Therapists from the United Kingdom have been visiting Akron this week to learn how a local mental health group works with the African-American community.
Rameri Moukam, clinical director of Pattigift Therapy, an African psychotherapy center in Birmingham, England, and the center’s managing director, Davy Hay, arrived on Wednesday to shadow therapists with Minority Behavioral Health Group.
They met John Queener, a psychologist with the Akron-based group, at a conference last year in Tallahassee and were interested in seeing firsthand how the group employs a technique called Optimal Conceptual Theory. The theory was developed by an Ohio State University professor and looks at ancient African philosophy and how it's tied to African-American culture in contrast to traditional European theories, Queener said.
“We were aware they were offering a treatment model where they’d embedded into the community. We wanted to come and see how they did that,” said Moukam, whose therapy center uses elements of the theory and others. They are particularly interested in how the Akron group works with children in schools.
The Akron group sees patients at its offices on Copley Road and also has therapists and case managers who are at several Akron Public Schools buildings.
On Thursday at Helen Arnold Community Learning Center, therapist Andre Black met with 6-year-old Jamil Holley Jr. while Moukam observed.
Jamil is bi-racial and being able to have school-based therapy sessions that incorporate his African heritage is very important, his adoptive mother Tonya Vickers said.
“He has things he tries to identify with that I have no idea with his heritage,” said Vickers, who is Caucasian. “They help with helping him understand he’s perfect either way. They show him to be proud of who he is and he understands where he comes from on both sides. It helps a lot with his confusion.”
Black said being a therapist who looks like his patients and who may have some of the same experiences gives him more credibility and buy-in from patients.
Queener said often the African-American community doesn’t fully utilize mental health services. When they do and they use Western-based psychotherapy models, he said, “they tend to prematurely terminate or they’ll go therapy and don’t see it as relevant and stop going at a rate much higher than their white counterparts.
On Thursday, Black told Jamil that he wanted to tell him about his special African name, based on the day of the week he was born.
“It’s a powerful name. It’s going to let you know you can become and do anything you want,” Black said.
The name for males born on Tuesday is Kwabena, Black said, telling Jamil that his name is Kowfi, since he was born on a Friday.
“That comes from Africa, which is where your dad and myself and others came from,” Black said. “You are manly and full of fire and determination. You are an inspirator, willing to risk a change in works of collective responsibility.
“Do you know what determination means?”
Jamil shook his head.
“That means, Jamil, you can make things happen. Anything you set your mind to that you’re going to do, it is going to get done That’s you. When you’re in the classroom and someone comes to say something or want you to do something you shouldn’t, you can say ‘No, I’m going to stay determined.’ ”
“I’m going to be fast as Flash — faster than Flash,” Jamil said.
Black responded: “That’s because you have determination. It takes practice. If you keep practicing, you can do anything you want to do.”
Moukam said her center wants to begin incorporating school-based therapy as well. In the United Kingdom, blacks make up 3 percent of the population.
“We needed to come and do this,” said Moukam. “They’ve been doing it for so long that they’ve managed to embed in the schools.”
Queener said when Minority Behavioral Health Group began the work 20 years ago, there were no full models to look at, so they built it from the ground up.
“We were really deeply honored that people halfway around the world thought we were a model to emulate,” Queener said.
Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com