National Counsellors’ Day 2020 – a brilliant weekend!

It has been a week since we marked National Counsellors Day with our online conference and the admin team are still processing the event. Anyone who attended is likely to be too. By the close of sales, we had had over 1000 people purchase a ticket. That is such a phenomenal response, we have been truly blown away. It was also a huge compliment to see how our viewing numbers remained around 580 people all day long. This is incredible for an event that ran from 9.30am until 5pm. It really is a huge testament to how engaging our speakers were, so a massive thank you to them.

This year the conference fell on the Saturday 20th June with the actual National Counsellors’ Day being Monday 22nd June. It meant the whole weekend felt like a celebration of counselling and counsellors. It was heart-warming to watch so many of you wish each other Happy National Counsellors Day.

“@mindinkingston – Huge thanks to our brilliant trio of Counsellors who have been fantastic at working virtually from the moment lockdown was announced . #nationalcounsellorsday2020”

“@cath_eddy – Thank you to the team @UK_Counsellors #nationalcounsellorsday2020 wouldn’t be if it wasn’t for all your hard work! Take a bow”

And from one of our event sponsors:

“@ncs_media – Wishing everyone a very happy National Counsellors Day. This year has been challenging, but we’ve seen such incredible growth and grace unfolding in so many of you. There’s not much more to say but thank you, and let’s keep talking, and campaigning, and collaborating!”

Back to the conference and presenters

Dr Elizabeth Cotton

This year we invited back 2 speakers; the first being Dr Elizabeth Cotton. You may have noticed her mentioned a few times in our newsletter or group.

Elizabeth is a writer and educator working in the field of mental health at work. Her background is as a trade unionist working internationally as an organiser and educator on diverse issues such as HIV/AIDS, organising and building grassroots networks, and negotiating as head of education for Industriall, one of the largest trade unions in the world. She returned to the UK in 2007 to start training in adult psychotherapy and worked as an honorary therapist in the NHS. Elizabeth is a Reader at the University of Hertfordshire researching employment relations and precarious work and how this affects our states of mind. She is Editor-in-Chief of an ABS4 journal Work, Employment & Society looking at the sociology of work and a member of a new coalition Partners for Counselling and Psychotherapy (PCP).

Her presentation at our conference encompassed her prior work into poor working conditions and her developing focus on the evolution of Uber Therapy. It also explored what the future of therapy might look like as we head towards a system that may become fully automated and digitised. Many attendees felt the full weight of that premonition and I watched as more and more comments lit up the comments box asking; what can we do about it?

What can we do? We were advised not to take this lying down. Write to your MPs, insist they make themselves aware of what is happening to our mental health services and ask them what they will do protect patient rights.

To find out more: Elizabeth blogs at and set up a free resource in partnership with the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust. In 2017 she published the largest national survey about working conditions in mental health She presented this at National Counsellors’ Day 2019. She is still analysing the data of her most frequent research into the digitisation of therapy during Covid-19 but the results should be shared shortly.
Her book Surviving Work in Healthcare: Helpful stuff for people on the frontline (Gower, 2017) was nominated for the Chartered Management Institute’s practitioner book of the year.

Dr Philip Cox

Dr Philip Cox was next up to the microphone and he took us through the ways in which the institutions we work with that purport to support us can, in fact, work against us. Especially if we choose to become politically involved in the issues affecting our clients. We are not protected from restrictions being imposed upon us under the guise of “bringing profession into disrepute” if we get involved with protests.

Dr Cox implored us to think about the impact of that; on us, on the people we work with and fight for. If our membership bodies cannot support us, we become limited and fearful of supporting and advocating for our clients.

Dr Philip Cox is a Chartered Counselling Psychologist (HCPC reg & BACP Snr Accred) with 25 years of clinical experience. His research publications, conference presentations and lectures focus on unintended harm within psychotherapy, and how to support trainees and professionals through the emotional turmoil from receiving and/or progressing a complaint. Phil advises the Psychotherapy and Counselling Union on professional complaints and Chair of the British Psychological Society’s Psychotherapy Section. Phil is a passionate advocate for social activism and supporting marginalised groups, particularly where there are intersecting aspects that leave some people at increasing risk of discrimination.

Jo Watson

Jo Watson is our second returning speaker. Jo Watson is a psychotherapist and activist with a history in the rape crisis movement of the 1990’s. She has worked therapeutically for the last 23 years with people who have experienced sexual violence and other trauma. Jo taught on counselling courses for 15+ years and became increasingly frustrated and despairing with the infiltration of medicalised understandings within the profession and now actively challenges the biomedical model of ‘mental health’. She believes that emotional distress is caused primarily by what is experienced as such she is committed to promoting a trauma informed philosophy which rejects the illness model.

As powerful as the first time, Jo spoke about the harms of our diagnostic culture that more often views psychological distress through the lens of illness than it does through a lens of trauma understanding. As before, it was also challenging to listen to. Counsellors are as guilty as the next person of being indoctrinated into this model of psychological distress. We do training that look at how to deal with symptoms of trauma (often more than any actual trauma training). The language is so ingrained we often aren’t aware of how we perpetuate these ideas even when we don’t intend to.

Her talks are worth listening to and her book is one for the wish list.

Jo is the organiser of ‘A Disorder for Everyone!’ – an event touring the U.K challenging the biomedical model. She is founder of the Facebook group ‘Drop the Disorder’, a Mad in the UK team member and a founding member of United for Integrity in Mental Health which is to be launched later this year. Jo presently represents United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) on a steering committee for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Prescribed Drug Dependence that is working on creating guidelines for psychological therapists on prescribed psychoactive drugs.
Jo is the editor of PCCS Books newly published book “Drop the Disorder’ – Challenging the Culture of Psychiatric Diagnosis and exploring Trauma Informed Alternatives.”

Mason Webb

From the language of diagnosis and mental illness to the language of gender identity. Mason Webb ushered us into the afternoon sessions with a thought-provoking presentation of their experience of gender. Mason speaks with an openness that allows for a difference of opinion. They implore us to examine our own gender identity; a necessary examination in the exploration of self even with those of us happy with our gender presentation and not feeling oppressed for gender difference or conformity.

Mason has a trans history and has been a counsellor for 20 years. They have considerable experience exploring their own Gender Identity and supporting others questioning theirs. Mason is the author of the 2019 book “Reflective Guide to Gender Identity Counselling” where they invite the reader to consider a simple truth, that everyone has a gender identity, whether or not they’ve given it much thought. Mason is a member for the Peterborough LGBT network Committee and has developed a Trans Social Activity Inclusion Group which operates in the Peterborough area. The drive of the group is to provide activities in a safe environment which brings together trans and non-trans people. Mason also runs a youth group in south Lincolnshire “The Phoenix Group” with their long-term partner Tina. They also have experience of working in statutory and non-statutory organisation as diverse as MIND, the Probation Service, HMP Peterborough, the YMCA, and the NHS Substance Misuse Service.

Pretish Raja-Helm (Aashna)

We ended the day on what was, by chance, the most challenging segment of all. Pretish Raja-Helm (of Aashna) opened up a discussion to examine race, ethnicity, culture and power within the field of counselling and psychotherapy.

Aashna is a therapeutic space which aims to reflect the rich cultural society we live in. They also run a social justice project Aashna +, which provides long-term therapy for individuals diverse in culture, social background, religion, sexuality, age, gender, disability and other diversity, who struggle to access culturally sensitive therapy.

Following the opening we then heard from Neelam who vulnerably shared an experience of racism during a training event. This disclosure became the catalyst for some quite challenging discussions between the volunteers and between participants in the comments box. It is apt that Pretish’s work is entitiled ‘Let’s get uncomfortable’ as it clearly was uncomfortable for people to have their views and self-perceptions challenged.

This is what we wanted from the day and from the speakers. All the chosen talks were chosen to shake things up a little. There are challenges in our sector that require our attention. That attention cannot be given if we are not made aware of them.

From the responses we received though, despite the challenges of the day you also took away so many positive things from the conference. For some it was a newfound kinship, for others a reawakening to the fight. I know I felt “topped up” and revitalised from last year’s event.

Thank you

Thank you from all of us at Counsellors’ Together UK and thank you to our sponsors. Without all of you none of this would have been possible.
If you missed the day, you will be able to purchase a recording of the event shortly. Follow our facebook page/twitter account or be in our facebook group to hear as soon as that becomes available.

You can get tickets for next year’s conference here: The theme for 2021 is ‘Diversity and Inclusion in Counselling and Psychotherapy’.