In conversation with Parissima Taheri – Maynard

In conversation with Parissima Taheri – Maynard
‘Sunanda Mesquita for WE DEY


How would you like to be introduced to someone who doesn’t know you yet?

Hi my name is Parissima, I’m Vienniese, half Bahamian and quarter Iranian 🙂 I’m a minority mental health advocate training in clinical psychology here in Vienna. I am Viennese, I’m a woman of colour.

How would you position yourself within the frame of psychology? Are there projects/community projects/professionals in general that inspire you to do the work you do?

As I mentioned I want to specialise in minority mental health as I think it is a field that does not get enough attention in Austria – in a lack of psychological culturally- sensitive practice as well as in research and theory. I love what Therapy for Black Girls is doing in the USA and it was a big inspiration when I started – a directory of mental health professionals of colour for everyone to find someone they may feel comfortable opening up to. I realised I couldn’t actually find enough mental health professionals of colour in Vienna to actually put on a database, so I decided to create a space for it. I also lead a mental and social health project with young refugees which was my first actual work experience in the field of minority mental health and just pushed my motivation harder. Another experience I made was in a work-placement at an Eating DIsorder Clinic where I work in the diagnostic phase however not in further ongoing treatment. Various women of colour clients particularly asked me if I can be their psychologist for the next part of their treatment, because I “looked like them”. It made me recognise the urge that many of us share to open up to people where we assume they share a general experience with us, even if that’s being a minority in a “white” country. We criticize “colour-blindness” in all forms of society, yet we still accept that psychology in this country is considered to be colour-blind and that filtering professionals by these details is unnecessary. I strongly disagree and want to offer the opportunity to those who may think like me and feel they want or need that.

Can you tell us a little bit about your project “Wir sind auch Wien” – “We too are Vienna”? And what role community plays in your practice in general?

I created Wir sind auch Wien out of the motivation to create a platform for minority mental health for BPOCs in various different forms. It started as a facebook page where I share articles, motivational memes, thoughts, etc. for the community, but will increasingly also offer workshops, lectures and sit downs, etc. for the community to take part in if they want. I want to bring openness about mental health to the community and allow us to bond over something we all have and feel on a spectrum in everyday life. I want to counteract the strong taboo connected to speaking about our mental health and our worries, and provide the knowledge and theory so that everyone can know and understand what they are going through. It is important to me to also collectively decolonise our thinking about psychology, healing and mental health and remember that sharing and healing together is an indigenous key strategy while the idea of having to suffer in silence is something new, learned and dangerous. Within the framework I also want to, and invite others to, add to minority mental health research here in Austria. In the future I also want to supply certified psychological diagnostics and treatment to the community, as well as support bringing more minorities into the field through trainings, internships, etc.

We were really excited to receive your proposal for our Open Call- as we have been talking about mental health for a while and have been discussing the lack of access to BIPoC therapists in Vienna. What sparked your interest in applying for the Open Call at WE DEY x SPACE?

I loved reading the open call and what you are doing. I was looking for something like We Dey for most of my life here in Vienna, so it already spoke to me on that level. I did realise that the focus was mainly on art, however, and due to the fact that I was not an artist I wasn’t sure how to best get involved. Still, I decided why not reach out with my idea. In the worst case you won’t have space for it but will know someone or someplace that might. I was so excited to hear your reaction to my application and how necessary you too found what I was trying to offer. It strengthened my idea so much, feeling that what I was missing was also being missed by other members of the community and would be appreciated.

Can you tell us more about your project “Mental Health and WellBeing as BIPoC in Vienna” which you are planning together with Esther Ojo at WE DEY x space? Is it still open for BIPoCs to join?

My idea was to create a regular meeting with people within the community focused on BPOC mental health – literally in any form desired. We had a first kind of “information evening” session in January and about 15 amazing, open, genuine and authentic BPOCs came ready to start a regular conversation about mental health. I introduced myself and had some surveys and questionnaires that showed really precise trends. Almost all in the group have seeked mental health support before, all are very aware of their own mental health and its struggles, and, luckily, almost all of them claimed they are able to openly speak about their mental health at home with friends or/and family. The results surprised me, this is obviously not a very representative outcome when looking at the whole population, and specifically at minority populations. It’s wonderful to start our first regular sessions with a group that is quite homogenous in its approach to mental health, and who all already have a lot of knowledge and self-reflection. I do hope that after this group more BPOCs get in touch to whom this topic may be more of a burden or who may have more inhibitions concerning speaking about mental health, who perhaps do not have the possibility or the dynamics set up to speak about this in their personal life and who didn’t show up immediately at the first offered opportunity. I hope to reach them too. At the moment we are setting up the first closed group that we seem to have about 15 members for, so unless many don’t take part in the last minute I will not take in any more members, but there will absolutely be more groups so anyone who wants can just facebook message me and I’ll keep them posted.

I really like the idea that the sessions are in a Do-It-Together format and that the participants can actively co-create the circumstances of the sessions -the frequency as well as the content- is that a common form or did you try something new?

The idea came from the fact that I want to come at these mental health circles in an informal way. This is not a replacement to any form of psychological treatment or group therapy and I too have a lot to learn from what the community really requires and needs. I did not want to set up anything just based on what I feel is missing, I wanted to better understand what the community wanted for communal healing and collective care. A lot of our first information meeting was that – discussing options of what we can do with the regular space We Dey was offering us. Within this first group the answers were quite clear and we decided on these mental health circles every 2 weeks for 3 hours with one fixed group that stays the same in order to support trust and care. In a questionnaire that listed various different topics the 10-most-circled topics were chosen as the themes for the 10 sessions. It’s interesting to note that “race related stress” was circled by every single member. I decided to divide that subject into two sessions – external (discrimination, …) and internal (identity, …). It was voted that all sessions will be a mixture of theory provided by me and lots of sharing and discussing experiences and tips to best deal So for this group, thats how this will look! I am excited to hold another information session with new people and determine what context they’d get the most out of.

What´s you approach to creating these spaces of healing across all differences -race, class, experiences, ability, gender identity and sexuality- within the BIPoC community?

One of the highlights of creating Wir sind auch Wien was being invited by the Center of Intersectional Justice in Berlin to their Community Open Space last year. There I was able to meet activists from all over Europe and we created an environment where different people held workshops about topics vital to them and we were able to choose what workshops to take part in. I invited whoever was interested to join a workshop on collective healing, where I was able to speak to a group of people across a range of racial, sexual, socio-economic identities as well as people with different disabilities about what they require to heal collectively on a psychological level. The conversation was incredibly interesting and emotional, and had a great impact in how much I want to underline intersectionality in my work, and how I believe absolutely everyone, no matter what field they work and move around in, should do the same. Just becoming more aware of what people with various overlapping experiences confront and feel is the first step of being able to offer support.

Is there something else you would like to share with us?

Thanks so much for supporting my work and offering me the space to bring my ideas together with the community!!!

Thank you so much! ❤