The government has published a consultation document, Promoting Professionalism, Reforming Regulation. Although the paper does not mention counselling and psychotherapy directly, it does ask questions of, and propose changes to, the current system under which registers of counsellors and psychotherapists are accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA).
In 2011, the Alliance cautiously welcomed the PSA system as an alternative to an earlier proposal to regulate counsellors and psychotherapists under the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC), a plan we – and thousands of other practitioners – strongly opposed.
As we start to make sense of the current discussions, in which some in our field are already pushing again for state regulation while seeking to further align therapeutic practice with healthcare, we share as food for thought one submission to the consultation from long-term regulation-watcher and Alliance participant, Denis Postle.
Promoting Professionalism, Reforming Regulation: Consultation Submission from Denis Postle, ARCA
January 20, 2018
“How could the dominance cultures of the professional psychological organisations, however well intentioned, make reliable, just adjudications of the dominance misbehaviour of alleged errant members?”
I have been a practitioner of group facilitation, personal development training and therapy in the Humanistic Psychology and Human Potential traditions since 1985. In 1995 I was a founder participant of the Independent Practitioners Network (IPN) and for me this continues to be a dynamic way of sustaining practitioner civic accountability. This is not an Independent Practitioners Network response.
Over the last 20 years I have taken a detailed and sustained interest in the ongoing processes of regulation of the psychological therapies, publishing a considerable amount of material on the internet via eipnosis: a journal for the Independent Practitioners Network and two books, plus participation in several others.
As I will outline below, the more I saw of mainstream counselling and psychotherapy institutions in this time, the less I was inclined to be associated with them; this perspective is thus of an outlier. IPN emerged as a response to what was perceived as inadequate forms of civic accountability in the psychological therapies.
2.2 ………As the HCPC has traditionally been the regulatory body to assume regulatory oversight of new groups, it could be seen to have a vested interest in expanding its registrant base. We therefore believe that the PSA, working with relevant stakeholders, would be better placed to provide advice on the regulation of professions
During the abortive process of taking counselling and psychotherapy into regulation by the HCPC, then just HPC, I had extensive contact with its chief executive, Marc Seale, and attended and reported on a substantial number of events and meetings there. I became convinced that, then or now, for the HCPC to regulate psychotherapy and counselling would be as inappropriate as putting the Royal Ballet under the control of the Sandhurst military academy. The HCPC knew how to ‘grasp’ but had no capacity for ‘holding’ the nuances of the practice of counselling and psychotherapy. Happily the HCPC’s coercive, prescriptive approach to this task failed and should not be revived.
I attended many of the early foundation meetings of the PSA and its cultural grasp of regulatory tasks was notable for its more participative, cooperative stance. I regard it as a least worst option.
Promoting professionalism, reforming regulation
The text of the departmental statement under this headline, as so often, appears to make a presumption that psychotherapy and counselling are some subsidiary of medicine, i.e. they consist of ‘assessment’, followed by ‘diagnosis’ and ‘treatment’ of ‘patients’. This hegemony of the medical paradigm and the assumption that how medicine is regulated can transfer to the psychological professions continues to defy constant challenge from critical practitioners. It is perhaps a key vehicle through which harm to people in need continues to be enacted.
There may be a small place in the diverse cornucopia of the psychological therapies for biomedical treatment using zero responsibility elixirs but the overwhelming basis of psychological work is relationship. This means that there is an intrinsic element of risk, and insofar as regulation has sought to make this disappear, it has tended to make professional practice defensive. How can this be in the public interest?
Risk can and should be minimised, to do this successfully would seem to mean there was comprehensive evidence of the actual amount of harm that was prevalent in the psychological therapies. I and colleagues I have consulted are not aware of any such evidence.
Witnessing the regulatory shenanigans over the last 20 years in the UK convinced me that ‘Professionalism’ in the psychological therapies is comprehensively compromised in ways that this consultation seems unaware of.
Some perspectives that may be relevant:
The psychological therapies can be seen as an extractive industry. Practitioners work with clients, they accumulate in professional journals the insights that emerge; there is parallel input to trainings, supervision and professional conferences, where the extracted knowledge is refined and fed back into practice. This tends to be a self-referential elite activity, the psychological knowledge does not diffuse significantly into society. One result of this elite grasp of work with the human condition amplified by the pathologising of instances of common human distress, has been the generation of stigma. As a result, and especially in the current climate of economic ‘austerity’, access to professional psychological knowledge typically requires a crisis.
For the industrialised psychological therapies, regulation has multiple benefits. It supports the creation of professional walled gardens of therapeutic practice membership of which is restricted in ways that generate unnecessary scarcity. The walled gardens are also professionally and economically in competition with each other and have often seemed more concerned with status and protection of the profession than of enriching and empowering the population at large.
Due perhaps to the medical paradigm that shaped early development but also because of an overly self-referential professional culture, access to these professional walled-gardens tends to be excessively expensive, unduly lengthy and with inappropriately complex academic content. Where is the evidence that, apart from the economic benefits to universities and training institutes, and enhanced professional status, a Masters or a PhD is a requisite education path for sitting alongside people who are struggling with human condition difficulties?
2.9 ……….In addition, the Law Commissions recommended that regulatory bodies be given powers to operate a form of negative register through the use of prohibition orders for those groups not subject to statutory regulation. Such a scheme allows individuals to be barred from practising a specified profession or from carrying out specific activities and would set the standards required of a certain occupation. Where these standards were not met in a way that places the public at risk of harm, the relevant regulatory body would issue a prohibition order that would prevent or restrict an individual from carrying out a certain role or providing certain services.
This is perhaps the most important issue of the consultation.
I see no problem with a person convicted by a court of abuse or fraud being included on a public register of such offenders. The key to this is ‘convicted by a court’.
Inclusion on such a list of people found guilty of abuse by the professional bodies that are presently under the wing of the PSA would be unacceptable.
Three reasons for this:
1. In my experience of the behaviour of some people in the psychological professions, there will likely be a witchhunt of practitioners like myself who are on, or just outside, the margins of the regulation regime. Or for instance, who belong as I do, to civic accountability bodies that are too small for the PSA’s attention.
2. My study of the UK psychological professional bodies, including the HCPC, constantly demonstrated a profound paradox. The bodies claim to be protecting the public from abuse. But what is the origin of abuse? It is the enactment of some form of physical, emotional or cognitive dominance behaviour, i.e. some form of coercion, bullying or sexual abuse, due, leaving aside mistakes, to an unworked thread of belief or behaviour in the practitioner that licences them to enact some form of domination.
Why does this matter? It matters because with no exception that I know of, the professional psychological bodies associated with the PSA are all structured as traditional top down dominance cultures in which executives make decisions on behalf of members.
How could such dominance cultures, however well intentioned, make reliable, just adjudications of the dominance misbehaviour of alleged errant members? Especially if they are licensed to enact extreme dominance behaviour such as legally enforceable negative prohibition orders.
3. A negative prohibition order is way too close to potential abrogation of human rights, i.e. the human right to have a conversation with a consenting Other, paid or unpaid. In the hundreds of modes of approach to working with the wildernesses of the human condition, there will always be people and institutions who find some other approaches to be anathema or alien, and worthy of being dismissed as charlatanism. If they are introduced at all, negative prohibition orders should only apply to convictions by the courts.
Postle, D. (2007) Regulating the Psychological Therapies: From Taxonomy to Taxidermy. Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.
Postle, D. (2012) Therapy Futures: Obstacles and Opportunities. Lulu.com
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