In this issue
The sacrificial organisation (free article)
Vanessa Avery reveals why scapegoating is so common at work and what organisations can do to create a culture
that protects against it.
The price of empathy
Experiencing ill health and fatigue, Lisa Jenner took a sabbatical from client work to research vicarious trauma and
burnout. She explains her findings.
Caring for the carers
Fiona Dunkley addresses the issue of therapist self-care in trauma work and asks: what is the responsibility of the
organisation to care for the carers?
Sexual abuse and violence in the workplace
Following Dame Janet Smith’s report into the culture and practices at the BBC during the Savile years, Nicole Westmarland talks to Nicola Banning about why deferential organisational cultures make it so hard to report abuse.
The bigger picture
Lead advisor Rick Hughes on the latest workplace news
Workplace matters (free article)
Dr Sandi Mann – the hidden benefit of boredom
Talking purple (free article)
Kate Nash – how do you talk about a disability at work?
Amanda Smith – the suicidal client
Cindi Bedor – a weaving of stories
While putting together this issue of Counselling at Work, Dame Janet Smith published her report into the BBC’s culture and practices during the Jimmy Savile years. It made for grim reading. In a press release, the BBC’s Director-General, Tony Hall, said: ‘I always want to think and believe the best of the organisation. But today – let us be in no doubt – we are hearing the worst.’ His words encapsulate the potential for the extremes of human behaviour that lie within our institutions. Left unchallenged and poorly managed, the very worst of these behaviours can become a cultural norm, forming the shadow side of organisational life, rarely spoken of or questioned.
In our lead article, ‘The sacrificial organisation’, Vanessa Avery argues that while humanity may know a lot about scapegoating at an intellectual level, ‘we seem vastly in the dark about how often we witness and even participate in it’. In reality, scapegoating occurs every day, in all our systems, and is rife within our workplaces. Vanessa dissects the phenomenon in such a way that it’s chilling to realise how often we may have been party to it ourselves. We’ve surely worked with the devastating consequences for ‘the target’. Bringing awareness of the cycle of violence that takes place is a first step in the long process towards transforming the culture of an organisation.
So often our focus is on ‘the sick part’ of the organisation, witnessing patterns and themes in our client work that can reflect and mirror the health of the organisation. It can take its toll. Lisa Jenner shares her shock on realising that her client work was affecting her health. Turning to the growing body of research into the brain-body connections, Lisa explores the nature of empathy; how it works and why this matters for all therapists. Describing ‘the synchronised dance’ between client and therapist, she explains how our central nervous systems are activated in the same pattern as our clients, with obvious consequences for our health. For those who assert: ‘It is our job to hold our clients’ pain’, Lisa offers a warning. This is not an abstract concept. It’s a physical one, manifesting in your body.
Fiona Dunkley writes a timely article, ‘Caring for the carers’. Responding to the growing numbers of therapists reaching breaking point in their professional lives, Fiona conducted a small-scale research project to find out more and to learn what measures could make a difference. How we do this when resources are scarce is an ongoing challenge. She describes the ‘shelf life’ that’s part and parcel of certain fields of therapy or psychological care, which are consistently exposed to high levels of trauma. Yet ‘unsustainable’ is a word I’m hearing increasingly in relation to a growing number of professions once regarded as lifetime vocations – in education, social care and healthcare.
On a more optimistic note, Kate Nash begins her new column, ‘Talking Purple’, bringing you fresh conversations about disability in the workplace. Kate’s commitment to establishing professional networks for disabled employees and working with the leaders of hundreds of organisations to create disability-smart workplaces is a perfect example of how organisational cultures can shift. Highlighting the difference an employer’s attitude can make to an individual’s prospects and wellbeing at work, Kate makes recommendations on how to have better conversations about disability in the workplace.
Cindi Bedor continues ‘Service Matters’, reflecting on how her organisation introduced a process for transformative conversations across the ranks. It is Cindi’s penultimate column, and she would like to hand over the mantle. So, if you’re an in-house service manager and would be interested in writing about your service, please get in touch.
Thank you to Nicole Westmarland who spoke to me after Dame Janet Smith’s report into the BBC’s working culture and practices during the Jimmy Savile years. Nicole addresses why deferential hierarchical and macho workplace cultures are so damaging, and why we continue to hear that reporting abuse in some large organisations is still so difficult. As Justice Lowell Goddard opens public hearings investigating British institutions over their failures to tackle child abuse and sexual exploitation, it seems likely that the spotlight will continue to fall on those organisations with a dark shadow side that goes unchallenged.
Finally, I need to pay tribute to two BACP Workplace colleagues recently made redundant following BACP’s reorganisation. Thank you to Julie Cranton, Divisional Executive Officer, who has worked so hard behind the scenes with the Executive Committee on behalf of our division. Julie has brought her wonderful mix of warmth, professionalism and knowledge about BACP matters to all our encounters. It is hard to imagine committee meetings without her.
Many of you will know Rick Hughes, who has been Lead Advisor: BACP Workplace, former editor of Counselling at Work, regular contributor to ‘The bigger picture’ and all round expert on our sector, who has also left. You can read Rick’s final ‘The bigger picture’ column, about representing BACP at the NEC’s Health and Wellbeing at Work Conference earlier this year. It gives a flavour of Rick in action, unfailingly unphased by the knotty questions and always good humoured. Rick has served as an outstanding ambassador for BACP and the workplace sector. The void left by his absence is very deep.
As workplace specialists we may know a lot about organisational change and the process of redundancy. I find it doesn’t make it any easier to say ‘goodbye’ to people who have been such trusted colleagues.