Why a Union?

Why should I join a union?


- PDF Version We offer support to individual members encountering difficulties in their workplaces, trainings or with accrediting bodies (e.g. with client complaints). There are also a number of issues where therapists need to act as a group to improve our situation. Several of these are about training, including discrimination and lack of diversity, and unpaid work as a built-in aspect of qualifying. Others include the substitution of manualised short-term and ‘wellbeing’ approaches for relationship-based therapies; terms and conditions of employment, especially in the voluntary sector; complaints procedures; closure of courses and agencies; and the use of therapy to get people off benefits. More generally, we can campaign collectively for recognition of the role of therapy in society.




How can therapists have a union, most of us are self-employed?


Many therapists are self-employed, but an increasing number are employed on at least a part-time basis, or are working without pay for organisations as trainees or volunteers. Therapy tends to be a very isolated occupation, and this is in itself a reason to come together as a group. There is currently a general trend towards unionisation for people who don’t have a collective workplace; obviously this means that both the issues and the ways of organising will be different.




Should we not just join Unison, or perhaps our union should become part of a larger one?


Not surprisingly, existing unions don’t have much understanding of therapy and our needs as practitioners. Although there are exceptions, many people report that union reps have not been able to understand and help with problems revolving around therapy-specific themes like confidentiality, clinical supervision and transference. It’s possible that in the long run, when we have developed our own way of doing things, it would make sense to become a section of an existing union; but we are currently a small organisation, and would be swallowed up and lost within a large union.




I’m not very political, so I’m worried about the union acting politically on my behalf.


One of our core activities is supporting our individual members in difficulties with employers, trainings and accrediting bodies. However we find that it’s not possible to draw a boundary between individual and collective issues: specific disputes happen in the context of wider social structures, including political decisions. Any campaigning initiatives which happen in or on behalf of the union are open to discussion by the membership, and we take care to provide ways for this to happen through forums on our website, and the email discussion list.




I’d like a traditional union focused on workplace issues


We feel that we are offering as much of this as is possible, given the circumstances in which therapists work – which are very different from the industrial context in which traditional unions arose. We find, though – like other unions – that 21st century circumstances involve new issues and problems which have to be thought about and acted on in new ways.




Doesn’t my accrediting body cover what you are offering?


No. Bodies like UKCP and BACP are both prosecutors and judges in complaints procedures; they themselves acknowledge that they cannot also act as defenders and supporters for practitioners being complained about. Also, their public campaigns take into account their wish to stay on the right side of governments, trainers and providers; they often cannot speak out clearly in support of therapy and therapists. The union has one clear function, to stand up for therapists and therapy. Both BACP and UKCP have now formally recognised the PCU as entitled to support members in complaints processes.





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