Sandi Mann

How I managed to get a psychotherapy journal to apologise after October 7

By standing up to them, they eventually said sorry. That has lessons for all of us in fighting antisemitism


Scenes of houses destroyed when Hamas terrorists infiltrated Kibbutz Be'eri, and 30 other nearby communities in Southern Israel on October 7, killing more than 1400 people, and taking more than 200 hostages into Gaza, near the Israeli-Gaza border. October 25, 2023. (Photo by Edi Israel/Flash90)

January 11, 2024 11:22

As a mental health practitioner and senior psychology lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire, I was keen to share with my fellow practitioners my thoughts on the impact of the October 7 massacre. My article for the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy’s journal was about the trauma that the Jewish community experienced after the worse massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.

On the eve of publication, however, the article — Community in Traumatic Stress — was pulled over “unease” about “ramifications”.

I knew I had to fight this injustice. No other community would be treated like this, having their trauma invalidated in case it offended others. My journey to a full public apology and reinstatement of the article by the BACP has implications for the whole community in terms of how we deal with antisemitism post-October 7.

When I first received the email advising me the article was to be pulled, I had no idea how to respond and fight this. What was the best strategy? Should I go public? In what format — to the national press? Or on social media? Were there any legal implications? What were the risks — both professionally and personally? Might I become on the receiving end of the ramifications that the BACP were so afraid of if I fought it?

I turned to communal organisations for support, advice and strategic input. None could help; these mighty (and generally fantastic) organisations were at a loss as to what to do. I thus spent three weeks trying to figure out the best approach myself. I felt isolated, grappling with big decisions that might have a huge impact on my life and with no one to advise me. At times I felt so low that I was tempted to give up and accept the BACP’s decision. I spent hours ruminating over the pros and cons of getting embroiled in a fight against such a well-respected institution — and the impact on my mental health was huge.

The turning point came when I went public. I decided I had to stand up for what I believe in and trust my instincts. I posted on social media and on a Jewish mental health professionals group. Suddenly the story exploded, with the media picking it up (including The Times and Guardian).

My mental health colleagues proved an incredible support but, most importantly, I was contacted by a new volunteer-led group set up only a few weeks ago in Manchester: Northern Advocacy Group. They did everything that others seemed unable to, advising me on dealing with the media, discussing strategy, legal implications and, significantly, mobilising the community to email BACP to complain about its decision. Within two days of my going public, BACP executed a complete U-turn and published an apology alongside my article on their website. It was an incredible victory for the Jewish community against this trend of being othered, marginalised and silenced.

We need to learn from this. While our big institutions are brilliant at dealing with traditional antisemitism, the world is changing. They need to flex so they can deal with new forms such as cancel culture, and offer strategic, legal and practical advice.

I also never truly understood, until it happened to me, the impact of antisemitism on mental health — despite a third (a third!) of my caseload since October 7 being with victims of antisemitism. Organisations need to start offering mental health support as standard to any individual reports. We must recognise the impact of being the target of any antisemitic activity. Our community is our super-power, and in the end it was the incredible communal support that made the difference. But we can and must do better in dealing with this new era of antisemitism in Britain today.

Dr Sandi Mann is a chartered psychologist and chair of Jewish Action for Mental Health in Manchester

January 11, 2024 11:22

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