Becoming A Part Of Free Psychotherapy Network

I became part of Free Psychotherapy Network in January 2021.

I am comfortable with being paid a reasonable wage for my work and am utterly against the pressure on trained counsellors to work without pay in organisations with paid staff. I recognise and value all the training and experience that has gone into making me what I am in the therapeutic space. 

However, I have always believed in the importance of there being high quality services in the care sector that are free at the point of delivery, and I have worked in those services most of my adult life. So coming across FPN was like a breath of fresh air.

Since January I have delivered over 100 hours of free person-centred therapy, and I have loved it. I love working as a therapist anyway, but I have found something special in my FPN experience. I wouldn’t be able to give large sums to charity in the way that I would wish to, but through the simple gift of my time I can give more than I would have imagined, and I can see the benefit of it too in the lives of the diverse group of people I work with.

Firstly, I was glad to be done with sliding scales and the agonising bartering with someone to ascertain what they can afford. It feels like an intrusion and a threat for them, and only adds to the power that I wield from my side of the room. People come to FPN knowing exactly how it is – they are asking for free counselling and the counsellors are looking to offer it. Hooray for a lack of ambiguity!

Secondly, I have found that the removal of the profit motive and the explicitly open endednature of the offer has given both myself and the client space to breathe, time to think and explore and build trust without any pressure at all. For me this has added immeasurably to the relational depth I feel, and I see the growth and change in my clients that comes from an experience of that too.

Thirdly, I am always learning from my clients, but the learning gained from the work I have done has been immense. Perhaps this is down to the sense of space described above. There are so many aspects of intersectionality for instance, that have been explained and explored in the course of the year.

Finally, the work I have done with one client has led to the development of a new initiative that is in the process of being funded, that will see many young people have access to process led learning and personal development as part of a package of input to help them value themselves more effectively when faced with rejection from the world of professional sport. 

My only regret is that I have had to turn some people away, as I have been at full capacity for most of  the year. There are an awful lot of therapists out there. I do wish that as a profession we could all offer even one free space. If my experience is anything to go by, both the client and ourselves would be the beneficiary of that gift.

Andy Whitehouse


The Free Psychotherapy Network

We are a group of psychotherapists offering free psychotherapy to people on low incomes. Since 2014, we have been developing our own ways of doing no-fee work and we are supporting each other in the experience. We would like other qualified psychotherapists and counsellors to join us in building the network.

We envisage a loose, mutually supportive, network of practitioners offering their time, experience and energy to their local communities in whatever settings work for them. This might be through individual or group sessions, through facilitating peer-support groups or by working with existing community groups.

We are not talking about charity, nor are we interested in this government’s bogus vision of ‘the big society’. We see ourselves as contributing to a broad movement of activism, pressing for social justice and community values in response to the social injustice and cynical market values that seem to have a tightening grip on our society.

We support the provision of psychological therapies by the NHS. But, for the moment, we see little hope of a turnaround in the recent cuts to NHS services – in particular, cuts to the open-ended talking therapies.

We believe that the state of our emotional and psychological lives is as fundamental as our material standard of living – our incomes, our physical health, our working conditions, our education and housing. They are clearly inseparable, though not necessarily in a simple way. We know that money doesn’t buy happiness any more than poverty destroys the possibility of love and a creative life. But we do live in a society whose dominant political and cultural messages seem to us to overvalue money, profit, property and consumption, while at the same time undervaluing the quality of our emotional lives and relationships with our families, friends, co-workers, neighbours and wider communities.

Inequality of wealth, income and power are growing in the UK. In some respects, they are becoming more deeply and subtly entrenched in the way we think about ourselves and the meaning of our lives. We believe that it is as essential to a decent life to feel that we have the power to influence the way we live and can find the courage to live well with ourselves and each other, as it is to have basic material security. Gross inequalities of social, economic and political power corrode mental as well as physical health for everyone.

The intersection of class and racial inequality is a powerful dimension in patterns of social injustice and mental ill-health in the UK. We recognise the disparities of income and basic social resources experienced by BAME communities, alongside the pain and trauma of institutionalised racism, overt racist aggression and the encouragement by our governments of a hostile environment towards people of colour. The racial violence of our criminal justice system and the UK’s immigration and asylum policies have been highlighted recently by the Black Lives Matter movement and other anti-racist campaigners. The FPN supports anti-racist campaigns and recognises the critical role of racial hatred and discrimination in the mental ill-health of our society. 

We also support the need for more therapists from minority ethnic communities, and the development of better intercultural and race awareness in the training of counsellors and psychotherapists.

In general, we believe most people find the rapport and understanding they need to live well in their everyday network of friends, family, colleagues and community. A significant minority, however, find themselves struggling in relative isolation with painful and debilitating experiences of anxiety, fear, depression or self-doubt. Usually, the sources of such psychological difficulties are environmental – poverty, early trauma or abuse, family breakdown. All too often the people struggling with psychological insecurity are also struggling with financial and social insecurity.

We want to work with local communities by supporting people who would benefit from the experience of practitioners, who cannot get the kind of support they need from their GPs or from voluntary services, and who do not have the money to pay for psychotherapy. We want to work, as far as possible, from local bases in communities we are connected to. We want to encourage people to collaborate, support each other and share experience and understanding of psychological difficulties. We will work with people as psychotherapists, but also as equals in the common experience of wanting to understand ourselves and others better, and to live our lives with more freedom, more creativity and more responsibility toward the common good.

How you can get involved with the network:

*  If you are already involved in free and/or low-fee work as a qualified practitioner and you support the ethos of the network, you could join us by sending a short statement about what you are doing, its setting and the social/political perspective you hold about the work. With your permission, we could add your statement to the website and connect you with other therapists interested in developing support for each other.

*  If you are interested in starting a project or you want some support for an existing project, get in touch with us and we will think about how we might be able to help.

*  If you want to support the network in some way – by getting involved in existing work, offering ideas for community projects, thinking about the clinical implications of working for free, setting up support groups for no-fee practitioners, or simply by endorsing the philosophy of the network – get in touch with us.

Email us at

Please include your email address in the body of your message. Thanks.

Find free psychotherapy near you through the Free Psychotherapy Network

If you are looking for an FPN therapist, go to the Find a Therapist page here.

The directory is organised by geographical areas. Choose a therapist and use the contact details to get in touch. Many of the therapists have a short profile available about themselves and their work. We offer no guarantee that therapists have free or low fee places available at any particular time. You will have to find out for yourself. All arrangements for therapy will be made between yourself and the therapist. Individual therapists work under the codes of ethics and practice of their registration organisations.

For  a list of other organisations offering free and low-fee counselling and psychotherapy nationwide, click here.

Statement from Partners for Counselling & Psychotherapy (PCP), 13th October 2022.

On Monday 10th October 2022, World Mental Health Day, the Government announced £122 million of funding for mental health. But the bitter reality is that this money is not being spent on in-patient beds, community mental health initiatives or trained counsellors and psychotherapists for public mental health services. Instead the Government is using this money to recruit and train 700 ‘employment advisers’ to work alongside therapists in the NHS’s flagship Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) programme. This will help drive the highly contested policy of ‘welfare conditionality’ that threatens benefits claimants with sanctions if they don’t conform to certain patterns of behaviour, a policy which targets the poorest and most deserving sections of our society at a time when they need the greatest help.

Despite the timing of the press release, the money announced is not being used to build mental health support. Instead it is an expansion of an existing IAPT-based scheme providing, as the announcement states, ‘combined psychological treatment and employment support to help [people] to remain in, return to or find work and improve their mental health’ {1]. The linking of work and mental health, however, is deeply problematic. In 2015, hundreds of counsellors, psychotherapists and academics opposed the pilot scheme that first put together Jobcentre employment advisors and IAPT therapists, a scheme that in a letter to the Guardian [2] the signatories denounced as anti-therapeutic and professionally unethical.

Nothing has changed except that this policy now threatens to coerce a greater number of people into a system of employability interventions and psychological treatment in order to avoid sanctions on their welfare payments, including the main disability grants. As the highly contested Universal Credit programme is rolled out across the UK in response to rapidly growing low pay and job insecurity, many more people will be unable to secure living wages and will be forced into the benefits regime, where they will be subject to this pressure to undergo combined psychological interventions and employment advice.

What is the role of therapists in such a system? For us, work is not a health outcome. Employment is not an expected or even inherently desirable result of genuine counselling and psychotherapy. Real therapy does not aim to return individuals to the workplace or to keep them in jobs that may be economically insecure, psychologically toxic, systemically oppressive and personally damaging.

The linking of State therapy and employment advice, particularly if connected in any way with a punitive benefits system that has the power to sanction claimants for their perceived failures to find work, must surely contaminate some of the central tenets of good therapy – not least the autonomy and right to self- determination of the person undertaking it. The rolled-out scheme may be trailed as ‘voluntary’ but if ‘employment advisers and therapists will work together so that a person can return to or find work easier and faster’, as the Government say, then the non-coercive integrity of the therapy cannot realistically be maintained.

Given that the Government statement is at pains to point out how the overall aim of the project is ‘driving economic growth’, we also have to ask therapists whether they can – ethically and in good faith – align their practices with such an agenda. The therapist’s job is not to work from an assumption that ‘work is good’ or to aim to reduce the number of people receiving benefits, including disability benefits that are increasingly claimed on the basis of mental illness, but to provide an opportunity for reflection on all aspects of a person’s life.

As a network of organisations representing counsellors and psychotherapists, we at PCP believe that this announcement on World Mental Health Day is a cynical attempt to reduce government spending at the expense of people who most need genuine therapeutic support during an unprecedented period of economic crisis. We reject the financial logic that underpins the linking of employment and wellbeing services as it is a profound attack on the principles of talking therapies and will lead to a cruel and measurable deepening of the UK’s mental health crisis.


Partners for Counselling & Psychotherapy

twitter: @pcp_uk #workcure #psychocompulsion

Free Psychotherapy Network: where do we go from here?

An online meeting for members and supporters of the Free Psychotherapy Network

Saturday 21st November 11am – 1pm

Dear FPN therapists and supporters,

Please join us to discuss the future of FPN. We have been going for over six years now, offering free therapy to people on benefits and low incomes. Our website has 35,000 visitors a year. We have 50 plus therapists, half in Greater London and the rest throughout England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The demand from people wanting therapy is overwhelming, especially in the London area. 

As well as linking clients and therapists through the website, FPN has been campaigning on issues around the politics of counselling and psychotherapy – workfare and psycho-compulsion, the lack of open-ended relational therapy on the NHS, and support for the social model of mental health. We have also been providing free group support online for people isolated during the Covid pandemic.

We recently joined Partners for Counselling and Psychotherapy – a new umbrella group of progressive therapy organisations.

The organisational side of FPN has been mainly done by a small group of us based in London. Recently we have mainly just looked after the website and answered queries. A few of us meet regularly for peer supervision of our free work.

Join us to think about FPN’s future, to explore new ideas for expanding the network and campaigning for social and psychological justice. 

We definitely need more therapists. How can we campaign to encourage more therapists to join us? 

Given the experience of working online under Covid, can we start pooling enquiries and connect people by availability online rather than just geography. 

We could do more Covid support groups online. And more peer supervision of free work.

Some of us have been thinking about a campaign for “real therapy” – more provision of open-ended relational therapy through community-based therapy collectives as well as through the NHS. 

The NHS recently published an ambitious long term plan for community-based mental health provision, something that won’t happen without challenge. One possibility for the future – some community centres are offering us rooms for doing free work. 

Come and join us on Saturday 21st November, and help us think about where we go now. We are using an Eventbrite page for people to register so we have an idea of who’s attending. We will organise it on Zoom and email the link to anyone who wants to come.

Register now to receive the Zoom link – click here to register on Eventbrite

Circulate this Eventbrite link to anyone you think might be interested:

For more info and contact email, see here

Momentum “The World Transformed” Policy Lab on Capitalism and Mental Health – Saturday 21st Sept 3.00-5.30 in Brighton


Nicola Saunders and Paul Atkinson are organising an event at Momentum’s The World Transformed on Capitalism and Mental Health on Saturday 21st September at 3.00 – 5.30 pm in Brighton. Jacqui Dillon and Malcolm Philips are joining us to introduce the meeting.

The focus of the event is to gather together from the people at the meeting concrete proposals for radical alternative policies on mental health for the next Labour Manifesto. This will be part of Momentum’s Policy Lab programme through which an alternative manifesto will be presented by John McDonnell and others to the LP manifesto discussion.

Our aim is to quickly identify together the main policy areas and spend as much time as possible in smaller groups discussing and formulating policy proposals for each area. It really matters then that we manage to attract as wide a range of experience and opinion on transforming mental health policy.

The online Momentum flyer for the event lists five “speakers”. This is a bit misleading. In fact, Nicola will chair;  Malcolm, Jacqui and Paul will kick things off with very brief talking points around the kind of issues we face in the mental health arena; Jon Ashworth, shadow Minister for Health, will say something brief at the end of the session.

As far as possible, the meeting will belong to the people who come along. So please come if you can. Get tickets here. And please circulate the invite to anyone who might be interested.

Warm greetings from Paul and Nicola

Letter from #MillionsMissing Campaign – May 12th 2018 (ME Awareness Day)

Dear Free Psychotherapy Network,

I was very interested in the article on your website calling on therapists not to collude with harmful back-to-work therapies and pyscho-compulsion.

You may not know, but the model for these therapies have been forced upon a group of patients with a physical disease for decades.  The rooted of the BPS model go back to the PACE trial on people with ME. This trial was part funded by the DWP and set out to prove that instead of the neurological condition described by the WHO it was a combination of deconditioning, fear of activity and false illness beliefs.  The ‘success’ of this trial has long been disputed by patients but is only now coming under scientific scrutiny.

PACE has been used to ‘prove’ that CBT and graded exercise are an effective way to return people to health.  Unfortunately, even trivial exercise such as having a shower has a catastrophic effect on ME sufferers, leaving them bed bound and in pain.  Some never regain the level of functioning they had before treatment.  However, they are told that it their fault for not trying hard enough or not challenging their false illness beliefs.  Parents are accused of perpetuating their child’s illness and there are a high level of accusations of FII against mothers.

The PACE trial has been thoroughly debunked but it’s influence continues and has contributed to the appearance of scientific evidence for IAPT.

ME sufferers have been the ‘canary in the coal mine’ for many years, protesting without being heard.  The BPS lobby has been able to stigmatise a whole group of patients as ‘militant activists’ and akin to the animal rights lobby in the level of danger they present to scientists.

However, in the only legal arena that these accusations have been examined they were found to be ‘grossly excessive’.

This harm has been compounded by the blocking of any research that doesn’t fit the BPS view.  Any protests are met with contempt and the accusation that people with ME are afraid of being seen to have mental health problems.  It is a perfect Catch 22.  If you don’t protest then you are assumed to agree that ME is a mental health issue.  If you do protest then it proves that you have a mental health problem but are in denial.  In reality, sufferers are only asking for effective treatment for their primary biomedical problem.  They welcome counselling to help them accept the limitations that this long term illness has forced upon them.  ME sufferers are in the same position that people with MS were before the discovery of a bio marker when it was considered to be hysterical paralysis.

Things are now changing around the world.  In the USA the NIH has found insufficient evidence for CBT and GET The Dutch have recently done the same

NICE are reviewing the UK guidelines but have refused to remove them until the end of the process, which will take at least 2 years.  In that time many more patients will experience iatrogenic harm.

MEAction are holding a series of demonstrations across the UK on May 12 to draw attention to the #MillionsMissing from their own lives.  We are asking therapists to stand with ME patients in asking NICE to stop GET now, rather than wait for the 2 year period to expire.

I am organising the London MillionsMissing protest and reaching out beyond the ME community to ask for allies.


Denise Spreag

Demo at New Savoy Conference 21st March 2018

The Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy has organised a demo at the New Savoy conference again this year. Please circulate the flyer linked here to your networks and come along yourself if you can make it. It’s an early start at South Kensington.

Some context:
• The hierarchy of IAPT and psychological services in the NHS who gather at these conferences continue to offer liberal mouthings about DWP welfare reform policies, WCA and PIP, sanctions, coercion around Work and Health. But they’ve actually taken no real action to boycott DWP/Health collaboration, despite all the developments re judicial reviews, UN condemnations, the recent Parl Committee report, and the UC debacle.
In his intro to the conference, in the programme link above, Jeremy Clarke (NS chair) says:
 “The second issue is the running sore of welfare benefit reform, and its negative impact on mental health, that undermines whatever benefit we make to population wellbeing. Have we reached a consensus now for how we can turn the tide? The BBC’s Mark Easton will find out”
• The overall theme is depression; there are sessions on the crisis in the IAPT workforce, latest staff survey, impact of targets; session on Work and Health Unit; Wessely’s review of human rights and compulsory treatment; session on Employee Assistant Programmes (often run by people like Maximus); familiar faces in the list of speakers.
The scam of IAPT as a service in local communities. IAPT has a massive evidence base, tons of statistics for every CCG in England including “recovery” rates; ethnicity stats; deprivation stats; etc etc No-one really analyses the figures. For IAPT, it seems just collecting the stats is their claim to being evidence based and therefore their claim for funding from the Government. In fact, their stats reveal a shockingly failing provision.
For example, out of over 1,350,000 referrals a year, 85% either never enter any kind of therapy, or never finish a course of treatment, or don’t “move to recovery” (as IAPT jargon has it). In my CCG (Tower Hamlets) only 6.6% of referrals to IAPT “recovered” and among the Bangladeshi community who make up over 30% on TH population only 3% “recovered”. Paul Farmer’s Taskforce target for % of population who “need IAPT therapy” is 15%, rising to 25% by 2021. In TH about 2% of the pop were referred/referred themselves to IAPT, of whom as I say 6.6% “recovered”.
IAPT will be a major part of the propaganda around the NHS reorganisation now in progress, via the STPs and the ACOs they are developing (link here for more info on this). STP management have “the mental health crisis” high on their agenda – certainly their PR agenda – and selling more provision for IAPT services will be a major plank of the campaign. See Hunt on this role for IAPT here.
IAPT is rarely taken to task as a service that is massively failing communities all over England. This is true in the Labour Party as much as anywhere else. This has to stop. It is a propaganda service for neoliberal capitalism and its dissemination of psychological scapegoating and coercion across society.
Hope to see some of you on the 21st,
Paul Atkinson
New Savoy 2018 jpeg

New Savoy 2018.pdf

New Savoy Protest against psycho-compulsion of MH claimants – 15th March 2017


“We have endured year after year of austerity with cuts to our services and benefits and jobs, whilst the already far too rich are coining it in. Britain is the site of gross and unacceptable levels of inequality, and it keeps getting worse. Nothing that comes from the mouths of this government can be trusted, as they continually say one thing whilst doing the complete opposite. We are faced with crises in every sphere of the services that we need including education, social care, prisons, mental health services, housing, zero hours contracts and the health service. All are being undermined and destroyed whilst the corporate media mainly ignores the hell that has been created for so many, or distracts us with endless propaganda campaigns designed to get us turning in on one another whilst the corporations steal away everything that our grandparents struggled to achieve.”

Roy Bard  MWA zine#2

Details of the protest here

Read the Mental Wealth Alliance zine for the protest here

Can FPN find a place in community networks?

Without real practical connections becoming alive and sparking between people in communities, then politics dies.This is George Monbiot’s thesis. Monbiot – activist, researcher and writer – has been laying out his vision of a reborn politics based on a thick web of interconnected grass roots and community activities.

Given the state of so many shattered communities, today’s politics can easily become all about argument and policy. It gets to seem dry, thinned out and irrelevant to most people. Live connected communities are essential if politics is to become vital and relevant to most people.

Over the last 20 years, the winds of globalisation have ripped through many communities and towns, atomising us, breaking down real connectivity between people. Recently it has become public knowledge just how many people are living such lonely isolated lives, that they may not speak to another person in a whole week. George Monbiot has written in the Guardian (8th Feb 2017 ):

“It is in the powder of shattered communities that anti-politics swirls, raising towering dust-devils of demagoguery and extremism. These tornadoes threaten to tear down whatever social structures still stand. When people are atomised and afraid, they feel driven to defend their own interests against other people’s. In other words, they are pushed away from intrinsic values such as empathy, connectedness and kindness, and towards extrinsic values such as power, fame and status.”

We need to restore community life in all its many varieties as a solution and response to the many crises we face. George Monbiot argues for creating thick networks – ” projects that develop a dense participatory culture ” – and he cites the example of Rotterdam in Holland where one estimate suggests there are now 1, 300 civic projects in the city. In the same article, Monbiot also looks at Todmorden in Yorkshire.

The question that I want to ask is this – is this movement that is participatory grass roots network the sort of movement that FPN should be linking up to, and contributing to? If Yes, then how do we start to do that?

Andy Metcalf

February 2017


United against welfare cuts and welfare reform: report from the lobby of the British Psychological Society conference, 18th January 2017

The challenge to the government’s draconian welfare reforms are gathering momentum, and as part of this campaigners from across Merseyside and even as far afield as London gathered outside the annual BPS Clinical Psychology Conference at the Hilton Hotel, Liverpool on Wednesday 18th January. The British Psychological Society (BPS) is the professional body for UK psychologists and has been working with the government on aspects of its welfare reform programme.

Service users/survivors, mental health workers and clinicians from a range of groups including Psychologists Against Austerity (PAA), Mental Health Resistance Network, Disabled People Against Cuts, Social Work Action Network (SWAN) as well as trade unionists arrived bright and early at the venue to share our concerns with conference attendees. There is strong evidence of the detrimental impact of welfare reform on claimants with mental health needs so we are calling on the BPS to withdraw from all work with the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) and join us in demanding the government end their harmful welfare reform programme.


Campaigners from a number of groups united to send a powerful message to the BPS leadership

As a result of our lobby, delegates informed us that welfare reform had become a major discussion point for attendees inside. Then as a result of this pressure a call came through to inform us that Peter Kinderman, president of the BPS, had invited us to address the conference the following day to explain our position and present our demands.

The next morning a group of campaigners representing the breadth of our alliance –service-users/survivors, a carer, and activists from North West Psychologists Against Austerity, Mental Health Resistance Network and SWAN – spoke to 300 psychologists at the first session of the conference. The group shared a strong message about the effects of welfare reform and called on the BPS to withdraw from all collaboration with the Department of Work & Pensions. In his response BPS president Peter Kinderman accepted some of our arguments but maintained that the BPS needs to continue to work with the DWP to get its perspectives heard. We reject this argument. We believe continued BPS involvement only lends credibility to the government, and BPS withdrawal would send a strong message about clinicians’ and service users’ concerns. We will continue to call for an end to all collaboration between the BPS and DWP.


Campaigners are invited onstage to address 300 psychologists at the BPS Conference

The DWP is an unethical body that is damaging the lives of claimants with mental health needs.

The statistics and evidence on the harmful impact of welfare reform are clear:

  • 20,000 people with mental health difficulties had their benefits sanctioned in 2015
  • Following Work Capability Reassessment, there is a greater risk of suicides, self-reported mental health problems, and antidepressant prescribing (Barr et al, 2015)
  • 2,380 people died shortly after being declared able to work between 2011 and 2014
  • Government & corporate collaborators are imposing psychological explanations for unemployment, together with mandatory activities intended to modify beliefs, attitude, disposition, or personality – this is being called psychocompulsion (Friedli & Stearn, 2015)
  • The United Nations “is deeply concerned about the various changes in the entitlements to, & cuts in, social benefits introduced by the Welfare Reform Act 2012 & the Welfare Reform & Work Act 2016”. The UN has called on the Government to: “Review the entitlement conditions & reverse the cuts in social security benefits introduced by” these Acts

However we believe that this action and the growing campaigns around the country are starting to make a difference on this issue. A number of clinical psychologists attending the conference told us that the lobby and ensuing discussions would help to strengthen their voices within the BPS to make the case against the organisation’s involvement with the DWP.

We believe that when service users/survivors, psychologists and other mental health workers come together we are stronger. We will keep building alliances to pressure the BPS to withdraw from involvement with the DWP and to bring an end to the government’s wider programme of welfare cuts, reforms and psychocompulsion. If you would like to get involved please email us on

Mental Wealth Alliance response to the psy professional bodies’ statement on benefit sanctions and mental health 30/11/16


Mental Wealth Alliance[1]

 Mental Health Resistance Network; Disabled People Against Cuts; Recovery in the Bin; Boycott Workfare; The Survivors Trust; Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy; College of Psychoanalysts; Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility; Psychologists Against Austerity; Free Psychotherapy Network; Psychotherapists and Counsellors Union; Social Work Action Network (Mental Health Charter); National Unemployed Workers Combine; Merseyside County Association of Trades Union Councils; Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network; Critical Mental Health Nurses’ Network; National Health Action Party.


British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

British Psychoanalytic Council

British Psychological Society

United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy

30th January 2017

MWA response to the psy professional bodies’ statement on benefit sanctions and mental health  30th November 2016

We welcome the call from the psychological therapy bodies for the government to suspend the use of sanctions by the DWP subject to the outcomes of an independent review of its welfare policies and their potential damage to the mental health of benefit claimants. Given the accumulation of evidence over many years of the material and psychological suffering inflicted on benefit claimants by workfare-based conditionality[2], it has been frankly shocking that the professional bodies directly concerned with the mental health of the nation have preferred to welcome and participate in workfare policies rather than publicly and vociferously dissociate themselves.

The timing of the statement is given to be the recent report on sanctions by the National Audit Office. Welcome as its report is, the NAO’s perspective on government policy is primarily monetary, not one of health, ethics and social justice. Its “vision is to help the nation spend wisely”.  The choice of this timing represents realpolitik on the part of the professional bodies no doubt, as perhaps is the intention of the conditional statement: “The sanctions process may be detrimental to people’s mental health and wellbeing”. But surely as psychotherapists and counsellors we can do better to represent the overwhelming evidence of personal suffering on such a scale than point to poor returns on expenditure and an ambivalent proposal that sanctions may be detrimental to people’s mental health.

Sanctions are only one dimension, albeit at the sharp end, of a welfare regime based on the political assertion that people need to be coerced off benefits and “nudged” into work. The psychological pressure of WCA and PIP assessments, job search rules, work programmes on “good employee” behaviours and the regular cuts to welfare benefits generally are part and parcel of the psycho-compulsion of the DWP benefits regime.[3]

We dispute the government’s premise that work is a therapeutic priority for people suffering from mental health difficulties. The marshalling of evidence for this modern-day workhouse mentality lacks both substance and integrity. Work has become the ideological mantra for neoliberal welfare policies.

Obviously where people want to work and where employment possibilities exist that will support and nourish people’s mental health, then encouragement, training and professional support should be available. But why is there no acknowledgement of the hundreds of thousands of claimants with mental health difficulties who cannot work, whether they want to or not?[4] Where is the evidence that people with mental health difficulties are actually benefiting from what is now two decades of workfare conditionality in the UK? Where is the evidence that in our current labour market decent jobs exist that will nourish people’s mental health? And where is the evidence that psychological therapy for benefit claimants with long-term mental health disabilities succeeds in supporting them into decent jobs they want, can survive and maintain?

When the professional bodies say, “an estimated 86-90% of people with mental health conditions that are not in employment want to work”, they are supporting the proposition that getting into work is an overwhelmingly important and efficacious goal for this group of benefit claimants. It is not clear where this figure comes from and what it means.

A similar figure is quoted by The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ report on Mental Health and Work (2013)[5], making use of a Sheffield study by J. Secker and others (2001)[6]. In fact, Secker finds that of their sample of 149 unemployed service users, when asked if they were interested in work of any kind – including voluntary and supported work –  “around half (47%) responded positively, and almost the same proportion (43%) had a tentative interest. Only 15 people (10%) had no interest in work”. At the same time, only 25% of respondents saw full-time employment as a long-term goal. 71% said that their preferred vocational assistance would be “help for mental health/keep current service”.[7]

This study does not translate into “86-90% of people with mental health conditions that are not in employment want to work”.[8] What it points to is the complex texture of attitudes, desires and fears around waged work that are the common experience of service users, alongside the harsh realities of the current labour market, the socio-economic environment generally, and the dire state of mental health services of all kinds more particularly.[9]

From our point of view, the professional bodies’ statement is a step in the right direction. It is a step that must now be followed through with active political pressure on the DWP and the Dept of Health to suspend sanctions and set up an independent review of their use, including the damage they inflict on people’s mental health.  Parliament has already called for such a review.[10]

But more than this, the remit of such a review should include all aspects of conditionality in a benefits system that deploy psycho-compulsion through mandatory rules or through the more subtle imposition of behavioural norms which aim to override the claimant’s voice.

We again suggest that the psy professional bodies would benefit by widening their own conversations to include service users and the rank and file of their membership. They would also win more credibility as organisations with ethical and social values independent of the government’s policies of dismantlement of social security and the welfare state if they were willing to make transparent their currently private conversations with DWP.

[1] Mental Wealth Alliance (MWA), formerly the Mental Wealth Foundation, is a broad, inclusive coalition of professional, grassroots, academic and survivor campaigns and movements. We bear collective witness and support collective action in response to the destructive impact of the new paradigm in health, social care, welfare and employment. We oppose the individualisation and medicalisation of the social, political and material causes of hardship and distress, which are increasing as a result of austerity cuts to services and welfare and the unjust shift of responsibility onto people on low incomes and welfare benefits. Our recent conference focused on Welfare Reforms and Mental Health, Resisting the Impact of Sanctions, Assessments and Psychological Coercion.

[2] Parliamentary committees, the national press, endless reports from charities, service user organisations, people with disabilities, claimants unions and workfare campaigners have been reporting the physical and psychological damage of ‘welfare reform’ and its tragic outcomes for a decade.

[3] On psycho-compulsion and the benefits system see Friedli and Stearn and

[4] In February 2015 over a million people claiming ESA under a MH diagnosis were in either the Support Group or WRAG. Over 70% of new applicants for ESA are found unfit for work

[5] p.17

[6] Secker, J., Grove, B. & Seebohm, P. (2001) Challenging barriers to employment, training and education for mental health service users. The service users’ perspective. London: Institute for Applied Health & Social Policy, King’s College London.

[7] Ibid, pp. 397-399

[8] Compare a DWP survey of disabled working age benefit claimants in 2013. 56% of 1,349 respondents agreed that they wanted to work. Only 15% agreed that they were currently able to work. Only 23% agreed that having a job would be beneficial for their health.

[9] For example, some of this complexity is flagged by Blank, Harries and Reynolds (2012) The meaning and experience of work in the context of severe and enduring mental health problems: An interpretative phenomenological analysis Work: 47 45(3)    “Stigma, the disclosure of a mental health problem and the symptoms of the mental health problem are frequently described, as well as feelings of hopelessness, seeing recovery as uncertain, and feeling a lack of encouragement from services. Difficulties in accessing occupational health services, having a disjointed work history, lack of work experience, age, lack of motivation and fears about competency, as well as the social benefits system and caring commitments, are also experienced as barriers to accessing employment for people with mental health problems.”



Mental health activists, workfare campaigners and therapists protest against work cure therapy for benefit claimants with mental health disabilities

  It’s time for the psy professional bodies to stop colluding with the DWP 

Join the protest against the professional bodies supporting work cure therapy for benefit claimants with mental health disabilities

Tuesday 5th July at 9 am at the New Savoy Conference

Hallam Conference Centre, 44 Hallam Street, London W1W 6JJ

Central London @ Great Portland Street tube (Map here)

See the conference programme here

For a decade or more, the Government has been deploying psychotherapy to get people with mental health difficulties off benefits, back to work and mapped into the neoliberal labour market. Since 2010, austerity policies of welfare reform – punitive Work Capability Assessments, benefit cuts, workfare, sanctioning – have intensified government strategies of psycho-compulsion and work cure for welfare claimants. IAPT therapists are being co-located in Jobcentres, DWP mental health advisers and employment coaches in GP surgeriesfood banksschools and libraries.

The big five national organisations representing the professions of counselling, psychotherapy and clinical psychology* have welcomed these policies and the state funding of back-to-work therapy.

As members of the New Savoy Partnership, they have been major players in The New Savoy Conference, an annual jamboree and market stall for state therapies in the NHS. The NSC frequently stages opening addresses by DWP and Health ministers to assert the close relationship between the professional bodies, MH charities and Government mental health and work-cure policies and funding. Hundreds of mental health workers accredited by the psy professional bodies have been hired by the DWP to provide “support into work”. These are jobs that are experienced as deeply unethical by many of the professionals being steered into this kind of work.

In March this year, the Mental Wealth Foundation (see below) wrote to the five professional organisations challenging their support of the government’s use of psychological therapies to put pressure on people with mental health disabilities to get into work. You can read the exchange of letters between us and the professional bodies here.

So far, all but one of these organisations are refusing to speak to us and continue to argue that they have had private reassurances from the DWP that “work cure” therapy will not be mandatory for claimants, and will not involve setting entry into employment as a therapeutic outcome. This claim defies the reality of the DWP’s record of punitive and coercive policies of workfare, Work Capability Assessment and sanctioning and its growing determination through its Work and Health initiatives to prioritise work as the therapy of choice for long-term mental health disability.

British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies; British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy; British Psychoanalytic Council; British Psychological Society; United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy

Come and join the protest against work cure therapy for benefit claimants with mental health disabilities. All welcome. Gather at 9am on Tuesday 5th July outside the Hallam Conference Centre, 44 Hallam Street, London W1W 6JJ. For more info contact

The Mental Wealth Foundation (MWF) is a broad, inclusive coalition of professional, grassroots, academic and survivor campaigns and movements. We bear collective witness and support collective action in response to the destructive impact of the new paradigm in health, social care, welfare and employment. We oppose the individualisation and medicalisation of the social, political and material causes of hardship and distress, which are increasing as a result of austerity cuts to services and welfare and the unjust shift of responsibility onto people on low incomes and welfare benefits. Our recent conference focused on Welfare Reforms and Mental Health, Resisting the Impact of Sanctions, Assessments and Psychological Coercion.

Currently, seventeen organisations are gathered under the MWF umbrella: Mental Health Resistance Network; Disabled People Against Cuts; Recovery in the Bin; Boycott Workfare; The Survivors Trust; Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy; College of Psychoanalysts; Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility; Psychologists Against Austerity; Free Psychotherapy Network; Psychotherapists and Counsellors Union; Critical Mental Health Nurses’ Network; Social Work Action Network (Mental Health Charter); National Unemployed Workers Combine; Merseyside County Association of Trades Union Councils; Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network; National Health Action Party

Manchester Conference Saturday 21st May 2016

Mind the Gap: Free Psychotherapy in an Unjust World

Sat, May 21, 2016 at 11:00 AM

Friends Meeting House, – 6 Mount St, , Manchester M2 5NS, United Kingdom – View Map

A conference organised by the Free Psychotherapy Network

The state of our emotional and psychological lives is as fundamental as our material standard of living – our incomes, our physical health, our working conditions, our education and housing. Yet we live in a society whose dominant political and cultural messages over-emphasize money, profit, property and consumption. At the same time, the quality of our emotional lives and relationships with our families, friends, co-workers, neighbours and wider communities is undervalued.

This conference is an opportunity to explore and develop sustainable networks of psychological support which are community led. The aim is to create a collaborative space for therapists, service users, survivors, claimants’ unions and community groups to explore our experience, our needs and desires together. We have much to learn from each other!

The day will be workshop based. Workshop themes may include: sick individual or sick society?; peer led groups – what works, what doesn’t; the experience of FPN so far – free work and working free of funding and institutional restraints; minding the gap between the ‘professional’ and the ‘client’ – exploring the power relationship between therapists and clients; building the relationship between FPN and community groups; developing FPN local groups.

If you would like to suggest or run a workshop, please email: – add your suggestions here

The conference is free. All welcome.

If you would like help with travel costs we may be able to help, email:


The venue is wheelchair accessible.

Book a free place via Eventbrite here


Open letter to therapy’s professional bodies on the psychocompulsion of welfare claimants – from the Mental Wealth Foundation



Mental Wealth Foundation is a broad, inclusive coalition of professional, grassroots, academic and survivor campaigns and movements. We bear collective witness and support collective action in response to the destructive impact of the new paradigm in health, social care, welfare and employment. We oppose the individualisation and medicalisation of the social, political and material causes of hardship and distress, which are increasing as a result of austerity cuts to services and welfare and the unjust shift of responsibility onto people on low incomes and welfare benefits. Our recent conference focused on Welfare Reforms and Mental Health, Resisting the Impact of Sanctions, Assessments and Psychological Coercion.



Date                21 March 2016


Mental Wealth Foundation

Mental Health Resistance Network

Disabled People Against Cuts

Recovery in the Bin

Boycott Workfare

The Survivors Trust

Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy

College of Psychoanalysts

Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility

Psychologists Against Austerity

Critical Mental Health Nurses’ Network

Free Psychotherapy Network

Psychotherapists and Counsellors Union

Social Work Action Network (Mental Health Charter)

National Unemployed Workers Combine

Merseyside County Association of Trades Union Councils

Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network



British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

British Psychoanalytic Council

British Psychological Society

United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy



Professional bodies scrutinise Government therapists in job centresplans

 We write in response to your joint public statement of 7 March 2016 outlining the outcome of your meetings with the Government’s new Joint Health and Work Unit and your scrutiny of the Government’s plans to place therapists in job centres [1].

There is no indication that any consultation has taken place with members of your organisations with knowledge of these matters nor with service users, clients and their representative organisations. This lack of consultation and opportunity for wider reflection has contributed to your organisations departing from your own ethical structures and frameworks, and being seen as agents of harmful government policy [2]. It is by now generally accepted that the consequences of the DWP and government policy in this area are far reaching for physically and mentally disabled people on social security benefits. Inexplicably your organisations’ scrutiny of government plans has failed to recognise this.

The joining of Government Health and Work Departments is not helpful, and current DWP policy intended to reduce the socio-economic causes of mental illness to the one simple fact of unemployment is clinically and intellectually ridiculous. The resulting policy promoting work as cure, which your organisations are now supporting, is offensive and dangerous. It is wrong for therapy organisations to buy into the unthinking praise for ‘work’ that often forms part of the rhetoric of governments.

While for some clients improving employment prospects may be an objective, for many others this is not the case and may be profoundly damaging. Indeed, for some people, their mental health problems may have begun because of work e.g. through experiences of bullying in the workplace. This one size fits all approach is simplistic. Premature return to work can result in loss of confidence and relapses affecting future ability to get back to work. This can also lead to prolonged periods without benefits and no income [3].

You state that plans must be aimed at improving mental health and wellbeing rather than as a means of getting people back to work. These are not the aims and objectives being expressed by the people who are implementing the programme right now, involving targeting ‘hard to help’ clients who are likely to be people with enduring physical or mental health difficulties. For example in the Islington pilot project Councillor Richard Watts has stated, “We think there is much more that health services can do to promote the idea of employment for people with health conditions.” In the Islington CCG Commissioners’ report in November calling for employment services in GP surgeries to reach ‘hard to help’ claimants, they state that, “to improve the system we need to…maximise the contribution of all local services to boost employment, making it a priority for health, housing, social care and training. We need to open up how we talk to people about employment, including asking healthcare professionals to have conversations about work with patients, as part of their recovery. We need to give professionals the information and tools to help them to do this.” [4]. For all clients, establishing a trusting relationship is the first priority, involving respecting their current needs, perspectives and autonomy.

Jobs advertised on the BACP website in November 2015 have the explicit aim of getting clients back to work and engaging with employment services e.g. “your role will include: producing tailored health action plans for each client, focusing on improving their health and moving them closer to work…generate health and wellbeing referrals to ensure continued engagement with employment advisers” [5]. Similarly G4S advertise jobs for BABCP accredited CBT practitioners with job roles including: “Targeted on the level, number and effectiveness of interventions in re-engaging Customers and Customer progression into work” [6].

We respectfully submit that information about these jobs was known to all of your organisations when you issued your joint statement. This inconsistency is seriously misleading.

We are glad that you oppose conditionality, coercion and sanctions. Clearly such punitive measures have no place in the therapeutic relationship. We fail to share your reassurance from the government that these measures will not be pursued against clients. DWP have repeatedly claimed that sanctions are a last resort and only happen in a tiny minority of cases. The reality is that millions of people have been sanctioned. In the twelve months to September 2015 alone, over 350,000 ESA and JSA claimants were sanctioned [7]. In the Employment Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group the majority of sanctions were of people who have been placed in the group specifically because they are experiencing mental health issues and research shows that benefit sanctions on people with mental health problems has increased by 600% [8].

It is not possible to consider this issue without considering the context of sanctions, cuts and persecution which is endemic in the current system. You fail to acknowledge that attending this proposed therapy may not be explicitly linked to conditions/sanctions but will feel so for many of its prospective clients who are on benefits. There is a structural power imbalance between job centre employees and those on benefits. With their income under threat, those on benefits will be especially susceptible to cues, suggestibility and positive reinforcement when attending job centres. Many on benefits have experienced oppressive power relations for much of their lives. Saying no in relation to an apparent free choice in this context is hugely difficult, especially when saying no has uncertain consequences [9] .

Attempts to coerce people into work are detrimental not only to their health but to their safety and, in many cases, present a risk to life. The extreme fear and distress caused by the current welfare reforms, including changes in disability benefits and the new Work Capability Assessments, is widely reported including instances that have led to suicide [10]. Therapy alongside this coercive system breaches the ethical principle of non-maleficence.

You state that there must be choice as to location of therapy. There is a clear danger in putting DWP representatives into GP surgeries, community centres and food banks that are seen as safe havens for people on low incomes and benefits. The presence of DWP compromises this. DWP/Maximus workers in the GP surgery, with access to medical records, will serve as a deterrent to people visiting their family doctor. The model currently in use in Islington allows Remploy/Maximus workers to access and write into GP records; this jeopardises any commitment to client privacy and confidentiality [11].

The choice of method of therapy is an illusion and therapists of all modalities are subject to the stresses of an unjust target driven culture [12]. We are concerned that under-qualified and inexperienced staff, such as job centre coaches, will be in a position to make referrals to Health and Work programs. This is exacerbated by the fact that referrals are likely to be to IAPT workers, many of whom themselves lack in-depth training and experience of severe mental health issues. Inappropriate referrals are increasingly likely in a target-driven culture.

We are not reassured that the feasibility trials planned by the government will contribute to knowledge and understanding and are not reassured by your echoing what government is saying. Instead you and government must listen to the voices of survivors who describe the reality of government plans on their lives and are fighting for services with a vision of humanity beyond work [13].

It is clear from your public statement that you have failed to critically examine and scrutinise the ongoing activities of the Government Joint Work and Health Unit. We call on you to cease your engagement with this unit and instead hold a national stakeholder event which is guaranteed to involve the participation of representative organisations for service users and therapists with direct knowledge of the area, as well as professional bodies like yours. There should be no government involvement in such an event. From it, a representative group can be selected that will adequately represent the views of service users and therapists to the appropriate government departments as well as to the opposition.



5          ‘Mental Health Advisor – Job Details’ Retrieved from November 21st, 2015. Available at

6 crisis

  1. For a fuller discussion of these issues, see
  1. Para 4.3

See also




The Christmas Ogress

We would visit the old river valley again,

Seam of silver below black mountains,

our dream of a time

when people lived simply,

at peace with the landscape,

walking and working there.

In the dark of winter, in the festival of light,

Even the old women wore crowns

Flaming like flowers. .

At night, at dusk when the light fails and the fire is low.

we long to travel there.

Yuletide stripped of our disappointment, our city sophistication.

And yet… if the stories are true,

There lives also Gryla, rarely seen.

Screaming down from her cave

above the icy mists.


Flying high out of the smoke and fire,

Flying high over the lava fields,

Comes Gryla, in the shape of an eagle,

From her eyrie in the mountains

She strikes down to the little towns in the river valley

Consumed with a hunger she knows not, assuaged by nothing except…


Scolded, the children stand by the fire,

round eyed at the tale,

Slap still stinging on their bare legs.


Gryla, Gryla, Gryla

Oh then comes Gryla

Gorging on their innocent delicacy.


Wikipedia tells us that Grýla was not directly linked to Christmas until the 17th century and that her name may mean “threat” or “threatening”. In the folktales, Gryla can detect children who are misbehaving year-round and at Christmas time, she comes down from the mountains to search nearby towns and devour naughty children for whom she has an insatiable appetite. The legends comment that there is never a shortage of food for Gryla.

My route to Gryla, whom I did not know before, was a thought-journey to the North – via Radio 3 Northern Lights themed programmes which also took  me to Tanya Tagaq’s extraordinary voice and the soundtrack to Nanook of the North, which brilliantly evoked the strangeness and vastness of the inuit landscape.

But also to another soundtrack – composed by Valgeir Sigurdsson – called Draumalandith.  Written post the Icelandic financial collapse, it is a critical and creative response to a sense that everything was going wrong in modern society.  In the sleeve notes to the CD, Andri Snaer Magnason writes:

“The book Dreamland was written during a time in Icelandic society when dissidents gained power in the fields of privatisation, energy and foreign affairs.  The revolution was a quiet one, a ‘peaceful’ one, and many considered it to be sensible and furthermore, inevitable.  …. When the world at large seemed to be moving towards new technology, new methods of communication and generally a more environmentally friendly mentality, the Icelandic government decided to invite companies and corporations of questionable reputation to come to Iceland, to take advantage of – and eventually destroy – manyh of the country’s most valuable resources.”

“Flying over the Fljotsdalur waterfalls that are no longer there, a solitary viola is our guide, and we can sense the threat…. We fly over the sand pyramids on Vatnajokull, in the direction of an area that is to be destroyed because of a short-term gold rush.  The shrill brass tones resonate and contrast with the heavy, impenetrable silence. “

The first track  – which I like so much – is called Grylukvaedi.  I found a website that gave the Icelandic lyrics and used Google to translate them – with some very obvious failures to give acceptable English translations. The poem I am in the process of making is not a translation, therefore, but takes off from a very faulty translation, further very faultily interpreted by me, also, I am sure, before taking me off into my own thoughts.   Partly about the wholesale destructiveness of humanity, it is also particularly about its manifestation not just in our wars and corporate ravishing of the land and its peoples, but also in what we are doing to perpetuate that when we frighten children with tales of being eaten by ogres if they don’t behave.  A story that became attached to Yule, that precursor of Christmas. Our own modern version is that ‘Santa’ won’t bring any presents to naughty children  (and many European Yule stories are anything but stories of generosity and love). And yet we  maintain a perhaps idealised – fantasy-nostalgia of a simpler, more ‘natural’ past where people were happier – a Christmastime of family jollity and togetherness.  But life was and is harsh for many if not most, and people were harsh in how they faced it, and taught, beforce, their children that harshness.

So to my mind, there was always Gryla, in even the most paradisal of imagined worlds. We conjure those ideal worlds – our Edens from which we know we have banished ourselves – as flowers of light in our darkness, desperately fragile, falteringly hopeful. Ever to be treasured and sheltered from the icy blasts.

And perhaps I am saying that Gryla is always part of us and part of what we are and what we fear – the ravening, destructive part of ourselves that pitilessly (but rationalised as necessary) brings childish innocence to an end.  And in the music I heard our sorrow for our own part in destroying it, and our sorrow for its part in our own loss. Hardest of all to think about is the satisfaction we feel – Gryla’s lust in her cruelty;   something that we do not easily allow ourselves to know – hence the ‘it’s for your own good’ excuses we make. Fracking is good for our economy, for example.

And, on another plane, Gryla is imagined as a woman – the dark fears of woman as an elemental force of destruction – the perversity of eating her own children, consuming the future and its resources – that stalks the deepest imaginations of humans all over the world. Life giver and life destroyer.