|"Cirecie A West-Olatunji is President of the American Counseling Association, co-host of the 2014 BACP Research Conference"|
Rima Sidhpara explains what lies behind the success of her thriving multicultural therapy practice
How I became a therapist
I was 16 when my best friend attempted suicide. I felt deeply affected by the experience and did not understand why it was never discussed. Back then, suicide was a taboo subject. Sadly, although services have improved, I find it still remains taboo. It was this experience that set me on my path to becoming a therapist.
As a British-Indian, born and raised in Leicester, my cultural identity has always been important to me, but confusing too. I found my culture to be enjoyable, exciting and rewarding – and extremely repressive and rejecting. I saw myself as no different to my white friends, despite our different skin colour. I also saw myself as integrating both Indian and British parts of me and believed that this would be accepted. Primary school was a great experience – I felt accepted – but it wasn’t until I went to university and became part of a group of friends from many different cultures that I again felt I belonged. Conflicts and tensions between what is culturally acceptable and unacceptable have been a continuous theme in my life and one that at times has made me unhappy. These issues are also very much present in other people in my cultural generation, and in some of my clients.
I studied psychology at A level. Learning what explains human behaviours in particular grabbed my attention and I decided to continue to study psychology at degree level. I began reading and researching a lot around child development after coming across John Bowlby’s attachment theory. I remember feeling very excited about these theories, and relief, as they helped me make some sense of my internal and external worlds. This led me to believe that insight was a powerful tool and inspired me to want to join the therapy profession.
First I sought work experience with the Leicester Counselling Centre, where the director at that time (Sandra Moore) encouraged me to enrol for psychotherapy training. I took an MA in psychodynamic counselling. We were told at the start that this training would change us. I was intrigued; I did not realise what a personal process it would really be. I was the youngest and the only Asian in the group. I felt quite self-conscious about the age difference as I felt others had more life experience than me and sometimes I found the conversations difficult to relate to. As the only Asian in the group, I felt I held a lot of responsibility when we discussed issues of cultural difference. Inside, I identified more with my British part than Indian, so again it felt confusing, as the topic of difference kept highlighting that I was different!
I did not tell many of my family or friends about my training as I wanted to explore this on my own. I was very supported by my immediate family but they have since told me that they had no idea what I was studying – they thought I was doing a short course in people skills! The older generations in particular do not understand about psychotherapy. My grandma still tells people I work for the council. It is only since I established my own practice that family and friends fully understand my work and what it actually involves. I still get comments that make me laugh, like ‘Do Indians really come for therapy?’
I spent over eight years in the voluntary sector, working with vulnerable adults in a variety of settings such as prisons, domestic violence agencies, homeless shelters and charities. Then, over many conversations with my friend Jenny Halson about our frustrations with the lack of funding in the sector, we realised that we could develop our own practice that shared the values of the voluntary sector but delivered efficient services like those in the private sector. That led us to formulate a business plan and set up Rutland House Counselling and Psychotherapy Ltd (RHCP) in Leicester.
That was over three years ago. We started in one room; we now have five therapy rooms and a team of 15 therapists. We think our success has come about because of our passion for the therapy profession, our high work ethic, our good business sense – and our friendship, which reflects the multicultural nature of our team. I feel really happy to be able to do the job I love and work with inspirational people every day.
Rima Sidhpara is Practice Director and psychotherapist at Rutland House Counselling and Psychotherapy Ltd. She was awarded the Leicester Asian-Business Inspirational Women’s Award for 2013.