Thursday 27 August 2009


Every job these days now seems to require some kind of qualificational (is that a word? It is now!) route into and through it, and the more organized these groups get the more some individuals will want to be recognized as ‘professional’. The professional counseling and psychotherapy association I belong to, the BACP, was created when individual counselors and psychotherapists decided that the public was suffering because counselors and psychotherapists had no accrediting body. They set up the BACP and approached the government to demand that only qualified counselors and psychotherapists be recognized as such. Today, people who are not qualified as anything can still offer their services as counselors. The government, who once took no notice of us, have now decided that they will only recognize psychotherapists and not counselors, which leaves a great many highly qualified counselors potentially out in the cold, and the BACP running about trying to catch up.

At the same time, the BACP created an accrediting scheme that can only be a box ticking exercise since it’s unworkable to have someone present during actual sessions to observe and assess. The BACP’s own research discovered that the greatest number of complaints are made against accredited practitioners.

(please cut and paste, my keyboard has no wriggly line!)

Nevertheless, the larger, more prestigious and higher paying employers of counselors and psychotherapists demand that we be BACP Accredited, not because they understand counseling and psychotherapy or because they want the best people for the job but because they believe that qualifications mean they will be getting a better practitioner and because they want people who are content with jumping through hoops in preference to thinking for themselves.

It’s no bad thing to know that a person has completed and qualified from a particular line of study. Pagans want this too, we don’t want someone calling herself Lady BlueBottle, Hereditary Witch Queen of Atlantis to be involved with, well anything really, but particularly not vulnerable people or representing Paganism. We’re all tired of the fantasy-driven pronouncements of too many Pagans and their incredible claims, and we know that this behaviour is not limited to teenagers. In the non-Pagan world we also know highly qualified and experienced professional people who are untrustworthy. Indeed, the more prestigious their status them easier it is for them to be untrustworthy.

What links these things together, from a growing number of US chaplains demanding access to patient notes and counselors and psychotherapists becoming mesmerized and deskilled by professionalism, to the growing number of very honourable and simple jobs becoming dependent on qualifications is status. Pagans are still struggling to have our status as a bona fide religion recognized, and the starting point for many individual Pagan chaplains in hospitals and prisons was the demand that this corporate status was acknowledged. Those Chaplains who overstep meaningful boundaries by demanding access to patients who haven’t requested it and patient notes, are motivated by the desire to have their personal status recognized.

All of which has nothing to do with accountability. We know that human nature is likely to try and get away with what it can, there’s little can be done about that other than the blunt instrument of punishment, and rather than waiting for behaviour to become criminal it’s probably wise to have an agreed standard of behaviour for different professions. Standardised teaching can achieve something like that and yet . . . when teaching establishments have to fulfill quotas in recruitment and pass rates, which all come down to keeping the institution financially above water it all becomes a bit meaningless. But it does keep the money rolling in.

In the US the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education Inc seems to be the largest representative body for hospital chaplains. They talk about people as ‘Living Human Documents’ and have detailed manuals and standards and an accreditation process and bylaws . . . all the stuff that makes an organization look very proper, professional and acceptable – and gives the organization and its officers high status. This is the group that has encouraged chaplains to demand access to patient notes believing chaplains to have the same status as medical professionals. Presumably, therefore, they believe that doctors have the same status as chaplains.

I’d like chaplains to be accountable to their patients and themselves primarily, then the hospital they work in, then their own Pagan community and then the wider world. But I don’t have a Pagan community, I work entirely on my own and so I’m only officially accountable to the chaplaincy office and the hospital which is perhaps good enough. I would really like a chaplaincy supervision group, Pagan or otherwise - almost entirely the same as my psychotherapy supervision group where I could discus in confidence how things are going. But there isn’t one, there aren’t enough Pagan hospital chaplains to create one and UK chaplaincy groups aren’t organized in this manner.

Long manuals and documents and acronyms do little to protect anyone. Libraries filled with complex and weighty tomes of case law and precedent don’t stop people from breaking the law. What does go some way towards curbing the desire to abuse power is mutual respect and support, keeping organizations small and intimate without becoming incestuous. It can be done. And it’s inevitable that such groups will have lower status and less income.

It’s important to know what the law of the land is and what hospital policy is but this doesn’t stop individuals from working – entirely within the letter of their professional standards – in a callous and burned out manner. (Thank you, Mogg) It is infinitely harder to create, maintain and belong to a small group that actually sees you and hears you, is responsible for and to you than it is to hand over your cash to an organization and perform the tricks they require for advancement which gives you a passport to prestige and greater income.

And of course doing things the hard way requires the patience to explain to the people in suits and the people who have been conditioned to trust anyone with a string of letters after their name, that membership of a professional body is no guarantee of a better service.


Bo said...

Well said. I agree entirely.

Clare Slaney said...

Thank you, Bo.