REGULATION OF COUNSELLING AND PSYCHOTHERAPY
STATEMENT FROM THE ALLIANCE FOR COUNSELLING AND PSYCHOTHERAPY, MAY 2014
Some years ago, the Alliance played a prominent role in the campaign against the statutory regulation of counselling and psychotherapy (SR). In reviewing the success of this campaign, it seems clear that it was not due solely to a change of Government in 2010. Petitions signed by several thousand practitioners against the plan to regulate the professions via the Health Professions Council (HPC, now HCPC) were remarkable, given the reticence usually shown by therapists in the political realm. Permission to proceed with a Judicial Review of HPC’s conduct was also highly significant. In general, the Alliance considers that, in the words of a Coalition health minister, ‘[we] won the argument’.
We are aware that SR is once again being discussed in some political and professional circles. We have studied Geraint Davies MP’s early day motion and Patrick Strudwick’s articles, and noted some pressure and mobilisation from the same groups of counsellors and psychotherapists who were previously supportive of SR under the HPC.
To us, it is, at the very least, foolhardy to consider rejecting the current Accredited Voluntary Register (AVR) scheme run by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) which is not even a year old. AVR is a progressive institutional innovation that addresses the vast majority of the defects that existed with the old, traditional voluntary registers. It should be given the opportunity to prove itself by allowing it to continue for at least five years.
The Alliance continues to welcome this scheme which, on balance, we see as substantially superior to the proposals for SR under the HPC. In our view, the PSA scheme has already improved matters. For example, although the old voluntary registering organisations were already operating under ethical codes that made the offer of reparative therapy a matter of serious professional misconduct, it was the PSA’s committed anti-discriminatory policy that underlay the decision by the Association of Christian Counsellors (ACC) to follow suit. Until their accreditation by PSA required a rethink, this organisation was one of the main sources of providers of reparative therapy.
The PSA also deserves much credit for the United Kingdom for Psychotherapy’s (UKCP) adoption of a mandatory Central Code of Conduct, a long overdue reform.
“It is simply not the case that counsellors and psychotherapists are untrained and unaccountable”
The Alliance would like to see the PSA doing more to promote counselling and psychotherapy, including drawing the attention of the public to the existence of its accredited registers. It is simply not the case that, as some supporters of the early day motion state, counsellors and psychotherapists are untrained and unaccountable. Our understanding is that the PSA promised such a promotion during early discussions with the former voluntary registering bodies, so is therefore now obliged to conduct an appropriate campaign.
We hope that the PSA might now engage more with its accredited bodies with regard to how serious sanctions, such as striking off, can be better and more widely communicated to the public.
The PSA has, so far, remained silent on the matter of SR. We realise that it may be politically difficult for the PSA to speak in defence and justification of its own existence but now seems a good time to start such a process. Many of the proposals to reintroduce the failed project of SR seem strikingly ignorant of the nature and even the fact of the AVR scheme. In the face of this, we would like to see the PSA issue a statement on the progress of the AVR scheme so far.
“a damaging and misleading idealisation of statutory regulation is taking place”
The Alliance believes that a damaging and misleading idealisation of statutory regulation is taking place. Unless there is a change in primary legislation, we will continue to see people struck off by statutory registers rebranding themselves and continuing to practice as before. It is highly misleading to claim that evasion of sanction is only a problem for accredited voluntary regulators as has been claimed.
We are perplexed at the linkage of the quite legitimate concern over reparative therapy with SR. We speculate that those who want to see statutory regulation are using current repulsion at general homophobia to further their own political agenda. In reality, most reparative therapy was and is offered by people with a religious orientation whose practice is not going to be affected by any kind of regulation of counselling and psychotherapy.
The Alliance also believes that, whilst prejudice can never be eliminated entirely, the situation in our professions has changed substantially since one small-scale research project of 2009 discovered the extent of reparative therapy being offered.
A key factor in the successful campaign against SR was the development of a convincing argument that statutory regulation of counselling and psychotherapy as ‘health professions’ was and is inappropriate for this field. The medical model of clear-cut diagnosis and treatment does not apply. In particular, an adversarial and generic system of complaints, founded on tendentious principles, and with no systematic inclusion of alternative dispute resolution (ADR – conciliation and mediation) will never be fit for purpose.
We should not forget that, when the HPC’s process was halted, there was no agreement over such central issues as the difference (or not) between psychotherapy and counselling, or whether (or not) work with children required different trainings.
The Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy will, of course, fight against any new plans for statutory regulation. But the previous experience was so divisive that we sincerely hope that those who are looking to reintroduce the project will read this statement, reconsider their position and engage with us and the majority in our field in making the still-evolving AVR system work as effectively as possible – in the interests of clients and patients, the professions, and society as a whole.
The above statement has been sent to a number of key figures in the debate, including politicians, journalists, regulatory bodies and therapy organisations.