Class

Class and Income Diversity.

Traditional ways of categorising people and groups into classes has become redundant, with greater social fluidity changing how we understand ourselves and others in terms of our occupations, incomes and ways of living. Yet ‘class’ remains a deeply entrenched aspect of all of our lives. Modern research suggests that class can now be determined by examining a person's economic, social and cultural life. Take the test to determine your own class here.

Because class is amongst the last of the ‘diversities’ to be examined in counselling training and CPD, rather than trying to determine a client's experience of class, the psy-professions would be better served in examining our individual and shared responses and understandings around the subject. Being immersed in cultures that evaluate people in terms of their monetary value at every turn, we too are subject to unconscious processes that function on deep and unexamined levels.

A worrying paradox is that our least experienced colleagues are most likely to meet clients with complex, intractable and deeply distressing issues caused by their social class. Counselling students volunteer to gain hours in counselling agencies where they meet people who cannot afford private therapy, and we know that poverty is a major determinant of mental ill-health.

Further, since training to be a counsellor costs so much in time as well as money there are very few counsellors with an enduring experience of poverty. There is a growing body of research that demonstrates how increased affluence (or even feelings of affluence) decreases empathy and increases the likelihood of cheating. Whereas increased levels of empathy are associated with having less money.

Our professional bodies have a deeply un-nuanced understanding of employment and unemployment: the BACP has said only that unemployment is bad for mental health while the research demonstrates that lack of meaningful activity is bad for mental health. See more here.

We are told that “Work Is Good For You” - (Robinson, L (May 2008) Therapy Today) at the same time as being told that workplace stress, workplace bullying and exhaustion linked to work are becoming epidemic. We are told that counselling the unemployed back to work is ethical, while ignoring the lived experience of people who are unemployed.

People who are not white, young, neuro-typical, cisgender, heterosexual men are more likely to experience financial scarcity. For this reason, if not for any interest in the lives of people who are poor, examining our responses to people who have a different experience of affluence from our own is part of understanding the experiences of many different kinds of people.

People who are very wealthy also have their own particular issues associated with their income, particularly those who are new to affluence.

Resources

Books

Counselling, Class and Politics: Undeclared Influences in Therapy 1996 Anne Kearney. Sage
Criminalising Social Policy: Anti-social Behaviour and Welfare in a De-civilised Society 2008 John Rodger. Willan
Psychotherapy and Society: 1997 David Pilgrim, Sage
Social Class in the 21st Century. 2015 Mike Savage. Pelican Books
The Dynamics of Power in Counselling and Psychotherapy: Ethics, Politics and Practice 2002 Gillian Proctor. PCCS

Online Resources

London School of Economics Politics and Policy Blog
Kate Belgrave “a collection of interviews with people who rely on public services and who have fought as their services have been privatised and eroded.”
Joseph Rowntree Foundation “Our vision is for a prosperous UK without poverty where everyone can thrive and contribute.”
Paul Piff – an introduction to the research demonstrating how income changes behaviour

Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility – a group of very experienced therapists with a particular interest in the social dimensions of counselling and psychotherapy.

  • recognise the impact of the political dimension on the client- practitioner relationship
  • develop ideas about how social, political, environmental and cultural issues can be integrated into theory and practice
  • address and challenge racism, sexism, homophobia and classism as well as other forms of prejudice and discriminatory practice at all levels within our professions
  • campaign for better provision of statutory and low-cost counselling or psychotherapy services

The Facebook page Counselling Class and Income: A page for research, discussion and personal experience of class and income status, to inform the practice of counselling and psychotherapy.

We hope that you find some of these resources helpful!

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