Thursday, November 24, 2022

David Weaver is stepping down as President at the end of his five-year tenure.

Joel O’Loughlin Senior Consultant (Consultant on Training and Organisational Culture Change)

Our Senior Partner, David Weaver, recently stepped down from the position of President of BACP, which he had held for the past five years. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy is the largest industry association, representing a membership of around 70,000counsellors and psychotherapist. I felt strongly it was important not to let this milestone pass without marking its significance for David and the work he continues to do advancing community mental health.

Recently David concluded his term as President of BACP and as a long-standing friend and colleague, I persuaded him to share his reflection on his time as President. Unsurprisingly, the conversation quickly veered away from any attempt I made to learn about his personal contribution of steering the ship through choppy waters, to his preferred topic of what is still to be done to make Britain’s mental health a priority, while simultaneously focusing on race equality in the provision of support services. He begins by pointing to what he describes as a ‘pernicious epidemic of poor mental health in black communities’. Having opened Pandora’s box, I had little choice but to extend David the courtesy of indulging his passion. I don’t have the space to relate the whole conversation but here are some of his recurring themes.

BACP’s mantra is ‘Counselling Changes Lives’, and the last five years have certainly seen big changes in David Weaver’s professional and personal life. Even without accounting for the two years we all spent in suspended animation with the Covid pandemic, the period has more than lived up to being characterised as ‘interesting times’.  The zeitgeist has been change and more change; in politics with more Prime Minister’s than you can shake a stick at; in technology with the universal adoption of remote working, and in the dialogue around race with the murder of George Floyd. Whilst some of us have been exhausted by the swirl of events, David has steadily led on important elements of BACP’s work.

A Counselling Profession Nonchalant to Race – David says it is just unacceptable in the face of the statistical evidence about black mental illness that the counselling profession has been largely silent on the matter. He notes the efforts of outstanding Black professionals, who have raised the alarm, often to be met with a wall of stony silence. A profession that is anesthetized to race is a profession that has lost its soul. That is the reason David challenged BACP to lead a ‘race for the soul of the profession’ which has led to a landmark publication (link here)David is particularly pleased with having initiated BACP’s Mentoring programme which is targeted at increasing the success rate of Black and minoritised professionals entering the profession. Although David has stepped down from the Presidency he will continue to Chair the committee that is developing his brainchild, a Bursary (more about the programme here) to fund Black individuals wanting to study to become counsellors – he sees this initiative as his legacy project and so far his efforts have attracted a significant amount of funding.

Black Leadership – individuals who are fortunate enough to assume high office have a responsibility to address the needs of diverse communities. This duty should be shared and not placed wholly on the shoulders of Black individuals. However, the lived experience of Black individuals gives them idiosyncratic perspectives which are advantageous in charting a course to service improvements. Where such individuals take the initiative and succeed in moving the dial forward on race, unless they guard their legacy assiduously, those gains can be reversed in the blink of an eye. This presents a dilemma for David in determining the nature of his future involvement to the programmes he has initiated at BACP. In the short term he will remain active in the committee established to drive the initiative forward.

Servant Leadership – in his role as Senior Partner of DWC Consulting, David does an enormous amount of work with leaders of public sector agencies. The work is as challenging as it is rewarding. A consistent theme of the work is the sacrifice required of servant leaders whose organisations are primarily established to serve the public. In order to discharge this responsibility, leaders cannot be agnostic to questions of social justice which are affecting customers. The failure of leaders to engage with these issues can lead to tragedies like the death of Ian Taylor, a black man arrested in Brixton with severe asthma; Awaab Ishak a child living in squalid conditions in Rochdale, and child Q subjected to an intrusive intimate search by police in school. David surmises if you are a leader of a public sector organisation and you are not aware of who these people are and the circumstances of their anguish, you may well be ignorant of the needs of people similar to them in your own backyard. Servant leadership is not extractive and requires the sacrifice of finding out what ails the most vulnerable among us and taking humanitarian action to ameliorate their plight. This philosophy finds much favour in the work that I do here at DWC as the Lead Consultant on Training and Organisational Culture Change (more here). Both David and I are constantly reminding clients that the quality of their leadership matter and striving for inclusion is not an optional extra – it is the heart of the matter.

I would love to be able to bring this piece to a tidy conclusion and give you an indication as to what is next for David, but truth is his life has never been a series of linear progressions. The man is driven by the issues and is not content to just pay lip service to them. There is one certainty and that is he will continue inspire organisations to think beyond the obvious and act in the best interest of all of their customers.

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