Friday, 29 April 2016

Just the stigma of being on benefits leads to homelessness.

Zineb's children stayed with her on a police waiting room floor
A mother and her three young children claim they were forced to spend the night on a police station floor after being being made homeless.

"It's hard to think of a worse time in the last 50 years to be on benefits and living in London. Soaring rents, a massive shortage of social housing and the effects of the benefit cap have left thousands of people struggling to find a place to live. Add to that the stigma which is now attached to claiming welfare and you have a situation which makes it almost impossible for the capital's poorest residents to find a home.

"These difficulties were highlighted by a recently leaked email from the estate agents Foxtons. It showed one of the company's employees trying to discourage a landlord from renting to people on housing benefit. Foxtons were quick to confirm that this isn't company policy and said they were disappointed to learn about the incident. But the attitude of the employee who sent the email will come as no surprise to anyone who receives benefits and has tried to rent a property in recent years."

Money makes people right-wing and inegalitarian

"Rich people typically lean right politically. Are they motivated by deeply moral views or self-interest? Andrew J Oswald and Nick Powdthavee argue that money makes you right-wing. It shows that lottery winners in the UK are more likely to switch their allegiance from left to right."

Why Therapists Should Talk Politics

"If the patient describes a nearly unbearable work situation, the therapist will tend to focus on the nature of the patient’s response to the situation, implicitly treating the situation itself as unchangeable, a fact of life. But an untenable or unjust environment is not always just a fact of life, and therapists need to consider how to talk about that explicitly.
"This is, in ways, an old quandary in psychotherapy. Should therapy strive to help a patient adjust, or to help prepare him to change the world around him? Is the patient’s internal world skewed? Or is it the so-called real world that has gone awry? Usually, it’s some combination of the two, and a good psychotherapist, I think, will help the patient navigate between those two extremes.
"When therapists make the dialogue only about their patient’s life narrative, without including a frank discussion of social and economic hardships, they risk reducing psychotherapy to a tool of social control. That might sound overly polemical, but consider a government proposal in Britain last year to put psychotherapists in jobs centers to offer counseling for the unemployed, with the unemployed possibly facing a reduction in benefits if they declined treatment. In such a situation, therapy could easily become an arm of the state, seeking to “cure” listlessness or a reluctance to work, potentially limiting social and political awareness among those it is intended to serve. " 

And of course, the government has indeed put therapists into job centres and many 

therapists have applied for and taken those jobs.  

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

404 Not Found

My Bookmarks file is huge and I'm going through it to see what links still work and what might be useful on this blog. 

The Adam Smith Institute is " is a right-wing think tank and lobbying group based in the United Kingdom, named after Adam Smith, a Scottish moral philosopher and classical economist"          ( 

In 2012 they published an interesting report on anti-poverty policies, summarised here.

From the poor law to welfare to work: what have we learned from a century of anti-poverty policies?

Examines the long-term effectiveness of strategies to reduce poverty and inequality, reviewing anti-poverty policies over the course of a century in the UK. Discusses the 'Minority report of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws' published in 1909. Looks at policy initiatives from four time periods: 1905-42, when the Liberal government began to lay the foundations of the welfare state; 1942-79, which involved the foundation of the welfare state and the economic recession of the 1970s; 1979-97, when the New Right was championed by Margaret Thatcher and poverty and inequality rose rapidly; and 1997-2010, which involved the New Labour years and the deepest recession of the post-war period. Highlights the strengths and weaknesses of government interventions. Considers how the UK's performance compares internationally, noting that those countries with less poverty and income inequality than the UK generally have stronger welfare states and more active labour market institutions. Discusses social mobility, the Coalition's policies and the 'big society'. Suggests that redistribution, through welfare, is an essential part of the solution to combating poverty, along with pre-distribution policies, particularly in the labour market.
(my emphasis)

The report has been removed from their site and this summary is from Research Online 

I've written elsewhere about Adam Smith: he's a man that I might be very interested in spending some time with. As Deborah Boucoyannis writes:

Smith’s system precluded steep inequalities not out of a normative concern with equality but by virtue of the design that aimed to maximise the wealth of nations. Much like many progressive critics of current inequality, Smith targets rentier practices by the rich and powerful as distorting economic outcomes.

The Adam Smith Institute have used his name but, it seems, are disinterested in what he actually said. To the point where they have quietly removed their own research when its findings are in opposition to their own government reality.

Listening to white working class views of neighbourhood, cohesion and change

Before you begin reading this do an image search for "White Working Class"

This is the first image that presents itself and the rest are fairly depressing.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation is "an independent organisation working to inspire social change through research, policy and practice," and their site is well worth spending some time browsing.

Here's one of their pieces of research on White Working Class communities, completed in 2011. How might these findings have changed in the last 5 years? UKIP is defunct after it's moment of glory in 2012 when 691 UKIP candidates in the May 2012 local elections. They won 13% of the vote. Many of these voters used to be traditional Labour voters; pre-2012 were they voting for Socialist society values or for their own individual prosperity?

Whatever the case, for many people "WhiteWorking Class" has become polite shorthand for unemployed, unemployable, ignorant, racist, scrounger. This research suggests something different.

". . . rather than the popular portrayal of a feckless mass, annexed in dysfunctional housing estates, our research paints a much more nuanced reality. People were diverse in terms of ethnicity, income and tenure and emphasised values of hard work, reciprocity and mutual support.

"Racism is never acceptable. This report demonstrates that it is not the domain of the white working class either. Extremist parties have been shunned by residents. These are super-resilient places, with people who simply want to be heard, valued and treated fairly rather than forgotten. Hopefully this is a message that will be heard and acted on. And the people I grew up with can stop being stigmatised and left to feeling 'last in line'. "

6 studies on how money affects the mind

“As a person’s levels of wealth increase, their feelings of compassion and empathy go down, and their feelings of entitlement, of deservingness, and their ideology of self-interest increases,” he says in his talk from TEDxMarin. Through surveys and studies, Piff and his colleagues have found that wealthier individuals are more likely to moralize greed and self-interest as favorable, less likely to be prosocial, and more likely to cheat and break laws if it behooves them.
"The swath of evidence Piff has accumulated isn’t meant to incriminate wealthy people. “We all, in our day-to-day, minute-by-minute lives, struggle with these competing motivations of when or if to put our own interests above the interests of other people,” he says. That’s understandable—in fact, it’s a logical outgrowth of the so-called “American dream,” he says. And yet our unprecedented levels of economic inequality are concerning, and since wealth perpetuates self-interest, the gap could continue to widen.
"The good news: it doesn’t take all that much to counteract the psychological effects of wealth. “Small nudges in certain directions can restore levels of egalitarianism and empathy,” Piff says. Simply reminding wealthy individuals of the benefits of cooperation or community can prompt them to act just as egalitarian as poor people.
"To hear more of Piff’s thoughts on the effects of having—or lacking—wealth, watch his compelling talk. Below, a look at some of studies from Piff’s lab and elsewhere.
Finding #1: We rationalize advantage by convincing ourselves we deserve it
The study: In a UC Berkeley study, Piff had more than 100 pairs of strangers play Monopoly. A coin-flip randomly assigned one person in each pair to be the rich player: they got twice as much money to start with, collected twice the salary when they passed go, and rolled both dice instead of one, so they could move a lot farther. Piff used hidden cameras to watch the duos play for 15 minutes.
The results: The rich players moved their pieces more loudly, banging them around the board, and displayed the type of enthusiastic gestures you see from a football player who’s just scored a touchdown. They even ate more pretzels from a bowl sitting off to the side than the players who’d been assigned to the poor condition, and started to become ruder to their opponents. Moreover, the rich players’ understanding of the situation was completely warped: after the game, they talked about how they’d earned their success, even though the game was blatantly rigged, and their win should have been seen as inevitable. “That’s a really, really incredible insight into how the mind makes sense of advantage,” Piff says.
Finding #2: People who make less are more generous…on the small scale
The study: Piff brought rich and poor members of the community into his lab, and gave each participant the equivalent of $10. They were told they cold keep the money for themselves, or share a portion with a stranger.
The results: The participants who made under $25,000, and even sometimes $15,000, gave 44% more to the stranger than those making $150,000 to $200,000 per year.
Finding #3: People who make less are more generous…on the large scale
The study: 2012 Chronicle of Philanthropy study examined Internal Revenue Service records of Americans who earned at least $50,000 in 2008, then charted charitable giving across every state, city and ZIP code in the US.
The results: On average, households that earned $50,000 to $75,000 gave of 7.6 percent of their income to charity, while those who made make $100,000 or more gave 4.2 percent. Rich people who lived in less economically diverse—that is, wealthier—neighborhoods gave an even smaller percentage of their income to charity than those in more diverse neighborhoods: in ZIP codes where more than 40 percent of people made more than $200,000 a year, the average rate of giving was just 2.8 percent.
Finding #4: Rich people are more likely to ignore pedestrians
The study: In California, where drivers are legally required to stop for pedestrians, Piff had a confederate approach a crosswalk repeatedly as cars passed by, trying to cross the street. He videotaped the scenario for hundreds of vehicles over several days.
The results: The more expensive the car, the less likely the driver was to stop for the pedestrian—that is, the more likely they were to break the law. None of the drivers in the least-expensive-car category broke the law. Close to 50 percent of drivers in the most-expensive-car category did, simply ignoring the pedestrian on the side of the road.
Finding #5: Poverty impedes cognitive function 
The study: In this study published a few months ago, researchers Sendhil Mullainathan, Eldar Shafir and others measured farmers’ mental function a month before their harvests (when they were hurting for money) and then again a month after (when they felt flush). In a separate part of the study, they had poor and well-off participants think about finances, then determined the participants’ cognitive performance.
The results: As Mullainathan details in The New York Times, the same farmers performed worse before the harvest, when they had less money, than afterward, when they had more. And not just a little worse: their I.Q. before the harvest was 9-10 points lower, the same detriment caused by an entire night without sleep. As for the other part of the study: when poor participants thought about finances, they performed worse. Rich participants weren’t affected at all.
Finding #6: Those with less are better at reading facial expressions
The study: In 2010, a series of studies out of UCSF asked more than 300 upper- and lower-class participants to analyze the facial expressions of people in photos, and of strangers in mock interviews, to discern their emotions.
The results: The lower-class participants were better able to read faces in both cases. That is, they exhibited more “emotional intelligence, the ability to read the emotions that others are feeling,” as one of the study authors told NBC. But, if upper-class participants were told to imagine themselves in the position of lower-class people, it boosted their ability to detect other people’s emotions, counteracting the blinders-like effect of their wealth.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Social Class in the 21st Century

It's almost impossible to talk about class. We know what we're saying when we say the word, sort of, but it's increasingly difficult to define. 

(This is the only copy I can find online. If you find a better one please let me know.)

The Frost Report sketch still holds more or less true. Ronnie Corbett's character knows his place with somewhat less innocence now but most of the time he still looks up to his betters, though now sometimes with wonder and self-loathing. If only he worked as hard as his betters he'd be like them.

John Cleese's character, employed by what looks like the financial services, is now unlikely to 'have no money' unless he's very, very addicted or has financially overstretched himself. He would be in the 'Elite' and above him are the Super Rich, people we know nothing much about. Stateless, with no ties to anything other than their money, they do whatever they like and have no interest in the law. In turn, the law has no interest in them. They live so far beyond normal life that they are a specialist subject all to themselves. For those counsellors who are not working with them, suffice it to say that they have seen a huge increase in their wealth in the last year from £752,900 to £895,400 while the poorest 10th have seen their income fall again. Inequality is epidemic.

Social Class in the 21st Century is a fascinating book based on the Great British Class Survey 2013

The authors propose 7 classes

  • Elite: This is the most privileged class in Great Britain who have high levels of all three capitals. Their high amount of economic capital sets them apart from everyone else.
  • Established Middle Class: Members of this class have high levels of all three capitals although not as high as the Elite. They are a gregarious and culturally engaged class.
  • Technical Middle Class: This is a new, small class with high economic capital but seem less culturally engaged. They have relatively few social contacts and so are less socially engaged.
  • New Affluent Workers: This class has medium levels of economic capital and higher levels of cultural and social capital. They are a young and active group.
  • Emergent Service Workers: This new class has low economic capital but has high levels of 'emerging' cultural capital and high social capital. This group are young and often found in urban areas.
  • Traditional Working Class: This class scores low on all forms of the three capitals although they are not the poorest group. The average age of this class is older than the others.
  • Precariat: This is the most deprived class of all with low levels of economic, cultural and social capital. The everyday lives of members of this class are precarious.

As counsellors we meet people where they are. For myself, I'm not au fait with the differences between, say, the Established Middle Class and the Technical Middle Class but we all know someone from the Precariat when we meet with them, and we will all meet with them as trainee counsellors. 

Anyway, get hold of the book, take the Class Survey, immerse yourself in the subject for a while and let me know what you think. Remember that this is just another tool for classifying and that it will have its limits. 

The main issue for counsellors is: What feelings come up for you when you read this information? What sense do you make of those feelings?

CPD Embodying Social Justice at Roehampton


Contemporary Perspectives across the Arts and Psychological Therapies
2-day conference organised by PCSR, CREST (Centre for Research in Social and Psychological Transformation) and CATR (Centre for Arts Therapies Research)
Keynote speakers
Carmen Joanne Ablack
Susie Orbach

Dr Keon West
Roz Carroll
Dr Jonathan Wyatt
Dr Beatrice Allegranti
Prof Mick Cooper

Properly priced CPD which will really stretch participants. Join now!

Monday, 25 April 2016

Hand To Mouth.

I detest the mindset that produces these trite little aphorisms. So lacking in imagination, so devoid of distinction, and so fucking smug. So that's the world summed up, then. If you don't plan you will fail. If you plan you will succeed.

It makes my hair stand on end.

Counselling has a tendency to grab on to any new idea. How many of us took CBT courses so that we could get a job in an IAPT service? How many of us have internalised the concept of 'resilience', so noxious to the lived experience of people who might be labeled 'low achievers' or 'fragile' but who have overcome experiences that would hospitalise most of us? How many of us believe that employment is good for mental health? How many of us bung up 'motivational' memes on our social media professional sites? Ugh.

People who live in poverty learn not to plan. Any plans you make are likely to come to nothing. You learn to curb ambition, not want, endure repetition, not hope too much, learn always to sound positive. Despair comes and goes, it achieves nothing apart from the involvement of authorities who, it is feared and often with good cause, will just make your life worse. There's little point in saving because after bills have been paid you are often in debt. If you're not in debt you might have a whole £10 from your £71 a week left over, and frankly a McDonalds fills you up, is an achievable day out for you and the kids, and you know exactly what you are getting, no surprise extras.

How wise and worthy are those who can squirrel away their £20 a fortnight and live on home grown kale. How much better life would be if everyone was wise and worthy. But life isn't like that, thank god.

Hand to Mouth is written from an American experience which is different from the British. But we tend to take our lead from the US where people can work two jobs and take home less money than they would have from social security benefits. But our attitudes towards employment and unemployment are all too similar: employment is equated with morality and we can see exactly this sentiment in the British narrative. Either you're a Striver OR you're a Scrounger. Either you're a Hard Working Tax Payer OR you just can't be bovvered. You will be considered a better human being if you don't see much of your own children and have less money to spend on them than if you (managed to evade the brutal social security system and) live on benefits. Now that's the same in the UK.

British political rhetoric is  tending towards the American Dream motif: Just work hard enough and you can become rich. Tell that to the women working two jobs. Please spend 5 minutes reading any history book.

I worry that counselling has immersed itself in this nonsense, too. We admire extroverts and are concerned about introverts. We embrace endless voluntary work becauseWork Is A Total Good. Too many of us have explicit goals for clients: how many more of us have less conscious outcomes in mind for clients? We are people living in society and it takes energy to resist the fashions and climate of that society.

How are you feeling about a counsellor swearing? A counsellor voicing strong opinions?

Neoliberalism and Education

This is a blog about education but I was struck at how so many of the themes the author recognises are similar to how many therapists conceptualise the world.

Many of these young men negotiated their identities

I consider the act of ‘aspiring’ a negotiation; a continual process of desire, reflexivity, defense mechanisms and guarding against shame as one comes to understand

As the young men in my study came to navigate their schooling and the labels placed upon them, they found ways to constitute themselves as ‘subjects of value’ though it is a process that involves daily reaffirmation.

some students who embody certain desirable characteristics are saved, while many students are written off from the moment they enter the school building.

they were adept at discussing how their current constraints were in contrast to the rhetoric of achievement and social mobility.

white working-class British children are less resilient 

My time spent with these white working-class boys, in an era of high-stakes testing and extreme pressure, showed me how fear and shame can haunt working-class relationships to education.

Please read the whole article. What did you think?

Bearing a new vocabulary, and learning it.

Regular weight bearing exercise encourages your bones to adapt to the activity and to build more cells, becoming stronger in the process.
With regular exercise you should notice an increase in your energy levels and stamina, which in turn means you can do more exercise and get even fitter!

Entering the world of the Other sympathetically involves learning new vocabulary and meanings, acknowledging that what you thought was the case often isn't (and sometimes is.) Like weight bearing exercise it requires thought, repetition, care, encouragement and taking things slowly as well as bearing discomfort in order to gain benefit. When it's painful to lift the weight we need to be careful not to pull a muscle or break a tendon: we seek the expertise of someone who knows more about weightlifting than we do. We work more slowly and carefully, respecting our limits at the same time as exploring what those limits actually are.

When we experience weariness, contempt, dismissal, sudden loss of interest, withdrawal from debate around difference I propose we need to do something similar. Recognise that we are feeling these things, without judgement. Pause and allow ourselves to feel whatever it is that emerges rather than pretending that nothing is happening. Work a little more slowly, respecting our own limitations rather than ignoring and blasting through feelings that can be challenging and distressing fuelled perhaps by shame or sudden recognition or something else entirely which can lead us to extreme opinions that make little sense. 

We need to be careful, however, about asking for help from people who may know more than we do, because less privileged groups get very tired of teaching people with more privilege.

(How are you feeling about the word 'Privilege'?)

It's not a Black persons job to answer questions from a White person about racism.
It's not a Trans* persons job to answer questions from a non-Trans* person about transphobia.
It's not a woman's job to answer questions from a man about feminism or sexism.

Particularly since the focus of the questions are all too often about the person asking them.

The internet contains all the information you can imagine and then some and we can use it to explore the experience of people very different from ourselves without demanding one to one private education. And without experiencing overwhelm.

Try this first, written by a White man. How are you feeling? Where did you experience resistance? How did it manifest? Where did you get bored? And so on. You don't have to tell a soul about your experience, you especially don't need to feel guilty, if you do. Just attending to feelings as an exercise in observation is enough.

A reminder that you are not alone.

Psy-professionals have a tendency to feel isolated at the best of times. I've felt like a lone voice on the subject of class and income for many years and so it was a joy to recognise that other therapists have been thinking and discussing the subject for some time.

 There are a number of psy-groups thinking deeply and intelligently about the ways in which poverty, class, politics, ideology and so on interact to effect the individual, and a growing number are speaking up against the use of an economic model to punish, physically and emotionally, vulnerable people.  Here's the letter that brought attention to the ways in which people are being harmed to the profession as a whole and to the public.
. . . the wider reality of a society thrown completely off balance by the emotional toxicity of neoliberal thinking is affecting Britain in profound ways, the distressing effects of which are often most visible in the therapist’s consulting room. This letter sounds the starting-bell for a broadly based campaign of organisations and professionals against the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health. 

The BACP has 40,000 members, the UKCP has 7,000 and there will be some cross over between groups. 400 therapists signed this letter.  I'm proud to have been one of them.

Managing the need to polarise.

Either you're for regulation or you're against it. Either you're for the law or you're against it. Either you despise white working class culture or you're a racist.

Counsellors and psychotherapists live in a world of nuance, listening very carefully to what people believe they're saying and actually say and attempting to discern what might actually be going on for them. But when it comes to diversity we still remain, as a profession, pretty blunt in our approach. We tend to be reactive rather than proactive - watching our professional orgs beginning to scrabble with excuses and pompous, unrealistic announcements

We . . . will continue to engage with the Joint Work and Health Unit to critically examine their ongoing work, to ensure that the full range of potential co-location options trialled are in the best interests of clients, and that the evaluations will be thorough and robust enough to pick up on all of our areas of concern.

is a good example of our need for status and our inability to acknowledge that there are huge holes in our experience and knowledge. The organisations involved in this Statement seem to have forgotten that this government dismissed their demand for regulation: they don't take us terribly seriously.

So, read Paul Mason's piece on why working class white children, particularly boys, are failing so miserably.

It was not always the case that ethnic-minority children did better than white English ones, but the reason why some of them do now is pretty obvious: their problem – racism – is defined; their language skills tend to be well-developed; their culture is one of aspiration; they have social and religious institutions that promote cohesion.

By contrast, the problem of poor white kids cannot be properly defined: not in the language of freemarket capitalism, at least. It has nothing to do with being “overtaken” – still less with any reverse discrimination against them.
It is simply that a specific part of their culture has been destroyed. A culture based on work, rising wages, strict unspoken rules against disorder, obligatory collaboration and mutual aid. It all had to go, and the means of destroying it was the long-term unemployment millions of people had to suffer in the 1980s.

At a time when we have come to believe that the individual is solely responsible for their own fate a little nuance, a little thought, a little emersion in the experience of the Other and a little reading of history will go a long way.

Discussion of research from 2013

There's an increasing amount of research around prosperity and empathy (and just plain decent behaviour) but here's a good introduction. 

A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and interrupt or look past the other speaker. 
A prerequisite to empathy is simply paying attention to the person in pain. In 2008, social psychologists from the University of Amsterdam and the University of California, Berkeley, studied pairs of strangers telling one another about difficulties they had been through, like a divorce or death of a loved one. The researchers found that the differential expressed itself in the playing down of suffering. The more powerful were less compassionate toward the hardships described by the less powerful.
Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at Berkeley, and Michael W. Kraus, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, have done much of the research on social power and the attention deficit.
Mr. Keltner suggests that, in general, we focus the most on those we value most. While the wealthy can hire help, those with few material assets are more likely to value their social assets: like the neighbor who will keep an eye on your child from the time she gets home from school until the time you get home from work. The financial difference ends up creating a behavioral difference. Poor people are better attuned to interpersonal relations — with those of the same strata, and the more powerful — than the rich are, because they have to be. 

Read on . . .

Sunday, 24 April 2016

Five years on and it seems that counselling is beginning, just, to become aware that there may be something more to poverty than personal failure. The BACP and other professional counselling organisations have made a rather Statement about coercive therapy, a practice that has been occurring for some time but which the BACP and other professional orgs only became aware of when 400 psy-professionals wrote to the Guardian about it. 

Here's part of the reply to The Statement from the Mental Wealth Foundation a broad, inclusive coalition of professional, grassroots, academic and survivor campaigns and movements.  

There is no indication that any consultation has taken place with members of your organisations with knowledge of these matters nor with service users, clients and their representative organisations. This lack of consultation and opportunity for wider reflection has contributed to your organisations departing from your own ethical structures and frameworks, and being seen as agents of harmful government policy.

DWP psych jobs are being advertised in the professional journals at the same time as the same organisations are saying compulsory therapy is, at best, dubious.

There's a groundswell of objection to the abuse of the poor, across professions and in academia. This contrasts with the naivety - cringingly, dangerously awful - of counselling and psychotherapy. 

It's time to put as much information as possible in one place. Even if this blog gets the same amount of interest as before, I won't need to keep a tottering pile of articles on my printer any more.