The “Scrap SCoPEd” Resolution gave rise to unprecedented levels of engagement from counsellors and psychotherapists, but only 5.1% of BACP members actually voted, either for or against it. PCSR representatives of PCP examine the role of alienation, and ask how therapists can play a central role in shaping the future of counselling and psychotherapy.
In a culture that associates income and status with expertise, trustworthiness and wisdom it’s no surprise that insurers have been accused of ripping off customers who don’t pay attention to how much their premium is being increased. The same criticism has been made of utilities providers, landlords, banks, anyone who is trusted to provide a service in return for money. When individuals do it they can be accused of greed and then sanctioned. It takes a lot longer for people to realise that organisations can do it and, the organisation having taken control of the complaints process, it becomes all but useless to challenge. By that time damage has been done both to individual customers and to the organisation itself. Sweeping changes are needed because the organisation wasn’t held accountable and turned its focus from sustainable business to greed, growth and empire building.
The BAC as it was then, was created by a group of counsellors who saw significant poor practice that needed addressing. They developed various useful procedures and policies, brought in regulation which offered some protections beyond the law to clients and using techniques taken from advertising, campaigning and politics, aimed to make themselves the largest organisation representing counsellors and psychotherapists in the UK. A group with 3000 members will not have the same power as a group with 48,000.
The BACP now call themselves THE voice of Counselling and Psychotherapy. They accredit trainings, individuals and agencies, offering the reassurance of a quality product to trainees, clients and employers. In order to ally themselves to an identity of respectability and expertise, many trainings completely unnecessarily require students to join the BACP, to see a BACP accredited therapist and a supervisor who is at the very least a member of the BACP.
Employers, grateful to be told by the BACP that accreditation acts as a kite mark, require BACP membership and increasingly accreditation, however 80% of members are not accredited, other, equally regulated organisations exist and BACP’s own research shows that the therapists most likely to have a complaint made against them are accredited.
The BACP has moved from addressing poor practice to apparently creating a closed shop which guarantees exponential membership growth.
A respectable organization that conforms to national standards and safeguards is required to allow the membership to make and vote on Resolutions and Motions at the AGM. Resolutions are legally binding (apart from when they’re not) and when a Resolution requiring the BACP to stop advertising unpaid jobs for qualified therapists passed, the BACP changed the number of votes required just to get a Resolution discussed from 0.05% to 5% of the membership. That’s a leap from 25 votes to 2,500.
In the history of the BACP no Resolution or Motion had ever managed to gain the votes 5% of the total membership. The largest ever percentage of votes gained was in favour of the Resolution that opposed SCoPEd (3.5%). The combined number of votes, both for and against the Resolution, was 5.1%. Far fewer people voted against the Resolution than for it.
BACP CEO, Hayden Williams, interpreted this as “The Resolution was backed by just 3.5% of the membership.” This was an egregious and inept attempt at spin and the final straw for Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility who decided to join the newly formed PCP.
A CEO sets the organisational tone and Mr Hayden’s interpretation of the vote demonstrates contempt for 48,000 members as well as denial and distortion. If only he had said, “ Erin and Tara’s Resolution inspired weeks of interesting and useful debate, which makes it all the more shocking that 95% of our membership did not vote at all. BACP knows that membership engagement is the driving force that keeps the Executive engaged with your priorities and alive to grassroots issues and so in the coming months we’ll be setting out our plans to make sure that members feel right at the heart of our decision making.” He and the rest of the Executive could have set up a cosmetic project and carried on exactly as before.
The fact that he didn’t suggests a rather unnerving fearlessness throughout the BACP Executive. They know they can say and do anything they want, that they can ignore any and all criticism from the membership because an overwhelming proportion are utterly uninvolved.
One person on Twitter asked, “Why can’t this lack of engagement be due to members being content with the BACP?”
Whether it’s in nations, businesses or charities voting patterns are well understood. They’re of intense interest to anyone who has an interest in predicting the future, from bookmakers to politicians, entire university faculties exist to study them and the research shows that when 95% of eligible voters do not vote it is either a signal of tyranny or alienation.
Apathy is a lack of interest. You don’t care. Whatever it is, it’s nothing to do with you. Things might not be great but they’re tolerable. That’s the positive. The negative is that you are so insulated from reality, so settled in your own small world, that you do not care what happens to anyone else. The issues that matter to others, honestly, meh. You’ll agree with whatever the group you happen to be in at the moment says, particularly if they’re a group with power that you can benefit from, and make performative noises but when it comes right down to it, you couldn’t care less.
Alienation is ‘A state of depersonalization or loss of identity in which the self seems unreal, thought to be caused by difficulties in relating to society and the resulting prolonged inhibition of emotion.’ https://www.healthline.com/health/alienation#causes
Whether you’re a voter or experiencing psychological alienation the causes are the same: you are unheard. You are inconsequential. (n.b you don’t just feel this, it’s real.) What you believe to be important isn’t important to anyone with power and doesn’t seem to be important to anyone else. You have no control over your environment. You have been told by people with power that they will do one thing – they may be legally obliged to do it – but they don’t do it, or tell you that they’ve done it but you don’t see any change. You see how power turns ordinary people into people who abuse power and you have come to believe that there is no hope. People can do what they like without consequence. Alienation is the passivity of total acquiescence.
The feelings are the same whether you’re alienated from democracy or from your self: helplessness, isolation, feeling unsafe, feeling confused or stupid. It’s easier to do as you’re told but something in you prevents you from giving enthusiastic consent.
It’s worth repeating that the Resolution which passed the BACP rules in 2017 was the first glimmer of membership engagement for many years, and that the BACP immediately changed the rules so that the likelihood of another successful challenge was wiped out. “5% is industry standard” they said, following a standard in industry rather than thinking about what on earth this would look like to a disinterested observer let alone to a newly engaged membership seeing what happens when they begin to engage.
Resolutions made by the Executive are automatically discussed at the AGM. The Executive can bring back Resolutions that were voted against year after year.
Organisations that are required to use voting systems adore voter alienation and apathy. They can demonstrate very clearly that they are following the rules and get on with what they want to do. They can choose to believe that voters approve so powerfully with what they’re doing that if they do not directly vote against it, they support it.
All of this is human nature. From Epictetus onward, we are reminded that we all need someone to “… stand behind men in their triumphs and remind them that they are mortal.” It’s why we have supervisors, peer groups, and are expected to reflect on our work. Politicians and the BACP are not evil. Voters and BACP members are not stupid. This is the way that individuals function within this cultures’ cycles.
But as we can see all around us it leads to extremism. The extremism within the BACP is very clear and newly engaged therapists are expressing real shock at how impossible it seems to address it. There are a small number of very vocal therapists right behind the BACP, who defend it by calling therapists who don’t names that we have been conditioned to respond to with fear: ‘unprofessional’ ‘unethical’ and, god help us, by making diagnoses of mental instability. All of this is very straightforward authoritarianism. Strong central power; limited freedoms; no meaningful accountability; identification with the regime as necessary to combat simplified problems; minimal resistance, and suppression of anti-regime activities.
On the other side voices that should have been listened to a long time ago now are forced to shout. Having far less power of any kind, from organisational to financial, these voices have to be shrill in order to have any impact at all.
Happily, PCP brings together 7 organisations that have been holding the BACP to account for some years and so have huge amounts of evidence to demonstrate the decline of BACP values. From predicting the inevitable consequences and failures of government policies that the BACP embraced, to correspondence that moved from BACP’s engagement to complete disregard, what many BACP members are now waking up to has been in process for well over a decade. Things don’t become this bad overnight.
Immediate action that BACP members can take today:
- The AGM vote is open to vote now – check your emails for a link to vote. Voting closes 4th November 2019. The Special Resolution put forward by the BACP this year was proposed and failed last year. They have now lowered the pass target from 75% of the votes to a simple majority for their own Resolution.
- Read up on voter apathy and alienation – the web offers lots of information, it’s an important part of our own history as well as being absolutely current.
- Talk with your colleagues, listen, explore. Approach things you’ve taken for granted with a beginners mind.
- PCSR can offer neutral support in organising local events for these issues to be discussed.
- If you’re not on social media already, join Twitter and catch up with ongoing debates.
You’ll be joining some of the most established, respectable voices in therapy, government advisors; leaders of therapy organisations; university researchers and professors; people involved at the highest levels with the BACP, influencing their ethics and quality standards, as well as some of the most exciting new pioneers.
We’re not doing this because we’re outsiders.
Our aims are very similar to the aims of the BACP: to be part of making high quality counselling and psychotherapy available to everyone who needs or wants it, by supporting counsellors and psychotherapists to provide it.