PCU Statement against Prevent posted by Robbie Lockwood

Updated: Oct 28, 2018

PCU Statement against Prevent

As part of the Prevent statutory duty, you may be aware that the UK government now designates healthcare settings a ‘pre-criminal space’. Since 2015, NHS staff must demonstrate ‘due regard’ in identifying and reporting individuals they suspect may be vulnerable to radicalisation. Prevent policy remains controversial and a number of organisations and groups have issued a statement on Prevent policy. A UN human rights expert has recently raised serious concerns with the Prevent policy, with its foundations based on “vague criteria in a climate of national anxieties in which entire religious, racial and ethnic groups are presumed to be enemies.” The Royal College of Psychiatrists have stated there is no evidence to support the relationship between terrorism and mental health concerns. Furthermore, whilst stating that “mental health provider organisations must […] fulfil their statutory and professional duties for Prevent”, NHS England’s ‘Guidance for mental services in exercising duties to safeguard people from the risk of radicalisation’ (published Nov. 2nd, 2017) admits further research is needed to determine links between terrorism and mental health. Crucially for our practice, an article published in the Journal of Psychodynamic Practice warns that Prevent potentially limits the boundaries of acceptable speech, thereby threatening the very conditions on which psychotherapy depends.

Despite all this, a recent report has found that several mental health trusts across the Midlands are now routinely screening for vulnerability towards radicalisation with all patients. It appears the government is increasingly co-opting mental health bodies for mandatory Prevent without any evidence to support the expansion of the policy in this field.

We add to this that Prevent policy must be reviewed for its lack of evidence-base in the development of the programme, and for its elusive definition of “radicalisation” which relies heavily on ‘gut feelings’.

The Psychotherapy and Counselling Union (PCU) argue that duties undertaken as part of Prevent fall outside the remit of clinical mental health care and wellbeing treatment. The implementation of this policy is likely to be detrimental to mental health care, creating mistrust between service users and professionals.

Preventing Therapy

Preliminary results from a British Academy project indicate that British Muslims are less likely to seek mental health services, knowing that mental health trusts are now screening for individuals vulnerable to radicalisation / extremism in their comprehensive risk assessments.

Whilst statistics for Prevent duty indicate a recent trend towards increased referrals regarding far-right extremism, the programme continues to disproportionately target Muslim communities on a vast scale. Analysis of a governmental report published in 2017 demonstrates that Muslims are 41 times more likely to be referred to Prevent than non-Muslims.

If Prevent is preventing therapy for certain groups, then it is divisive and it is discriminatory.

Against Ethical Guidelines

We note that psychotherapy and counselling regulatory bodies all have ethical guidelines against discrimination, advising members to not allow “colour, race …social, economic or immigration status, lifestyle, religious or cultural beliefs to adversely affect the way they relate to the client” (to quote UKCP’s section 2.2 for example). The Prevent Programme’s disproportionate impact on Muslim communities, which we believe is clearly discriminatory, raises serious concerns whether ethical guidelines are breached where the policy is implemented.

Speaking Out

As a union, we are deeply concerned that Prevent is likely to erode the employment rights of counsellors and psychotherapists working within NHS and state settings, since individual practitioners may be sanctioned for their non-clinical actions or inactions associated with this controversial programme.

We believe that psychotherapists and counsellors must be supported in their holding of uncertainty within the therapeutic space, and that the ambiguity of client/patient expression should be respected (fantasy and so-called reality are not clearly distinguishable in our practice). Further, we believe that this policy is part of an increasing erosion and undermining of confidentiality and privacy, so crucial to psychotherapy and counselling.

We believe further action is required to fight back against the creep of state interference into the consulting room, in the name of confidentiality and privacy, and to encourage once again the free expression of thoughts and fantasies without fear of punishment.

We call on all professional bodies and employers to support their members/employees, to ensure that no longer will any therapist/counsellor be disciplined for breaching Prevent duty, and to clearly declare that it is not a fit policy for our practice.

Psychotherapy and Counselling Union


This statement was written by members of the PCU East London group eastlondonpcu@gmail.com and has been endorsed by the Chair and Committee of the Psychotherapy and Counselling Union.

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