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BACP and the Misguided Therapy Today

In August, the Psychologist (which is the British Psychological Societies member magazine) published a misguided open letter by Dr Kirsty Miller. Her article created a twitterstorm (and comments on their website showed equal amounts of shock and dismay). I managed to engage with Dr Miller somewhat about the article and her views. The Psychologist proactively responded to many of the comments, the editor took responsibility, listened and then removed the article in question. They have actively continued to engage with their readership and the general public on the topic. So imagine my dismay when the BACP’s Therapy Today arrived with a variety of misguided and inappropriate articles and letters from members.

Sally Brown: Editor

Let’s start with Sally Brown, the editor. In the opening pages she claims that when she became editor she proposed to “discontinue the Black History Month issue” because there are other minority groups… (Brown, 2020: p.5). I’m at a loss of how to respond to this. Instead, Brown could have proposed more special editions – Pride Month, Disabilities and Asian History to name a few. I don’t understand why she thought it was instead appropriate to attempt to remove the Black History Month issue.

I wonder how Brown was feeling, this reply appeared to be defensive and written in haste.

I am glad that Brown realised that this was not the right course of action, but I’m sad that it had to take the murder of George Floyd to make her realise this. You cannot “do the work” in a few months… If you have been acting in a naive, misguided and unaware state for years and you’re only just working on your white fragility and privilege, you are only just beginning. I hope that Brown continues to listen and learn – but seeing her behaviour on twitter yesterday has not filled me with hope.

Brown has failed to engage with many of the voices who have criticised this edition, but did jump on the tweets of Erin Stevens – ex member of the BACP. I watched it unfold with shock, as Brown failed to act with empathy or integrity. She honestly behaved incredibly unethically.

Lucia can be found on Twitter, and is well worth a follow: @SarmientoVerano

Lucia Sarmiento Verano wrote her own assessment of the situation on twitter – and I truly wish that Brown had engaged with her. Verano’s voice is one of clarity, with real lived experiences, who is willing to engage with people like Brown. But instead, her comments have been largely ignored. This concerns me, as counselling & psychotherapy is meant to be a reflective practice, but that has not been shown here.

Hadyn Williams: CEO

Williams’ discussions on race appear well meaning – he wants the profession to help more clients from various ethnic backgrounds, as well as reach potential counsellors and psychotherapists to create a much more diverse profession. He talks about making sure that therapy is accessible, whilst ensuring that therapists have “a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of how a client’s heritage can impact their lives” (Williams, 2020: p.6). What concerns me about this statement is that Williams is fully in support of the SCoPEd framework, which seems to suggest that those in Column’s A and B do not have the “ability to integrate relevant theory and research in the areas of diversity and equality into clinical practice” (SCoPEd, 2020: p.25).

It frustrates me when I read these articles and they roll out the standard “as a member led organisation” repeatedly. I have seen nothing to back this statement up – the BACP does what their senior members want to do and don’t listen to those in the lower echelons of the organisation.

Reactions

Not all of the reaction pieces were inflamatory, in fact several of the letters to the BACP asked training providers to improve their content when teaching students about race, difference and diversity. However, one particular article has truly upset many – and its publication raises many issues. The author of the letter asks several questions;

Why do we need to focus on ethnic differences? Surely the very act of that focusing on differences increases them?… Surely our focus should be on points of similarity as human beings underneath the whole colour, creed, culture, background issue?

BACP, Therapy Today, Oct 2020, p.13

This final question is coming from a place a privilege – a person who is not necessarily judged based on their appearance. If you have never experienced discrimination because of your “colour, creed, culture [and] background”, then maybe you will not understand why this may be important. And this is why I ask the author to listen. Listen to the voices of those who have experienced discrimination and microaggressions.

“Power of positive thought” is all well and good when you are coming from a position of privilege – but closing your eyes and pretending it isn’t there isn’t the solution to racism or any form of oppression.

Unfortunately, as this piece continued, the author appeared to become quite defensive. This can be seen when she states that she “makes no apologies” for being white. Not that anyone was asking her to apologise, but I have noticed that this is a common theme when people are called out for their white privilege. She then adds that she lived in London for 20 years, and could walk “in and out of shops, without seeing another white face or hearing my own language spoken until I spoke it”. I’m a bit baffled by this statemtent – as if living in a multicultural area prevents you from being consciously or unconsciously racist.

She adds that “anything I don’t know about their [her clients] ethnicity and background, they will teach me as we go along”. Honestly, this is where I became quite frustrated – it is never a clients job to teach their counsellor. That is just lazy, and honestly, I feel really disappointed that there are those who don’t want to do the work.

Race in the Room

Turning to pages 24 and 25, the question posed was “how do we change the narrative around racism and really start to listen to each other?” Now before I look at what people actually said, I want to point out that opening the page there are 4 pictures of 4 therapists (and their own views). I wonder why Sally Brown, editor, thought it was the right idea to have the only white woman first – surely it would have been more appropriate to focus on a person of colour’s viewpoints first? This editorial decision concerns me as it once again shows evidence of unconscious bias towards white people in the BACP.

First, the choice to highlight the quote “white non-racist people are accused of saying the wrong thing” is problematic – if you are being told that you are saying the wrong thing, listen. Clearly there is something problematic, and instead of being defensive, accept where you are getting it wrong and do better. We are all guilty of getting it wrong, and we can all grow and learn.

Now the first half of this little article is very interesting – an individual who has reflected on their upbringing with a “racist father”, marrying someone from a different race leading to her children being “mixed-race” and so the individual seems to have some insight. I do believe this person has experienced many hardships relating to race. Yet the article takes a turn and reference is made to the ever changing “politically correct” terms which can lead to accusations of racism. Whilst I see where she is coming from, I once again ask her to consider and listen. You can read and educate yourself. There are so many wonderful publications and organisations that can provide up to date information. It is not for someone from an ethnic minority to educate you. That is exhausting and a burden they should not be expected to carry. Adisah Azumah makes this point so much better than I ever could – “clients can end up paying to educate the therapist about their culture” (Therapy Today, Oct 2020: p.47).

I know I have ripped into this edition of Therapy Today. It’s been warranted. I do however want to point out that there are many voices in this edition that are incredibly important. If you have a copy of the magazine, be annoyed, but also celebrate the voices of the many men and women have you talked about their experiences and perspectives.

Ultimately, my view is not important – I am coming at this from the perspective of hopefully being an ally. I never want to drown out the voices of those who are truly impacted by racism – some amazing people to follow on Twitter are Lucia (as mentioned above), Myira Khan, Rima Sidhpara and Mamood Ahmad, all voices that I respect. That said, remember, it is your job to do the work, not theirs to teach you.

Further Reading

  • SCoPEd Framework (A draft framework for the practice and education of counselling and psychotherapy), BACP, UKCP & BPC, 2020
  • Therapy Today, Oct 2020, 31 (8)

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