Obituary: Jafar Kareem

Jafar Kareem, psychotherapist and innovator in mental-health care, born Calcutta 1930, died London 12 September 1992.

JAFAR KAREEM was a psychotherapist, founder and clinical director of Nafsiyat, the only intercultural therapy centre offering psychotherapy to ethnic communities in London.

Jafar Kareem was born in Calcutta in 1930, and worked in India, Austria and Israel before coming to Britain 25 years ago. In Britain he worked as a psychotherapist for the NHS and was an Honorary Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychiatry at University College Hospital, London.

Jafar Kareem argued for a long time that there were many causes for the high rate of mental distress among ethnic minorities in Britain and that prejudice was not the only problem. He believed that the most important factor in successfully working with ethnic minority clients was to establish a holding contact. Language difficulties were not so important as emotional barriers. That is why he encouraged all people to describe their problems in their own words, while he was trying to understand the nature of them. He recognised that many individuals from the ethnic minorities were aware of their socio-economic position in their adopted country and the particular difficulties they were experiencing being immigrants. He also realised that the host society's attitude could create uncertainty and insecurity for minority communities, which on many occasions were presented as mental- health problems.

Jafar Kareem put his ideas into practice by creating the Nafsiyat Inter-Cultural Therapy Centre, in north London, in 1983. There he worked together with other mental-health professionals in a multidisciplinary setting, adopting an innovative approach. Some of the centre's key elements were the choice of therapies and therapist by the clients and their being allowed to bring with them, if they wished, someone they trusted, to advocate their perception of their illness. Another important contribution was its training for professionals and support staff in the Health Service, local authorities, education and various community agencies. The book he edited with Roland Littlewood on Inter-Cultural Therapy: Themes, Interpretations and Practice, published this year, epitomises his transcultural ideology and practice on mental health issues.

Jafar Kareem was an intellectual as well as an affectionate man with a personal charisma and an ability to communicate with others. He will be remembered for his pioneering work in helping people from ethnic minorities with mental-health problems.

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