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Volume 23
Issue 2
March 2012

  • Category: Letters

The October 2009 issue published an article called ‘Work is good for you’. It was illustrated by a picture of a god-like figure – the counsellor – holding a key with which he winds up tiny broken people on one side of him and, on the other side, sends them on their happy, straight-backed, employed way

  • What about the workless?

  • by
  • Clare Slaney
  • The October 2009 issue of Therapy Today published an article called ‘Work is good for you’.1 It was illustrated by a picture of a god-like figure – the counsellor – holding a key with which he winds up tiny broken people on one side of him and, on the other side, sends them on their happy, straight-backed, employed way. The article was based on government policy and mentioned ‘... growing evidence that work is good for your health’, but offered not one reference to research at all.

    This was repeated in February 2012 Therapy Today article ‘Counselling the jobless back to work’. Again, assertions are made about the ‘research evidence’ of the harmful effects of being unemployed, with not one reference to that research. This piece was, like the October 2009 article, concerned with ‘opportunities for counsellors’.

    All three pieces were ludicrously unbalanced, with no reference to serious criticisms. There was no exploration of how complex external influences, such as the demonisation of the unemployed and the rhetoric around ‘hard-working taxpayers’ vs ‘benefit scroungers’, contribute to the distress of people whose identity is fundamentally altered the day they become unemployed or claim benefits. There was no recognition that unemployment rates are at their highest in 17 years2 or how failure to find employment after being processed through various ‘Back to Work’ schemes might affect a person’s wellbeing.

    Nor was there mention of dissent to the Welfare Reform Bill (WRB) from respected organisations like the Joseph Rowntree Trust, Disability Alliance, Mind, National Housing Federation and Citizens Advice Bureau, among a great many others; no mention of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ concerns about ‘the capacity of relevant members of staff in Jobcentre Plus and Work Programme providers to make appropriate decisions about what type of work-related activity is suitable for claimants with mental health problems’, or the fact that the College will not support the Health and Social Care Bill.3

    There is no discussion of the WRB being demolished, cross-party, in the House of Lords, or that the Government is forcing these reforms into law despite its Lords defeat. There is no mention of the Department for Work and Pensions’ six-point guidance to Jobcentre staff around increases in self-harm and suicide.4

    There is no recognition of, let alone reflection on, the essential shift in the purpose of counselling summed up in the article by Kevin Friery, past Chair of BACP Workplace: ‘The prime contractor doesn’t want to pay you to have a nice chat and help the person cope with being unemployed; they want you to increase their employability so that they can get work, and help keep them at work.’

    The October 2009 Therapy Today led with the news that ‘One in six therapists still sees fit to offer gay clients treatments that aim to make them straight’.5 That article resulted in shock and outrage that so many counsellors should be abusing clients by telling them what they should be and purposefully aiming to change them to suit the counsellor’s world view. There hasn’t been a similar reaction to the same and recurrent message when it involves people who are unemployed. Instead, there seems to be consensus that counselling should be one thing for people who can afford private practice but should be the polar opposite when the counsellor is working as part of the Work Programme or, indeed, when meeting with any person who is unemployed.

    The abuse of politically vulnerable groups by mental health professionals has a long and shameful history. Whether it’s single mothers being subjected to electro-convulsive therapy, ‘protest psychosis’, the incarceration of political dissenters or the Martha Mitchell Effect, each individual professional involved in this scapegoating is ultimately paid by and works for the government of their time. BACP professes to be concerned with an ethical approach to practice but that doesn’t seem to hold true when ‘opportunities for counsellors’ are at stake.

    Clare Slaney

    Editor’s response
    The views expressed in the article, as with all views expressed in Therapy Today, are not those of the BACP, unless expressly described as such. Kevin Friery was commenting in an individual capacity. There is a considerable body of research into the mental health benefits of employment. One that is often cited is: Waddell G, Burton AK. Is work good for your health and wellbeing? Norwich: the Stationery Office; 2006.

  • References:

    1. Brown K. Work is good for you. Therapy Today. 2009; 20(8): 16–19.
    2. Office for National Statistics. Labour market statistics: February 2012. London: ONS; 2012.
    3. Royal College of Psychiatrists, Centre for Mental Health, Mind et al. Work experience for ESA claimants. London: Royal College of Psychiatrists; 2011.
    4. Taylor R. Freedom of Information Request. May 2011.
    5. Daniel J. The gay cure? Therapy Today. 2009; 20(8): 10–14.

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