The Role of the Arts, Arts Therapies, and Psychotherapies in Supporting Mental Health in Black and Allied Communities

Friday 15th October 2021

How have the arts, art therapies and psychotherapies been taken up in Black and allied communities to support and promote mental health?

To mark Black History Month, you are invited to four free events organised by the Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing that will consider this question across several discussions, debates, and performances from international, national, and local experts. Themes relating the importance of Black aesthetics, barriers to inclusion, the role of the arts in healing trauma related to racialization, issues to do with ‘post-Windrush,’ issues related to engaging in therapy, the connection between health and justice, and forms of modern slavery will be examined, alongside spoken-word, silhouette and movement performances that convey the realities, energy, and emotions that underpin Black History Month. 

All events are free and available to attend in-person or online. See below for more information about each event and booking links.

Event 1: National and local perspectives: Exploring the barriers faced by psychotherapy in the UK and the impact on mental health from honour-based abuse

10:00-11:00 (UK time)

This event provides a focus on some key issues within the UK context relating to the barriers to inclusion and diversity faced by psychotherapists, and an exploration of the effects of honour-based abuse on mental health, particularly in relation to culture specific abuse, forced marriage and genital mutilation.

Book here National and local perspectives: Exploring the barriers faced by psychotherapy In the UK and the Impact on mental health from honour-based abuse

Introduction to the Day – Professor Vicky Karkou, Director of the Research Centre for Arts and Wellbeing

Chair: Dr Shaun Liverpool, Lecturer Child & Adolescent Mental Health & Wellbeing.

Speakers include:

  • Claire Beerjeraz – Black History Month: How can we facilitate change?

Claire Beerjeraz, a Masters student at Edge Hill University in her final year studying MSc Psychotherapy and Counselling: Contemporary and Creative Approaches, will examine how the black arts movement has helped people to speak out about their experiences, when they could not be heard with their words. She is also a Liverpool based, independent creative with an interest in acting, poetry and music. She has facilitated workshops for Liverpool based schools in art/drama and worked with Blackfest as part of their 2020 #BLM soundscape and previously, performing at the Everyman Theatre as part of their ‘Hear Me Now’ monologue showcase. Claire is also part of Tmesis Theatre’s Wicked Women Creative Development Course.

  • Afrah Qassim – Honour-based abuse & Mental Health Impact

Afrah Qassim, the founder & CEO of Savera UK, will give a brief explanation of what is ‘honour’-based abuse (HBA) and harmful practices including forced marriage and female genital mutilation and culture specific abuse. As well as explaining the psychological impact on the individuals escaping such abuse. Afrah is the CEO and Founder of Savera UK, national  charity tackling ‘honour’ based abuse and harmful practices and also the Chair of the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival.

Q&A – Dr Shaun Liverpool

Event 2: International perspectives: The role of the arts, arts therapies and psychotherapies on issues of diversity and mental health awareness.

11:30-12:30 (UK time)

This event explores some of the key issues relating to arts, art therapies and psychotherapies in relation to supporting mental health in black communities. The event will be facilitated by Dr Nisha Sajnani, Director of the Drama Therapy program at New York University.

Book here International perspectives: The role of the arts, art therapies and psychotherapies in supporting mental health in Black communities

Chair: Dr Nisha Sajnani, Director of the Drama Therapy program at New York University the principal editor of Drama Therapy Review and active member of the movement towards racial justice in Higher Education.

Speakers include:

  • Samantha Adams

Sam is a Black British Dramatherapist & Storyteller. After a 25-year career on stage, she retrained to become an Artist Clinician, having always experienced theatre practice as therapeutic and transformative. Sam continues to perform as part of her academic research, that is ritual and restorative practice in relation to generational trauma aligned with the Slave Trade and Colonialism. Her first paper saw her performing a piece of ritual theatre with her mother’s original Windrush Generation suitcase, ‘Being with Black’. Her current research paper has the working title, ‘Black Magic: outing the archetypes and shadow realms of Institutional Racism’. Sam teaches at the University of Roehampton at the Therapeutic Stories Unit, and at the the Pedagogy of Storytelling, at Central School of Speech & Drama. Sam is also organising this year’s annual BADth (British Association of Dramatherapy) Conference ‘Carnival of Canboulay: dialogues and masquerades about race and power at play in Dramatherapy’, which will take place late October.

  • Dr Refiloe Lepere

Refiloe Lepere is a master storyteller, playwright, drama therapist and facilitator, Refiloe possesses advanced skill sets as a writer, director, embodied learning practitioner, curriculum developer and strategy advisor to multifunctional clients in global settings. Her latest play; ‘The Way to a Man’s Heart’ is part of an anthology;  Hauntings. Her numerous plays have been performed in multiple international stages. She travels across the world performing, presenting, and facilitating workshops on the connection between aesthetics and politics with a focus on dynamics of race, gender and coloniality. Her international plays include ‘Postcards: Bodily Preserves’ (Germany, SA & USA), ‘Money for shoes’ (Botswana, SA & Swaziland) ‘Heading Out’ (US & UK); ‘Songs for Khwezi’ (US & SA), ‘Disappearing Act’ and ‘Black in the Box’ (US & Canada). She weaves history, statistics, and personal narratives to address issues of social (in) justice, intersectional identities, and black experiences. She contextualises her work within the broader scholarship of participatory arts, drama therapy, directing, critical race and feminism. She is a graduate of New York University and Wits University, a Think Fellow and Ford Foundation Alumni.

  • Jasmine Edwards

Jasmine Edwards is a creative arts therapy coordinator working as a music therapist within a paediatric medical setting in New York City. Jasmine holds a Bachelor of Music in music therapy from Florida State University, and a Master of Arts in music therapy from New York University. She has experience working in private practice, outpatient, school-based, and medical settings, and is trained in NICU-MT, First Sounds: Rhythm, Breath, Lullaby, and Austin Vocal Psychotherapy. Jasmine has a vested interest in integrating the tenets of cultural humility into music therapy clinical practice and pedagogy. She also has served as an adjunct faculty member at Howard University, New York University, Nazareth College, and Montclair State University. Jasmine identifies as a Black woman.

  • Natasha Sackey

Natasha is a Registered Dance Movement Psychotherapist (RDMP), a Somatic Body Mapping Practitioner, a Creative Producer and Facilitator. She coaches professional performing artists in body and movement awareness, and she has recently joined University of Roehampton as a visiting lecturer for the MA Dance Movement psychotherapy programme. Natasha has a private practice offering one to one and group therapy and she also produces the external training of Race, Trauma and Wellbeing for the Black, African and Asian Therapist Network (BAATN).

  • Dione Dalley

Dione is an Art psychotherapist, co- lead for Usemi, the racial trauma clinic in The Psychosis Therapy Project London, providing long-term therapeutic intervention for people experiencing psychosis. She was involved in the formation of Latimer Community Art Therapy, in response to the Grenfell Tower Fire, working with children and adults. Dione’s interest is in psychosis, trauma, and in individuals’ experience of art-making enabling feelings of connectivity and well -being.     

  • Earl Pennycooke

Earl is currently working in private practice and works within a project that delivers psychotherapy to those who suffer from psychosis. Earl has worked in a variety of settings from brief work within the NHS, to managing front line addiction and mental health services.

Event 3: Current research at Edge Hill University: Healing racial trauma, problems faced ‘post-Windrush’ and stories from modern slavery.

1:30pm-3:00pm (UK time)

This event provides some in-depth focus on some of the Edge Hill related research that has taken place connecting with the key themes of Black History Month. Speakers will explore the impact of racial trauma and how the arts and art therapies can help to heal division and explore the stories of trafficked people in the UK involved in modern slavery and discussions around the effects of ‘post-Windrush’ on engaging in therapy.

Book here Current research at Edge Hill University: Healing racial trauma, problems faced ‘post-Windrush’ and stories from modern slavery.

Chair: Dr Michael Richards

Speakers include:

  • Andrea-May Oliver – British Caribbean “Post-Windrush” people: Investigating attitudes, access, and obstacles in engaging with therapy

This research proposes to explore the reasons behind poor therapeutic engagement by the British Caribbean “Post-Windrush” people and their descendants. This population is under-represented in mental health interventions, despite being at higher risk of suffering from poor mental health. The study will explore the access and obstacles the population faces when looking to engage with therapy, paying particular attention in investigating the populations attitudes to mental health, and associated treatments. This will involve conducting a therapeutic intervention within a group setting, experienced by participants in the research population, interviewing them, and using arts based research methods to collect data from within the sessions.

Andrea-May is an experienced Dramatherapist, currently undertaking a doctorate in health, focusing her research on therapeutic interaction and engagement with black Windrush populations. She has previously given guest lectures at the University of Huddersfield and Derby University, she has also been a contributor and speaker at the British Association for Dramatherapists (Badth) annual conference. She mostly works with children who have faced adverse and traumatic experiences, and is passionate about improving black outcomes in mental health.

  • Gergana Ganeva – Supporting the Health and Wellbeing of People Trafficked into Modern Slavery in the UK: An Arts-based Participatory Approach

This study builds on collaborative, narrative and arts-based methodologies, to incorporate participants’ creativity and active engagement and systematically explore trafficked people’s lived experiences in the UK. By means of facilitating a reflexive process, respondents chose their preferred methodology for relaying their experiences through visual and/or textual methods and were subsequently invited to discuss, interpret and illuminate their findings. Specifically, the research indicates that the process of meaning-making experienced by trafficked individuals offers new insights into participants’ sense of self that includes emotive and aesthetic qualities, to illuminate the process of integration and better explore visions for wellbeing, rehabilitation and freedom post trafficking identification. Adding to the body of the literature on arts-based participatory methodologies, findings from the study highlight further the therapeutic potential of the use of research as an intervention. 

Gergana Ganeva is a Lecturer in Counselling and Psychotherapy at Edge Hill University. Her background spans the fields of Philology, Psychology, Social Work, Counselling, Education, Performing and Visual Arts. In her current research, she focuses on marginalization and arts-based methodologies. Her work as a Co-Director of 4Wings addresses issues of inequalities, transition, trauma and identity.

  • Dr Suzy Hansford – Seeking asylum: A visual story of a life journey

Dr Suzy Hansford is a lecturer in Counselling and Psychotherapy at Edge Hill University.  Her research interests are in story-telling and creative ways of doing research.  Suzy has previously worked as a counsellor with asylum seekers and refugees with Solace – Surviving Exile.  She was the manager of the interpreting service for the NHS in Leeds for a number of years and this fuelled an interest in language, particularly the different language we use to tell our own story.  This was the subject of her PhD research. She also has a private clinical practice as a therapist and supervisor.

  • Claire Beerjeraz – An exploration of how the arts and arts therapies can heal racial trauma

The use of arts has been used as tools for expression to help cope and heal from racial trauma (Reeves, 2000; Hocoy, 2005; Chioneso et al., 2020). Going back thousands of years, traditional music such as Sega, Blues and Jazz all have African ancestral rhythm and lyrical reference to slavery and oppression as ways of expression (Police, 2000).  Furthermore, there have been pivotal decades such as the 80s that presented the Black Arts movement, which became an important tool for fighting against racist policies and environments. Today, using multi-media and arts as your own voice has consistently been used under the BLM movement (Valenzuela, 2013).

This raises the question of how the use of arts and art therapies are used for tools of healing racial trauma in order to provide some practical implications. During a period where global protesting and widespread media coverage on BLM has occurred, more people are suffering and therefore, there is not a more relevant time to research into this than now.

This research is not only a political statement to the systemic racism and its effects existing in this society, but a response to those who are co-existing and compliant with that and resist the fight for anti-racism. A systemised review of literature will be analysed to explore this, with the reflection of data using multiple lenses, referencing Post-traumatic Slave Syndrome and the BLM movement.

Event 4: Creative performances using soundscape, spoken word, silhouettes and movement to explore Black History Month themes.

3:30pm-5pm (UK time)

The final event will consist of a series of performances that will explore key issues relating to the term and perception of ‘black’ and what it means to be a black woman in society. Alongside this, there will be explorations of slavery during this time of Brexit Britain, and a silhouette performance exploring beauty and unconscious bias before a dance movement performance that explores narratives around oppression.

Book here Creative performances using soundscape, spoken word, silhouettes and movement to explore Black History Month themes.

Chair: Emma Perris


Andrea-May Oliver – Tomorrow is yesterday: this side of slavery.

Screen Silhouette Performance

I have created a performance which communicates the ingrained generational trauma and on-going difficulty that descendants of survivors of the slave trade face in the tumultuous times of a Brexit Britain.

The performance will reference this trauma through the working theories of post traumatic slave disorder, following the emotional trauma that is passed down generationally and reinforced, though altered, through the hardship and discrimination faced through an ever-changing modern society.

Conceptually I will be exploring the resilience that I and my peers must demonstrate to be successful. The changes we, as black members of society, make to show homogeneity with society as a whole. The pain of a culture which has been stolen, suppressed and eliminated from memory.

The audience will be invited to consider the paths trauma can take, how it evolves and diverges over time, from skin bleaching to gangland sub-culture, before reflecting on the trauma that has followed them generationally, and discussing this between the participants.

Parallels of these traumas can be drawn across Judaism, Islam, women, the working classes, and the Orphans of Empire (those who gained independence from Empire, brought up in the historical shadow of Britain without the support they deserved after colonial rule).

Claire Beerjeraz – Being a Black Woman.

Spoken word
  • Shades of darkness – This discusses the positive implications and shades of black in nature.
  • Healing through creation – A reflection on the journey of healing mental health through creative arts.
  • Being a Black Woman – A reflection to the constant silencing and lack of respect onto women, particularly Black women.
Iroro Azanuwha – Seven Letters.
Spoken Word
  • History – This looks into the history and experiences of black people and where we fit in modern society.
  • Peace and Justice – This piece is self-explanatory yet explores what if equality was attainable and a tighter grip on discrimination is achieved.
  • Seven Letters – The second part to peace and justice.
  • 8 minutes 46 seconds – This highlights the death of George Floyd and what it took to wake a nation, it highlights union and division.

Iroro Azanuwha is a poet. Poetry is where he finds his true self. He uses poetry as a platform to communicate individual narratives, thus encouraging others to create their own narrative through words. He finds poetry to be a powerful way of expressing oneself and can be a key component in aiding healthy mental well-being. His style of writing is provocative and inspiring.  He writes in a traditional style and spoken word.

Blu Boy
  • “What is your Perfect Paradise?” – This piece was written during the Time to Breathe writing sessions, this was written from an emotional and partially angry point of view, simply wishing for the hardships experiences by Black people and POC’s both overtly and covertly everyday racism that is part of society to be erased.
  • “I looked Down the Line and I wondered” – This piece also written during the Time to Breathe sessions explores the hard conversations that many POC and Black people have had with their white friends who choose not to understand the struggles of everyday racism that Black people face, resulting in severing friendship ties for the betterment of their own mental health and wellbeing.
  • “Self-Love” – Written as part of BlackFest’s Self Love Film Project (yet to be released). This piece explores the pride of heritage as well as being unapologetically black even when in white spaces despite constantly being told to ‘tone it down’ and staying defiant in the face of adversity.
  • “Privilege” – The final piece focuses on light skinned and white passing privilege, while also exploring the racial fetishisation of light skin Black people and dual heritage from the perspective of the fetishised, rather than the fetishiser.

BluBoy is an interdisciplinary artist from Merseyside who writes about the black/mixed race experiences coming from predominantly white areas, as well as other topics such as mental health, social issues and his own personal experience as an Austistic male of colour. BluBoy has worked with Grassroots organisations in Liverpool such as, Root-ed Zine, BlackFest, TWT festival. As well as being 1 of the 33 artists selected to be exhibited in the ‘Champion One Champion All’ exhibition in The Museum of Liverpool in December last year.

Supritha Aithal – Gaia’s Longing for Yamini.

Dance Performance

This performative piece is a movement response to the emotional and eco-social aspects of suppression, oppression and atrocities experienced by women and children. The narratives are inspired by real life stories of the inmates of a shelter home for women in Bengaluru, India. Their resilient stories are woven together using the movement vocabulary of Bharatanatyam (one of the Indian classical dance forms) to the rhythms of Ghatam (Carnatic earthen pot percussion instrument).

This emotive and theatrical dance piece is deeply rooted in metaphors and symbolic interpretations embedded within nature to celebrate Yamini, the dark with the hidden glow. The narratives are in the voice of personified Gaia, who is suppressed from innumerable dimensions, in several countless forms, and immeasurable volumes and capacities. Nowhere else, the illumination is embedded in the darkness of the night. Gaia awaits Yamini, the moment of darkness pregnant with the illuminous brightness to give birth to her child, the internal glow, to stir up the change.

Supritha is a trained Bharatanatyam artist, researcher and an educator. Born into a family rooted in arts, Supritha, began her formal dance training at the tender age of five under the guidance of Dr Sahana Bhat. Later, Supritha’s innate talent was nurtured and rigorously trained at Raasavrunda School of Dance, Mysuru, India.  Her doctoral research explored the contribution of Dance Movement Psychotherapy for children on the autism spectrum and their caregivers. Currently, she works as a lecturer at the School of Applied Health and Social Care, Edge Hill University.