On this blog, I’ve highlighted the need for statutory regulation for counselling and psychotherapy. This is demonstrated by cases such as Palace Gate, where a counselling firm was struck off by the BACP due to 30 proven allegations, but has no legal impediment to stay in business. And indeed, still is in business.
What I haven’t talked about so much is what kind of regulation might work. Time to muster some thoughts.
At the moment there are accredited voluntary registers (AVRs) such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the UK Council for Psychotherapy. The Professional Standards Authority provides a degree of regulatory overwatch, accrediting their complaints procedures and ensuring they reach a certain standard. This has resulted in some improvements. It required the UKCP to jettison its piecemeal (and often shockingly bad) complaints systems and replace them with a unified Complaints and Conduct Process. It also pushed the Association for Christian Counselling (which aspires to AVR status) to ban gay-to-straight conversion therapies, widely regarded as ineffective and unethical.
But the problem is that these registers are purely voluntary. “Counsellor” and “psychotherapist” are not protected titles, and being struck off by an AVR doesn’t stop people from continuing to call themselves one. A reader of this blog did a survey of 53 people struck off by the BACP, and found that 22% of them still had live business websites advertising counselling and/or psychotherapy services. The UKCP has struck off two people in the five years. Both of them still advertise themselves online.
At the moment Geraint Davies MP has a private member’s bill going through Parliament to have counselling and psychotherapy regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council. It’s widely expected to fail, because the Coalition government doesn’t support it. I don’t see state regulation happening this side of a general election.
There’s been a lot of resistance to the idea of HCPC regulation from some quarters of the psychotherapy profession, who raise concerns that the HCPC would expect them all to stick to cognitive-behaviour therapy rather than other modalities. Personally, I think those fears are overblown. The HCPC already regulates arts therapists, not to mention clinical psychologists, occupational therapists and social workers. Arts therapists don’t have to stick to CBT, and I’m not even sure that would be possible in such a modality. Meanwhile, I’m a registered mental health nurse and I’ve just completed an intermediate-level qualification in systemic and family therapy. The Nursing and Midwifery Council is not stopping me from using such approaches.
Nevertheless, it’s resistance that would need to be overcome. I’m wondering if there’s a simpler way that could get around such difficulties. Why not take the V out of AVR and give it a statutory backbone? Make counsellor and psychotherapist protected titles, and require people using those titles to belong to a PSA-accredited register such as the BACP.
I’m not saying the current system doesn’t need work before strapping a legal framework to it. As cases such as Rob Waygood (found by the UKCP to have committed serious sexual misconduct, given a 6 month suspension and then allowed to re-register) demonstrate, the UKCP in particular still needs to do more to show it has a robust fitness-for-practise system.
Also, I’m not saying all accredited voluntary registers should be put on a statutory footing. The Society of Homeopaths now has AVR status. They shouldn’t be given the dignity of government approval because, quite frankly, they’re all a bunch of quacks and charlatans.
But, doing it this way could be quicker, easier and have the advantage of building on already-existing frameworks. There might be some mileage to it.