Category Archives: Alliance

Alliance update: Letters to the press on the general election

Dear colleagues,

The Alliance has taken a lead in organising two recent press letters, aimed at the election campaign, on government policies around people with disabilities and the nation’s mental health.

In the Daily Mirror:

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/politics/must-defeat-tories-sake-mental-10494187

And last week, this appeared in the Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/may/18/vote-labour-to-uphold-the-rights-of-disabled-people

For us, an important and exciting development over the past few years has been the involvement of therapists in campaigns of a wide nature, including  disability, psycho-compulsion, workfare, benefit cuts, and mental health. Crucially, these have been campaigns in which psychotherapists, counsellors, psychologists and other professionals have for the first time joined service users and welfare campaigners to plan and participate in protest, political lobbying and street actions on issues of social and psychological politics.

The initiatives for these alliances and for a more strident intervention in the social and political field have not come from the establishment of our profession (the regulatory professional bodies like BACP, UKCP, BABCP, BPC, BPS and RCP) whose voices have been slow to rise above the careful comprises of ‘realpolitik’, but from the growing energy of radical, more grass-roots organisations like the Alliance, Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility, Psychologists for Social Change, the Free Psychotherapy Network and the Social Work Action Network.

If you agree with the broad sentiments in the letters, we’d be most grateful if you would circulate and share the links far and wide through all your networks, including tweeting and social networking.

You can for the moment contribute your own comments below the line of the Mirror letter – please do! Thanks very much for your support.

Our warm regards,

Paul Atkinson (for the Alliance)

Alliance video: protest against New Savoy Conference of psy-organisations

The Mental Wealth Foundation, supported by The Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, challenge attendees at the 2017 New Savoy Conference.

Why, despite some of the recent rhetoric, are the professional psychological organisations colluding with the Department of Work & Pensions view that being out of work is a pathology requiring treatment? Why support psycho-compulsion by working in environments in which those claiming benefits can be coerced into a distorted form of counselling and psychotherapy? Why support the emergence of State therapy?

OiOiSaveloy from Denis Postle on Vimeo.

IAPT is value-laden, non-prefigurative, non-dialogic, antidemocratic and reflects a political agenda

For people with mental health problems, policies are being formulated to act upon them as if they are objects, rather than autonomous human subjects.”

 

Essential reading from Kitty S Jones…

Politics and Insights

arnstein-ladder-citizenship-participationThe government’s Work and Health Programme, due to be rolled out this autumn, involves a plan to integrate health and employment services, aligning the outcome frameworks of health services, IAPT, Jobcentre Plus and the Work Programme.

But the government’s aim to prompt public services and commissioned providers to “speak with one voice” is founded on traditional Conservative prejudices about people who need support. This proposed multi-agency approach is reductive, rather than being about formulating expansive, coherent, comprehensive and importantly, responsive mental health provision.

What’s on offer is psychopolitics, not therapy. It’s about (re)defining the experience and reality of a marginalised social group to justify dismantling public services (especially welfare). In linking receipt of welfare with health services and state therapy, with the single politically intended outcome of employment, the government is purposefully conflating citizen’s widely varied needs with economic outcomes and diktats, which will isolate people from traditionally…

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Government Attack on Benefits Claimants: A Message from the Alliance

In response to the latest Government attack on benefits claimants with mental health and physical disabilities, the Alliance has written to the press and to the major psy-organisations, who we call upon to take a much more critical stance on these issues. See both letters below.


Letter to the Psy-Organisations

Dear Senior and Representative Colleagues,

The Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy is part of the Mental Wealth Alliance that has been engaging with most of the addressees of this e-mail. We have asked that you distance yourself from the DWP in an unmistakeable way and take up a much more combative and critical stance in relation to what is happening to ‘welfare’.

We assume that you are aware of the latest DWP issue referred to by the Daily Mirror and many other media outlets. If not: Tory ministers have rewritten the law to deny increased disability benefit payments to more than 150,000 people

The response we get is that your organisations are doing all that can be done and that there is no difference between your position and that of the Mental Wealth Alliance.

It is time to put your money where your mouth is and start to exert pressure on the DWP to operate in a more equitable, consistent and honest manner.

We believe that your various memberships are expecting this, and we urge you not to follow what is effectively, a collusive path. True, by muting protest you retain your access to the seats of power. But, in these circumstances, this is simply not the proper attitude to maintain.

Below, please find the letter sent by the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy to the Daily Mirror and other newspapers. Will you take similar or analogous actions?

Yours sincerely,

Paul Atkinson and Professor Andrew Samuels (for the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy)


Letter to National News Media

The Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy is a nationally recognised interest group of mental health professionals from diverse clinical and academic backgrounds. We were appalled to learn that last Friday, February 24th, without consultation or warning, the Government launched yet another vicious attack on the psychological, as well as financial resources of benefit claimants with mental health and physical disabilities (Tory ministers have rewritten the law to deny increased disability benefit payments to more than 150,000 people Daily Mirror, 24 Feb).

Emergency legislation has over-ridden the rulings of two tribunals that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should expand the reach of Personal Independence Payments (PIP). At stake is mobility support for over 140,000 people who suffer “overwhelming psychological distress” when travelling alone, and more than 1,000 people who need help to take medication and monitor a health condition. The courts ruled both categories of support needed to be included in the PIP assessment of people’s needs. The DWP itself admits this will include for example those who have a learning disability, diabetes, epilepsy, anxiety or dementia.

In September 2016, Theresa May and her DWP ministers promised there would be no more welfare cuts on top of the string of draconian measures agreed last year as the final contribution of Cameron and Osborne’s campaign to punish those who cannot work. It seems her promise was another lie. With delicious irony, Disabilities Minister Penny Mordaunt said this latest move would “make sure we are giving support to those who need it most”. Meanwhile on Marr this Sunday, Tory party chairman Patrick McGloughlin responded to criticism of the emergency legislation by stating “as far as supporting disabled people in this country is concerned, we do very proudly”.

This is a government determined, come hell or high water, to strip welfare provision to the absolute bone, an ideological commitment it justifies in terms of the fiscal necessity of austerity savings and the therapeutic magic for all benefit claimants of getting themselves into work. As mental health professionals, we find it tragic and painful to be living through a period in which the social contract between the advantaged and the disadvantaged is under full-frontal attack.

More particularly, we find it shameful that our own professional bodies – psychotherapists, counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists – continue to participate in the abuse of human rights and of their own ethical codes through their involvement in the psycho-compulsion of benefits complainants through the DWP’s workfare and Work and Health policies.

We call on the government to reverse its policies of welfare cuts as a minimum step to honouring Theresa May’s promises for a fairer deal for those struggling to cope to maintain any decent conditions of life. And we call upon our fellow ‘psy’ professionals to now insist on a withdrawal of all involvement in supporting the psychological coercion and punishment by the DWP of the most disadvantaged members of our society.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Atkinson and Professor Andrew Samuels (for the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy)

 

BACP backtrack on audit consultation

Counsellors and psychotherapists following the controversy around BACP’s audit consultation survey might be aware that the organisation has issued an apology: ‘We are really sorry. We’ve messed up!’ they say. But what precisely are they sorry about?

‘Our intention with the survey is not simply to introduce all or any of the ideas it contains, but rather to gather opinion and inspire debate. We recognise that we haven’t been at all clear on this point and that this has caused some members considerable concern. We’re very sorry that we didn’t make things clear from the outset.’

Let’s break that down a little. The intention of the survey (and its proposals for mystery shoppers, practice inspections and a fundamental shift in the nature of the supervisory relationship) was only ‘to gather opinion and inspire debate’?

If that was the intention, then an email survey to members with a mostly multiple-choice tick-box format and limited space for longer responses seems a less than ideal way to gather opinion. As for inspiring debate, the space for that was limited, not least because hardly anyone seemed able or willing to make a reasoned case for the proposals, not even BACP themselves, who made no meaningful attempt to articulate a substantive argument, beyond the fact that such measures are used by ‘other [non-therapy] professional bodies and regulators’. And let’s not forget that BACP initially responded to those writing to the BACP journal, Therapy Today, to say they would not publish the letters, which would be forwarded instead to the consultation team (a decision they have now reversed). If the intention was to inspire open debate within the organisation, this seems a strange way to go about it.

Now BACP have apologised – but, if we look at the text of the apology, what they are sorry for is a lack of clarity about their intentions: ‘we haven’t been at all clear on this point and… this has caused some members considerable concern.’

In this version of the furore around the consultation, it is as if members’ concerns were generated by a miscommunication about, and misunderstanding of, the purpose of the survey, which BACP says was ‘not simply to introduce all or any of the ideas it contains’. So BACP simply misspoke, as an on-the-ropes politician might put it, and members then misunderstood their benign intentions. They are sorry for upsetting people, in other words, but not for being wrong.

This spin on events demonstrates a convenient misunderstanding of the disquiet the survey created. BACP members who got in touch with the Alliance certainly thought that the survey was an inappropriate tool for the kind of questions being asked, but mostly they were disturbed by the fact – unchanged by the apology – that BACP would seriously consider such measures as appropriate for the therapy field.

The frantic backpedalling, then, distracts from the deeper concerns raised by the survey, which the apology does little – if anything – to address. Why would BACP ask for members’ views on specific changes to the audit process unless they consider those changes, or something like them, to be a) possible or workable, and b) of some potential value? Someone somewhere at BACP must think such methods could be a runner, or why bother asking members about them? And even if these specific proposals get (temporarily?) binned, we are still left with BACP’s apparent desire for more surveillance and control in an effort to pull therapy into line with ‘other professions’, regardless of the gaping absence of evidence that such a move would either enhance therapeutic work or ‘protect the public’.

Whatever is happening at BACP HQ, the executive agenda seems to be drifting further and further from both the realities of actual practice and the values of its members. The feeling in communications we’ve had around this issue is that the survey was something of a last straw for many practitioners; that they have already tolerated much from BACP that is incongruent with therapeutic principles and that this is just a step too far. There are already huge demands placed on practitioners attempting to sustain the unique qualities of the therapeutic space in the face of toxic cultural trends but it becomes intolerable when these efforts are betrayed by their own professional bodies.

Might the PR disaster of the survey nudge BACP’s leaders into supporting its members by articulating what’s different – and therefore so valuable – about therapy, rather than attempting to homogenise, control and rebrand the field?

Why is BACP stifling discussion and debate?

Recent days have seen something of a furore in response to BACP’s 2017 Audit Consultation, which is being run to a very tight deadline – it closes at 5pm on Monday 30th January. Find the survey here: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/BACPAudit

We know from anecdotal evidence that BACP members are checking out whether they can join another professional body.  Others have resigned or are threatening to do so. Reactions are fiercer than over proposals for either the regulation of counselling and psychotherapy by the Health Professions Council in 2009/10, or BACP’s review of its Ethical Framework in 2014.

These BACP members clearly appreciate the seriousness of the situation. Yet the deadline for responses is very much shorter than in 2014’s Ethical Framework consultation – in this case, just three weeks. This timescale strongly suggests that BACP are trying to pre-empt proper discussion.

Members are telling us they have written to BACP’s journal, Therapy Today, but have been informed that – instead of publishing the letters – BACP wants all correspondence about the survey to be forwarded to the register department, which is where responses to the consultation are being collated. In any event, due to the publication schedule, no letters on the issue could have been appeared in Therapy Today before the consultation closed – but BACP are still preventing members’ concerns reaching the pages of the next issue.

Why? Is BACP determined to present its own conclusions before wider concerns about context or implications have been properly aired? What’s going on?

The questions in the survey don’t invite comment about these wider implications – the final question is a narrow one that simply asks for suggestions on how ‘the audit process’ could be improved. No space is provided where any questions about the underlying rationale can be put, or where any reservations about the process as a whole can be expressed. It’s as though each and every suggestion is regarded as a potential incremental ‘improvement’ on the status quo. The fact that a major change of direction for BACP is being proposed is not acknowledged. That there is no opportunity to make any observations about this raises the possibility that the organisation is trying to slip major change through without proper input from its membership.

At the very least BACP needs to undertake a thorough analysis that weighs up the potential benefits of any proposed changes and set these against any possible unintended negative consequences. This should be done with transparency and with full membership participation – not after BACP managers have already presented their views and their interpretation of the survey results.

“the impression is that BACP regards its members as inherently untrustworthy”

As the Alliance has pointed out, what BACP is proposing is a regulatory framework based on distrust. During the 2014 review of the Ethical Framework, it was emphasised time and again that clients have to be able to trust BACP registrants. Indeed, BACP placed trustworthiness at the very heart of the new Ethical Framework:

‘Therefore, as members or registrants of BACP, we take being trustworthy as a serious ethical commitment’, it says in the opening pages.

Yet the impression from this consultation survey is that BACP regards its members as inherently untrustworthy, so much so they are badly in need of extra monitoring and surveillance. When the Ethical Framework was first introduced in 2001 as a replacement for the previous Code of Ethics, it was argued that the time had come to treat counsellors and psychotherapists as mature professionals. The impression in 2017 is that BACP members are not grown-ups at all but a bunch of potentially naughty schoolchildren who constantly need someone looking over their shoulder.

It beggars belief that such fundamental change is being presented via what is essentially a tick-box survey with further boxes in which comments can be added but which are hard to revise – both because so little text is visible in the space available and because scanning back to revisit earlier comments is so tedious. It’s as though obstacles have been deliberately placed in the way of anyone wishing to make more than perfunctory observations. We were told this survey ‘should take no longer than 20 to 25 minutes’, but a thoughtful response requires much more time than that.

In short, have we already witnessed a managerial coup at BACP HQ that is eager to suppress proper discussion and debate about these matters?

 

BACP: Masterminding the Death of Trust

What is going on at the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP)? As many of its members are now all too aware, the organisation has recently revealed that it is considering introducing ‘mystery shoppers’ and ‘practice inspections’ into its audit processes for practitioners on the BACP Register.

In an email on Monday 9th January, BACP Chair Andrew Reeves invited BACP members to respond to a survey on changes to the organisation’s register audit processes and CPD requirements. ‘We feel that it is time to make changes to strengthen our commitment to both safeguarding the public and protecting the reputation of the profession’, he writes.

The survey questions say that BACP are considering the use of mystery shoppers and practice inspections to assess members’ policies and procedures, particularly around confidentiality. It also proposed asking supervisors to complete forms confirming ‘frequency and duration’ of their supervisees attendance at supervision and that they have ‘gone through the ethical framework’ with them. If that weren’t enough, supervisors will be sent forms asking if they have any concerns about their supervisees, while registrants could face a ‘revalidation’ process involving some kind of ‘assessment of outcomes of practice’.

“a fundamental shift in the ethical relationship between therapists and their organisations, to a values incongruent one of surveillance and control”

Within hours of the survey being sent out, BACP members were sharing with the Alliance and across social media their deep concerns at such a huge change in policy and procedure; crucially that the proposals represented a fundamental shift in the ethical relationship between therapists and their organisations, from a supportive and challenging one to a values incongruent relationship of surveillance and control.

We wonder whether anyone at BACP has any awareness of the many devastating critiques of this kind approach, not to mention the personal experiences of practitioners from other professions who already work in this kind of culture and can attest to the toxic influence it has upon both their practices – which become increasingly defensive and distorted by the threat of surveillance – and themselves as persons, who become increasingly anxious and burnt out.

Surely of all professions, we would expect those in the field of counselling and psychotherapy to be attuned to these issues, to understand that relationships of trust – such as therapy – are not fostered in a context of suspicion or excessive external controls, and that these proposals would be harmful to both practitioners and clients.

How, then, does BACP imagine such procedures will ‘safeguard the public and protect the reputation of the profession’, as they put it? What is driving its desire to police the field in this way, completely ignoring the possibility that an uncritical over-estimation of its ‘public protection’ function might have a range of unintended negative consequences?

BACP, it would seem, are increasingly keen not to differentiate psychotherapy and counselling from other activities, to celebrate and articulate its uniqueness, nor to embrace and encourage the diversity of thought and practice within its own ranks, but instead to homogenise and take greater control of the field in an attempt to align it with ‘other healthcare professions’, as if it were undisputed that therapy is a ‘healthcare profession’ and should therefore mimic the cultures and practices of its claimed professional neighbours. This drive can also be seen in BACP’s efforts to standardise practice via ‘competency frameworks’ but the survey proposals expose its agenda even more starkly.

What’s the prize here? Winning the battle for influence in the corridors of power? Jobs for members in State agencies and institutions?

As they are keen to point out on social media, BACP are ‘listening’. But to whom and to what ends? What has happened to the largest therapy organisation in the UK that it would even consider proposals that would be the death knell for trust as a core principle in the practice of therapy?


Check out our first blog on the issue here, with one BACP registered member’s responses to the survey. And there’s an interesting analysis of the issue here noting BACP’s ‘ethical blind spot when it comes to practising institutionally what it preaches for its members individually’.