The ‘professional’s’ role in a free society

‘It is my opinion that the professional’s role in a free society should be limited to contributing technical information men need to make their own decisions on the basis of their own values. When he pre-empts the authority to direct, even constrain men’s decisions on the basis of his own values, the professional is no longer an expert but rather a member of a new privileged class disguised as expert.’

Eliot Freidson 1972

This quotation is somewhat of its time in flavour. Nonetheless, we think that the content is highly relevant to the current debate about regulation/registration, and to our dominant societal models – which are founded on and promote the disempowerment of those they purport to serve. From the writer’s perspective, any claim we might make here or in the U.S. to a ‘free society’ is becoming increasingly questionable. Most of us comply – we fulfil our designated roles serving the values and needs of privileged classes – and the penalties for non-conforming range from the subtle to the obvious, are manifold, and can be severe.

The writer found this quotation in a book called The Case Against Psychotherapy Registration by Richard Mowbray, which is well worth a read. It’s been around a few years, but most of the points it makes remain relevant. Richard was writing in the context of the Human Potential movement – on which, briefly:-

“The human potential movement (HPM) originated in the 1960s as a counter-cultural rebellion against mainstream psychology and organised religion. It is not in itself a religion, new or otherwise, but a psychological philosophy and framework, including a set of values that have made it one of the most significant and influential forces in modern Western society.”

Elizabeth Puttick – Encyclopedia of New Religions (Wiki link below)

The Human Potential movement has a lot of common ground (and its development was intertwined) with humanistic psychology. The HPM and person centred share the view that actualization/realization of each person’s unique being is the key to aliveness, fulfilment and meaning in a personal sense. This is a self-organizing process in supportive conditions. It extends beyond the individual – is enhancing relationally, in social terms and culturally. This conceptual system makes sense of ethics as forming organically within each of us, in an environment that supports growth – arising naturally within a loving way of being to self/other, characterized by the core conditions – and radiating outwards. Such a process, of course, leads to diversity and multiplicity. There is evidence to suggest that our many ethical systems derived through this process have some shared or in Carl Rogers’ terms ‘universal’ features – e.g. around concepts of the value of life, and so around harm to others – but they reflect countless internal loci, so are in essence diverse, not uniform. Embedded in this conceptual system is respectfulness for and valuing of difference.

This contrasts starkly with the conception of humanity that says we need rules, direction, coercion and punishment enshrined in linear systems imposed externally, in order to be kept from doing harm – our current broken societal model.

In Richard Mowbray’s view and ours, there was and is no convincing evidence to support regulation/registration of psychotherapy; many reasons to question the motivation and vested interests of those seeking it; and even more reason to see movement towards more regulation as out of kilter with what is at its heart and at its best subtle complex relational work founded on compassion and authenticity, a sense of and respect for the sacredness of life – not a functional or mechanistic ‘doing to’ that can meaningfully be expressed in terms of rules or standardization.

Richard argues that standardization may perhaps be of benefit if, for example, you are a plumber, but is inherently inappropriate and harmful in the context of psychotherapy because of the nature of the work. We too believe there is profound harm in seeking to define what is therapy, in terms of the ‘right and proper’ way to do it, ‘shoulds’, ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’, rules, regulation and standardization – and in  ‘professional conduct’ processes that base themselves on these ideas.

Diversity, spontaneity, a willingness to take risks and creativity are not only desirable, but essential, in the delicate relational dance of therapy. Irvin Yalom wrote:-

‘In his autobiography, Jung describes his appreciation of the uniqueness of each patient’s inner world and language, a uniqueness that requires the therapist to invent a new therapy language for each patient. Perhaps I am overstating the case, but I believe the present crisis in psychotherapy is so serious and therapist spontaneity so endangered that a radical corrective is demanded. We need to go even further: The therapist must strive to create a new therapy for each patient.’

The Gift of Therapy: Irvin D Yalom, Piatkus, London 2002

As therapists, what we are seeking to do is create a unique relationship, of service to a unique human being. There can be no more uncharted territory than this. A worker – in this case the therapist – who believes they have or should have a workable map of what is needed, is not going to be able to navigate effectively in this landscape. This work requires therapists operating from a place of deep respectfulness and reverence for life, who are in touch with, and who trust, their own unique ways of being and their intuitions in relationship – and are thereby able to trust the other human being in the chair across from them, in the same ways.

Here’s the book link:-

Here’s a (developing) Wiki entry on the Human Potential movement:-

Here’s a link to an earlier post around the Irvin Yalom quotation:-

And finally here is a link to Farhad Dalal’s superb paper on the distinctions between virtue ethics and deontological ethics:-

In order to access the paper, go to:-

click on ‘publications’, and scroll down to the paper “2014 Ethics versus Compliance. The Institution, Ethical Psychotherapy Practice, (and Me)”.

Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter

Counselling Exeter since 1994

This entry was posted in accountability, creativity, cultural questions, diversity, empowerment, ethics, external locus, internal locus of evaluation, non-conforming, political, power and powerlessness, regulation, values & principles and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The ‘professional’s’ role in a free society

  1. Pingback: The Law Concerning Mermaids – Kei Miller | Palace Gate Counselling Service Blog

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