Psychotherapy and Counselling Union Statement on Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill 2019-21


The Psychotherapy and Counselling Union shares the concern of both Amnesty International UK and Liberty that this bill is a threat to justice and civil liberties, and that the ramifications of this bill will require a deep level of scrutiny that may not be achieved during a pandemic.


We note that the Government has not yet reviewed its counter-terrorism strategy and in this bill hopes to remove the binding date for this independent review without even replacing it with a new commitment. Without a deadline, the promise to review the strategy is meaningless.


We have warned before that the Prevent statutory duty can have a chilling effect on counselling and psychotherapy, by making counselling sessions in healthcare and education into a pre-criminal space. This can potentially limit the boundaries of acceptable speech in therapy and threaten the conditions on which psychotherapy depends. This would reduce its ability to alleviate psychological distress. This may particularly put Muslims off of seeking therapy, as they are over 40 times more likely to be referred to Prevent than non-Muslims. Preventing therapy for certain groups is divisive and discriminatory. Minority discrimination is a root cause of minority group radicalization.The government claims this strategy is to support people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism yet it interferes with therapists’ ability to provide support. The discriminatory nature of this strategy is also likely to engender terrorism. Indeed, a recent study on tackling youth radicalization (part-funded by the Home Office) found the government’s counter-terrorism strategy to be flawed.


We support Liberty when they say that ‘Prevent is embedding discrimination in our public services and damaging lives, with Muslims and people of colour bearing the brunt of its impact’ and we echo the secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain when he says the review must be ‘effective, wide-ranging and transparent’ and that the review must not ‘be kicked into the long grass to avoid scrutiny’ as ‘Prevent has caused untold damage, not least to British Muslim communities.’ 


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. To not do so is likely to increase the risk to the public.


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.


We all see that right now the USA is engaged in high levels of police brutality, particularly against black people, while the president, who has strong links to white supremacists, is moving to redefine anarchists and anti-fascist activists as terrorists, paying little heed to the actually significant threat of far-right terrorism. There is a risk this mendacious use of the terrorist label will in turn influence other governments, with the UK’s particularly vulnerable due to the ongoing post-Brexit trade talks. That said, we needed no outside encouragement to engage in the folly of naming Extinction Rebellion, Stand Up to Racism, trade unions and even the CND in police counter-terrorist literature.


This government’s attitude towards terrorism is already deeply concerning. This bill seeks to give even more power to this flawed strategy, while indefinitely delaying an urgently needed review, during a very fractious and frightening time in which parliament will struggle to provide the needed scrutiny.


The Psychotherapy and Counselling Union believes in working towards a safer, more trustworthy and consequently more sustainable world, where people are heard and what they say is respected. Importantly this means appreciating the difference between the reality and fantasy of what is being said and heard.


The review needs to be completed within a short defined time frame, and needs to include organisations such as Amnesty International, Liberty, the relevant trade unions, and the community groups affected, particularly marginalised ones.


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