Monday, 20 September 2010

Them And Us

Counsellors function as part of society: as individual practitioners we hold differing political, social and personal opinions, if we didn’t there would be one psychological model and no professional debate. As members of society we are not immune from the concerns, interests and zeitgeist of that society and of course we bring all of that into the counselling room with us which is why counselling trainings are expected to address issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and disability awareness. Amidst the many anti-discriminatory trainings, class and income come very low down in training establishment priorities.

And yet counselling as a profession depends on people on low or no incomes. All of the agencies that student counsellors attend to gain experience and hours are attended by low or no income people because of the simple fact that they can’t afford to pay very nearly an entire weeks income for 50 minutes. In effect, low and no income clients service an industry that has demonstrated no real interest in them.

One of the reasons for this lack of interest is that low income people don’t train as counsellors.   All training establishments will all have some kind of equal opportunity statement along the lines of
It is our policy to contribute to equality and social justice by ensuring that all members of staff and applicants for employment shall receive equality of opportunity irrespective of sex, gender (including gender reassignment), sexual orientation, sexuality, race, colour, creed, religion, political beliefs, ethnic or national origin, age, marital status, disability.  [This university] is striving to break down barriers, extend opportunities and improve access to the resources of society.  It aims to reach out to all sections of the community as employees, students, clients, partners and suppliers.
People on low or no incomes are excluded from this statement. If an individual has the qualifications, aptitude and life experience perfectly suited for counselling training but cannot pay for the training she will not be accepted onto the course soley and absolutely on the basis of her income. People of colour, disabled, gay and elderly people do train as counsellors, have brought their experience to the training and challenged negative attitudes: there is no such challenge from poor people.

The experience of being in counselling has been researched over many years. We have some concept of client outcome, drop out and compliance based on statistical evidence and there is some – though very little – academic writing on the experience of the client herself. We all know from our own experience that when faced with people who have power over us we have to behave in a particular way. Incredibly, power dynamics in counselling are very seldom discussed in any detail in training or in academic literature though some counsellors will have some idea that this will be at work in all of our relationships. The experience of low income clients in counselling has been totally unresearched. Yet the low income client must contend with grotesquely unbalanced power dynamics in their everyday lives, simply to live indoors or to feed their children or buy sanitary towels. Behaviours and attitudes will form around this dynamic and these, consciously or unconsciously, will be brought to the counselling relationship.

The poor have always been discriminated against, in every period of history and almost every society. We hate Them. They are not Us. They function as something We can form our own identities around, defining what We are not. Despite being most often cited as a reason to be concerned about the poor, behaviour is certainly less important to society than economic status.

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