Rich People Just Care Less.

Image From today’s New York Times

While Mr. Keltner’s research finds that the poor, compared with the wealthy, have keenly attuned interpersonal attention in all directions, in general, those with the most power in society seem to pay particularly little attention to those with the least power. To be sure, high-status people do attend to those of equal rank — but not as well as those low of status do.

This has profound implications for societal behavior and government policy. Tuning in to the needs and feelings of another person is a prerequisite to empathy, which in turn can lead to understanding, concern and, if the circumstances are right, compassionate action.

What does this have to do with counselling?

Google “counselling for return to work.” The first link is to the notorious “Counselling the jobless back to work,”  an unreferenced glorification of the loathed and horrendously expensive and ineffective Work Programme. The opinions of  fraud-ridden G4S and A4E are provided with no context at all. But then, this is another therapy today piece that sees unemployed people as “a huge opportunity.”

The links after that are to workplace welfare schemes, many of which are no doubt very good. And then there’s one provided by ATOS. The list of suicides and deaths connected to ATOS is into the tens of thousands.

Imagine if people who were unemployed and needed counselling were treated in the same manner as people who visited a prestige counselling service. The agencies that offer a low-fee service are often better supervised than the individuals who pitch their services at people who can afford £100+ an hour but they’re mostly staffed by students.

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“This is how people on out-of-work benefits actually feel”

I really like this simple diagram. Supporting a person to discover more about who we truly are and to be more content with who that is, leads to us to be more open to new events, suggestions, experiences. Have you noticed how closed off and defensive so many unemployed people can be? There are a number of excellent reasons for this, and one of them is a defence against being swallowed up and obscured by the shame-filled, grotesquely laden title “Unemployed.” You can resist that title all you like, but you know that your status changed with your family, friends, acquaintances, bank, mortgage lender or landlord, anyone you have a standing order or direct debt with, your local authority and the Government within about 24 hours. And your sense of who you are changes too, bizarrely, just because you have stopped earning money.

Ruth Patrick’s research in the Guardian informs us directly about the external loci of evaluation, the sense of self for the unemployed people she interviewed.

“The voices of, and experiences of, those directly affected by the swath of welfare changes being introduced this month need to be placed centre stage. As part of ongoing research, I have tracked a small group of out-of-work benefit claimants over time, exploring their experiences. Talking to disability benefit claimants, young jobseekers and single parents between 2011 and 2013, it is striking how many have begun to internalise and tacitly accept a discourse that pits hard-working “strivers” against “shirkers”, undermining and demoralising those relying on benefits for all or most of their income.

Benefit claimants I spoke to have described themselves as “scrounging” off the state, explaining that claiming benefits felt like “begging”, and feeling ashamed of their reliance on welfare. Isobella reflected on her experiences of having her [sickness benefit] employment support allowance time limited: “I’m off to the scrapheap. The government don’t seem to realise that this isn’t a lifestyle choice for me and there doesn’t seem to be that recognition that people who are on benefits [are] on them because they need to be, or because of their circumstances. So you do feel a bit washed up, sponging off society. Even though for years and years I’ve paid in and worked and have been a good girl and done what I was told to do. And now it’s all blown back in my face.”

My research suggests that government policies to get people off benefits and into work are based on an incorrect analysis of the problem they are seeking to solve. Most out-of-work benefit claimants do want to work, where this is a realistic aspiration, and are stopped not by laziness or an absent work ethic but by structural barriers such as the absence of jobs, lack of appropriate support and perverse barriers within the benefit system such as not being able to attend full-time training courses.

Many of my participants expressed frustrations that they wanted to do courses, say in bricklaying, that were only available full-time. So instead they are pushed onto basic skills / IT courses that aren’t appropriate.

All too often, government welfare-to-work programmes fail to provide any meaningful support and jobcentre staff give mixed messages such as advising claimants not to return to work as their high rent levels in supported housing made this unaffordable. Sophie, a single parent, desperate to work, recounted her experience of attending a jobcentre appointment: “I said ‘if I go back to work whether it be 16 hours or full time I’m sure I’ll be able to afford it’. And she [the jobcentre adviser] replied, ‘aw well we don’t think you’re ready.'”

Defending his policies, work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith argues that those in the welfare system should be “on a journey. It should be taking people somewhere, helping them move from dependence to independence.” The government is certainly taking benefit claimants on a journey, but the most likely destination seems to be increased poverty and more stigmatisation, rather than the promised “independence”. If the government really wants to help benefit claimants they need to tear up their current policies and start again by listening to those people with direct experience of struggling to manage on out-of-work benefits.”

• Names have been changed

Counselling and Money

Inequality-620x330

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.