professionalism and leadership, by the end of training trainees need to be ready to be leaders within the NHS, and how challenging it can be to make room for a more varied and critical lens within this huge task.

Also, the challenge of encountering enough of these differing ideas within the literature. Especially as a lot of the important literature will likely not be written in English so finding translated copies or even knowing where to look to find these. We spoke about the challenge of feeling under skilled and ignorant in finding good quality academic literature around these topics.

What advice would you give to someone who has just started thinking about decolonising?

Start with the most doable change that is meaningful. Being aware of not making tokenistic or superficial changes that will not make much of a difference. The real importance of making a start and getting going at all, as there is the potential for it to feel paralysing in where to start and thinking about how much work needs to be done.

Also, how valuable it is to be doing this work alongside other people. This isn’t work that can be done alone. These are discussions that need to be had with other people, seeing what others are doing and thinking about, getting ideas, normalising how difficult it can be and keeping yourself accountable.