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Case study: Your Path in Research: Maryam Riaz ensuring a Representative Voice in Counselling and Psychotherapy

Maryam Riaz is a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, teaching Counselling and Mental Health courses. Maryam Riaz’s main interest is steering the inclusion of religion, culture and spirituality into mainstream models of psychotherapy and counselling. She is seeking to set up a study that investigates how to make psychotherapy more inclusive and to identify barriers of access to mental health services.

In Your Path in Research – a series that uncovers the research community across the National Institute of Health Research – we spoke to Lecturer Maryam Riaz about her experience in research, her motivation for getting into research and her advice on career progression in research. 

Please describe your current role

I am currently a lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, teaching counselling and mental health. I am also a BACP registered Psychotherapist, specialising in Bereavement, Trauma and Transcultural psychotherapy. I am the first South-Asian woman to have my own private practice in Bradford City Centre.

I set up my practice because it is a priority of mine to ensure that therapy is accessible to everyone, regardless of their social or cultural background. I wanted to bring awareness that therapy and counselling is not just for the privileged few.

How did you first get involved in research?

My previous role as a Chaplain at the Bradford Teaching Hospital Trust was diverse, working with departments like research to demonstrate how to resonate with under-served communities and encourage participation. Indeed as a Chaplain, I was involved with the Born in Bradford (BIB) project to encourage and ensure inclusive recruitment into the project’s studies.

The BIB project takes a holistic approach to research, seeking to relieve the high level of deprivation and child illness in the Bradford area. The BIB research programmes investigate nearly every aspect of a child’s life with studies that focus on parental health, obstetrics, geography, diet and accommodation.

For the BIB project, I produced a leaflet called Born in Bradford: the Islamic Perspective. In this leaflet, I incorporated themes of faith and belief to explain how healthcare and research should be approached and encourage participation in research studies. how they can help the community.

To ensure representation in research it is necessary to speak to the groups you are looking to recruit, in terms which are relevant to them. By aligning your approach to your desired cohort’s philosophy, you are more likely to increase interest and participation.

How has research helped you achieve your pre-existing goals?

The research project I am hoping to embark on will investigate how to enhance Ethnic Minority communities’ access to psychotherapy and counselling. One branch of this project is to identify the barriers which prevent minority communities from accessing mental health support systems and raise awareness of these impediments. The other strand looks at how to make existing therapeutic structures and mental health therapies for trauma relevant to minority communities through culture, spirituality and religion.

The research project directly feeds into one of our objectives at Leeds Beckett University to ‘Decolonise the Curriculum’, which aims to make the content taught to our students more accurate by being more inclusive and representative of under-served communities. It is highly important that our students have research to learn and take reference from, which truly represents everyone.

The Covid-19 pandemic has really illustrated the health inequalities felt by Ethnic Minorities, in the UK. Therefore, it is important to tailor research towards the needs of these under-served populations.

My research project is incredibly important because where mental health structures have not been built with different cultures in mind, there is a very low retention rate of Minority Ethnic communities in psycho-therapy and counselling. If the service user feels misunderstood or judged, they will not be able to create a beneficial therapeutic relationship and will not continue with the therapy.

What do you like most about research?

I am very interested in Sociology. Research allows us to understand how society interacts and therefore we better understand the people that exist in it. It is incredibly important to have research that allows representative voices to be heard, so we understand how all of society functions.

I also enjoy the social justice aspect of research. The difference research can make is incredibly important because research can inform policy, which in turn impacts funding and healthcare.

What do you find most challenging about research?

In my upcoming research project, one of the most challenging aspects will be that the study tackles delicate topics. By looking at how to ensure sensitivity towards faith culture and religion into psychological ideas and themes, you need to address concepts like privilege and inter-sectionality.

What advice would you give to someone who was interested in a career in research?

Those who embark on a career in research should ensure their studies are ‘person-centred’ and remember to keep an open mind. You must be alert to how your own perceived ideas can bias the progress of your research.

We may start off thinking we have found the correct thing to investigate. However, be guided by the cohort you are investigating as the biggest teachers are the participants and those experience what you are investigating.

Are you interested in a career in research?

There are many ways you can get involved: