Counsellors and psychotherapists following the controversy around BACP’s audit consultation survey might be aware that the organisation has issued an apology: ‘We are really sorry. We’ve messed up!’ they say. But what precisely are they sorry about?
‘Our intention with the survey is not simply to introduce all or any of the ideas it contains, but rather to gather opinion and inspire debate. We recognise that we haven’t been at all clear on this point and that this has caused some members considerable concern. We’re very sorry that we didn’t make things clear from the outset.’
Let’s break that down a little. The intention of the survey (and its proposals for mystery shoppers, practice inspections and a fundamental shift in the nature of the supervisory relationship) was only ‘to gather opinion and inspire debate’?
If that was the intention, then an email survey to members with a mostly multiple-choice tick-box format and limited space for longer responses seems a less than ideal way to gather opinion. As for inspiring debate, the space for that was limited, not least because hardly anyone seemed able or willing to make a reasoned case for the proposals, not even BACP themselves, who made no meaningful attempt to articulate a substantive argument, beyond the fact that such measures are used by ‘other [non-therapy] professional bodies and regulators’. And let’s not forget that BACP initially responded to those writing to the BACP journal, Therapy Today, to say they would not publish the letters, which would be forwarded instead to the consultation team (a decision they have now reversed). If the intention was to inspire open debate within the organisation, this seems a strange way to go about it.
Now BACP have apologised – but, if we look at the text of the apology, what they are sorry for is a lack of clarity about their intentions: ‘we haven’t been at all clear on this point and… this has caused some members considerable concern.’
In this version of the furore around the consultation, it is as if members’ concerns were generated by a miscommunication about, and misunderstanding of, the purpose of the survey, which BACP says was ‘not simply to introduce all or any of the ideas it contains’. So BACP simply misspoke, as an on-the-ropes politician might put it, and members then misunderstood their benign intentions. They are sorry for upsetting people, in other words, but not for being wrong.
This spin on events demonstrates a convenient misunderstanding of the disquiet the survey created. BACP members who got in touch with the Alliance certainly thought that the survey was an inappropriate tool for the kind of questions being asked, but mostly they were disturbed by the fact – unchanged by the apology – that BACP would seriously consider such measures as appropriate for the therapy field.
The frantic backpedalling, then, distracts from the deeper concerns raised by the survey, which the apology does little – if anything – to address. Why would BACP ask for members’ views on specific changes to the audit process unless they consider those changes, or something like them, to be a) possible or workable, and b) of some potential value? Someone somewhere at BACP must think such methods could be a runner, or why bother asking members about them? And even if these specific proposals get (temporarily?) binned, we are still left with BACP’s apparent desire for more surveillance and control in an effort to pull therapy into line with ‘other professions’, regardless of the gaping absence of evidence that such a move would either enhance therapeutic work or ‘protect the public’.
Whatever is happening at BACP HQ, the executive agenda seems to be drifting further and further from both the realities of actual practice and the values of its members. The feeling in communications we’ve had around this issue is that the survey was something of a last straw for many practitioners; that they have already tolerated much from BACP that is incongruent with therapeutic principles and that this is just a step too far. There are already huge demands placed on practitioners attempting to sustain the unique qualities of the therapeutic space in the face of toxic cultural trends but it becomes intolerable when these efforts are betrayed by their own professional bodies.
Might the PR disaster of the survey nudge BACP’s leaders into supporting its members by articulating what’s different – and therefore so valuable – about therapy, rather than attempting to homogenise, control and rebrand the field?