I have written a couple of posts in regards to Dr Kirsty Miller, a practicing psychologist, who wrote publicly of her decision to leave the British Psychological Society. She has taken it upon herself to reply to my articles (which I appreciate), and whilst I don’t have much further to add to my original points, I would like to clarify a few points.
I will first give a brief thank you – as Dr Miller has recognised that I wished to talk in a measured way, and has treated me with respect in all of this. We certainly disagree, but being able to discuss things in a professional way is important for our respective professions to advance.
Language is important, and in my writing on this topic, I have used certain emotive words that were maybe less accurate. Miller picks up on my use of the word “offensive”, and I agree, she did not originally state that she found it offensive. I made an assumption, which I was trying to avoid. Misrepresenting her views was not something I was trying to do. I also used the word “bigotry” later in my article. I was referencing the wider discussion about calling out attitudes we disagree with, and I was unclear that I wasn’t referring to Miller per se. So to clarify this point, I was not accusing Miller of bigotry.
In regards to Miller’s views that the BPS has been publishing official statements calling for “white people to be aware of their fragility, and to ‘apologise'”, I cannot easily comment on this. I have not seen these statements, so I do not know their intentions or the actual quotes themselves. I’m happy for people to show them to me if they have examples.
I do believe though that this is where we will disagree the most, as I believe that we should all recognise our privilege. Such as the able-bodied persons privilege in regards to disability, white persons privilege in the scope of BAME and male privilege in discussion of women’s issues. These are three examples, and are certainly not exhaustive. Every individual (in my view) has a privilege.
Working in the realms of mental health and wellbeing, I feel that it is our duty that practitioners are aware of their own privilege, and the power they wield in the therapy/treatment room. I cannot separate social justice and politics from psychology and therapy. That said, Miller is well within her rights to disagree with me, and I respect her stance even if I don’t agree.
I further disagree with Miller’s assertions that “you need to learn to deal with these feelings” of distress due to social injustice. I challenge this on the perspective that I don’t believe anyone should have to accept these feelings. If that was the case, no one would stand up for anything. For example, if women in the early 1900s had decided to live with their feelings about their right to the vote, there would have been no protests, and no change in legislation.
Miller is not saying whether she stands for or against a cause, simply that cause’s should be kept out of psychology. Once again, I disagree. It is our right and our responsibility to stand up for our clients/patients, their rights and their experiences (as well as our own). It is one reason that I respect Miller’s outspokenness – she’s standing up for what she believes in.
A key sentence I wish to highlight though is this:
That DOESN’T mean that an individual hasn’t been wronged — they may have been wronged terribly, it just means that the individual needs to learn to move on from this in order to get better and live a healthy full life.— Dr Kirsty Miller
This is based on the idea that the wrongdoing has ended, and that the individual in question is now in the ‘moving on’ stage. But what about those who experience racism, sexism (or other ”isms”) on a daily basis? You cannot move on and deal with those traumas if it is your present and not your past.
I suppose our different view points may be because the clients I may see are still in the throws of their traumatic experiences. Miller’s patients may be seeking support afterwards. I appreciate that I am making some assumptions here, but I truly feel that are view points come from being in two different places in a client/patients journey.
Of course, teachers will hold ‘power’ in the classroom or lecture hall. However, a teacher/professor does not necessarily have the expertise to teach someone who experiences racism (or other “isms”). What I mean by this is that those who study psychology, counselling and psychotherapy are doing so as adults. Let’s appreciate the knowledge our students/peers have on topics that we have not experienced. Psychology doesn’t happen in a vacuum, and so I challenge the idea that we can’t discuss it and challenge our peers/teachers/students.
I do believe this should be done respectfully. If someone is being abusive, that should be handled appropriately. Challenging people professionally is a skill – something I am further learning to develop. I value debate and discussion, as it helps me to grow (and hopefully others).
I certainly feel that emotions have run high in regards to this topic. Maybe the Psychologists idea to share the letter so soon after the George Floyd murder, protests and calls for change was stoking the fire. I’m not sure if Miller chose for her twitter and website to be shared by the publication. It did mean that she was dogpiled on, and I feel many of the responses I saw that I disagreed with was because she was forced into a defensive position.
I agree that many professionals have behaved unfavourably during these discussions. I think many of the more reasoned responses have been missed due to the fast-paced nature of twitter.
I’ll end this article with a final quote from Miller:
I believe that anything that encourages hatred is bad (regardless of who it is directed towards), and it needs to be stopped. Ironically, I know that’s how many feel about me — but I know there was nothing in my letter that encouraged hatred against any group or any person.”– Dr Kirsty Miller
I agree with you Miller. Hatred should be stopped, and you did not encourage any ill will to any group. I hope out of this the profession takes a look at itself – how it responds to things and how clinicians/therapists behave. We are all educated people capable of talking. The anonymity of the internet, or at least the detached nature of it, can be empowering but also dangerous. I ask that if you disagree with someone, you engage with them in a reasoned way.
- My first article – A Response to Dr Kirsty Miller
- My second article – Follow-up to the BPS
- Sutton, J., Editor Note: Why I no longer wish to be associated with the BPS, https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/why-i-no-longer-wish-be-associated-bps, 25 August 2020
- Miller, K., “Response to ‘Budding Therapy’s response to my cancelled BPS letter“, 29/08/2020
- Miller, K., “I Left the British Psychological Society – and this is what happened”, 28/08/2020
2 thoughts on “A Reply to Dr Kirsty Miller”
Becki, kudos to you. At least, one out of a million is standing up to recognize that there is something called ‘privilege’ and to ask the question: Is the fight against inequality a bad thing or necessary?
Why are people so triggered by attempts to effect changes to the status quo: initiatives designed to deal with historical and normative structures rooted in discrimination, prejudice, and marginalization of black people? Why are some ‘white people’ offended (well, unconfortable) when steps are taken to widen participation and opportunities for black people in circles and spaces that were originally and solely open to ‘white people’? I have asked myself again and again, and asked those who are enraged at social justice initiatives about their grouse with making black lives matter or dismantling the structures of racism? I have not been given any tangible or cogent answer.
I have read Dr Miller’s articles on Medium, her tweets and re-tweets on Twitter and her letter on the BPS website, to try to get a full picture of what are complaints are. I cannot spot any REAL ISSUE beside the reference to “white fragility”, “the need to embrace equality” and BPS’s attempt to acknowledge systemic racism and injustices that have been perpetuated against certain racial groups. Miller has gone about attacking people who tweet support for racial equality and a more equitable society. This is typical of what the BPS labeled as “white fragility”.
I see a pattern here. It is dangerous. It bears semblance to the diabolical, savage, and non-sympathetic reaction of many ‘white people’ to issues raised by black people.
Miller’s sentiments should not be considered as isolated or outside the context of events happening in the wider society and around the world: agitation against police brutality, BLM, protest against discrimination etc. I have followed with keen interest the conversations and events in society (particularly in the academic and research space), surrounding race, equality, and equity since the Kaepernick-saga days and the rise of BLM including recent protests following police brutality. Consider the comment of the Foreign Sec. about BLM and feigning ignorance about what the kneeling gesture is about; consider the recent hullabaloo about Argos advertisement; consider the frenzied reaction to the sack of the three gentlemen by Sky Sports or the needless uproar about statues and BBC Prom song
Many ‘white people’ still do not believe or want to accept the fact that black people are ‘oppressed’ or face difficulty and discrimination as they navigate their daily endeavours. In academia, many of my academic colleagues label the narrative around BLM and the fight against inequality as “victimhood sentiment” and as attempts to suppress open debate (a la cancel culture).
This is important. White people should not dictate what a black person’ experiences are. No! I see this happen often in academic circles, where the experiences of black people are played down and relegated as inconsequential. In some cases, they (black people) are accused as being culpable in the way they are treated. Some go as far as to tell black people to ‘move on’ or to “forget past” and current atrocities meted to them. ‘White People’ want to be arbiter on race issues and black people experiences – This is evident in Jay’s reply to your previous response to Miller and also loud and clear in Miller’s articles.
I get this impression that MANY white academics/professionals and many ordinary “white people” in society are comfortable with the status quo; the norm, the system of discrimination, classism, and marginalization of black people. They fail to recognize their privilege. Hence, they attack every attempt to change the status quo using all sorts of smokescreens and masks to disguise their racist sentiments.
Racism is not always an objective reality, where you discover some set of practices or behaviours, which proves whether a black person’s claims is valid or invalid. Racism can be subjective and socially constructed. The latter indicates people interpret their experiences differently. Miller should be humble to hear them out rather than try to score claims made by black people on a scale of legitimacy and validity. Learned academics should stop denying the legitimacy of black people’s experiences just because it makes them uncomfortable or because it sends some guilty sensations down your spines or because it fails to meet ‘white society’s’ construction of what racism is.
What is missing is empathy and accommodation of views that challenge the current privelege many ‘white folks’ enjoy.
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Dear Manuel, thank you for your well thought out and constructed response. It’s such an important aspect of this whole discussion and I really appreciate everything you’ve put.
I think the important bit I’ve taken from your comment (for me) is that notion that some people have been made to feel uncomfortable (see, white fragility) at potentially being called out. This is happening all over, in academia and out, especially in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.
I’m trying to work out the best way to challenge attitudes I disagree with in a professional sense. In my history of academia I’ve written many an essay, but I dont normally get a response! In this situation, Miller has engaged with me.
What I fear often happens is that people who feel dog piled on will move further towards an extreme view. This is how unfavourable opinions grow – just look at the rise of the alt-right in various western countries.
I’m going to write a follow up piece tomorrow as there is an excellent article doing the rounds from racereflections.co.uk
Honestly, my voice in this is unimportant. I mentioned it to Miller before, I have no experienced racism in my life (although I’ve witnessed it, studied it extensively and experienced other isms) so feel my voice is less important than many of those who have spoken out. There are some excellent voices doing incredible work (although they shouldn’t have to) on this topic, and I hope that Miller (and others) engage with those voices more than mine.
Once again, thank you for your response. I wish you a lovely evening.
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