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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

African/Caribbean Descent Program

CAMH is committed to providing quality care for people of all diverse ethnic, racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds. For the most part, this is achieved through health equity and diversity trainings and support, building a diverse staff with the appropriate knowledge and skills and providing our clients and their families access free of charge to trained, professional interpreters. CAMH also offers some services specifically designed to address the unique treatment needs of specific groups. In part one of our three part series on these services, we focus on the residential treatment program for people of African/Caribbean descent. 

Part 1 of a 3-Part Series on Ethno- Specific Services at CAMH

Raj Sohi recalls a time about 10 years ago when he was facilitating a group of clients as a clinician at CAMH. The only client in the group who was not a person of colour left early. Another client commented on that fact and proceeded to share an experience he had had with racism. When Raj asked him why he did not feel comfortable having this conversation with the Caucasian client present, he said he did not want to be judged nor have to explain and he thought the other client might feel uncomfortable.

Raj Sohi
Raj Sohi, Deputy Administrative Director for CAMH’s Addictions Services

“Often clients who are people of colour were expressing an interest in having a place where they could talk about the impact of racism on the development of their substance use problems,” says Raj, now the Deputy Administrative Director for Addictions Services. At the time there was only one group for Black clients called Talk Back which was associated with CAMH’s Drug Treatment Court. Talk Back was established to provide Black clients with a safe place to discuss their struggles with the criminal justice system and the overrepresentation of people of colour in the system.

Further discussions with clients and the community indicated a need for a specific addictions treatment program to meet the needs of adults of African descent. CAMH has the Substance Abuse Program for African Canadian and Caribbean Youth (SAPACCY), but that service is for young people only. So in 2010 and 2012, a cycle of CAMH’s 21-day addictions residential treatment program was piloted for people of African descent.

Addiction Therapist Ashley Haywood is the facilitator of the African/Caribbean Descent Program, which is now offered on an ongoing basis. “Many clients within this population have histories that include negative experiences with various social services and health sectors, which have shaped their decision to access or remain in treatment. These experiences could also cause clients to be particularly guarded when working with a therapist who may not identify with their cultural values, in fear of being judged or misunderstood,” Ashley says.

African Descent program participants
Ashley Haywood celebrating success with two recent participants.

Ashley cites studies that validate the need for a culturally-focused treatment program, one by Ehrmin in 2001. Another article by Sue and Lam in the 2002 book Psychotherapy Relationships That Work showed that clients of African descent have low completion rates and high relapse rates when attending mainstream treatment programs. However, a 2006 study by Dannerbuck et al., showed that when men of African descent were paired with a therapist from their same cultural background, they were more likely to have successful treatment outcomes.

Ashley Haywood
Ashley Haywood studies the research supporting culturally focused treatment.

Raj says the difference between the group for people of African/Caribbean descent and a group for mixed populations is that participants explicitly talk about issues around racism and what it means to be Black in our society. Racism, stigma and other factors that could contribute to the development of addictions are addressed in the morning psycho-educational sessions along with such topics as communication, relationships, stress management, nutrition, relapse prevention, self-esteem, leisure, managing emotions and occupational therapy.  “By looking at issues around racism in the morning psycho-educational sessions, it opens the door for people to start talking about some of those experiences in the afternoon group sessions,” Raj says.

“Offering a program that incorporates African and Caribbean values, traditions and treatment ideologies, while also validating the connections between racism and addiction, can make a tremendous difference in the client’s experience within a treatment setting as well as their decision to continue the path of recovery,” Ashley adds.

Other 21- day programs have been offered by CAMH for specific ethno-cultural groups including Spanish speaking people and Portuguese speaking people, the latter in collaboration with staff from the University Health Network, who provide a range of services for people of Portuguese origin. There are also approximately four cycles each year for Aboriginal people facilitated by the staff of CAMH’s Aboriginal Services.  The program has also worked with cultural interpreters in mixed groups.

To find out when the next 21- day cycle for clients who identify as Black, or of African or Caribbean descent will be starting or for further information about the program please contact Ashley Haywood at CAMH at 416-535-8501 ext 33920.

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