Following our research last year into the impact of co-production in counselling and how it can improve accessibility and effectiveness for clients with learning difficulties, we were invited to take part in the 2nd International Conference for Pluralism in Counselling and Psychotherapy.  Pluralism is a way of working that values the idea that people need different things at different times. It is also about shared decision making. In counselling, this means that some clients (people having counselling) will find one way of exploring their feelings more helpful at certain times, and other clients might prefer working in different ways. In counselling, a pluralistic counsellor would talk to their client about the counselling and find out how the client would prefer to work.

Co-production and Pluralism

There are lot of similarities between co-production and pluralism. Both ways of working value equally the skills and experiences of the person/people "providing" a service, and the person/people "using" it.  Both also work from the preferences of the person "using" the service.

Our workshop

We developed a short workshop (1 hour) to introduce people to the idea of co-production, and to experience it in action.  As with all of our work in bemix, the workshop was developed and facilitated in a co-produced way by someone with and someone without a learning difficulty. 
We wanted to test out our workshop idea before the conference, and held a one-off workshop in Canterbury, inviting local counsellors and counselling students to attend for free.  This gave us the opportunity to see what worked for workshop participants, and what didn't. Again, highlighting the value of co-production and involving the people who would be "using" the workshop in its development.
In our workshop, we explored how involving clients with learning difficulties/disabilities in developing counselling services and practice can improve accessibility and effectiveness. We developed the workshop after finding that one of the most effective ways of improving people's knowledge about counselling, was to involve them in conversations about how to make it more accessible for them.
"Hearing from a facilitator who has a learning disability is really valuable. It was the moment in the conference that moved me most; really being seen and understood by someone who knew personally what the experience of having a learning disability is like" - workshop participant
Within our hour long workshop, we used the opportunity to work pluralistically with the participants - having found that we overran when we tested the workshop, we knew we would get more from the session if we focused on half the planned content so we asked participants what they would prefer to explore during the session.  The group chose to think about the barriers to counselling that people with a learning difficulty might face, and how we could overcome those. 

What next?

We didn't get a chance in the workshop to explore how we can do this at Policy, training and research levels. However, we suggested that clients, including those with learning difficulties/disabilities, should be involved in coordinating next year's conference - if we want to change the culture of counselling to be more adaptive to people's individual needs, and be more pluralistic, we need to bring those people into the conversation about how we do that.  We made some great links with lots of other advocates for co-production and pluralism from across the country. We hope to work together to bring representatives from the diverse client community into next year's conference.
We have lots of work to do now to follow up on ideas to include clients with learning disabilities as co-tutors on Counselling and Psychotherapy degree and Diploma courses. We are also excited to plan some work with Andrew Reeves, Chair of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), on getting people with learning disabilities onto their decision making teams and at Making Connections events.
We are also interested in developing some co-produced conversational analysis with one of the researchers at Roehampton University, to better understand what works through verbal and non-verbal communication for clients with learning difficulties.

Want to get involved?

If you want to help make this work happen, please support our appeal for developing a day long workshop to bring together counsellors and people with learning difficulties to learn from one another and make sure that counselling is accessible for everyone.
If you would like to find out more, contact Louise Allen to sign up to our Counselling and Learning Disability Mailing List