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Review of Regulating the Psychological Therapies -from Taxonomy to Taxidermy by Denis Postle PCCS books 2007
by Bob Jenkins, counsellor & psychotherapist in private practice, Bradford.
[to the memory of Petruska]
I first stumbled onto Denis Postle's GORILLA web-site about five years ago, as I was preparing for my CTA exam. I was amazed to discover a wonderfully garish and constantly inspiring jumble of ideas and images addressing in the most forthright terms a wide range of concerns about what Postle calls 'psycho-practice', his generic term for development or change work with people. Postle is also the editor of several related sites, chief among which is that of the Independent Practitioners Network, a practical, and arguably unique, example of a genuinely non-hierarchical professional association for therapists, facilitators, coaches and other human relations practitioners, which Postle helped to set up in 1995.
As I struggled with my exam, which I saw then as the main hurdle I was required to jump if I was to stay on track to accreditation and, ultimately, UKCP registration, I would occasionally be lured away from my attempts to draft a convincing treatment plan or get Microsoft Word to draw ego-state diagrams by Postle's websites. Here I would seek refuge in what appeared to me then to be a sort of Looking Glass world, in which overweening authorities like the BACP and UKCP with their strictures and strait-jackets for would-be accreditees had been replaced by a seamless network of interdependent practitioner cells, capable of providing peer supervision, positive acceptance as a 'good-enough' therapist, and help with therapeutic repair when needed, all with the over-arching aim, not merely of 'protecting the client', but of 'protecting the client experience'.
To this day I wonder how one minute I could be engaging with Postle's resistance to top-down statutory regulation and the next minute stepping back out of my browser to churn out the next 2,000 words for EATA that would lock me into precisely that! It is only since CTA completion that I have been able to admit to myself that, along with thousands of ordinary therapists in the UK whose livelihood depends on being accredited, I have actually surrendered a large part of the power I might have shared with fellow professionals to those who, by dint of walling off ever larger tracts of the therapy 'wilderness', have effectively seized seemingly permanent control of, one by one, the agendas of training, accreditation, registration and regulation.
It is to Postle's great credit that, almost alone among commentators on the politics of professionalisation, he has never ceased to remind us of the supreme irony of this still developing (and yet to be concluded) saga, namely, that the very people whose raison d'etre is to empower their clients have, by their craven obeisance to the State as Regulator, been progressively dis-empowering their fellow professionals.
From this perspective, the Looking Glass world isn't the one on the web, it's the one we're in now (or, if we're trainees, aspire to be in). And it appears to be run by an assortment of mad hatters, grinning cats and imperious duchesses, who would sooner sacrifice us to the Red Queen than permit us to think for ourselves.
This collection of articles by Postle and others constitutes a 17-year chronicle of the power-mongering machinations of the big training and accrediting bodies and their accomplices in the Department of Health and its various agencies. It starts in the late eighties with reflections on the shadow side of professionalisation, the "not-so-subtle shift from personal development for its own sake" to a situation in which an increasingly professionalised - for which read audited, evaluated, NVQ-ed - psycho-practice finds it increasingly hard to avoid shaping alliances with clients "by employer-led, job-description-driven, cost-effective, risk-averse, technical priorities." (p. xiv).
Part Two looks at the 'couch wars' of the late 90s and early noughties during which the major trade associations (as Postle continually refers to the likes of the BACP and UKCP) dealt with split-offs (psychoanalysts from UKCP) or clean-ups (appending the 'P' onto the BAC) as talk of SR became louder and the momentum towards it less resistible.
The third part of Postle's chronicle deals with quite recent events, beginning at the point in 2006 when the major counselling and psychotherapy organisations abruptly switched roles in their game of Regulation Rapo with the government. Evidently, the very sight of the Department of Health's organ (the Health Professions Council - Shock! Horror!) was too overpowering, and put paid to the flirting immediately. And the embarrassment of the pay-off was so confusing for the BACP that one of the statements they issued (p.170) constituted a complete reversal of their previously proclaimed position that regulation was the principle guarantee of public protection.
Not surprisingly, Postle disposes of this particular shibboleth from the outset. Indeed, much of his argument consistently decontaminates the prejudices and delusions of the trade associations on this central issue. He is adept at scraping away the veneer of respectability of the regulation lobby's social messages to reveal the underlying psychological content - which, as their 10-year state of competitive symbiosis amply demonstrates, has consistently been about Power-Over. In so doing he frequently lays bare the structure and dynamics of the organisations involved in ways which allow us to understand not just what has gone wrong with them, but also how it has gone wrong.
Postle has met officers of the organisations concerned, and closely observed them at their work in public consultations. His descriptions of these meetings, what people say, how they say it, how it compares with what they have said in the past, and what it shows about their relationships with their memberships provide a wealth of behavioural, social, historical and phenomenological insight which, taken together, amount to a highly articulate and consistently incisive confrontation of the game that is State Regulation. But Postle doesn't stop here. By including in his collection a number of articles which describe experiments with creative accreditation and regulation structures developed and practised now by the IPN, he also offers a workable antithesis to that game.
To those who may be new to the politics of psychotherapy, and especially the brand presented here, Postle's book could be either very scary or very exciting. However it stimulates them, they would be well advised to follow the succeeding themes as they are still developing on Postle's websites [addresses below]. Here they will also have the option to join over 600 therapists, many of them BACP or UKCP members, in a petition demonstrating principled non-compliance with regulation as currently proposed.
To those in our profession who benefit most from the present top-down accreditation structures this book will make for uncomfortable reading - so uncomfortable that they may wish to go on ignoring its author and his arguments as they have done for the last two decades. To them, Postle, who cheerily diagnoses himself with Oppositional Defiant Disorder, must come across like the atheist at the religious convention who challenges a non-existent god to smite him dead. Predictably, the response is and will probably continue to be awe-ful silence.
Actually, I don't think this analogy is too wide of the mark. Whilst Postle is by no means advocating psychotherapy without regulation (he finds it as essential as any other ethically conscious practitioner would), he does not see the point of an extrinsic superordinate regulating authority of any kind. He holds that absolutely no evidence has been adduced to support the notion that our profession requires such a 'deity' to protect the public from us. Moreover, he argues that there is evidence to show that power structures which sustain such regulatory bodies more frequently detract from the sort of core conditions in which empowering relationships can be co-created, whether between therapist and client, or between therapy organisations and their members, and are thus intrinsically unjust.
As many who knew Petruska Clarkson would acknowledge, it's not easy to be a lone protester against injustice. Postle, too, has been a voice in the wilderness (what's left of it!) for far too long, so I am delighted that this collection has finally become available in book form. His lonely 20-year labour of love, passion, eloquence and wit will hopefully inspire a wide enough audience to to confront the Regulation game unequivocally, disperse the fog of passivity with which it has paralysed the profession, and stimulate at long last some creative Adult thinking about the future of our profession.
Bob Jenkins, Bradford 19th July 07