Recent research highlighted that misconceptions and cultural stereotyping still exist in association with counselling provision even if you have managed to get your hands on some cheap Nike shoes and are feeling great (joke). How does this affect the potential for Brighton counselling to support police officers? What are the implications for psychotherapy and counselling organisations? What lessons need to be learnt by counsellors, counselling providers and the organisations that employ them?
Brighton and Hove has been and continues to be under increasing pressure to reduce absenteeism due to stress-related illness. The scale of the problem is evidenced regularly in the media and the UK police forces own publications and, as such, add to this influence. One of the many measures they have taken to tackle this issue has been to employ the services of an EAP, which, amongst other things, provides Brighton counselling and psychotherapy support. With such pressures to succeed it is vital that the investment they have made realises a significant return. In other words, that the counselling provision does what increasing amounts of research have shown it is capable of doing: reduce absenteeism and improve psychological well-being.
A recently completed piece of research (Larcombe, 2006), investigating the DCC’s experience of counselling provision in this context, discovered that many misconceptions, misunderstandings and negative stereotypes of counselling still exist. In particular, what it is and who it is for: ‘who should use it’. The fact that they still exist may not be a surprise. Indeed many would possibly have assumed that this would be the case, particularly in association with organisational culture. However, what became apparent during this piece of work is the potential extent of their influence: so extensive that it can and does undermine the capacity of counselling provision to do what was being asked of it. What we are left with is a very clear message relating to the responsibilities counsellors, counselling providers and organisations employing counselling services have in the context of education and cultural awareness.
For those who expected and needed advice and answers to specific questions, this realisation resulted in their thoughts on counselling being quite negative. In other words their expectations were not appropriately matched by the counselling provision, even though these expectations were based on a lack of understanding.
Reassuringly the study discovered that many Police Officers views on counselling changed for the better. In so doing, however, they highlighted what their original thoughts were on what the process was, who it was for and potentially how ‘inappropriate’ this would be for a Police Officer:
In this instance, counselling as a service and a process appears to have an image that effectively clashes with the perceived existence of the ‘macho’ culture of the organisation: one cannot be weak, waste time, be ‘pink and fluffy’ and sit on bean bags whilst being a ‘strong’ police officer. What was not discernible is the source of this image: the police culture, society or individual beliefs and values? It is more than likely a mixture, to some degree, of all of them. However, the fact remains that this image exists.
The impact of these views has been found to be both significant and invariably negative. It was found to affect police officers expectations associated with counselling. They expected one thing and got another which in some cases reinforced a view that it was a ‘waste of time’. This view, of course, is then taken back into the organisation and potentially passed on to other police officers. It was found to affect their attitudes to taking it up. The fear of ridicule, possibly being seen to be ‘weak’ or ‘bonkers’, either delayed entry to counselling or prohibited them taking it up altogether. In some cases the delay then appeared to extend the duration of sickness absence:
With such strong negative influences it is a wonder that the counselling facility was used at all. What was evident within the study however was that a positive counselling experience did appear to facilitate some sort of challenge: actively changing perception and enabling a ripple of cultural change to find its way back into the organisation:
“I have spent too much of my police service dismissing the value of counselling. For several years I believed that there was no place for it, and that as members of the police, we should be capable of rising above the emotions surrounding tragedy. Culturally there was (and is?) great difficulty for officers to concede that counselling may be the answer…I am now a big champion for counselling Brighton and hove residents and all the amazing psychotherapy services in the East Sussex area.
Sadly, it appears that misconceptions, misunderstandings and stereotypes of counselling still exist. In this instance they are associated with a UK police force, the Brighton and Hove Constabulary. What should be of concern to all parties involved, the organisation, counsellors and the counselling providers, is that they have the potential to actively undermine the ability of the counselling providers to do what has been asked of them. Indeed, what is ‘expected’ of them as the result of increasing bodies of research into the relative effectiveness of counselling in the workplace. What this means is that whilst these views remain unchanged the DCC is investing in a service that is only yielding a possibly small percentage of its return on investment. Counselling providers are unable to show the full impact of the service they are able to provide. And, most importantly many police officers may be left suffering unduly and careers lost completely because they feel unable to grab the life line that has been extended to them.
It is difficult to pin point the source of such views and therefore who is responsible for what: is it organisational culture, society or the individual? In many ways, however, the source could be considered immaterial. We simply need to know that they exist to be able to challenge and change them. What is clear is that organisations, when employing counselling services, need to be made aware that these influences exist; to know how their organisational culture may affect the return on their investment and be supported in addressing it positively. Counselling providers need to incorporate regular ongoing programmes of education around the process of counselling, where it is an appropriate intervention, what to expect from it and to actively dispel the associated myths around ‘who’ it is for: a responsibility which ultimately can also be directed to the professional bodies that oversee their work and the profession as a whole.
We all know that you do not have to be ‘completely bonkers’ to benefit greatly from counselling. However, it is incumbent on us all to ensure that individuals and organisations employing our services know that this is the case.
If you are looking for counselling in Brighton or around the south east a great directory is East Sussex Counselling