Tag Archives: mental health

Partners for Counselling & Psychotherapy

We’re proud to be a part of a new partnership of groups from across the field of counselling, psychotherapy and psychoanalysis called Partners for Counselling & Psychotherapy.

Check out the video above for more about the work of this new and radical collaboration, which includes the following membership organisations, campaign groups and think tanks:

Surviving Work

A Disorder for Everyone

Free Psychotherapy Network

National Counselling Society (NCS)

Psychotherapy & Counselling Union

Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility

Counsellors Together UK

The Person Centred Association

UK Person-Centred Experiential

The College of Psychoanalysts

 

Maps, Languages & Lost Continents: Person-Centred Therapy and the SCoPEd Project

Andy Rogers takes at look at the telling absence of the Person-Centred Approach in the development of the SCoPEd project.


There is so much to say about SCoPEd that it can be hard to know where to start. Fortunately, many elements of the project – the motivation, methodology, evidence-base, hierarchical structure, consultation process, conflicts of interest and so on – have been closely examined elsewhere, particularly on blogs and social media. So here I want to home in on a few core issues for person-centred practitioners.

Person-Centred Therapy (PCT) has been a major force in the UK therapy landscape since the 1980s. Leading practitioners were influential in the development of counselling services in education and contributed much to the growth of counselling training and professional organisations. The book Person-Centred Counselling in Action (Mearns & Thorne, 1988) is still a core text on many counselling courses and remains one of the UK’s best-selling counselling titles of all time.

Note that already I am referring to ‘counselling’ rather than ‘psychotherapy’. This is important for the SCoPEd project because its draft ‘competency framework’ explicitly differentiates ‘counsellors’ and ‘psychotherapists’, albeit with a third intermediate category labelled ‘advanced qualified/accredited/psychotherapeutic counsellor’. This differentiation, which the largest professional body involved, the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP), had argued previously there was no evidence for, has come in for much criticism; mostly – but not exclusively – from counsellors whose work has been downgraded, with newly qualified psychotherapists defined in the framework as more competent across a range of practice areas.

Inconvenient histories

Before I get side-tracked into the many overlapping issues here – not least around the organisational politics that feed this project – let’s just step back into the world of the person-centred therapist.

In PCT, there is not, and never has been, any meaningful differentiation between counselling and psychotherapy. A contemporary practitioner might be attuned to how others use these terms in a differentiating way and to the tendency for trainings with these labels to meet the differing requirements for professional organisations that cater mostly for either ‘counsellors’ or ‘psychotherapists’. They might also note wryly the way this division operates in the field of employment, with differences in pay, fees, context, status and so on. As Thorne (1999) writes, we need to ‘face the unpalatable truth that the business ethic is all-pervasive… In such a marketplace it is not politic to affirm that counselling and psychotherapy are indistinguishable’ (pp.229-230). Yet, in terms of the therapy itself, i.e. what happens between practitioner and client, there is no substantive case for differentiation within person-centred working.

In the academic literature, the tendency is to refer simply to ‘Person-Centred Therapy’ or to use the terms ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’ interchangeably. I was going to reference some texts here to illustrate the point but it makes more sense to throw out a challenge: find me a book or paper that articulates the difference between person-centred counselling and person-centred psychotherapy. If any exist, they will still be contradicted by almost all the other person-centred literature.

Much of the contemporary person-centred attitude to these terms has evolved from the position of the approach’s originator, Carl Rogers, who clearly viewed PCT as a form of psychotherapy (just browse his book titles), yet made no distinction between ‘psychotherapy’ and ‘counselling’. As far back as 1942, Rogers was using the terms interchangeably, writing that, ‘intensive and successful counseling [sic] is indistinguishable from intensive and successful psychotherapy’ (Rogers, 1942, p.4, my emphasis). Poignantly for the current debates, the general use of ‘counselling’ for the work of therapy also has its roots in Rogers’s life and work. As a clinical psychologist with no medical training, he made a tactical switch to ‘counselling’ in the mid-1950s in Chicago, when legally the practice of psychotherapy required medical qualifications.

Whatever the pragmatic motivations at the time, it is important to note that the person-centred approach was already becoming a direct challenge to the hegemony of the medical model (and would continue to be so, with increasing vigour and depth), so the switch also made sense politically and philosophically. Clearly, 1950s Chicago is a world away from the UK in 2019, but it is interesting how relevant this moment remains, how the terms continue to have a political potency: are contested, subject to claims of ownership and find themselves jostled into a status hierarchy that serves the interests of those who already have more power in the field by bolstering their portrayal of superior legitimacy, skill, depth or competence.

And there is another more recent historical nugget to unearth here too, which is that PCT’s association in the UK with ‘counselling’ rather than ‘psychotherapy’ could easily have gone the other way. In the early 1980s, as the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) developed in parallel with the BAC (then without the ‘P’ for psychotherapy), the person-centred approach had not yet established national organisational representation. So, as Mearns & Thorne (2000) write, there was,

‘no institutional process by which the approach could be involved with the developing professionalisation of psychotherapy/counselling. The result was that the work of engaging with professional organisations was left very much up to individuals, […] person-centred specialists [who] made the pragmatic choice of investing their time in BAC.’ (p.26)

Importantly, the decision not to go with UKCP was not made because PCT failed to qualify as ‘psychotherapy’. In fact, ‘it was only small matters of difference which inspired this choice’ (ibid.), mainly around personal therapy requirements and the approach’s potential positioning within UKCP’s humanistic section.

This alignment with BAC(P) would inevitably lead to an association with ‘counselling’ rather than with ‘psychotherapy’, so it is intriguing to wonder about how the field would have looked had PCT found its professional home within UKCP instead. Who knows how the approach – and indeed UKCP – would have evolved? But the SCoPEd project washes its hands of these inconvenient histories and their attendant complexity and illuminating angles.

Undoubtedly times have changed but PCT has never reneged on its philosophical, political and practical position in relation to ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’. As one of its leading thinkers in the UK has argued, the case for differentiation – inseparable as it is from professional politics – demands close scrutiny:

‘there is no essential difference between the activities currently labelled “counselling” and “psychotherapy”… [T]o suggest that there is is the result of any one or a permutation of the following: muddled thinking; a refusal to accept research evidence; a failure to listen to clients’ experiences; a lust for status; needless competitiveness; power mongering; a desire for financial gain; or some other unworthy motive prompted by professional protectionism.’ (Thorne, 1999, p.225)

Maps and missing territories

The fact that one of the most established therapeutic traditions in the UK has a lot to say on these matters – not only differentiation but manualisation and professionalisation generally – has been of such little interest to the SCoPEd project that there was no PCT representation on the teams tasked with developing the framework. Even the humanistic modalities more broadly were grossly underrepresented in the Expert Reference and Technical Groups, which were dominated by psychoanalytic practitioners. Statements from BACP following the outcry amongst members about this blatant bias have made small admissions that they got some of the language wrong and were endeavouring to recruit new people to better balance the team.

But how can this have been so overlooked at the outset? What does it say about a project which wants to ‘map’ the world of counselling and psychotherapy that it would erase a whole continent of thought and practice and then, when the inhabitants are outraged, desperately try to patch things up with reassurances that they are ‘listening’ and want to get it right?

What does it say about a project which wants to ‘map’ the world of counselling and psychotherapy that it would erase a whole continent of thought and practice?

Why has the person-centred approach been ignored in this way? Perhaps part of the answer lies somewhere in the SCoPEd organisations’ uncritical embrace of a ‘competency framework’ methodology derived from UCL’s manualisation of CBT for the IAPT project (IAPT, 2007; Roth & Pilling, 2008). While these frameworks might have some uses, it is difficult to understand the perception of the supremacy of this specific method for resolving difficulties in the field and promoting the profession, unless you actually want to bulldoze nuance and erase complexity in order to ‘clarify’ things. But BACP especially seems heavily invested in this approach, having already used it to create frameworks for a range of practice areas (including, it should be said, an IAPT-compliant, manualised version of PCT). Indeed, the organisation is so attached to the Roth & Pilling methodology that in a statement in Therapy Today, the Chief Professional Standards Officer and Chair of the SCoPEd Technical Group, Fiona Ballantine Dykes, claimed that the alternative to developing the SCoPEd framework is ‘doing nothing’ (Therapy Today, May 2019, p.51).

Given this single-minded, blinkered commitment to the competency framework process, it is hard not to conclude that person-centred perspectives – with their critical takes on both the manualisation of therapy and the associated alignment with healthcare values and medicalisation – are simply too awkward, too inconvenient, too damned political. As if a project like SCoPEd could not be political! As if, in its much-trumpeted spirit of collaboration between competing organisations, it could magically transcend all the history, politics, power struggles and diversity of thought and practice in order to objectively ‘map the competences’ of ‘counsellors’ and ‘psychotherapists’, without in the process distorting the field to shoehorn it into such a simplistic hierarchical structure.

I am not suggesting a deliberate conspiracy here, more that a number of professional interests converge around the adoption of these frameworks, whose politically expedient effect – in the apparent coherence of their efficiently organised categories and columns – is to eliminate awkward truths, not least in the profession’s sales pitch to governments and the NHS.

From this perspective, the SCoPEd project is so full of holes that, in one sense, it is hardly there at all. Part of me wonders whether, for all the fanfare and controversy, it will end up – like so many other documents – parked on our hard-drives or floating in the digital cloud, read more than once by almost no one outside of the organisational players, ignored by most of the public, of little interest to potential clients, perhaps skim-read by other stakeholders in the mental health field and then… what?

Well, it is how these things linger on the edges of awareness that says something about their potential power, about how – once installed – their unspoken values seep almost unnoticed into all sorts of areas of our lives as therapists (practice, training, supervision, organisational procedures, government policy). In person-centred terms, they begin to form a hard-to-grasp but nonetheless influential set of conditions of worth for therapeutic practice, which further externalise our professional loci of evaluation.

This is particularly problematic for PCT because, as I wrote in my own submission to the BACP consultation, the draft SCoPEd framework is alarmingly ignorant of person-centred working. Some of the exclusively ‘psychotherapist’ competences, for example, are almost the bread and butter of person-centred therapeutic relationships, which in the real world are often engaged with under the banner of ‘counselling’. Check out 3.5.c:

Ability to negotiate issues of power and authority experienced in the inner and outer world of the client or patient as part of the therapeutic process.

As I say in my response, for person-centred counsellors this would be a central principle of everything they do. Yet ‘qualified counsellors’ are deemed only to have the:

Ability to recognise and understand issues of power and how these may affect the therapeutic relationship.(3.5)

They are perceptive but passive witnesses to issues of power, which for me edges into an unethical disavowal of both the potential impact of their role and the asymmetry of the therapeutic encounter.

Read on and we find that only trained ‘psychotherapists’ have acquired the:

Ability to evidence reflexivity, self-awareness and the therapeutic use of self to work at depth in the therapeutic relationship and the therapeutic process.(5.1.c)

Which, again, is at the very heart of person-centred working (e.g. Mearns & Cooper, 2017). Yet ‘qualified counsellors’, we are led to believe, have only an:

Ability to demonstrate a commitment to personal development that includes self-awareness in relation to the client or patient to enhance therapeutic practice. (5.1)

Elsewhere, other competences make ‘psychotherapist’ the sole territory of those who lean heavily towards medical or psychoanalytic thinking, e.g. Ability to demonstrate the skills and critical awareness of unconscious process (3.10.b), which further alienates and excludes person-centred therapists.

Language barriers?

In response to the criticism attracted by the draft framework, BACP has suggested it will attempt to iron out some of these issues with language tweaks in future iterations, but such errors are extremely revealing of the way the unique theory and practice of PCT is invisible in the project, subsumed and submerged within generic statements around counselling practice while its more challenging perspectives have been redacted or just ignored into oblivion.

In any case, we should be wary of the reassurances from the SCoPEd teams that they just need to get the language right. For one thing, this smacks of PR rather than full engagement with the critiques (as in the infamous politician’s or corporate CEO’s defence, “I misspoke”). Furthermore, in this focus on language, BACP et al seem (wilfully?) to misunderstand the various challenges and objections, which are not only about words – as if swapping them with others would make it all better – but rather see language as the most obvious manifestation of deeper flaws in the project.

Something else I find troubling here is my own personal experience of having the same conversations with senior individuals at BACP about another competency framework, one drawn up for university and college counselling in 2016, which I had criticised as inappropriately redefining the sector as a branch of manualised healthcare (Rogers, 2019). In a face-to-face meeting and follow-up emails, it was acknowledged that BACP did not ‘get the language right’ and I was offered reassurances that this would be taken on board for future frameworks. Yet here we are again. I have no idea what the people I spoke with took away from our chat but somewhere in the subsequent organisational processes these reassurances evaporated into nothing and PCT once more finds itself ignored and excluded.

The person-centred approach, arguably, is not blameless in all this. Perhaps we have not been great at organising; perhaps we have felt so compelled to make concessions to the dominant narratives in ‘mental health’ and the therapy professions that we have our lost ourselves a little along the way, woozy with disorientation and gripped by a fear of judgement if we defy the trajectory of our own field. Nevertheless, the fact that a voice speaks with less assertiveness amid the noise of our culture’s deepening conversation with psychological distress is no excuse to ignore it, and it is troubling – and disturbingly ironic – when therapy organisations fall into this trap.

Perhaps my own tiny sketch of PCT’s political difficulties does it a disservice too. While I have drifted away from person-centred forums (journals, organisations, conferences etc.) over the years, social media – for all its flaws – has reminded me recently that there is a vibrant community of practitioners out there and PCT still has a unique and vital contribution to make to our field, to ‘mental health’ thinking generally and to our culture more widely. As ever, what the person-centred approach has to say is not always easy listening for those with professionalising aspirations and intentions, but surely it is our job as therapists to hear the things that others cannot bear, to listen to the most difficult truths, to welcome their complex, quietly spoken messages, to meet and fully engage with the challenges they present – why can’t our organisations do the same?

Tipping point

 As I researched the background to PCT’s early alignment with counselling and BACP (as discussed above), I stumbled across another passage in the same book (Mearns & Thorne, 2000) that, although written in my early days as a person-centred therapist twenty years ago, rings as true now as it did then:

‘It would be a tragedy… if person-centred therapists lost heart at this stage when, precisely because of some of the unfortunate moves towards a sterile professionalism… there is a greater thirst than ever among therapists and would-be clients for an engagement with what is truly human’ (p.218).

Whatever happens as SCoPEd ploughs on, we urgently need to find our voices. There are shifts in the mental health sector across disciplines and hierarchies. The medicalisation of distress, the dominance of biomedical psychiatry/pharmacology, the related mechanisation of therapy as another manualised treatment for discrete psychological ‘disorders’ and its subsequent co-option by the State in health and welfare policy are all coming under increasing pressure from a range of critical standpoints.

We may be at a tipping point. The more people experience this rigidly medicalised ideology in practice, the more they become aware of a need for something else and actively begin to seek it out. With IAPT’s legitimacy crumbling (Jackson & Rizq, 2019), the promises of psychopharmacology unfulfilled and psychiatric diagnosis itself falling further into disrepute, it is starting to look as if Person-Centred Therapy was on the right side of history all along.

Our professional organisations might want to listen more closely to what we have to say; not to assist their PR blitz around contentious projects, but to reset the course of the professions in ways that more authentically respect and promote the core values and diverse perspectives found in our field’s rich ecology of practitioners.


Andy Rogers has been a BACP member and counselling service coordinator in further and higher education for 20 years. He also works in private practice in Basingstoke, Hampshire.


References

IAPT (2007) The competences required to deliver effective cognitive and behavioural therapy for people with depression and with anxiety disorders. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/drupal/site_pals/sites/pals/files/migrated-files/Backround_CBT_document_-_Clinicians_version.pdf (accessed 05 July 2019).

Jackson, C & Rizq, R (2019) The Industrialisation of Care: Counselling, Psychotherapy and the Impact of IAPT. Monmouth: PCCS Books.

Mearns, D & Cooper, M (2017) Working at Relational Depth in Counselling and Psychotherapy. 2nd edition. London: Sage.

Mearns, D & Thorne, B (1988/2013) Person-Centred Counselling in Action. London: Sage.

Mearns, D & Thorne, B (2000) Person-Centred Therapy Today. London: Sage.

Rogers, A (2019) ‘Staying Afloat: Hope & Despair in the Age of IAPT’ (pp. 142-155) in Jackson, C & Rizq, R (2019) The Industrialisation of Care: Counselling, Psychotherapy and the Impact of IAPT. Monmouth: PCCS Books.

Rogers, C (1942) Counseling and Psychotherapy: Newer Concepts in Practice. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Roth, AD and Pilling, S (2008). ‘Using an evidence based methodology to identify the competences required to deliver effective cognitive and behavioural therapy for depression and anxiety disorders.’ Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 36, pp. 129-147.

Thorne, B (1999) ‘Psychotherapy and counselling are indistinguishable’ (pp. 225-232) in Feltham, C. (1999) Controversies in Psychotherapy and Counselling. London: Sage.

 

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The questionable evidence base of SCoPEd

David Murphy, Associate Professor at the University of Nottingham, interrogates the claim that the SCoPEd framework is ‘evidence-based’.


 

A cornerstone of the SCoPEd approach to generating their competences is to arrive at their findings having drawn from an ‘evidence base’. This is apparent in two separate claims made in the opening two paragraphs. Here the SCoPEd projects’ members say, “The aim of the SCoPEd project is to agree a shared, evidence-based generic competence framework to inform the training requirements, competences and practice standards for counsellors and psychotherapists working with adults.” And they go on in the next paragraph to say that, “The draft framework has utilised an evidence-based process of mapping existing competence frameworks, professional standards and practice standards to identify areas of overlap and areas of difference between counselling and psychotherapy.”

In this blog, the first of two tackling the issue of an ‘evidence-base’, I shall point to the fact that any reference to the use of evidence is questionable and more likely not, and therefore lacks integrity. First, let’s look at one of these statements again in more detail, “The aim of the SCoPEd project is to agree a shared, evidence-based generic competence framework to inform the training requirements, competences and practice standards for counsellors and psychotherapists working with adults”. Here the aim clearly suggests that the differentiated competences between the role of counsellor and psychotherapist will be grounded in evidence. But what do the SCoPEd team mean by evidence? And what might be an example of ‘evidence based competence’ that could be differentiable and identify clear evidence for a difference between the activities carried out under these two adjectival titles?

To first address the issue what evidence is being used, it seems that the list of sources used to arrive at the differentiated competence framework have been taken from existing lists of competences used, or even sponsored, by the same institutions that are trying to the find the evidence for the claimed differences between these titles. One of the issues with this process is that the documents tend to identify something that isn’t real. They are a fiction in regards to what people actually ‘do’. This is a well-known problem with the development of competences designed for a ‘labour market’ and they fail to adequately identify both the specifics and idiosyncrasies of actual praxis. What would be better, and would provide real evidence, is to look closely at what people actually ‘do’ in their work under these different titles.

Doing this would, I am sure, show something quite different from what is presented in the framework and might even show some new or unexpected findings. But the chance of discovering something new through this process has been closed off right from the outset because the aim is really not as it appears on the surface. The idea that counsellors are not doing the same work as psychotherapists flies in the face of all the evidence one can find from spending even just a little time listening to counsellors talking about their work. The chance to find this out has been forgone because a decision was made, at the outset, to look for the evidence in the data that already tells the SCoPEd team what they wanted to know.

‘But what does the actual evidence say?’

Let us look at just one example of a differentiation offered in the SCoPEd report. That is, Competency 3.10 under Theme 3 – Relationship, and refers specifically to the idea of ‘alliance ruptures and repairs’ (competence 3.10, 3.10b, 3.10c). In the SCoPEd document it is suggested that where there is a lack of ‘empirical evidence’, ‘grey literature’ has been used. It is difficult to know what evidence or grey literature has been used for the differentiation of this particular competence; not least because the research on therapeutic alliance, including the more specific topic of alliance rupture and repair, is one the largest bodies of empirical research in the entire psychotherapy process-outcome literature. Yet there is no citation to the empirical evidence that has been consulted. However, as this area of the psychotherapy literature is so extensive we probably should assume that the SCoPEd team will have consulted a recent meta-analysis of alliance rupture repair and outcome studies.

Looking at the differentiated competences (3.10, 3.10b, 3.10c) it seems that the SCoPEd project claim that psychotherapists are more skilled in dealing with alliance ruptures and repairs than are counsellors. But what does the actual evidence say about such a claim? Well let’s take a quick look. In a recent meta-analysis published in the American Psychological Association journal Psychotherapy (not a lightweight publication by any means) the very issue of alliance rupture and repair was considered as was its association to the improvement or progress that clients might make. Let me just say that whether or not one is against or for the quantitative paradigm, given that SCoPEd is an advocate for evidence it is probably worth noting the findings of this type of research because that is the premise on which it claims to be able to differentiate competence.

Esteemed alliance researchers Eubanks, Muran and Safran (2018) examined the association between alliance rupture repair and outcome in 11 studies involving 1,314 clients. Overall the effect size for rupture resolution and positive outcome was pretty impressive (d = .62 for those interested). Clearly good news for those theoretical approaches that regard the alliance as an integral feature of their practice (mainly psychodynamic but also CBT and some integrative therapies). A number of the studies included in this meta-analysis included ‘trainee therapists’ (so not even ‘qualified’ counsellors). The researchers tested the data to see if there were differences between the trainees and qualified/experienced therapists in this association between repairing ruptures and outcome. This was a test of moderation to see if this can account for the variance in the effects. The findings showed those studies that included primarily trainees do not differ significantly from those studies of more experienced qualified therapists in showing an association between rupture repair and outcome. This finding cannot provide evidence for supporting the claim that the more qualified/experienced a therapist is the more likely they will show an association between rupture repair and outcome.

‘the competences drawn up by SCoPEd have been deduced rather than induced from the close observations and recording of what therapists actually do’

So, the evidence from this most recent, up-to-date, and rigorous meta-analysis is overwhelmingly in favour of there being no difference between experienced/more trained therapists and the unqualified/trainee therapists in the associations they show between alliance rupture repair and outcome. But wait, the psychotherapists will say, obviously we refute this claim. Psychotherapists will work with ‘more complex and more distressed clients’ so there would be a difference if you looked at that, wouldn’t there? Well it seems the answer to that might also be available in the ‘evidence’ provided by this cutting edge meta-analysis. The evidence is as follows. Eubanks, Muran and Safran (2018) addressed the issue that more complex client work (such as that with clients given a diagnosis of a personality disorder) might mean that there would be less chance of a positive association between rupture repair and outcome. Again this was not found to alter the effects, meaning that whether or not a study included a majority of clients with a diagnosed personality disorder or not, the association between rupture repair and outcome did not differ significantly from those studies where this was not the case. So the ‘evidence’ suggests that even if psychotherapists claim to work with more distressed cases it seems this cannot be used as evidence to suggest they require more skills in working with alliance ruptures.

But wait, surely psychotherapists would be ‘trained specifically to deal with ruptures and repair’ and that is why their training is at a higher level. So now the question is what effects does having specific training in managing alliance ruptures have on the association of alliance rupture repair with outcome? Well, the same researchers completed a second meta-analysis comprising six separate studies and 276 therapists that had undergone such specific training. The findings again point to some interesting ‘evidence’. Once more, status as a trainee or qualified therapist undergoing this specific rupture repair training did not moderate the association between rupture repairs and outcome, suggesting that the finding is not affected by level of qualification. However, interestingly those training in CBT had a much stronger association between rupture repair and outcome than did the psychodynamically oriented rupture repair training. In fact, for psychodynamically trained therapists, the association was in a negative direction – suggesting the less effective they were in rupture repair, the better were client outcomes!

So what are we to make of this? Well it seems that if we are to look at the empirical evidence, that drawn from the very latest and most up-to-date evidence from meta-analysis, it appears to be suggesting that there’s little difference in association of outcome and rupture repairs in terms of the level of training a therapist has had. Of course, if we look to the ‘grey literature’ it is highly likely that we will find such differences; not least because those differences are simply statements of intent and not reality of practice. The issue here is that the competences drawn up by SCoPEd have been deduced rather than induced from the close observations and recording of what therapists, regardless of their level of qualification, actually ‘do’.

But let’s be honest, the ‘aim’ of SCoPEd is, at best, to determine what the differences are between ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’ in order to protect the various financial interests of those involved in the accrediting the training of counsellors and psychotherapists. At worst the aim is about laying the groundwork for the next attempt at protecting these titles under statute by pursuing the Statutory Regulation of counselling and psychotherapy. Referring to an ‘evidence-base’ is merely an attempt to give this project legitimacy in the eyes of the membership, who are kept in the dark about the real agendas playing out. This is an attempt to try and convince the members of BACP, UKCP and BCP – run down into the ground by the lack of employment opportunities after training – that they will be better off having these titles first differentiated and then protected. But in truth this will do nothing to protect or enhance the employment opportunities for the tens of thousands of under-employed counsellors/psychotherapists already trained and looking for work, and will do nothing to protect the public from rogue practitioners.

 

Reference

Eubanks, C. F., Muran, J. C., & Safran, S. D. (2018). Alliance rupture repair: A meta-analysis. Psychotherapy, 55, 508-519.


 

SCoPEd: Denial, Distortion & Deception

The British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP), the British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) and the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) – collaborating under the banner of the SCoPEd (Scope of Practice & Education) project – recently published a draft ‘competence framework’, which attempts to differentiate counselling and psychotherapy.

Andy Rogers (BACP member and counselling service coordinator in further and higher education for two decades) submitted the following response to BACP’s consultation survey.


 

It is astonishing that the SCoPEd project claims this document will improve clarity for clients, employers, trainers and other stakeholders. I can only assume the competence framework exists for other political purposes, because there is certainly no clarity here, which might be forgivable if the document was at least more truthful.

But, as one of a number examples of the confused (unintentional?) deceptions in this framework, it is completely erroneous to identify 3.5.c (Ability to negotiate issues of power and authority experienced in the inner and outer world of the client or patient as part of the therapeutic process) as a ‘psychotherapist’ competency (one therefore presumably not held by mere ‘counsellors’), when for any person-centred counsellor worth their salt, this would be a central principle of everything they do! The same could be said of another ‘psychotherapist’ competency, 5.1.c. (Ability to evidence reflexivity, self-awareness and the therapeutic use of self to work at depth in the therapeutic relationship and the therapeutic process).

These examples demonstrate how formal differentiation between the adopted titles often means the imposition of something (i.e. simplistic, hierarchical separation and compartmentalisation) that isn’t actually there in practice among the human beings entering into therapy as practitioners and clients. In reality, there is much fluidity and complexity, which the framework attempts to iron out by positioning psychotherapists as doing the really deep stuff, counsellors as merely dabbling, and then a mysterious in-between group that does more than the basic counsellors but isn’t quite at the psychotherapist level.

“it is not the practitioner’s title that determines what happens in the therapy relationship.”

As most of us know, these levels – assumed in the document to be clear-cut enough to be separated into columns and boxes – are manufactured. At best they are only partially truthful, some of the time, in some situations, for some individuals. They certainly do not accurately represent the field, within which many practitioners who identify as counsellors will see their day-to-day work in the ‘psychotherapist’ column; while there will be plenty of ‘psychotherapists’ who have not yet developed the depth of practice (if we describe it that way) of some ‘counsellors’. After all, it is not the practitioner’s title that determines what happens in the therapy relationship.

That we end up working under one label and not the other is subject to all sorts of choices, influences, values, historical precedents and contextual factors, and often says little to nothing about what the experience of therapy will be like for clients, which could be vastly different between any two ‘psychotherapists’ or any two ‘counsellors’. For a whole swathe of the field, such as the humanistic section – and particularly in person-centred therapy – there is no distinction at all made between ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’ in terms of the actual work (which this framework purports to articulate); the different titles merely refer to the traditions and histories of various training programmes, professional organisations/groupings and work contexts (and the job titles therein).

“When did therapists become so uncritically disengaged from the roles of history and power in the narratives we hold about ourselves?”

The therapy field is a diverse and complex ecology, which, rather than celebrate, the framework appears to want to eliminate by reasserting hierarchies that are well past their use-by date. A historical aside here is that counselling as an alternative word for psychotherapy has roots in Carl Rogers’ mid-twentieth century tactical switch from the latter to the former at the University of Chicago, which was necessitated by a law that ‘psychotherapy’ could only be practiced by medical professionals. From the very beginning of ‘counselling’, then, the different words were not functional descriptors of differing activities, roles or levels of ‘competence’, depth, ability, skill or experience but were value-laden, politically charged and subject to the operation of power and professional (self-)interest. This is no less true today, but the SCoPEd project is in complete denial about it. When did therapists become so uncritically disengaged from the roles of history and power in the narratives we hold about ourselves?!

It’s notable in sections of the framework that ‘psychotherapist’ is apparently equated with greater alignment with psychoanalytic theory. Is the field not done yet with this power struggle, with the idea that psychoanalytic theory sits at the top of a hierarchy? The ‘note on terminology’ almost acknowledges this tension but concludes, absurdly, “Where terminology has been used that could be interpreted as being modality-specific, this is not the intention.” Oh, that’s okay then – it’s the thought that counts, eh? Being ‘expert’ therapists, I thought the Expert Reference Group (ERG) might have a bit more to say about the importance of language and the power that runs through it, looking beyond stated intentions towards the deeper meanings and influences when we choose one way of saying something over another (especially in a potentially influential document such as this). No?

I was also wondering how this apparent pro-psychoanalytic bias – with its implicit discrediting and delegitimising of humanistic/existential/person-centred counselling/psychotherapy (and their associated values, not least around language) – came about. Then I noticed the ERG was made up of 12 practitioners, 7 of whom were identified as psychoanalytic, whereas only 1 was clearly identified as humanistic (and even then, only as part of an ‘integrative’ model) (see pp.72-73 of the SCoPEd Methodology document). How can the framework produce an accurate picture of the field, when the ERG does not represent the diversity within it?

But the whole project is also skewed by other assumptions and value systems around therapy, which are perhaps even more important for the future of our professions. The Roth/Pilling UCL methodology used here was developed originally by manualised CBT proponents for the CBT competence framework, which was commissioned by the Department of Health as part of IAPT’s development. As this history suggests, breaking down the relational art of therapeutic work into lists of discrete ‘competences’ is not a neutral or objective activity (however ‘evidence-based’ it disingenuously claims to be); it is a technocratic pursuit that clearly derives from the NHS-appeasing assumption that therapy can be manualised into specific skills that, if applied in accordance with the manual, provide ‘effective’ ‘treatment’ for specific ‘disorders’. In other words, the project inevitably – via its very form – aligns therapy with an instrumental and medicalised healthcare model, again potentially delegitimising approaches that see therapy as, say, a meaning-making dialogical encounter or principled way of being.

That none of these biases or agendas, and the political expediency from which they spring, are acknowledged in the framework, highlights its failure to take a therapeutically informed, self-reflective, critical thinking approach to its own motivations, intentions, guiding principles, methodology or articulation. Presumably none of this matters much if your goal is to air-brush the imperfect, fallible, human complexity of relational therapeutic work, in order to prepare for the distribution of power that statutory regulation would involve for the organisations that have composed this empty but highly potent document.

andyrogerscounselling.com

@AndyCounsellor

 


 

 

How do we get mental wealth?

In his address to a Labour Party conference fringe event, Paul Atkinson examines the social and political forces at work in our society’s current approach to psychological distress and asks what we need from a new government to support and nourish the nation’s mental wealth.


For whatever reasons – reasons that I think are very important and need to be explored – the emotional and psychological difficulties of living in this society are becoming increasingly visible and alarming: in our families; in our schools and colleges; in our local communities; in the attention drawn to mental ill health by (social) media, charities and celebrities, as well as politicians and social policy makers.

Should we think of this growing attention to mental health and the emotional conditions of contemporary life as a sign of growing awareness of the pain and suffering that has always been with us, hidden away in the private closet of social stigma and shame? Or are we witnessing the symptoms of an increasingly dysfunctional, disturbed and disturbing political and social structure? However we interpret it, I think we can say that there is something very, very wrong. It has either always been wrong, or over the last two to three decades we have been getting something very wrong. Certainly both Tory and Labour governments have been getting something very wrong, and are continuing to get it wrong.

To my way of thinking, there is something very wrong with a political economy which simply carries on, blindly it seems, propagating and prioritising the same fundamentally alienating and corrosive values:

economic growth before all else;

the accumulation of status and worth through money, wealth and conspicuous consumption;

generating and acquiescing in deep inequalities of material wellbeing and of the opportunities to make creative, satisfying lives.

To my libertarian socialist mind, capitalism has always generated toxic side effects in its exploitation of people’s mental wealth – in the service of profit and the accumulation of the few. Neoliberal capitalism – its extractive and kleptocratic offspring – seems to be generating an accelerating pandemic of fear, insecurity and anxiety which is splintering and dividing us as communities and individuals.

So my message to the Labour Party is that we need a government that is prepared to redefine what society is for, who society is for. A government that acknowledges the priority of people’s emotional and spiritual lives, their relationships, their need to give and receive care, support and love from each other. We need a government that is prepared to put our mental wealth before our economic wealth.

Yes mental health services need more money, far more money and human resources. But better funding alone is not the answer.

I am not a mental health service user or survivor of the psychiatric system. I am not poor, black or gay. But let me give you an example from my professional world in which I can claim some small expertise by experience. Let me give an example of how more of the same as far as mental health funding is really not the answer; an example of how what seems like a major step for improving the nation’s mental health is turning out to be as much part of the problem as part of the answer.

In an article in the New York Times in July 2017, titled Englands Mental Health Experiment: No-Cost Talk Therapy, Benedict Carey – US journalistcelebrated as a globally inspiring initiative the UK’s programme of short courses of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in every primary care service in England – the Improving access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme:

‘England is in the midst of a unique national experiment, the worlds most ambitious effort to treat depression, anxiety and other common mental illnesses.’

Colleagues and I on the left of the psychotherapy profession groaned in despair.

In 2008, Richard Layard and David Clark persuaded the Blair government to roll out an ambitious programme of CBT, offering psychological therapy for one million referrals a year through GPs. Layard, an economist specialising in unemployment and welfare to workfare policies, argued that mental ill health was the primary burden on the welfare budget of unemployed people receiving Employment and Support Allowance, and psychological therapy provided by the state would pay for itself by getting people off benefits.

On the face of it, it has been a huge success. Its champions call it the ‘IAPT revolution’. Every CCG in England offers psychological therapy under IAPT. Roughly 1.3 million referrals (some self referrals) were made to IAPT last year. It claims a 45% recovery rate. People in therapy that otherwise would never see therapy.

In reality…

Despite its value to probably many thousands of clients, the reality of NHS psychological therapy is far from the rosy picture Benedict Carey or its champions paint:

At an operational level, IAPT is an assembly line mental health fix.

Of the 1.3 million referrals last year, one third actually finished a course of treatment. In the end, only 12% of all referrals “recover”.

Almost half of these received what is called low-intensity (LI) treatment – something most psychotherapists would not recognise as talking therapy. For example, the most successful LI “therapy” was through non-guided self-help books.

The average number of sessions for all IAPT treatments is nine. A fifth consist of just two sessions. Recovery rates are falling, and the number of patients returning for repeat treatment is growing.

Almost all state funded talking therapy is now CBT, which has replaced virtually all other kinds of psychotherapy previously available free on the NHS.

The gold-standard evidence base for IAPT, based on random control trials, is in fact an avalanche of statistics highly manipulated towards maintaining state funding. Waiting lists are growing. Recovery rates within more deprived areas of England are significantly lower than in wealthier communities.

Meanwhile, according to a recent report by the British Psychological Society, the mental health of IAPT therapists and psychological practitioners is suffering a monumental nose-dive – 50% suffering depression, anxiety and acute work stress.

*

And yet, for the moment at least, there seems to be little recognition at government level that something is amiss – the programme is expanding. IAPT is doing an important political job. As far as I and my fellow campaigners are concerned, that political job looks like this:

First, IAPT has no brief, no money and no time to be thinking about the causes and meaning of the mental health issues it is managing. It deals with symptoms on an individual basis and aims to get people back into their everyday “normal” lives as quickly and cheaply as possible. As far as I can see it has no interest in the social model of mental health or in the influence it might have on getting government to think about the emotional impact of economic and social policy generally.

Second, I think of IAPT as a partner of Big Pharma in the growing mental health/happiness industry. CBT with its tick-box inventories, like the mass consumption of anti-depressants, has grown rapidly since the end of the 1970s. They are both contemporaries of the neoliberal turn. IAPT therapy is essentially courses of positive thinking, encouraging you to take more responsibility for your states of mind and adapting a little more flexibly to the realities of the world you are in – including of course the world’s markets.

Third, like antidepressants and other psychotropic drugs, IAPT is administered from the top down, on the medical model of diagnosis and allocation of treatment by a health professional. While the client hopefully has a say in the content of a talking therapy session, she has little say in who she works with, in what kind of setting, with what kind of frame, for how long and so on. If you want a choice of psychotherapy approaches, if you want a therapeutic relationship that is on-going and open-ended, led by your own sense of need, pain and distress, then it’s private practice at £60 – £90 a session.

Fourth. IAPT is an NHS service, state funded and state led. Its basic brief is to get people back into the flow of a “normal” life as quickly and cheaply as possible. This has always included getting people back to work. From its inception, IAPT has occupied and helped create a space in which the government’s policies on mental health, employment and welfare meet up within the toxic framework of workfare, cutting welfare, maintaining a low wage labour market.

“psy professionals have allowed themselves to be drawn in to a system of psychocoercion”

What we as psy workers have been witnessing, as New Labour’s workfare iniatives have progressively developed into the Tories’ vicious – yes, murderous – attacks on people with mental and physical disabilities and on welfare provision generally, is that psychotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists and mental health workers have been increasingly drawn in – and have allowed themselves to be drawn in – to a system of psychocoercion of people on welfare benefits, a system which glorifies work as the ultimate goal and obligation of citizenry.

As we know, the experience of many claimants with mental health difficulties is one of being terrorised by benefit cuts (whether in work or not), sanctions, fitness to work assessments, PIP, and now the further cuts of Universal Credit. For many, being driven off benefits is not into work: it is onto the streets, into the food banks, into an early grave through ill health, addiction, self harm and tragically, suicide.

The New Savoy Conference, IAPT bosses’ annual trade conference, welcomed with open arms the Tories’ welfare to work policies and the opportunities they offered for state funded therapy to get involved in “helping” people get off benefits and into work.

When George Osborne announced in his spring budget 2015 that he was co-locating teams of IAPT therapists in Jobcentres, that DWP employment coaches were going to be located in GP surgeries and at one point in food banks, finally some of us psy professionals woke up and realised our own professions were becoming agents of psychological terror. That our professions were allowing themselves to be drawn into the violence that is at the heart of the neoliberal project. We got together in 2015 and formed the campaigning alliance that organised this meeting.

*

So, coming back to the question, what do we want from a radical Labour Party and Labour government to support and nourish the nation’s mental wealth?

Looking at this year’s Labour Manifesto:

Do I think it’s enough to talk about restoring Tory cuts to mental health services, putting more resources into attending to children and young people mental health, reasserting the need for parity of esteem with physical health, and offering a wider choice of therapy options under NICE guidelines?

Do I think it’s enough to restore Tory cuts to ESA, get rid of sanctions, the bedroom tax, WCA and PIP assessments, to talk about support and care for people who cannot work, and the social model of disability – or even Universal Basic Income?

Well, no.

Of course mental health services need more resources. The hypocrisy of every party declaring their distress at the lack of such services while doing bugger all except to cut funding further is shocking. The only way of understanding this is that mental illness is still regarded as a shameful, frightening shadow of our culture which politicians can get away with ignoring and attacking, as they do with welfare claimants.

Yes, we need more safe spaces for people with acute and severe mental health problems. We will continue to need more people with specialist trainings. And yes we need more talking therapy without a doubt.

But, FIRSTLY we need these services as part of a very different understanding of the kind of society and the kind of relationships that promote and support our mental wealth. Most of what gets called mental ill health is facilitated by the social, cultural and emotional conditions people are living in from day to day, and the conditions we have been in most of their lives.

We need housing policies, education and early years policies, transport policies, policies on working conditions, as well as health policies, that give the first priority to how people feel about themselves and their world, not to how they can be managed to maximise GDP.

And SECONDLY, absolutely crucially, if we are going to take seriously the priority of mental over material wealth at all, we need a society in which people feel that they not only have a say in how their world is developed and run; we need a society in which people feel they have THE say, the FIRST and LAST say, day to day, in how their world is organised.

Top down mental health services, administered by psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, nurses and other professionals disempower and isolate individuals as mental health problems. To as high degree as possible these services need to be designed, managed and developed by service users and survivors. Professional services need to be in service, really in service, not driven by their own managerial ambitions, their profit making, or the fear of hanging on to an impossible job.

“Work remains the absolutely critical structure of social control in these capitalist societies of ours.”

For how long are we going to carry on preaching and believing in the insanity of the capitalist work ethic? That your value as a citizen is dictated by having a job? That it is your obligation to society to be in waged work? Are we absolutely bonkers?

Only 13% of people worldwide actually like going to work, according to a Gallup poll conducted in the States and published in the Washington Post October 10th 2013. According to new research by the London School of Business and Finance, which interviewed 1,000 male and female professionals of different age groups from across the UK, an overwhelming 47% want to change jobs and more than one in five are looking to career hop in the next 12 months. And over 60% of people living in poverty in the UK are in working families.

Forcing people with mental health difficulties into work says it all. Work remains the absolutely critical structure of social control in these capitalist societies of ours. Those who cannot work are to be treated as pariahs. They are the worthless lazy dependent scroungers that everyone can hate and treat with contempt – along with the homeless, the poor, the food bank users and the immigrants.

How appalling do the conditions of work have to become for us to say STOP. Something is very, very wrong. Why on earth can a parent, and especially a mother of young children, not say I don’t want to work, I want to focus on bringing up my kids?

Why is it treated as a utopian fantasy that work should be enjoyable – ‘adult play’, the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott wanted to call it – that work be defined in all sorts of ways but basically as creative effort?

What the hell is wrong with us?

Yes, let’s have trade union power, workers’ power established at the centre of everyone’s working life. But also let’s get rid of the workerism that’s embedded in traditional left visions of a transformed society. We need so much more than the dignity of labour defining what life is about.

So let me just end on this. No, I don’t think more of the same is at all good enough. Yes, I think Corbyn’s Labour Party is beginning to take seriously the possibility of a world transformed. But there is a long way to go before mental wealth becomes the real standard by which we measure society and our political economy.

How do we get mental wealth? Labour Party Conference Fringe Event this weekend

If you’re in or near Brighton this weekend, check out this Labour Party Conference Fringe event on Sunday, led by mental health survivors and radical psy professionals, including the Mental Health Resistance Network, the Free Psychotherapy Network and the Alliance. All welcome (not just LP members).

For more than 30 years, we’ve suffered the violent exploitation and extraction of our mental wealth by successive governments pursuing neoliberal policies. So where are we now? And what do we need from a Labour Government?

How Do We Get Mental Wealth? Event details here

6 – 8pm, Sunday 24 September 2017. Ashdown Room, Holiday Inn, 137 King’s Road, Brighton BN1 2JF. Wheelchair accessible.

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)