I’m an Integrative Child Psychotherapist trainee registered with UKCP. I’m in the third year of my training and should qualify July 2019. I wanted to reach out to you about an article that I’ve recently come across in The Guardian. The link to the article is here: https://www.theguardian.com/voluntary-sector-network/2017/nov/30/charities-interns-unpaid-work-scandal-volunteering-experience?CMP Besides being a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist trainee I’m also the Founder and Director of a UK registered International charity called In-Visible. I’ve worked and volunteered with women and disadvantaged children for over 17 years including organisations such as the World Health Organisation, Heart House, Kids Company, and Cure2Children Foundation. I’ve dedicated my life to protecting and defending children’s rights. Most of my work has been unpaid. But as its the charity sector I expected this and never felt that it created any unethical dilemmas between myself and the beneficiaries I worked with. Financial gain has also never been my motivation in the line of work that I do. But there was something about this article that got me thinking.
This article was primarily addressing the charity sector calling “charities asking interns to work 252 hours unpaid a scandal”. It says “internships are not volunteering opportunities and charities do not have a universal right to unpaid talent. There are many more moral solutions.” It ends with “Charities do not have a universal right to unpaid talent. We are contradicting one of the very core values of the sector – to treat people with fairness and to value those that contribute to our work. How on earth do we expect people to live somewhere like London – one of the most expensive cities in the world – with no income from a job they go to three days a week? Why should the charity sector get away with it?”
It got me thinking about the psychotherapy industry. If 252 hours of unpaid work is considered a scandal what about the 450+ hours many of us do in our training and post-qualification (many continue working unpaid for years post-qualification)? The charity sector is “supposed” to be about pro bono, donating time and money or volunteering. What about psychotherapy?
I posted the article link on some of the forums for psychotherapists and psychologists (I’m also a BPS member with a Psychology degree) and here are some of the comments I received when I asked how they felt about the article in comparison to the psychotherapy industry:
“It is really time to stop! How many other professions do that?”
“600+ unpaid hours and that is not counting all the preparation etc. I’ve given up.”
“It is not alright and should not happen. It should be properly exposed as exploitation.”
“Is it a coincidence that so many of us are female too? (genuine not just a rhetorical question!) wondering if it’s an extension of the general unpaid care that often falls to women?”
“I have been doing it for 4 years!! And when I said I needed to leave and get paid work my supervisor said oh no we won’t have any experienced psychotherapists, I know this taps into my patterns, but I really began to resent being there, it is an NHS setting and I was claiming working tax credit (benefits) and patients could apply for travel costs etc but of course no mention of whether therapists could!! And it really sets up an odd dynamic I think. I qualified two years ago and working for free two years later, it also is difficult to leave the security of an NHS setting, not financially secure obviously. Also difficult to talk about because it feels shameful, and difficult to fight, there is a union who are collectively prioritising this, but I have to work full time at my previous jobs so I can afford my expensive hobby working with patients in NHS. Challenging things takes time. I am aware of my part in this, and I loved working with my patients for 4 years and I loved the NHS setting, just wished I could have been paid!!”
“Completely scandalous. Especially that is accepted in the NHS and that many of their specialist services are supported and run by trainee psychotherapists/ art therapists. You are an unpaid trainee in the NHS and then you qualify and you are an ‘honorary’ (also unpaid). And then people are on vulnerable Zero hours contracts jobs just to support their ‘honorary’ jobs in the NHS. It creates resentment amongst therapists which is obviously potentially deeply problematic when they are are working with the most vulnerable. Some charities also expect (qualified and unqualified) psychotherapists to work unpaid and sometimes without offering supervision costs even. We need to keep standing up to this deeply unethical practice and make it stop. This has inspired me to join the Union – I’ve been thinking about it for too long and time to do so!”
“It’s not a healthy dynamic for the client. I can understand having a trainee period whereby one is supervised and trained on the job but only during training not once out of a training. I suppose it depends on the context…therapists or doctors go to war zones etc and provide services for free or as part of a charity. Once one does the work for no money or reduced cost you are effectively doing charity work and that’s a choice.”
“I think there should certainly be a stipend for trainees working clinically and NHS and charities need to budget for this. Anyone who is post qualification should be paid a fair wage for their clinical work. Such an arrangement where a trainee works for free does not exist in other clinical areas as far as I am aware. When I was training there was one trust which asked trainees to pay for their mental health placements which shocked me. Training fees are already high, as are supervision and therapy costs as well as books and all of the other expenses we are all aware of. By accepting such practices, unfortunately, we contribute to the devaluation of mental health as a concern and also to a culture where only an elite few can become psychotherapists. It completely goes against equal opportunities as it excludes everyone who can’t afford to work for free. As therapists, we need to be very careful to think about our ethics and I question the ethics of some of these practices.”
I guess I’m writing to you to seek your thoughts on this. How we, as psychotherapists and psychotherapist trainees can start to make a change? I value your feedback and appreciate your time in reading this. If anything, may it provide some insight into the challenging dynamic that many psychotherapists find themselves in .
I wish you and your family an amazing Christmas and Happy New Year!