If you have ever read George Orwell’s 1984 then the title of this article may feel eerily familiar. Something strange is happening to counselling and psychotherapy in the UK.
Training was once the domain of experienced therapists and clinicians using psychological theory and robust scientifically evidenced clinical outcomes to develop and improve counselling practice. Now, it is delivered by activists informed by political ideology, legal theory, and social justice.
It is less and less about the mental health of the individual and more and more about social change – as long as those changes fit the ‘right narrative’. The fundamental difference, therapy was about the individual. But in the new social order, the smallest unit of measurement is the group, and you and I, are only partial measurements at best.
If you were planning to go to counselling to work through your personal issues and learn about yourself, you may be in for a shock. Rather than a caring open enquiry and self-reflection, you may be told that your immutable characteristics, such as race, gender, and sexual orientation are ‘problematic’. The solution: think how you are told to think, forget your individualism, and become an activist.
In response to the growing unease among therapists, many have written to their membership organisations to engage in open dialogue (a touchstone of therapeutic practice), only to be ignored lambasted or silenced. Diversity is only acceptable as long as it is not diversity of thought.
Thankfully therapists are fighting back against unthinking agreement with group identity and gender ideology in particular. A group called Thoughtful Therapists have published an online open letter, challenging the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and requesting an open dialogue so that both therapists and clients can be heard. With its 50,000 members, this is the UK’s biggest counselling and psychotherapy organisation.
Judging by supportive comments from therapists and concerned members of the public the Open Letter has clearly hit a nerve. The letter remains online and continues to collect signatures and comments, it is open to anyone who shares their concerns.
These concerns are that the BACP:
- is becoming a political activism group and not a charitable membership organisation for counsellors and psychotherapist
- is failing to engage with its members in open dialogue and debate
- is delivering training that is not evidence based, as an example, the letter focuses on the highly partisan training event ‘Queering Therapy Spaces and Working with Gender Diverse Clients’.
- this training uses the highly offensive term ‘terfism’ as part of its advance publicity, as well as the statement: ‘Britain is currently facing a queer healthcare crisis comparable only to that of the AIDS epidemic.’
The letter respectfully asks that BACP engage in meaningful dialogue with its members on these crucial issues.
There are genuine issues in UK society, and gender identity can be a source of mental anguish for some people. It is also true that therapy can and should play a healing role for individuals that suffer from such issues.
All that is being asked is that these issues are approached with the same thoughtful, clinical, and evidence-based methods that have served therapy, clients, and society so effectively to date.
It is not the remit of counselling and psychotherapy as a profession to undertake theoretical social transformation, to become activists, or to judge people based on group identity and group think.
In the words of Rumi: ‘Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.’
Neil Barnes is a training manager.