A middle class profession

Danielle Bream writes.

I was pleased to see the front cover of September’s issue (‘Conversations on class’) targeting the rarely acknowledged, and taboo, subject of social class. I am currently in Clinical Psychology training, and often notice how very middle class the profession is and how, as a working class individual, I sometimes feel that I don’t quite fit into the profession I have dedicated the past ten years of my life to. 

However, in the same issue, I was disappointed to see a letter titled ‘At the coal face’, discussing the threat to Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs) under the New Community Mental Health Framework. Although I understood the logic behind the title, and the comparison between the predicted changes to CMHTs and the closures of coal mines in the 80s (funding cuts, closures of valuable services) this was, unfortunately, simply another example of why I feel my working class background is not welcome in Clinical Psychology.

My family, like many from the North and the Midlands, are historically a coal mining and farming family. The closure of the mines brought unprecedented levels of poverty and unemployment to vast areas across the country. It goes without saying the impact of the mine closures spanned more than just the financial, bringing physical and emotional suffering for thousands of families, many of whom continue to experience the long-lasting effect of financial, social and political neglect.

The comparison of those who were actually ‘at the coal face’ to those who are employed in psychological roles in CMHTs today is a painful reminder of the enormous gap between my family history and my future profession. We are fortunate to work in a profession that will, in some way, almost certainly continue to be in demand for the foreseeable future (in part due to the ongoing psychological difficulties caused by governmental actions such as closing the mines…). But that doesn’t mean that the experiences of others, even from 40 years ago, should be used as a metaphor.

It is painful and unfair to reduce the experiences of thousands of coal workers to a metaphor relating to our own privileged profession.

Danielle Bream

Trainee Clinical Psychologist

School of Health and Social Care
University of Essex

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I've always understood the idiom 'at the coalface' to refer to the people actually doing a job — an important job, done proudly and perhaps heroically — as opposed to those who simply administer and manage them. It's a shame that the meaning of the phrase has changed, since it connoted some useful ideas.