What Would You Do With £34m?

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What would you do with £34m?

You could give around £425,000 to each benefit claimant.

You could use it to help pay off this much-vaunted deficit (the only deficit we’ve ever been this excited about.)

Think how £34m could be used to support projects like The Maytree which offers respite for people who are suicidal, or Magic Breakfast who give thousands of children breakfasts every day. In British schools. Or the Trussel Trust, who give food parcels to people who cannot afford to buy any, and who have recently spoken out about the growing number of Job Centres who are refusing to refer ‘customers’ to them. This coincides the quiet dropping of the requirement for Job Centre staff to record the reason for a food bank referral and to provide claimants with vouchers — meaning that food banks cannot assess need at the other end. Conveniently enough, this also reduces the amount of embarrassing statistical data in circulation on food banks.

Meanwhile, back in the world of counselling, we hear that the BACP has been seeking a Royal Charter as part of its obsession with status that has been going on for years.

A lively debate on the matter is on-going over at LinkedIn while a bell tolls and tumbleweed blows through the BACP’s attempt at social media.

Universal Credit is not a bad idea in principal. It aims to simplify a confoundingly complex system and to bring people who live week to week into the ‘normal’ world of monthly budgeting. But it ignores the intricacy of individual lives, where waiting 3 weeks for a payment means starvation just because it does. It would be great if everyone could be wonderfully organised and on top of everything all the time, but on a budget of £200 a month life is not simple. Where it has gone wrong is putting ideology ahead of what’s happening in the real world of IT contracts, (employed, well paid) human error and (below poverty line) human lives.

Seeking professional status for counsellors is not a bad idea in principal. It aimed to up all our games, help weed out poor practice and offer clients a standardised complaints process. But it ignores the cost, literal and in terms of homogenisation of the people who are allowed to become a counsellor. For me, the problems with being a professional are summed up by Googling images of ‘professional’: all those young, slim people in suits, arms folded, meaning business.

It would be helpful if the BACP spent somewhat less than £34m on helping counsellors make a living from our own businesses, without seeing human beings as ‘opportunities for counsellors.’ Instead, it is seeking prestige and pre-eminence, presumably on the understanding that a Harley Street practice does better work than a counsellor volunteering in a community where a majority of people are out of work. Like our current DWP, the BACP has put ideology ahead of reality.

Counselling and Money

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Counselling began in private practice and thrives in a free market economy. A good number of counsellors treat their practice as a way of making a great deal of money from the unhappy wealthy and every counsellor with a private practice will have come up against the ethical dilemma (most often easily dealt with) of wanting to be with the client in a particular way but hesitating because the client is a source of much needed income.

 

It is a fact that the profession is absolutely dependent on the poor as clients and that the poor are denied the opportunity to join the ranks of the profession. As the professionalisation of counselling has becomes the dominant model so courses moved from local colleges into universities. University courses are obliged to become accredited by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) if they want the slightest chance of employment for any of their students to so tutor workload increases, which in turn means that they can justify higher wages and so the cost of the course increases.Students are required to gain at least 100 client hours and those hours are gained via counselling agencies that offer a low-fee or free service to clients – that is, those people who cannot afford private counselling. Which in turn means that people on a low income in need of counselling are also most likely to encounter the least experienced counsellors.

 

Agencies offer some supervision but a majority don’t offer adequate supervision, in some cases requiring that volunteer counsellors first prove that they have a private supervisor before they’re allowed to offer their services. In addition, some agencies require volunteers to show proof of personal insurance cover which costs around £50. BACP membership at the time of writing is £35 a year for student counsellors in receipt of state benefits. Psychotherapy courses start at around £2,000pa and can be as much as £30,000. A single person on Job Seekers Allowance gets around £70 a week.

 

Once qualified, many counsellors will continue to volunteer in order to gain experience as well as client hours towards BACP accreditation. Some of us will feel a kind of duty to continue offering a service to clients who cannot afford private counselling, and some of us will not. There are counsellors who on qualifying are given a Harley Street practice as a congratulatory gift from a spouse. In Therapy Today, the magazine for members of the BACP, there is the occasional classified advert for ‘Prosperous Private Practice.’

 

The Byzantine BACP accreditation process created a new way of spending and making money: BACP accreditation workshops, paying supervisors or counsellors who are already accredited to help the applicant complete the process; the cost of the BACP administrative process which is at least £90 and which takes around 3 months to process, plus £110 more if one mistake is made. The ads at the back of Therapy Today have 2 pages of jobs, some voluntary, and 27 pages of CPD: counsellors making money from each other.

 

So money is absolutely central to the profession and one that remains taboo. As one of the founders of  the BACP noted, it is the elephant in the room.

Intimately entwined with this taboo is the way in which counselling perceives and works with ideas of poverty, class, income and what a ‘good life’ might be. This is so undeveloped that the BACP campaigns manager could write the following in appreciation of government proposals to be seen to make unemployed people get a job.

. . . access to psychological therapy and/or support, with the aim of helping people achieve improved mental health and wellbeing, thus improving their ability to gain and/or maintain employment.

Robinson 2008:5

The above is from Therapy Today and, though the magasine is at pains to distinguish between itself and the BACP, represented the BACP’s opinion on the links between employment to mental health. Importantly, it also places the BACP in political relation to the importance of employment, suggesting that getting people to work is a positive thing for counsellors to work towards with their clients. Interestingly, this conclusion is not the one that the Royal College of Psychiatrists drew from the joint Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) Medical Research Council and Royal College conference.

Work is broader than ‘employment’ and should encompass voluntary work, home making etc. The majority of the research evidence refers to full time work whereas it might be more informative to consider ‘activity’.

Waddel 2007:5

Of course, what a client chooses to do in terms of employment or unemployment is none of the counsellors business, just as what a client chooses to do with an intimate relationship is none of our business. If the purpose of counselling is to allow a person to explore their lives and relationships in order to gain a better understanding and perhaps better mastery of their life, then the counsellor must be very clear in their own mind about what their own expectations might be.

 

This can be difficult when the counsellor lives in a society that equates poverty with victimhood at best and more often as badness, a position that isn’t helped when it’s ‘common knowledge’ that good mental health is helped by being employed and that the reverse is also true, that being unemployed results in poor mental health. When the BACP reinforces this, unemployed clients are doomed to second class work from counsellors.