chapter  5
13 Pages

Context, Social Class and Counselling

It’s not all just psychology
WithLiz Ballinger

The aim of this chapter is to explore the continuing power of social class internationally despite it being labelled an outdated historical concept or ‘zombie category’ that obscures our understanding of contemporary experience. This chapter aims to reassert its significance. It sets out to explore how social class continues to be of relevance, not only as a categorisation system that organises and describes patterns of social and economic inequality within societies, but as a causal phenomenon that underpins and perpetuates such inequalities over time, in terms of both opportunities and outcomes. The widening of inequality in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries is highlighted alongside the declining rates of social mobility, or the hardening of class barriers.

A variety of concepts are utilised to explore the abiding power of class. Bourdieu’s notions of economic, social, cultural and symbolic capital are applied to help develop an understanding of how inequalities are perpetuated intergenerationally. The subjective experience or ‘psychic landscape’ of class is examined, utilising Bourdieu’s notion of habitus to help elucidate the role of class in choice and meaning-making. The notion of ‘free choice’ is problematised and the parameter of choices placed within a vortex of individual histories and habituses, institutional habituses and structural inequality. This is explored further in relation to access to and success within educational systems, an important factor in social mobility. The relationship between class and psychological therapy is examined. The understandings that underpin a range of counselling approaches are problematised, in particular the valorisation of choice and personal empowerment. The relevance of psychological therapies in their current form is questioned.