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.
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.
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