Reinvention and the avoidance of truth
If one thing can be relied upon in life, it is, ironically, that we are in a permanent state of impermanence. How we manage change in our lives gives a good indicator of how we are functioning as individuals. Change can affect one's mental and emotional wellbeing. It can elicit strong emotions of fear, loathing or joy; hope for the future or downright hopelessness. However change affects us, it is, for the most part, a tricky business.
As for individuals, so too for organisations and communities. A whole industry of books and training is available to help organisations 'manage change' well. Yet, from my experience, many organisations repeatedly fail in this endeavour. Not only do they fail to communicate openly and honestly about changes affecting their members but they fail because the change being enacted is driven by what would seem to be the existential fear of senior management. On an organisational basis, this fear is perceived as a threat to financial or reputational status but in many cases, it would appear to derive purely from the insecurity of senior managers. Who, having bought the myth of their own importance, seek to stamp out any trace of past incumbents to re-mould and improve the misguided institution that has waited so long to employ them.
It is a sad fact of our culture, dominated as it is by large corporations and hybridised public bodies, that no organisation 'can afford to stand still'. This, I'm afraid is often a poor excuse for wasting public or shareholder money to reinvent the wheel. Organisations, it seems, must continually improve and evolve in 'new and exciting ways'. They may court controversy in a bid to sweep out the old and hustle in the new or they may denigrate or at best, forget previous achievements and efforts.
I have been particularly upset recently by a recent communication that came my way from the VC of a local educational establishment in it he wrote:
"Mental health and wellbeing has been a high profile topic on campus recently and rightly so. With respect to the student community, I am conscious that our Student Support and Wellbeing services both came under new leadership just six months ago and are still in the process of being reformed in order to provide a better service to students.
I would like to assure staff and students that progress is being made and a draft ….Mental Health and Wellbeing Policy will be considered by the …. The Wellbeing team is committed to offering an improved and blended service model and we will keep you updated on developments.
Please be aware the Wellbeing service is also running group sessions for students who feel stressed or anxious at exam time. This is the first time [the institution] has run such sessions and they are part of the improvements being made to wellbeing and mental health support." (my emphasis)
It would seem that the VC has been misinformed about the activities of the student support services prior to the new enlightened regime. He clearly has not informed himself of the 44 year history of student counselling at said institution nor of the fact that the counselling service in its time, offered therapeutic groups, mindfulness groups, bereavement groups, PGR support groups, workshops on relaxation, sleep, perfectionism, inner critic and procrastination. A recent communication from the students' union at this institution pointed out that:
Over the last four years the demand for mental health services has risen by 52%, but the University's funding for the Student Support Service has only increased by 7%.
While the SU were welcoming changes at Student services (and I am not negating the need to update and evolve where necessary) none of these changes will address the real matter at hand i.e. the proper funding of student counselling and mental health services. Rather, it is easier to denigrate previous iterations of a service and to denounce the efforts of staff as null and void (or as in this case, deny they even existed) than to address the real issue of properly financing a service which can only ever carry a cost to the institution. The VC would do well to be reminded of a question posed to him at a staff meeting some two years ago as to how he proposed the service should fit a quart into a pint pot when it came to mental health provision? As I recall, he didn't have an answer to give but now it seems, an ill-informed assistant has given it to him.
This communication also comes in the week when the same institution has decided to cancel all of its counselling training courses. Such small, specialised courses it seems were no longer financially viable despite their reputational excellence. Perhaps the savings gained from cancelling the once famous counselling courses and from making staff redundant might be funnelled into the continuous improvement of counselling and mental health support at the institution? One can only live in hope and wish them well with their endeavours.