Wednesday, 26 October 2016

When Fascism Affects You, You Tend To Notice. Otherwise, Not So Much.

One of our best known therapists Emmy van Deurzen is being affected by Brexit wondering, with good reason, if she'll be allowed to remain in the country she's called home for decades. Many of her social media posts have been about the ways in which Brexit is being challenged across Europe, including the UK. This morning Emmy shared this article:

This is a photo shot on the streets of Munich, Germany on 10th March 1933; just six weeks after Hitler came to power.  The picture, published across the world and later in many history books, was a chilling portent of the hellish events that were about to consume Germany and much of the rest of the planet.  Many have seen this photo, but few know the background behind it. 

Dr Michael Siegel, an eminent 50-year-old German Jewish lawyer, is shown in the photo, bruised, barefoot, trousers ripped, being marched by Nazi ‘brown-shirt’ auxiliary police.   The sign hanging from his neck was scrawled with the message,  ‘Ich bin Jude, aber ich werde mich nie mehr bei der Polizei beschweren’ – ‘I am a Jew, but I will never again complain to the police’.

In June I was a participant at the Embodying Social Justice conference at Roehampton ". . . for therapists with an interest in the links between social justice and therapeutic practice." It was excellent. During one plenary anxiety about the upcoming referendum was very clear along with fears about a perception of increasing right wing sentiments across the country. I said, "You're describing fascism. We need to say the word," which went down like a silent lead balloon across the entire theatre. I felt ashamed and over exposed.

I'll admit to an amount of dark pleasure allied to despair at post-Brexit events. 

Emmy van Deurzen's post today reminded me that we cannot feel everything in the world and that we are naturally more likely to feel strongly about something when we are affected by it.

So whilst poor people have not recently been paraded in the street with a sign around their neck in an attempt to humiliate them, to prove the superiority of people who are empowered to do this and to serve as a warning both to other people who are poor and to people who would defend them, we do have the Jeremy Kyle Show. 

Also: On Benefits, On Benefits And Proud, Benefit Buster, Britain's Benefits Tenants, Benefits Street, The Big Benefits Handout, Portsmouth on Payouts, Real Benefits Street and colossal numbers of media reports on benefits 'cheats', people on benefits with more than 2 children, single mothers on benefits, and so on. It's only very recently - coinciding with the effects of austerity hitting the middle classes - that less voyeuristic, less vitriolic, less baiting reporting has been forthcoming. Veterans and the disabled get a sympathetic hearing. But disabled people have to be in desperate situations. 

Bus stop adverts have had posters on them encouraging neighbours to inform, anonymously, on neighbours. 

There are dozens of these posters. For a selection search Benefit Cheat Poster. 

You can call a freephone number to anonymously leave details about any person you don't like. If the person is on benefits their benefits will be suspended before they have any indication that there's a problem - suddenly they're going into rent arrears and have no money. 

When the huge majority of people on benefits say they have no money they don't mean they have to cash in an ISA or break into some savings. They mean they have no money. Then the person is interrogated. And whatever the outcome a permanent record of suspicion is kept on them.

No record is kept of how many malicious calls are made. Because that is not important. What is important is keeping people on benefits in fear and keeping people who are not on benefits ashamed and afraid of going on them.

Your bank account is supposed to be confidential between you and your bank. If you are very poor a DWP employee and Housing Benefit employees are entitled to examine your bank statement and ask why you are purchasing anything they don't approve of.

Surveillance photographs can be taken of your washing line - to see if there are any mens clothes hanging in a household where there are no men - of who comes in and out of your house, of who is in your living room, who you're eating with. Who picks your child up from school. Your social media profile will be examined by the State. 

As a nation we are already content that food is not a human right. Poor people may visit a Food Bank. But only three times. We are content that a home is not a human right even (often especially) for children, one in 4 of whom is living in poverty

  • More than one million children live in overcrowded housing. [3]
  • More than 70,000 homeless children in England are living in temporary accommodation. [4]
  • 3.6 million children in the United Kingdom live in poverty after their housing costs have been paid. [5]

And we know that poverty has a catastrophic effect on the lives of children, including making them vulnerable to sex traffickers, when they then are treated with further State contempt and dismissal.

So the poor have enduring experience of a fascist state, across time. Workhouses. Flophouses. Welfare to Work. The benefits cap. The under-occupancy charge. Benefits sanctions. The myriad of disability benefits assessments. The sheer number of pages it takes to fill in a request for unemployment benefit. The documents that are printed to tell a person how to fill in these forms. The appeals - usually won. All of these carefully designed processes cost much more than any benefit fraud - still linked with 'Benefit error'. All of them are to create a Radical Other. All of them are to create fear about being that Radical Other or trying to support the Radical Other.

Take a look at this interview on Channel 4 News. Anecdote after anecdote after anecdote when there is endless evidence. MP Kwasi Kwarteng is correct when he says that the UK populace feels that punishing the poor is the correct way to manage them. Them.

It's fascism. Counsellors just aren't affected by it. 

Friday, 21 October 2016

Theories of Personality

John Singleton Copley's Watson and the Shark

All psychological models, all counselling theories are based on an understanding of human nature. Without this understanding the model has no foundation – how can we know what helps people grow and what prevents growth if we don’t have an understanding of what an individual is, what human nature might be?

So as counsellors we will meet clients in a certain way based on our models' understanding of human nature. As people who are also counsellors what do we, as individuals, actually believe about human nature?

Do we believe people are inherently selfish? Greedy? Passive? Self-absorbed? Violent? Racist? Sexist? 

That people like to be told what to do? 

That people can’t think for themselves? 

That people like to control other people?

Do we believe that human nature is fixed?

Do we believe that inequality is natural?

That some people are more or less able  to make decisions about other people?

Do we believe that various physical attributes determine how intelligent a person is?

Do we believe that a persons cultural background determines what rights they should be entitled to?

Do we believe that people pass on their cultures to their children and that some of those cultures are harmful?

Do we believe that human nature is inherently corrupt, greedy and competitive?

Is success is due to personal striving?

How do we define success? This seems a simple matter but being part of the world we will be immersed in the concept that success is a standard of living, a way of living that involves wealth, in a world where wealth and power are analogous.

Many therapists use inspirational quotes like these from Ayn Rand

“A creative man is motivated by the desire to achieve, not by the desire to beat others.”

"The ladder of success is best climbed by stepping on the rungs of opportunity." 

“Happiness is that state of consciousness which proceeds from the achievement of one's values.”

“The question isn't who is going to let me; it's who is going to stop me.”

Ayn Rand developed a philosophy of Objectivism

“Objectivism's central tenets are that reality exists independently of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of conceptformation and inductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness (rational self-interest), that the only social system consistent with this morality is one that displays full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism.”

Sounds very similar to many of the foundations of counselling theory.

The father of Capitalism, Adam Smith had a concept of human nature, too.

“How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortunes of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it, except the pleasure of seeing it.”

He describes empathy

“As we have no immediate experience of what other men feel, we can form no idea of the manner in which they are affected, but by conceiving what we ourselves should feel in the like situation. Though our brother is on the rack, as long as we ourselves are at our ease, our senses will never inform us of what he suffers. They never did, and never can, carry us beyond our own person, and it is by the imagination only that we can form any conception of what are his sensations. Neither can that faculty help us to this any other way, than by representing to us what would be our own, if we were in his case. It is the impressions of our own senses only, not those of his, which our imaginations copy. By the imagination, we place ourselves in his situation.”

He wrote clearly about the need for charity, for small profits and fair wages. Read more here.

Concepts of human altruism and selfishness underlie financial theories. Are human beings inherently self interested individuals or altruistic and community minded? How might these virtues be balanced and to what end? Read more here

Counsellors are not separate from society. Just like the client, we bring our backgrounds, beliefs and experiences into the room with us. What is preventing us from discussing this at depth? Is there any counselling course that presents the very clear, reproducible evidence that empathy reduces with wealth and asks participants to explore this, at all let alone deeply? Why isn't this basic to every single course?

Who benefits?