Last month we published our report, Unsafe Spaces: Why the lack of regulation in counselling and psychotherapy is endangering vulnerable people. The report is highlighted in this month’s edition of the BACP’s magazine Therapy Today (click here and go to page 5).
As a slight correction to the Therapy Today article, although it correctly states that the report calls for “counsellor” and “psychotherapist” to be made protected titles, we didn’t call for the title “coach” to be protected (though we did recommend consideration be given to protecting other titles, such as “psychoanalyst”).
The Unsafe Spaces report was also previously mentioned in the Mail on Sunday.
Our report found that one in four counsellors or psychotherapists struck off by the BACP or UKCP for misconduct continued to practice after being removed from the register. These included individuals struck off for very serious misconduct, including sexual abuse of clients. We believe this evidence shows the pressing need for regulation of these professions in the UK rather than the voluntary registration systems we have now.
Following a recent controversy over conversion therapy and transgender people, I contacted the Professional Standards Authority for comment. Today I received a reply.
Conversion therapy is a controversial form of psychotherapy which aims to turn gay people straight, or in some cases to revert transgender people to their birth gender. Pretty much all the research evidence suggests it’s ineffective and harmful. Most psychotherapy organisations in Britain have condemned conversion therapy for gay people, but have not done so for transgender people.
In January 2015 a memorandum of understanding was signed by a host of organisations, including the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the Royal College of Psychiatrists and NHS England. The memorandum condemned so-called “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy”, which aims to turn gay people straight.
I fully agree with the memorandum that such “therapy” is both unethical and harmful. However, it was criticised for not also condemning such tactics when used with transgender people. Just under a year ago the UK Council for Psychotherapy announced it was “developing its position” on transgender people and conversion therapy, but since then nothing has happened. Yesterday Dominic Davies, a fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, resigned in protest over what he feels is foot-dragging over the issue.
Back in March 2014 blog reader Jo D Baker sent me an alarming bit of number-crunching. He downloaded all the striking-off orders issued by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy from October 2005 onwards. He then did Google searches to see how many of them had online business websites still advertising themselves as counsellors or psychotherapists. He found positive results for 22% of them, which shows that self-regulation isn’t effective at removing struck-off therapists from the workplace. Scary.
I decided to update the data to the present day, and also add data from the UK Council for Psychotherapy. The new results are, well, still scary.
As I reported in July, the three biggest psychotherapy organisations in the UK – the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the UK Council for Psychotherapy and the British Psychoanalytic Council – have been moving towards a more collaborative approach.
They’ve now formally announced this, and an information video is online.
Two months ago I wrote about Linda Bretherton, who had been disciplined by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. She had reportedly conducted a therapy session with a traumatised client who was physically held and subjected to “loud breathing exercises”. The client was re-traumatised by this session, and in a separate hearing with a UKCP therapist, was described as “crying daily and not sleeping.” Bretherton was not struck off, but was ordered to write a reflection on what she had learned from the experience.
This lead to an online exchange in which I noticed that Bretherton had responded to the BACP outcome by publishing the client’s name on Facebook (subsequently removed) – a serious breach of confidentiality. Bretherton is now talking again on Facebook about the case, and states she has been struck off. From her online comments, it looks like she’s dug herself such a massive hole that no other outcome could have been possible.
Recently the main psychotherapy organisations, particularly the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and the British Psychoanalytic Council, seem to be moving towards speaking with one voice. A good example of this is the recent Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in the UK. The various bodies came together to denounce attempts to change people’s sexual orientation as unethical and harmful. I understand that moves are also underway to take a similar position on therapies to convert transgender people to being cisgender.
I wondered if this is the start of a trend, and both the BACP and BPC have confirmed that this is the case.