Tail Biting

Coming from the countryside my childhood is peppered with a graphic sense of life and death and the early realisation that it all comes down to piss and shit in the end. As those of you who are soft for a bit of Archers the story of Neil’s cannibalistic pigs gnawing each other’s tails from stress and anxiety has something of the Greek tragedy.  A Gloucester Old spot, with the spiritual and intellectual capacity to be a small child’s best friend, is compelled by frustration to eat it’s own family leaving the choice of amputation or culling these kind smart creatures.

Last week brought with it a real sense of us starting to eat ourselves. Both on a personal and social level, last week I watched people in the same pigsty insist that they were both free and living in a shrinking social space. For some of us the shutting of the European gate means a turning inwards that will leave us heading deeper into a time of inequality and hostility, run by elites where some are more equal than others. Claims of self-defence by gnawing ourselves free from our relationships with the other animals.

We now have to make difficult decisions about how or whether to collaborate in such political times. In many of our social spheres, whether work or social media, a regime of compliance-or-victimisation has emerged offering a stark choice for those of us of a critical persuasion. As someone who who worked in Moldova in the 1990s, it really is like working in a broken authoritarian system. Best to remain silent, survive on coffee and dark humour and accept that to cover the basics you have to drive a taxi, barter fags for light bulbs and call it the sharing economy. 

At some point this year I’ll write about what’s been going on for me over the last few months but for now I will just say that it involves what could be considered a good case study in professional cannibalism. With nothing but the prospect of snuffling-and-tail-biting ahead I have found myself rethinking the wisdom of saying anything at all. However, when you know something about how the silencing of people on the frontline will end, you can’t un-know it. In my experience of attempting to play the work-game, it doesn’t protect you from someone taking a nibble so although I don’t actively want to prod the professional animal I can’t live with the consequences of not. 

I start this year’s Surviving Work with a series of pieces about the politics of mental health. I had an article published last week in the Healthcare, Counselling and Psychotherapy Journal of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy – you can download the pdf here or read it in next week’s blog. This is the largest professional body for therapists and is at the heart of the wrong-side-of-history bun fight over the future of the profession. I was as surprised as anyone that they would be prepared to print anything by me but after an awkward editorial process and the insertion of ‘in my opinion’ into any statement of substance, it went out. 

The semiotics of the piece are almost-funny. My research – the results of the Surviving Work Survey – on which my views are based was edited into a separate article. Isolate facts from main text and voila, just another angry opinion piece. Because I’m not a member of BACP I can’t see the article online so I didn’t realise until a copy of the magazine plopped on my doorstep that a further semiotic sleight of hand had taken place by inserting the ‘stories’ of three IAPT workers in the middle of my article with the stuff of heroic muddling through. The semiotics of silencing. 

You don’t have to be Bruno Bettelheim to understand that by separating out my research from my point of view and mixing it up with opposing testimonials is not about balance, it’s about degrading the facts.  My view about the UK’s largest mental health programme – Increased Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) – is based on research, not a grudge or a well earned chip on the ol’ shoulder. The conflation of the two is depressingly familiar for anyone trying to get their writing published in mainstream or professional media.

So to be clear, it’s not just my opinion that IAPT is a dangerous attempt to punish anyone who doesn’t comply with the current model of industrialised state care, it’s a matter of research. I’m just sorry that the professional bodies don’t have sufficient belief in their own views to tolerate debating them with people who have done the dog work of researching them.

Over the next few months I’ll be sending out infographics and summaries of research on mental health services based on two surveys in an attempt to open up rather than shut down the debate about the future of services. 

If you want to join the debate about the future of therapy then book your ticked to The Industrialisation of Care in Manchester on the 28 March here.

One Response to “Tail Biting”

  1. Elizabeth Cotton

    E: “I read the article with great interest. It captures the essence of the culture of IAPT and the description of Bacp and their attitudes & behaviour resonated. They have nothing but contempt for their own members and treat non members less favourably.
    Thank you for this research and well observed truths.”


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