Politics and ACAT

ACAT Members, 2015. Politics and ACAT. Reformulation, Winter, pp.40-43.


Trustees and Council of Management Response to the ‘17 Signatories Letter’: Reformulation 44

Tony Ryle - Honorary President of ACAT

I have been trying to think clearly about the current discussions. My main feeling is that polarisations of opinions should not damage the functioning of ACAT. I think we need to converse within the complex grey area.

The values and the practices of ACAT carry explicit, unavoidable political implications – EG: Egalitarian ones. Some of our beliefs/factual base and experience have direct political implications. Historically, The MRC Pneumoconiosis unit was formed because the industry was neglectful of Coal Miners’ health and its work contributed to the nationalisation of coal - the facts were all the argument needed. The Charity Commission could hardly have objected though the scientists campaigned to have the implications acted upon.

We need to be aware how political forces determine what research is supported and how scientists are influenced by ideologies in what they study and in their interpretations of their findings.

Surely we can proclaim support for political positions - EG: Funding mental health services, and could / should call for applying what is well established to public policy. Where what is established is disputed we should welcome debate and make our contribution. Where the policy implications are disputed (EG: Is universal CBT desirable, should leadership be granted to traditional but highly debatable professional bodies?) We cannot adopt a policy, but we could/should point to what actively campaigning organisations exist and maybe arrange within CAT discussion with them; this way nobody is hijacked or silenced. The issues so described could/should appear in Reformulation, and maybe the existence of the forum could appear on the website. I don’t know if this is helpful—feel free to pass it on if it is.
Best Wishes TONY

Jason Hepple - Chair of ACAT
Thank you Tony,

Hijacked or silenced

At the outset the Trustees certainly feared that ACAT was being hijacked. Members will not know that the controversy started with a threatened AGM motion that would have removed the Trustees’ ability to be the ultimate arbiters of what political links could be posted on the ACAT website; which they feared conflicted with their role and legal responsibility not to allow the charity to be commandeered for the political purposes of some of its members. This caused fear and suspicion and generated a defensive reaction that soon became polarised on both sides; hijacked (feeling responsible but powerless) or silenced (furious, victimised). As attempts at dialogue proceeded the dilemma was already in place, compromise was declined and the motion was put forward in the first version of an article that sadly engulfed Reformulation and the editors of Reformulation and became difficult to resolve despite meetings with the Editors on two occasions. The Trustees ended up being pushed into a defensive, apolitical and controlling position that does not sit at all comfortably with them as individuals. On reflection, the Trustees acknowledge that they were caught up in something powerful and oppressive and, if the clock could be turned back, would hope that it could have turned out differently. The AGM discussion allowed the issues to be opened up and exits began to emerge around creating fora where differing views on political issues, which are legitimate for ACAT to debate and learn from, can be aired without the fear of ACAT being commandeered or hijacked.

This started as an issue about ultimate control of the website. There is no problem with ACAT actively campaigning in the political arena for any issue that affects CAT or the people who might receive CAT - this obviously includes disadvantaged people/ abused people / people with mental health problems etc. The Charity Commission would not have any problem with this and neither do the Trustees. Concerning the broader political agenda, I agree that is it important to have room for airing of issues and positions but ACAT may need to avoid, as you say, coming out for or against or agreeing policy on party political issues (this is where pushing things to votes is unhelpful as the majority, or perhaps just the majority of those present in the room, then commandeer the voice of the rest). CAT is about mapping out conflict and seeing both positions and finding exits. ACAT is not a Trades’ Union or a Political Party. I think this is some of the confusion as we are the Association for CAT not CAT therapists (as the latter we would not have been given charity status).

The Trustees really want to offer some new ideas and to come back from the silencing position, to show we are listening and have never been apolitical or seeking to make ACAT apolitical. The proposals are listed below and we welcome responses until the end of the year, after which we will publish the outcome of the consultation.

I sincerely hope that we can now move forward on this issue.

Ruth Carson - ACAT Trustee
I still feel ‘stifled’ and afraid of getting things wrong or being perceived as getting things wrong.

As has already been said by all of us, my (shared) position has been that of protecting ACAT as an association that supports and promotes CAT. I am not massively Political and I don’t want to be pushed into a position where I need to defend or promote ideals that I feel unsure about. I don’t know what I agree with and I am not well informed and importantly, I think this position is okay and may well be shared by many people. Despite this I do not want to be forced into a silent position. What I do understand and support is the NHS, an organisation that I care deeply about and believe in its fundamental values of providing care to those who need it -free at the point of delivery. I am however not naive enough to think that everything can be provided to every person. The budget is finite and unless we add more into the pot, the funding will remain tight. Due to this, there are ways of delivering CAT to those who need it and this includes private practice. I think it is very important that CAT as a therapy stays accessible to everyone - whatever their political or cultural position may be. CAT gives us a tool to open up dialogue and find common ground and even when appropriate to confront ground or beliefs that may not be shared.

I strongly believe that CAT should be accessible to the majority and this is one of the many tasks for ACAT. I have a very moralistic view point, I am honest and open to suggestion and this whole incident has made me question if I wanted to continue being a Trustee, attacked and ‘hijacked’. I have taken on the position of listening and considering but I don’t think others have been open and fair and listened or even spoken out in an open way. This feels wrong and I have felt duped. Especially with regards to the letter published and signed by ‘CAT elders’, I feel this was not produced in a dialogical way in fact, people chose to be deliberately silent and not give me the opportunity to consider this when I freely gave them my time and showed my vulnerability and openness .

I am sharing these thoughts with you, my fellow Trustee and council of management friends. From yourselves I feel the true relationally open position has been adopted. There has been a maturity and sensibility but sadly this has been viewed as silenced and controlled. It is time for us to openly speak and to allow on open dialogue. I think the contained way in which it is being proposed, allowing time within the equality and diversity forum is wholly appropriate.

I will now finish. Reading my opening sentence ‘I still feel stifled’ I realise that perhaps I just needed to start talking!

Marilyn Ramsden - ACAT Lay Trustee
I am the new girl here and I am not fully aware of the background to this. I am not acquainted with the people involved but here are my thoughts.

I agree with the proposals made by Jason but it seems that a lot of energy and effort is going into talking about this. I wonder if we could make better use of this energy and enthusiasm and direct it towards the collection of data illustrating the effectiveness of CAT. Tony Ryle mentioned the miners and pneumoconiosis and how factsabout the prevalence of this disease influenced government policy. Do we not need more facts about CAT?

One of the main objectives of ACAT is to promote the use of CAT and, by implication, ensure that those with the power to commission CAT are made aware of the benefits of this therapy.

Apologies if these observations and suggestions are incredibly naive but in my experience if you want NHS money devoted to something then you have to prove it’s worth.

Penny Waheed - ACAT Projects and Liaison Officer

Apologies for not responding sooner but it feels quite exposing to have our individual comments put in print. However, I will try, if I may with a true story: Last week my teenager daughter had to do some schoolwork on fairy tales. I asked her what her favourite fairy-tale was and she replied: “Well it was Beauty and the Beast but then I learnt about Stockholm syndrome”. My point is that even apparently good causes can, in an alternative context and viewpoint, be interpreted differently, so feel we must be careful about what we are seen to endorse.

Jay Dudley ~ ACAT Trustee

Having thought about this I find myself wondering if it isn’t really about finding the right words – though this is difficult – it’s believing there are ‘ears, hearts and minds’ willing and able to take the time to receive what it is I am really saying and doing: in Bakhtinian terms a ‘responsive other’. Sadly, I feel much of what I say gets infused with the same stereotypical projections, so in some sense I worry if I can really speak at all without this happening.

I feel I need to be honest and say that I have worked to try and reach compromise and have thought about my actions a great deal all through my efforts to help reflect on and deal with these complex issues, yet I have been left feeling as if the role I am cast into is a position I don’t recognise as occupying.

In some sense I wonder if perhaps this is the result of occupying and maintaining a boundary – with the resulting push against what I feel has been the Trustee’s benign holding and containing position, being one of destabilisation. Is this because the boundary is seen as or felt to be, constraining or limiting or silencing? My sense is that this is not our intention and never has been. Holding the boundary is difficult but important, and to break it in the hope of warding off feared attack doesn’t feel containing or responsible.

The word, according to Bakhtin, sits on the border between self and other and acts as mediator between self and other. In this sense I would support an aim to find a ‘common language’ between Trustees and members in which components of ‘hearing, seeing, respecting-to-heard, seen, respected’ were at the core.

Though I fear the prevailing wind of hijacked and silenced still blows, I will try again to show a willingness to believe that the word can be populated with meaning that isn’t riven with conflict and dialogical tension.

Like Ruth I am not ‘big P political’ so I’d like to adopt a lower key stance and take my lead from one who has done a lot to bring about change but who isn’t really in the big P camp:

‘It’s never been my duty to remake the world at large

Nor is it my intention to sound a battle charge’

The Wedding Song – Bob Dylan

Elizabeth Wilde McCormick - ACAT Trustee

My initial response to reading the letter signed by senior colleagues, many of them my colleagues from the early days of CAT was shock, and a visceral fear that I had got it all wrong. I had been trusted to take a role as a Trustee and the invitation was to help maintain the early vision of CAT. It is a role I felt honoured to accept and take seriously. But what if I wasn’t up to it? At first my procedure of taking responsibility arose and an anxiety about trying to make it right. I have learned that this eclipses deeper forms of listening where opposing positions, such as hijacked or silenced, are in acute tension, and that ‘the words to say it’ arise from tolerating uncertainty, and mess. What generally helps me to do this is mindful attention and stumbling in dialogue with others until there is more clarity. I have been able toshare with other Trustees the range of concern, deep feeling and struggle this matter has provoked and for me this group process has been creative. We are all different and all committed to supporting and maintaining CAT and its multiple voices under one roof where we can celebrate difference rather than invite polarisation.

I have really appreciated Jason’s steady and wise reflective counsel during this time and welcome all the proposals that he and Tony Ryle have suggested.

Steve Potter

As someone who supported the letter about perceptions of the charity commissioners and ACAT in the last issue of Reformulation I would like to make the following points.
• It is extremely helpful that the council of management/trustees of ACAT have responded so openly and thoughtfully with practical proposals.
• I think the trustees as the elected representatives of ACAT members must have ultimate authority in deciding what is published.
• We are all well-enough versed in psychotherapy to know that when such conflicts arise there are going to be competing versions of who said or decided what. Conflicts, especially in a caring community can make us feel acutely vulnerable. We need at such times to be particularly open to mixed feelings. We need compassion and eye for naming the dance not blaming the dancer.
• With CAT’s relational theory of trauma we can do much to map and track the impact of poverty and injustice on mental health and the loss of secure identities.

I hope ACAT will sustain its diversity of views and personalities and be stronger for this conflict. Certainly the response of the trustees points in that direction.

The 17 signatories Were:

Josephine Ahmadi, Phil Clayton, Annalee Curran, Deirdre Haslam, Rose Hughes, Ian Kerr, Julie Lloyd, Nicola Murphy, Annie Nehmad, Michelle Olivier, Steve Potter, Rachel Pollard, Tony Ryle, Janet Toye, Jo Varela, Lawrence Welch and Barbara Williams.

Proposals for Consultation – Broadening the Debate 2016

• To reaffirm that ACAT continues to welcome articles in RF on issues of health provision / the NHS / mental health / social disadvantage / access / equality / diversity and the political factors relevant to these issues, which can continue to include information about campaigning organisations.
• Starting a letters / opinions section in Reformulation.
• Giving the new Equality and Diversity Group (under the Chair of Prof. Hilary Brown) a discussion forum on the members section of the website where information / links and experience can be shared. • Establishing the day before the conference where the E&D Group can have a session of debate and discussion where the agenda is set by the group and not by the Trustees, with the understanding that the process of the dialogue and ways forward can be disseminated to members and perhaps more widely but that any votes will not be binding as to ACAT’s position or policies without the agreement of the elected Board of Trustees.
• To put these proposals to the members for consultation.

Please send responses to this consultation to: admin@acat.me.uk

Full Reference

ACAT Members, 2015. Politics and ACAT. Reformulation, Winter, pp.40-43.

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