I wonder if counsellors might have any thoughts on the subject of the compulsion of voluntary work in our industry? Counselling has a long, unthinking history with voluntary work. We are compelled to volunteer in order to train, something that has never been questioned. ‘Compulsory’ and ‘voluntary’ are two ends of a spectrum and various principals support each description. It’s the difference between volunteering to join the army and being conscripted: the motivations and outcomes for each are going to be very different.
Organisations in the voluntary sector – other than counselling organisations –have long recognised this:

But if you force someone to volunteer, it’s not volunteering.
John Ramsey, head of volunteering at Age Concern England, 2007
Any future legislation would need to address the distinction between volunteer service that is willingly undertaken and can be completed at will, and community service that is the fruitful engagement of those who may face consequences if they fail to show up.
Dame Elisabeth Hoodless, executive director of volunteering charity CSV, 2007

The Police Service had a brief struggle with this issue too when it became clear that in order to join the Service two years of voluntary work as a Special Constable had become a prerequisite. This was purely because of funding issues i.e. police were needed but the money wasn’t available to pay for them and so civilians were taking on a policing role. There are obvious and historically appalling problems with this, rather summed up in the police recruitment puff reassuring potential volunteers that they will

Whichever Service is doing the recruiting, having the same uniform as real police officers is offered as the primary benefit of volunteering. That this didn’t result in massive objections from every corner of the educated land suggests that our understanding of history and basic civic participation is dead. Catherine Bennett offers some prophetic analysis.

Can you demand professionalism from someone who is, even in an extremity of virtue, doing you a favour? …. Like unpaid interns who devalue the work of their colleagues at the same time that they are ill-used, a wave of philanthropy . . . would inevitably make some officials wonder why they pay people for tasks a volunteer would do for nothing.


I don’t know what the answers might be to counselling’s relationships to the compulsion of our ‘voluntary’ processes but a first step might be to Wake Up. There’s no meaningful dissent over the principals of who we are, what we do and why we do it, who we’re excluding and who benefits from the current system. People with good intentions jump through hoops, people with good intentions set the hoops up and you know what the road to hell is paved with.


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