Holiday Reading!

I’ve been neglecting the Critically Chatting Blog in favour of putting energy into the In Defence of Youth Work campaign. However with holidays on the horizon I’m taking this opportunity to offer an eclectic mix of articles,  which you might dip into over the next few weeks.

With  the prospect of an Iraq inquiry back on the front pages  here is a link to an article written in 2004, Misrepresenting Youth: UK Media and the Anti-War Protesters It opens by suggesting that conventional media wisdom insists young people are simply not interested in politics. This might explain the kind of representations they receive. Popular images of youth — causing mayhem, lacking discipline, escaping responsibilities, while relentlessly in the pursuit of all kinds of consumption — suggest young people are far too busy to engage with politics. It closes with the rather weary call for the media to change its common representations of young citizens, and promote more active contributions. In between there is an interesting discussion about the wider refusal to treat young people seriously and ironically the desire to confirm the stereotype that they are just passive, naive consumers.

It is 200 years since the birth of Charles Darwin, known as the father of evolutionary theory and the arguments rage on. In recent years we have witnessed the emergence within the Christian community of counter-claims in the name of Intelligent Design ID] and Creationism. Given the impact of Faith Youth Work in recent years I wonder if followers of ID are in dialogue with young people about the origins of the species? From the humanist side of affairs, see this light piece on inviting Charles Darwin to dinner

I make no apologies for posting belatedly this Guardian interview with Richard Wilkinson and Kate Picket, authors of ‘The Spirit Level’, within which they argue that almost all social problems, from crime to obesity, stem from the root cause of inequality. Their detailed argument is a devastating response to thirty years of blaming social ills on the victims of economic and political inequality – even if they are weak on naming the capitalist character of societies, within which Peter Mandelson feels intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich.

I’ve  something of a love/hate relationship with the world of counselling and psychotherapy. Back in the 70’s I was initially seduced by Carl Rogers, but my effort to bring him into a relationship with Karl Marx ended in tears. Indeed in around 1980 Roy Ratcliffe and myself ran a workshop at a British Association of Counselling event, ‘Counselling for Revolution’, which accused counsellors of political naivete and cowardice – full of tact and diplomacy as usual! Nevertheless I was intrigued to hear of  the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy and to read their collective statement Against State Regulation.

I’ve just plucked out a couple of statements to give you a flavour of its argument.

Many practitioners see their work as more an art than a science: a series of skilled improvisations in a relational context, where each client, and indeed each session, offers unique issues and demands unique responses. Such an activity cannot be captured by a list of ‘competences’, however elaborate; at best, such a list can offer only a parody of therapeutic practice. Yet regulation by civil servants, who themselves know nothing of the field they are regulating, demands an ‘objective’ version of our practice, even if this falsifies its nature. The inconvenient reality is that the field consists of many groups and individuals doing some of the same things in some of the same ways, but with many small and significant differences and with constant invention and variation – which has always driven advances in practice.

Any attempt to impose a quasi-objective framework of standards and competences not only stifles creativity in the field, it also damages the therapeutic work with the client. In trying to apply a predetermined set of external principles to a particular individual, the practitioner must override the client’s individuality and sacrifice the therapeutic process to the demands of a fixed technique. This is ethically unacceptable for the practitioner as well as therapeutically ineffective for the client.

The initiative to regulate psychotherapy and counselling is itself a symptom of our tick-box society: of an obsession with ‘safety’, a compulsion to monitor every activity, an illusory belief that everything can be brought under control. In many ways, psychotherapy and counselling inherently expose this illusion: they support us in tolerating uncertainty, difference, risk, and the unknown.

Drawing parallels betwen youth work and counselling is problematic and contradictory, not least the fact that much psychotherapy is offered throuth the private market. Nevertheless the Alliance’s opposition to State-imposed regulation touches on issues vital to the health of youth and community practice.