At the heart of BACP’s philosophy is the desire for social justice to determine everything we do and to guide our relationship with our members and the public, as well as commissioners and government. With the conviction that counselling changes lives (individuals, families and communities), the desire for social justice is the reason BACP, as a professional body, champions the counselling professions as a viable and increasingly evidence-based choice for people.
BACP therapists, on the whole, have had their professional formation within Western worldview approaches underpinned by the values of autonomy and individuality. The challenge of positioning social justice as a centrepiece of our therapeutic approach will inevitably lead to a major rethinking of our existing modus operandi.
So what does social justice in the counselling professions involve? Social justice pertains to the notion of a just society and fair distribution of resources. Inherent in the concept of social justice is the notion of challenging injustice and valuing humanity. It will therefore involve embodying and outworking the values of harmony, access, equity, and participation in our personal/professional relationships and contexts. Roth and Briar Lawson believe that ‘to be a human service professional is to be an active citizen, requiring thought and action about global and local issues… their impact on one another in terms of possibilities but also limitations’.1
I have found inspiration for how counsellors can become such ‘active citizens’ in the lives of two philosophers. Alistair McIntosh in his writings and in particular his book, Spiritual Activism: leadership as service, offers examples of how cultural psychotherapy and spiritual activism can be placed at the service of social justice in the promotion of a more equitable world.2,3 The philosopher Jean Vanier, a tireless advocate for people rejected and on the margins of society, outworked his 10 rules for life to become more human and embodied his commitment to social justice by entering into relationship, being with and helping differently abled people find confidence in themselves and discover their own gifts.4
The importance of consciousness raising and embedding social justice within the counselling professions is highlighted by David Weaver, chair of BACP, in a recent address to the membership.5 Journal articles on how counsellors can take up the social justice agenda can be found in recent editions of Therapy Today.6,7
Let the Voices be Heard, a major international conversation on social justice and counselling between BACP, the American Counseling Association and IACP (Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy), takes place this October in Belfast. The voice of spirituality in this vital conversation on social justice is really important. I will have the privilege of leading a workshop at the conference and contributing to BACP’s keynote address for the conference. I look forward to engaging with and learning from therapists and practitioners on how they integrate social justice into their counselling approach and practice. It would be great to see some articles or short reflections in future issues of Thresholds on the theme of how spirituality and social justice is informing and being outworked in your counselling and pastoral care work.
It’s been a busy time of regrouping for the division since March. Three new Executive members have been recruited and we will all benefit from their energy and enthusiasm. By the time you read this, some of you will have met Hilda McKinney and Kathryn Lock at the Belfast and Llandudno Making Connections events. We now have three regional groups established and hope to have two more up and running by the end of the year. Watch out too for our autumn conference on the theme of Working with Soul across the lifespan, to be held in Leicester on 20 November.
I’ll leave the last word to Jean Vanier (1929–2019): ‘Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.’4
Maureen Slattery-Marsh is Chair of BACP Spirituality.
1. Roth W, Briar-Lawson K. Globalization, social justice and the helping professions. Albany, NY: New York Press; 2011.
2. http://www.alastairmcintosh.com/ (accessed 17 June 2019).
3. McIntosh A, Carmichael M. Spiritual activism: leadership as service. Cambridge: Green Books; 2016.
4. https://www.larche.org/en/web/jeanvanier/ home and https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=wtyX_nXbTx (accessed 17 June 2019).
5. https://www.bacp.co.uk/news/news-frombacp/2019/3-april-social-justice-impacts-oneverything-we-do/ (accessed 17 June 2019).
6. Beetham T. Intersectionality and social justice. Therapy Today 2019: 30(3): 20–21
7. https://www.bacp.co.uk/bacp-journals/ therapy-today/2019/june-2019/articles/ talking-point/ (accessed 17 June 2019).