An interview with Jen Mance, Clinical Director, on decolonising

Jen started working at the university a week after full lockdown came into effect in 2020. She began her role as unit convenor for the Learning Disability unit, as well as taking on new supervisor training workshops. Jen is now clinical director for the clinical psychology programme. Prior to this role she worked as a Clinical Psychologist in CAMHS within Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Trust.

Why is decolonising important?

There are so many sources of knowledge that have been removed from our frame of established understanding through colonisation, with a prioritising of white and Eurocentric models. There is an obvious social justice reason to decolonise because this process has oppressed so many people. In clinical settings, it can feel inadequate using only methods based on, or produced by, white people. We need to work against oppressive practice. But as well as being oppressive, working in a colonised way misses so much richness, excitement, and layers of meaning. I think that decolonisation is a process that won’t ever be finished, and it is important that we see it as work that needs to be done by everyone, not just one individual.

When did you start thinking about decolonising in an active way?

I’ve had experiences which have led me to think about the harm I might cause as a White person, and how I can do this without necessarily meaning to or being aware of it. I think that Clinical Psychologists often view themselves as helpful, someone who listens to people, is kind etc., and learning that as a psychologist, you can still cause someone terrible harm can be quite hard to process initially. I like to read, so I began by reading books around racism (e.g. Why I’m no longer talking to White people about race by Renni Eddo-Lodge; Ain’t I a Woman by bell hooks) and that really highlighted a lot for me about decolonisation and the harm I have unknowingly done. Working to decolonise, it is important to never get fully comfortable, always keeping a flexible mindset and being open to new ideas and ways of thinking. Not letting yourself off the hook by doing anti-racism work and thinking “I’m one of the good ones now”.

What steps have you made towards decolonising?

On the Learning Disability module, introductory material was changed such as thinking more about the link between neuropsychological assessment, oppressive practice and eugenics. Changes were also made to our placement supervisor training workshops with social difference being integrated throughout. These now have a greater focus on oppression and anti-oppressive practice and understanding that it is not a level playing field for all psychologists, who come from a range of backgrounds. I also really enjoy taking part in our programme’s book club which has a focus on reading about all aspects of social difference. It’s hard to see what’s missing when it’s not there, so there is a big need to educate myself and read from other people’s perspectives.

How has the process been of implementing decolonising work?

It has mostly been quite exciting and positive. I have been able to meet some fantastic people and teams who are doing an amazing job of decolonising clinical psychology. There are times when it can be difficult. For example, as someone who leads training events for supervisors, it is difficult to fit into the competing agendas and resources for psychologists working in the NHS, and this is a challenging context to work in for clinicians at the moment. Also, when doing this work, I have needed to be able to tolerate that it is not possible to please everyone all the time, and that there can be competing agendas, meaning that it is hard to find an outcome that works for everyone. Personally, although in many ways it can be hard, I think it is emotionally easier for me to do this work as I am not from a marginalized racial group myself. People who do this work and who are from minoritized backgrounds I think will likely experience a greater emotional impact and may need to take time out of the work or take additional action to care for themselves in a range of ways.

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

Start with reading other people’s perspectives, read the things that you wouldn’t usually read. Subscribe to other channels, watch more culturally diverse content. Just start by consuming a range of different things and seeing what different perspectives have to say, what other people’s experience of living is like. Question the way that things are done or have always been done. Also, finding others who are on a similar journey of doing this work can be a great support. You can lean on each other and motivate one another to keep going when the work starts feeling difficult. But most importantly start with reflection, learning and observation.