Today I am happy I was enabled to sign a wonderful letter another had written, saying so much that I have wanted to find a way to say. It was published in the Guardian today.
The profoundly disturbing psychological and quality-of-life implications of the coalition government’s cuts and policies have yet to be mentioned in the election campaign. Counsellors and psychotherapists in the public and private sectors find themselves at the coalface in responding to the effects of austerity politics on the emotional state of the nation. The past five years have seen a radical shift in the kinds of issues generating distress in our clients: increasing inequality and outright poverty, families forced to move against their wishes, and, perhaps most important, benefits claimants (including disabled and ill people) and those seeking work being subjected to a quite new, intimidatory kind of disciplinary regime.
Where this includes the linkage of social security benefits to the receipt of “state therapy”, as announced in the chancellor’s latest budget, this is totally unacceptable. “Get to work therapy” is manifestly not therapy at all. With the ominous news that Maximus (the US company replacing Atos to do work capability assessments) will also be managing the new national Fit for Work programme, it is time for the field’s key professional organisations to wake up to these malign developments, and unequivocally denounce such so-called “therapy” as damaging and professionally unethical.
More generally, the wider reality of a society thrown completely off balance by the emotional toxicity of neoliberal thinking is affecting Britain in profound ways, the distressing effects of which are often most visible in the therapist’s consulting room. This letter sounds the starting-bell for a broadly based campaign of organisations and professionals against the damage that neoliberalism is doing to the nation’s mental health. For now, we call on all the parties in this election – and particularly Labour – to make it clear that they will urgently review such anti-therapeutic practices, and appropriately refashion their much-trumpeted commitment to mental health if and when they enter government.