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Whiteness in Psychology: Starting a Conversation - Tansy Warrilow

18 Apr 19

Yorkshire and Humber Psychological Practitioners Network 


Whiteness in Psychology: Starting a Conversation


By Tansy Warrilow, Third Year Trainee Clinical Psychologist, University of Sheffield

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How often do we talk about diversity on clinical training? A reasonable amount I would say. We acknowledge our differences from our clients, we tick boxes on placement confirming we have discussed diversity and we recognise that clinical psychology programmes are pretty much dominated by middle class white women. So we talk about it, but how often do we really face the harsh reality that ‘Whiteness’ remains a persistent entrenched problem in clinical psychology and little appears to be changing. It’s taken me until my third year of clinical training and my fourteenth year of being a part of the psychology world to start talking about the white privilege that exists and is maintained within clinical psychology. Are we simply blind to white privilege? Do we ignore it because it’s uncomfortable? Or do we allow it to continue because it is beneficial to the most of us?


There’s no denying it, psychology is Eurocentric. In the main, our psychological assessments are developed and normed on and by white people, our theories were developed and re-tested by white people, our therapies are based on the norms of a Eurocentric society, almost all lecturers are white, our trainees are mainly white and the majority of qualified psychologists are white.

Yet when we talk about ethnicity, diversity or racism we look to our black peers to take over. Surely it is not the role of the very people who are marginalised by clinical psychology to address it? Should it not be the responsibility of those who are afforded power and privilege due to their whiteness to challenge it? 


So why has it taken me to my fourteenth year in the psychology world to start talking about this? Well because for many years I was simply blind to it. I didn’t notice my skin gave me an advantage (which in itself defines privilege). I never had to worry about my whiteness, so I never did. I was always the norm especially in psychology. It didn’t occur to me that if others were oppressed then perhaps I was an oppressor. When it started coming into my consciousness I resisted it, I was too awkward to acknowledge it, too ashamed to admit I was part of any wrong doing. I kept quiet when I heard stereotypes at work, I thoughtlessly ticked the boxes agreeing I was reflecting on diversity and felt quietly pleased I had done my bit to understand others. I excused any part I had in systematic racism and colluded with the status quo. And as I write this, it remains awkward. I still don’t have the words, I talk clumsily and constantly worry I am getting it wrong or being offensive. The difference is, now I believe it is better to be clumsy and awkward than to collude with the racism.


Professor Nimisha Patel (2004) states:

“To develop and to demonstrate competence in empowerment, clinical psychologists need to be able to operationalise a social and political analysis of culture and racialism oppression in their psychological thinking, as well as in their assessment, intervention, training and research skills”

There is much more to say on this topic. But as a start, I encourage everyone within clinical psychology to take a step back and ask themselves what they do to challenge the status quo. 


Some starting suggestions for exploring white privilege include:


  • Read the book “Why I’m not Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge.
  • Read the (3 page) article “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” Peggy McIntosh.
  • Check out Patel and Keval (2018) “Fifty ways to leave …… your racism”.
  • Participate in Nimisha Patel’s research exploring the views of trainees, trainers and service users on this topic to produce learning tools to explore issues of racism (prior ideas/knowledge not needed, just discussion). Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to participate
  • Review and reflect on social media echo chambers. How much content is mindlessly absorbed that only reflects our own privilege. Follow pages representing; disabled, trans, cultural, Asian, black, and platforms that actively support and promote people of colour.
  • Take an implicit bias test to reveal your hidden biases


Tansy’s article was published in the Sheffield University Clinical Psychology Unit Newsletter this month. She has kindly agreed for it to be circulated to the Yorkshire and Humber PPN members to encourage us all to reflect carefully about the above thinking points described.

 @YH_PPN                                                                                                 Dr Paul Boyden