What can you do if you are worried about the incursion of Critical Social Justice (CSJ) ideology into clinical and counselling psychology?  Trying to address the problem directly with professional bodies that have been captured by this ideology, such as The British Psychological Society, can be a frustrating and ultimately futile endeavour.  A more fruitful course of action may be to contact the appropriate regulatory body in your country.  Regulators have a duty to protect the public and can take action if professionals on their register do not meet their standards. 

In this short article I will share with you my experience of raising concerns with our regulator here in the UK ­­­– the Health Care Professions Council (HCPC).  The HCPC regulates practitioner psychologists and sets standards for individual practitioners, education and training programmes.  Although they are a UK regulator, I believe that some of the issues described here will be relevant in other national contexts. 

I wrote to the HCPC in January this year, after reading about a UK clinical training course that is encouraging its trainees to be social justice activists while also setting out to ‘decolonise’ its curriculum.  In my letter I expressed concern that the aims and assertions of CSJ ideology appear to be at odds with many of the HCPC’s Standards of conduct, performance and ethics for practitioner psychologists. I cited a number of specific standards that I believe are being breached.  For the purposes of this article here are the main points I made:

  1. The politicisation of clinical psychology and the training of psychologists to become social justice activists is beyond the scope of clinical practice, incompatible with the scientist-practitioner model and a potential risk to clients.
  • CSJ’s rejection of objective scientific enquiry poses a serious threat to the provision of efficacious and evidence-based psychological treatments.
  • The widespread adoption of CSJ has the potential for causing harm to the profession, to the NHS and other mental healthcare services.

I supported these points with evidence, including documentation promoting social justice activism in UK clinical training courses, a link to a recent BMJ article about the dangers of ‘decolonisation’ and two research papers encouraging psychologists to use therapy as a tool to teach white people how not to be racist.   

In a subsequent email I drew the HCPC’s attention to The Cass Review interim report on gender identity services for children and young people which highlights the risks of health professionals unquestioningly adopting a ‘gender-affirming’ approach.  The report also refers to research data that forms the basis for treatments for gender dysphoria being “interpreted from a particular ideological and/or theoretical standpoint”.

The HCPC replied to my letter, stating: “We take the concerns you have outlined seriously, and so to follow up on the issue you have raised, we are intending to raise the issue of CSJ Theory in our discussions with the psychologist professional bodies we liaise with.”

They acknowledged: “Your letter has raised some wider issues such as our approach to CSJ Theory’s application in approved programmes, and the use of CSJ Theory in practice. CSJ Theory is not specifically referenced within our standards.”

Finally, the HCPC requested: “If you have specific concerns about an education provider’s practice of CSJ Theory, you can raise those with us via our education team, and we can look into this further. More information about how to raise a concern with an existing programme can be found here. Likewise if you have a concern that a specific registrant is not meeting their HCPC standards, we would strongly encourage you to raise a concern with our fitness to practise team here.

I would strongly encourage you to do the same.  The HCPC noted that mine was the first contact they had received regarding CSJ.  This is an opportunity to make sure that it is not the last.  Make your voices heard.  If you have any concerns about CSJ being taught on a clinical training course or about an HCPC registrant who is promoting CSJ ideology, now is your chance to report them to the regulator.  For those of you who do not practice in the UK, please contact the regulator in your area.  If we don’t act now, this ideology will change our profession beyond recognition.   

By Dr Carole Sherwood

4 thoughts

  1. Hi Dr Sherwood. I’m a clinical psychologist who is interested in social justice and use it to inform my work in a forensic setting. I have a question about your article and would appreciate hearing more, especially in regard to the points you made that I’ve outlined below.

    “The politicisation of clinical psychology and the training of psychologists to become social justice activists is beyond the scope of clinical practice, incompatible with the scientist-practitioner model and a potential risk to clients.”

    “CSJ’s rejection of objective scientific enquiry poses a serious threat to the provision of efficacious and evidence-based psychological treatments.”

    “The widespread adoption of CSJ has the potential for causing harm to the profession, to the NHS and other mental healthcare services.”

    These are very bold claims, and, if evidence-based and valid, would have very serious implications for the field and those we serve. I am particularly concerned with the “potential risk to clients”, as this is obviously most important. Could you please elaborate on how these conclusions have been reached, perhaps with your experience of practising but also with evidence, preferably?

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    1. Thank you, Dr O’Brien, for taking the time to read my article and post a comment. There is a clear distinction between the general term ‘social justice’ and the particular brand of Critical social justice to which I refer in the article. One would hope that all practitioner psychologists would support the former as it seeks fairness and equality for all. However, Critical social justice is a very specific political theory. If you wish to find out more, I recommend reading this article: https://counterweightsupport.com/2021/02/17/what-do-we-mean-by-critical-social-justice/ Or, for a more in-depth understanding, this book: https://www.waterstones.com/book/cynical-theories/helen-pluckrose/james-lindsay/9781800750326

      In your comment you ask me for evidence, particularly of the “potential risk to clients”. I provided the HCPC with evidence but, in order to protect the identities of those involved and my sources, I did not include this in the article. It was clearly persuasive enough to convince the HCPC to take my concerns seriously. I would encourage any practitioner psychologist with similar concerns to refer to the HCPC’s standards for guidance. Thank you again for your interest.

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