RCMP Occupational Health and Safety: A Case of Quicksand
Have you ever questioned the role of Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) (Integrated Health and Welfare?) in your life as a member of the RCMP? Have you heard the cries of those who have stumbled in, and become stuck, unable to extricate themselves? I will admit to you that I have over the course of 30 plus years of practice, re-thought the assumptions that underlie the field of psychology. The “E” Division Human Resources Officer (HRO) in his (unfounded) complaint against me to the B.C. College of Psychologists whined that I called myself a “radical psychologist”. If he had read the articles referred to in his complaint, or read them carefully, he would have discovered that while I appreciate much of the thinking of Radical Psychology I prefer to think of myself as a “critical” psychologist.
I would venture a guess that many of the health care providers you encounter, on your journey through the bureaucracy that is the RCMP’s OHS, know very little about, and perhaps even avoid the implications of, a more critical approach. The idea, for example, that mainstream psychology’s values, assumptions, and practices reinforce an unjust status quo is not new. There exists within Counselling Psychology* a long tradition asserting that the daily business of the discipline of psychology often does little more than reinforce societal institutions that give life to sexism, racism, favouritism, nepotism, harassment, bullying and other forms of inequality and injustice. A more critical perspective on psychology suggests that the mainstream may be training its practitioners to work too comfortably inside, and for, government and corporate institutions. In these institutions you are likely to find that bureaucratic and ideological demands for routinization, categorization, adaptation, pacification, and obfuscation outweigh individual concerns for values such as justice, equality, privacy, autonomy, and caring. So when you wonder what role your health care provider, including those in private practice who we could assume are relatively free of the RCMP’s demands, is playing in your care… consider this. Mainstream health care providers, private practice or not, despite the best of intentions, under the bureaucratic demands of working for the RCMP can too often reinforce OHS’s bureaucratic demands; even when they think they are working to ameliorate them.
Personally, I think my stand on social justice issues is not as aggressive as it should be. I will wager however, that there are those who think I go too far. Many health care providers appear content to separate their day jobs and their political views, focusing themselves in their offices on the traditional assumptions of the mainstream; believing that this will address their patients’ complaints and allow OHS to operate undisturbed. I imagine that the suggestion to include identifying, and even challenging the organizational causes of their patients’ distress, will seem irrelevant to them at best. My comments here may even annoy those who already view me as an unrealistic old crank, or frighten those who fear that the push for workers’ rights within the RCMP, might gain enough momentum to cause uncomfortable change.
Many of you have become mired in, what has been called by some, the quicksand that is RCMP OHS; and have learned that the harder you fight to free yourself, the deeper you sink. In many of your situations your toxic workplace, its excessive level of stress, or the organization’s culture of fear plays a prominent role. Both you and your health care provider are aware of the Force’s role in your problem, but neither of you do anything about it, beyond complaining in private. You both believe that the RCMP’s dysfunction is too monstrous a problem to approach; so you give up and begin to sink. Sure, you struggle a bit, from time to time, but you soon learn that this only brings you closer to slipping beneath the surface. You may even convince yourself that OHS is there to help you, without considering the hopeless conflict of interest they are in. (They offer you a service and at the same time monitor themselves offering that service). Are you aware of any other police service that has its nose in its members’ health care?
At this point I will assert that what follows is not a prescription for you.
I am simply providing an alternate perspective. I believe, as many of my “critical” colleagues do, that the most effective therapy for reactive responses to organizational abuse is constructive activism. I am referring to picketing, demonstrating, union involvement, public communication, or any other kind of constructive action that will assist in raising the public’s awareness of a problem, provide you a sense of agency and lead to change.
When you suffer alone, and in silence, you are contributing to your own misery. Like all humans, you require reward, reinforcement, success, achievement, accomplishment etc. in your life to have a good mood, a positive image of yourself, and the motivation to accept challenges. Think back to the last time you felt well, were you not an agent in your own life? In withdrawing to the back of your cave, you are likely to produce serious psychological symptoms. And spending hour upon hour in mainstream mental health may never be as therapeutic as organizing a picket line, planning a demonstration, supporting another member in need, or getting behind and involved in the Mounted Police Professional Association.
Enough for now. I want to leave you with something to ponder in your quiet moments.
“Promise me you will always remember you are braver than you belive, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think”.
- Christopher Robin
* At this point in the article the “E: Division HRO, and his frantic little minions might want to pay close attention. I see by their emails, back and forth to each other during the time they were creating an “internal message to discredit” me they had a difficult time discerning the difference between a doctorate in counselling psychology (which I have) and one in clinical psychology (which I believe the psychologists in OHS have). At the time I chose counselling psychology, it was viewed as a more applied degree than the degree in clinical psychology,that was more research oriented. A good example of the difference might be found in comparing a counselling psychologist, like me, who has spent over 30 years in an office providing direct treatment to members with mental health needs to the psychologists in OHS who spend their time as part of an interdisciplinary case management team; where they monitor assessment and treatment services provided by others. In whose care would you feel more confident?
Dr. Mike Webster, R.Psych.