Friday, 28 January 2011

Thick and Lazy

Zoe Williams' piece in the Guardian is partly ideological but then, what isn't?

Read it anyway
And in the Midlands, a different early-years charity of 40 years' standing had to sit through the gob-smacking naivety of a new coalition minister telling them to organise meetings for new parents in the local Starbucks, on estates where there are as many branches of Starbucks as there are new parents with £2.50 to spare for a cup of coffee.

Naivety can be fun to poke people with but when there's such enormous distance between the naive and the people they're have power over things get stupidly dangerous.

Parents "need to be aware of the sensitive period for emotional development in the earliest 18 months and the particular need during that period to avoid stress, domestic violence, physical abuse and neglect". Stress and domestic violence are here portrayed as things you can engage in or eschew at will, like going out clubbing in a sparkly boob tube: you've had your fun girls, but now you've got a baby you really have to put all these indulgences behind you.

Avoid domestic violence? There's a thought! Shame, then, that domestic violence funding is  being cut by 100% in some areas and the statistic of two women being killed a week by an ex or current partner hasn't changed in decades.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Hidden In Plain View

I found myself gawping at the TV last night, wondering at what point I had fallen through the looking glass. Michele Roux ‘Service’
“ . . . sets out on a personal mission to train eight young people as front-of-house superstars”
Of course, these young people come from a background very different from the people they serve, that’s a given particularly for a show like this that is essentially a way of demonstrating that if young people with under-privileged lives are not written off but given opportunity and mentorship the majority can succeed. I’m not certain it’s being viewed in that spirit.

My own buttons were pressed by a nouveau riche woman sending a young woman away 3 separate times, to segment an already sliced grapefruit, to warm up her toast and to exert her desire to bully. Her classlessness was absolutely disgusting, and she displayed it again and again, becoming intensely foul (“You’re really feeling the pressure, aren’t you? How’s the tuna?”) with Nikkita, the young person who found the contrast between the lives of these particular 5 Star, delivered-by-helicopter bootlace manufacturers and her own too incongruous to bear. Nikkita slouched around, sarcastically drawled “Hiiiiiii” to people coming in and out of the hotel, displaying her contempt for the lot of them.

Nikkita has been vilified in the reviews. Google ‘Michele Roux Nikkita’ for screeds of sites containing  ‘attitude’ ‘chip on her shoulder’ and going on about the fact that she became a mother at 16. I’ve not found one questioning whether it’s appropriate for a woman to be unable to segment her own grapefruit.

Deference Tories are simply the latest manifestation of peasants knowing their place and being grateful to the Robber Baron for running the country so that they don’t starve entirely to death. Self-hatred is corrosive, particularly when it’s smeared all over people similar to oneself. 'Knowing your place' has national and profound economic consequences: it's one reason why social mobility is so hilariously awful in the UK and another reason to stop talking about equality of opportunity and begin a discourse on equality of outcome.

My understanding of Nikita is that, as in any group, because she had a particular tendency to feel strongly about a subject she was expressing those feelings for the group, and in doing so relieved individuals from the difficulty of experiencing their own feelings on this matter. This was particularly noticeable in a young man from a similar background who became fawningly servile. Nikita’s own understanding of her behaviour was that she was always no good and would always be no good. I found myself not believing her as she said that again and again, but (bearing in mind that editing exists to manipulate the viewer) wanted to hear more about her more nuanced feelings.

One of the young people, James Marvin, felt uncomfortable serving a family in a private setting, and Roux attempted to make sense of the experience for him: “It’s like you’re part of the family.” “No,” replied James, “I was treated like staff.” Interestingly, James felt much more comfortable serving a couple in an intimate venue. For him, being a valued professional was one thing, a servant quite another.

Ah well, horses for courses. I appreciate good service as much as anyone else and there’s no doubt that Michele Roux has opened up a new world of manners, skills, taste, refinement and opportunty to people who were unlikely to get the chance otherwise. Furthermore, his mentorship is positive, nurturing the best rather than endlessly stomping on deficit. I wonder how clearly that message will be perceived.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Wasting Places

What applies to interns applies to training counsellors. Read the LSE's Politics and Policy blog.

‘Internships are accessible only to some, whereas they should be open to all who have the aptitude. Currently employers are missing out on talented people – and talented people are missing opportunities to progress. There are negative consequences for social mobility and for fair access to the professions’. So concluded Alan Milburn’s 2009 report into social mobility in the UK (see Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions pp99-112). Elsewhere it notes the UK’s professions are becoming more socially exclusive and class background is still a powerful determinant of life chances. Career paths opened up to many on an informal basis – premised upon personal contacts or an ability to sustain oneself through a period of unpaid work – thus excluding many otherwise worthy and talented candidates.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Income Typical?

This is a particularly interesting article from Ode Magazine, focusing on the 'Neuro-typical' brain.

Imagine if we did this with cultural distinctions (“People from Holland suffer from altitude deprivation syndrome”) or racial differences (“Eduardo has a pigmentation disorder because his skin isn’t white”). We’d be regarded as racists and nationalists. Yet, with respect to the human brain, this sort of thinking goes on all the time under the aegis of “objective” science.

There is no standard brain, no standard race, religion or standard culture.  And there is no standard class, either, even though the psychotherapy profession functions as one. Imagine if people were only allowed to train as counsellors and psychotherapists if they were white, middle class Christians . . . wouldn't there be uproar from within the profession itself, and from groups and individuals who use the profession?

I'd say that there's no outrage from outside of the profession because, for people on low incomes therapy is seen as an indulgence or something so far beyond cultural expectations that it doesn't come into awareness. Many of those people who do get free or low cost counselling are so grateful (in a different way from a paying customer-client who is paying for something that they can get anywhere) and feel cowed by the formality and intensity of this completely unusual experience that they conform to a role. (This is what research on the counselling of international students, genetic counselling, disabled clients, and all other client group/ therapist research proposes, which is why good therapists are concerned to be non-directive.)

There's no uproar within the profession because there's so small a group of therapists who've experienced meaningful poverty. One in five people in the UK suffers from enduring poverty - Google 'one in five poverty' for pages of stats: how reflective of society is psychotherapy? It's a circular problem - there are so few therapists who've experienced meaningful poverty that it's just not an issue.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

They Are Different From You And Me.

The study of empathic difference between rich and poor is very new and very interesting. I’m still mulling the implications, meanings, contexts and potential outcomes of this kind of research – and there’s a growing body of it, notably in brain structure studies. Researcher are interested in the difference between Conservatives and liberals, women and men, Black people and Caucasian people suffering from psychosis, in finding ways in which we are the same and different.

Much of this research makes for uncomfortable reading, and the resulting reviews by peers, media, interest groups and individuals all add to the richness of debate. Some people maintain their opinion strongly, most don’t care and I propose that almost all of us don’t change our minds about much at all.

For me, it makes instinctive sense that people who must decipher others in order to remain safe, to ask for favours, who cannot afford to write debts off, who live in complex, multiracial, crowded communities, will be more likely to develop empathy. This is not to say that The Poor ™ are more loving and understanding than anyone else, just that there’s more exposure to many different ways of ways of being in poorer areas.

It is stressful to live too closely to so many people and that stress can cause or exacerbate psychological fragility, which, apart from a general increase in population density, is one of many, many reasons why there’s more violence in areas of less privilege. Individuals in an overcrowded envionment really do need to know how to read other people and groups, quickly, know how to diffuse or avoid confrontation and quickly build relationships.

Less affluent people are most likely to experience large cultural changes. This is why so many of the people who admit to voting for the BNP are poorer – because whatever the statistical truth, there is a feeling of being overwhelmed by difference. They are certainly unheard: for years, white working class people have been called racist or ignorant because they’ve objected to and felt powerless against their neighbourhoods being altered in ways that more affluent people have no experience of. Whatever our individual beliefs on the validity or otherwise of these perceptions, where an existing community feels threatened by new arrivals there are consequences for those new arrivals, whether Irish, Black, mentally ill, on probation, homeless or suffering drug and alcohol problems, overcrowding, poorly maintained buildings or simply the lack of a view.

Unless there’s a colossal, (almost) unthinkable alteration in the way we live, rich and poor will always have very different experiences: a weeks worth of morning coffee for one person is one fifth of a weekly income for another. That’s simply a matter of fact. And it’s one that counselling refuses to take on board.