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Counselling is not an apolitical profession: A message for counselling students, especially those affected by the current UCU strike action

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Written by Susan Stephen & Rachel McIlree, February 2023.

“the personal is political” 
(original source unknown)

Counselling is not an apolitical profession. 

The choices we make as counsellors have political implications for our clients, ourselves, our profession, and the society in which we live.

For example:

·      What is your view of the person coming to counselling? Someone broken who needs to be fixed? Someone with an illness to be healed? Someone who is surviving (and trying to grow) in an unfavourable, perhaps even hostile, environment?
·      What is your view of the counsellor’s role? Fixer, healer, person-in-relationship? 
·      What is your view of the purpose of counselling? To reduce symptoms of distress? To return to “normal”? To adapt and grow in response to life experience? To empower? To effect change in their environment?

Exploring your assumptions and developing your understanding about the politics of counselling – in practice, in the profession, in wider society – is an ethical responsibility. 

How does the counselling profession contribute every day to structural inequalities in society? 

Some examples:

·      Access to counselling: time-limited for the poor, open-ended for those who can afford it
·      The medicalisation of psychological distress (Sanders & Tolan, 2023)
·      Therapy as the “opium of the masses” (Proctor, 2006)
·      Barriers to counselling training (eg academic, financial, structural) resulting in a lack of diversity at all levels of the profession. Likely to be exacerbated by the SCoPEd framework (BACP, 2023; Partners for Counselling & Psychotherapy, 2020; Person-Centred Group, 2023) 
·      A culture of volunteering to gain experience, even post-qualification
·      Lack of funding for counselling services resulting in insecure services for clients and precarious (if any) employment for counsellors 
·      Due to the erosion of well-paid secure working conditions, maintaining a healthy, nurturing work-life balance has become a luxury. This has an inevitable impact on our fitness to practice and meeting our ethical responsibilities as counsellors, supervisors, and trainers.
Crossing the University & College Union (UCU) picket line is not an apolitical action.

Withdrawing our labour is a hard-won right and one that is denied to many. We are using this right to seek action to address the following issues in Higher Education:

·      Staff facing poverty now (25% real terms cut in salary since 2009) and in the future (future pension benefits cut by 33%, on average)
·      Excessive workloads -> staff burnout
·      Precarious employment contracts -> chronic insecurity
·      Pay gaps particularly affecting Black, disabled, and female workers.
Our working conditions are your learning conditions – and impact the conditions in which you meet with your clients.
Whether or not your trainers are taking part in the UCU industrial action, make time to discuss the issues involved with them, along with the wider politics of the counselling profession.
PCCS Books ( publishes a multitude of titles on politics, race, ethnicity and gender: 
Upcoming conferences
PCCS Books - 30th Anniversary Conference - Putting The Politics (Back) Into Counselling: Thursday 11th May 2023 (in person, online)
National Counsellors’ Day Conference 2023 - ‘Social and Political Issues in Counselling and Psychotherapy. Holding space for difficult but necessary conversations!’: Saturday 24th June 2023 (online)
*Pay what you can*
Therapy in Colour - A Collaboration Conference between BAATN, PCCS Books and Onlinevents: Friday 14th – Saturday 15th July 2023 (online) *Student discount ticket*
Person-Centred Group (2023). Person-Centred Group's reaction to SCoPEd impact assessment. 
Proctor, G. (2006). Therapy: Opium of the masses of help for those who least need it? In G. Proctor, M. Cooper, P. Sanders & B. Malcolm (Eds.) Politicizing the Person-Centred Approach (pp.66-79). PCCS Books.
Sanders, P. & Tolan, J. (2023). People not Pathology. PCCS Books.

Contact name
Susan Stephen