THE HPC STANDARDS OF PROFICIENCY for counselling and psychotherapy document have an aura, a resonance that has excited a lot of comment, not least from eIpnosis. Scientised research validities, NHS-style managementspeak, 'threshold levels', a few afterthoughts specifically about counselling and psychotherapy, plus a culture of tick box audit, all of it driven by coercion and the threat of punitive sanctions.

And yet in recognizing and pillorying the icons of this technocratic culture might we not have missed the bigger picture? I had a waking dream of the 'Standards' each being chanted, complete with its missing 'you must', over images of a circus in which animals did the bidding of the ringmaster with a whip.

And then it clicked, forget the circus, the cultural atmosphere the HPC Standards evoke is of centralized ecclesiastical power. Standards of proficiency for counselling and psychotherapy are a 'catechism' for compliance with a technocratic religion of belief and behaviour. And also for dealing with the non-compliance of heresy and heretics, aka charlatans.

The Standards are for ordinands and seminaries seeking entry to the new state church of Psychontology, in the diocese of New Labour False Promises. It seeks the conversion of the existing parishes, their present, past and future communicants. The latter through ensuring, through control of education and training, that any further development of psychontology will be according to the HPC articles of faith.

Let us not be in any doubt this is a new religious departure, in many ways unlike previous churches. It reverses the dark resonant spaces with their music and incense into what it claims is complete transparency; in its meeting rooms Heavenly scrutiny is delivered via CCTV and hired in 'partners'. This is a church that has no bishops and that claims to have no theology, you can believe anything you like or nothing but you must act according to the precepts set out in the Standards of proficiency catechism. Canon law details the sanctions for malfeasance up to and including excommunication.

Even a modest background in the sociology of institutions reveals the extent to which there is a theology, one that deifies scientised research and its r.c.t and various related scientific heavens, of which the medical model of diagnosis and treatment and NHS-managerialism come most immediately to mind.

Is this just a silly mid-morning excursion driven by irritation at the gullibility of people thinking that if they sign up to the HPC's Standards of proficiency regime regulatory grace will descend? I don't believe so. History is replete with churches, public and private, in which we create and sometimes try to enforce, definitions of human nature, what is human and natural. Humanity needed a Jesus but courtesy of the Roman Empire's political agendas we got the Catholic Church. Henry VIII wanted a church that would do as it was told and so we have the Church of England, still with 12 bishops entitled to sit in the House of Lords.

As Jews know only too well, definitions of what counts as human and natural count. Become an Unmensch. Lose the right to life. When they are cementing over the meadows of psychological therapy diversity, collaborators in the dissolution of this previously rich ecology of mêtis and ethical values deny, or keep themselves alienated from the historical evidence that in their need to define what is 'human and natural', religions almost without exception, create heresy, victimization, exclusion and abuse. In a recent editorial, the dean of one of the UK sects, BACP chair Lynne Gabriel asked in effect (and affirmatively), would it not be part of the membership's task to denounce heretics?

I have written elsewhere this earlier essay about the HPC about HPC as having religious overtones but the Standards of proficiency for counselling and psychotherapy bring this sharply into focus. Take a look at the beginning of that article and also, check out the father of all catechisms on the Vatican web-site that has almost 3000 items. You could start with 2475: Offenses against Truth and then… 2850-54: Deliver us from Evil!

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What the HPC commands it makes possible by its grace.
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W.H. Auden
eIpnosis is edited, maintained and © Denis Postle 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009

A TickBox Doxology?

An eIpnosis cultural overview by Denis Postle
HPC Standards of proficiency for counselling and psychotherapy July 2009.