Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Keeping it simple.

 Here’s a wonderful video from the official 'No To AV' team which demonstrates just how confusing and complicated the Alternative Vote system is, far too difficult for you to grasp – not that you’re stupid, even celebrities have a hard time understanding it.

For me, this argument demonstrates a technique that we all use to some extent to disempower each other. “They want to bring in this new fangled way of doing things but it’s so complicated that you won’t understand what They’re doing until it’s too late. The way we do things right now isn’t perfect but it is simple, and that’s how you like life to be.”

The temptation is to follow that line in explaining unfamiliar concepts to people who might be resistant and threatened, particularly concepts that ask us to look at the way we are in the world, and change.

Some months ago I wrote to the BACP about the cost of accreditation. For people on benefits it’s £110, for people not on benefits £220. The UK average wage is £499 a week so is it reasonable to expect someone who isn’t on benefits to pay £998 for accreditation? Because this is equivalent to what the BACP expect people on benefits to pay.

Of course, the BACP first ignored my letter, then misunderstood it to mean that I was asking the cost of accreditation for a counsellor on benefits, then said they’d answer ‘in due course,’ then told me that these were standard rates. There was absolutely no interest in the subject. Just keeping it simple, because we like things simple.

In a world of woefully increasing simplicity some of the most thoughtful people I come into contact with are counsellors. The majority of us are able and willing to engage in contemplation at a deep level; we’re becoming more used to concepts of privilege and passing but I wonder just how many white, straight, able-bodied, above-average-income counsellors really do get it. Frankly, I’ve never expected much from the BACP, they’ve always seemed far too concerned with status over anything else and have done more than any other group, including government, to make counsellor training and practice less accessible and more expensive.

But we join them. We jump through their hoops. We say we adhere to the Ethical Framework. The BACP itself doesn’t adhere to the Ethical Framework, it publicly humiliates counsellors who have a complaint made against them, makes counselling a preserve of the high-incomed and doeesn't have the manners to address a direct challenge to their principal of Justice

A commitment to fairness requires the ability to appreciate differences between people and to be committed to equality of opportunity, and avoiding discrimination against people or groups contrary to their legitimate personal or social characteristics.

In doing so (as I have done) we give them power so that we don’t have to think for ourselves. Consequently all employers now want accredited counsellors (even though the BACP’s own research shows that more complaints are made against this group than any other) and the BACP has become the entire professions de facto governing body.

The subject is paradoxical but where there’s paradox, there’s power. On one hand it is supremely simple: people who are poor are directly and indirectly discriminated against within counselling. On the other hand it is complex and problematic: could the BACP use a principal of proportionate paying for its services? How might that work? How do you and I address the fact that people who have very little experience of counselling often counsel people with desperate problems?

Or is it true that counsellors do, in fact, like to keep things simple and don't want any new fangled, complicated nonsense getting in the way of keeping things just as they are? Is counselling another industry, like car making, banking or construction, just using the language of reflection and philosophy rather than actually practicing it? Does counselling have anything a little more genuinely human to offer itself? Or not?

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