BACP closes regulatory loophole

A few weeks ago I wrote about a loophole that could enable an unscrupulous psychotherapist to evade a misconduct hearing. Of the various professional bodies, it usually isn’t possible to bring a complaint against a practitioner who has resigned their registration prior to the complaint being made. Admittedly this is true for other professions such as nursing. But there’s a difference in that “nurse” is a protected title and in order to practice you have to be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Any nurse who resigns in anticipation of a complaint is effectively striking themselves off.

This isn’t true of psychotherapy. “Psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not protected titles, and although various professional bodies exist (the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the British Psychoanalytic Council etc) there’s no legal obligation to belong to one of them. So, if a counsellor or psychotherapist gets wind that a complaint of misconduct is about to be made, they can just resign from their professional body and carry on practising. No complaint can then be made, therefore there’s no record of any safeguarding concerns that could put vulnerable adults or children at risk.

Just so people know why I mentioned this particular loophole, it’s because the above scenario isn’t a hypothetical one. It’s happened. On more than one occasion by the sound of it.

I previously had an e-mail from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, which is the UK’s largest psychotherapy body. They said they were “currently engaged in the process of changing this procedure.” It now appears they’ve done exactly that.

The BACP have published the following amendment to their Professional Conduct Procedure.

1. Page 1, paragraph 1.3 ‘Complaints against non-members’ is now replaced with:

1.3 Complaints against non-members / former members

a) The Association cannot deal with complaints against individuals or organisations that were not member/registrants of the Association at the time of the alleged misconduct.

b) The Association can deal with complaints made against a former member/registrant if that former member/registrant was a member at the time to which the complaint relates, subject to the provisions of paragraph 1.5.

c) Members/registrants of the Association referred to herein will be deemed to include former members/registrants.

d) Paragraph 1.3 b) only applies to members/registrants whose membership was current at the time of the adoption of this revised paragraph 1.3 by the Association by resolution of its Board of Governors pursuant to 5.1 of the Standing Orders of the Association on the 20th day of September 2013.n [emphasis added]

That should prevent any unethical practitioners from thinking they can avoid a BACP hearing through a just-in-the-nick-of-time resignation. This is welcome news, and I hope the other professional bodies will follow suit.

There’s been a couple of other developments recently with regard to professional regulation in psychotherapy. Under the previous Labour government there were plans to make counselling and and psychotherapy state-regulated professions under the auspices of the Health Professions Council (now the Health and Care Professions Council) which already regulates clinical psychologists and arts therapists. This was shelved by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in favour of regulation-lite or “assured voluntary registration” where the existing professional bodies could apply to be accredited by the Professional Standards Authority. So far only the BACP has achieved this accreditation.

In July Geraint Davies MP tabled an early day motion, calling for the previous plan to be reinstated.

That this House notes that anyone can set themselves up as a counsellor or psychotherapist without training or experience with no recourse for the patient if something goes wrong; further notes that there are more than 50,000 registered counsellors or psychotherapists and an unknown number unregistered; further notes that millions of people, often with mental health problems who are therefore vulnerable and at risk, are being given therapy in an unregulated industry with no uniform code of conduct or ethics; and calls on the Government to regulate counsellors and psychotherapists by bringing them into the jurisdiction of the Health and Care Professions Council.

So far 53 MPs have signed it: mostly Labour, though with a fair sprinkling of MPs from the other parties.

Back when HPC regulation was first mooted, there was a small but very noisy campaign by certain psychotherapists who predicted that the sky would fall in if psychotherapists had to be accountable for their actions in the same way as doctors, nurses, social workers or just about any other profession that routinely works with vulnerable people.  I’ve previously (and only semi-jokingly) referred to those campaigners as “the worst bunch of malevolent hippies since the Dharma Initiative in Lost.”

Their argument was essentialy that state regulation would bring in “market values” to psychotherapy. If that argument sounds oxymoronic, then…well, that’s because it is. They used a lot of left-wing language to argue against regulation, but essentially what they were saying was that psychotherapists should be left to regulate themselves, much in the same way financial services and the tabloid media were. And we all know how well that ended.

If you’re wondering about the commitment of these anti-regulation campaigners to protecting the public from abuse, take a look at this beyond-parody article by Denis Postle, reporting on the hearings for Derek Gale, struck off by the HPC as an arts therapist for running a nasty therapy cult.

The imaginal universe of the human condition is ubiquitous. Since the Vedic traditions, Buddha, and Freud, we know we can’t turn it off. It runs. It leaps. We may hide from it but we can’t escape. We resonate with the world, the world reverberates through us. As practitioners we know that grasping the ‘real’ is matter of navigating multiple transferences and embodied foregone conclusions, this article included. The HPC as it seems to me stands in defiance, studied intentional defiance of this. The HPC has spectacles through which it sees only categories. Health. Standards. Competence. Treatment. Note-keeping. Effectiveness. This is a ‘hearing’ and in this room, as we were repeatedly reminded, what matters are ‘particularized facts’.

Also in defiance but of another order, from another paradigm, is Mr Gale, who for almost thirty years has had a private practice of individual psychotherapy and groupwork.

His defiance, as was apparent from the first three days proceedings, has its roots in Humanistic Psychology and the Human Potential movement, personal development traditions that stand outside the HPC’s medicalised models of healthcare.

I guess it was the HPC’s “medicalised models” that decided that Gale was sexually, physically, emotionally and financially abusing his clients. I’d attempt to deconstruct Postle’s article, but at this point we’re not talking about oxymoronic arguments. Just plain moronic.

Postle is a leading figure in the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, which helped coordinate the anti-regulation campaign. What are they doing now? Among other things, they’re crying foul about another development, in which the BACP has apparently applied for a royal charter. If they’re successful, this could mean that the BACP might bestow such titles as “chartered counsellor” or “chartered psychotherapist”.

The Alliance has written an open letter objecting to this.

We do not believe that BACP’s desire to bestow chartered status on its members will do anything for the field as a whole, nor do we think it in the interests of service users or of the public generally. On the contrary, we consider BACP’s move to be a potentially divisive and retrograde step which could be construed as a predatory attempt to steal a march on other organisations at a time when the government’s new voluntary register system, under the PSA, is just beginning to find its feet.

In due course, we will be writing to the Privy Council, the Department of Health, MPs and Peers, asking them to join with us in resisting this move by BACP. But we feel that the major membership organisations of counselling and psychotherapy should
join with us and we invite you to allow us to mention your names in whatever further communications we send out.

Or, to put it another way….

 

The BACP are of course entitled to apply for a royal charter. If other bodies feel that’s giving the BACP an unfair competitive advantage, then they could apply for one too, and take their place among such august organisations as Marylebone Cricket Club and the Worshipful Company of Lightmongers. Unless of course, such bodies simply aren’t good enough to meet the criteria for a royal charter.

If the BACP are successful, then that would be very good news for them indeed. It would mean that they’re the only psychotherapy body that could give a practitioner both chartered status and PSA accreditation. In other words they’d be the gold standard that any respectable counsellor or psychotherapist would be expected to be registered with.

These anti-regulation campaigners wanted to be free from the shackles of a single state regulator, so they could be left to set their own standards. Well, they got that. Now, for all their anti-market rhetoric they could well be about to discover exactly what happens in the marketplace when your product is visibly inferior to that of your competitor.

I can’t say I feel sorry for them.