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