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Maps, Languages & Lost Continents: Person-Centred Therapy and the SCoPEd Project

Andy Rogers takes at look at the telling absence of the Person-Centred Approach in the development of the SCoPEd project.


There is so much to say about SCoPEd that it can be hard to know where to start. Fortunately, many elements of the project – the motivation, methodology, evidence-base, hierarchical structure, consultation process, conflicts of interest and so on – have been closely examined elsewhere, particularly on blogs and social media. So here I want to home in on a few core issues for person-centred practitioners.

Person-Centred Therapy (PCT) has been a major force in the UK therapy landscape since the 1980s. Leading practitioners were influential in the development of counselling services in education and contributed much to the growth of counselling training and professional organisations. The book Person-Centred Counselling in Action (Mearns & Thorne, 1988) is still a core text on many counselling courses and remains one of the UK’s best-selling counselling titles of all time.

Note that already I am referring to ‘counselling’ rather than ‘psychotherapy’. This is important for the SCoPEd project because its draft ‘competency framework’ explicitly differentiates ‘counsellors’ and ‘psychotherapists’, albeit with a third intermediate category labelled ‘advanced qualified/accredited/psychotherapeutic counsellor’. This differentiation, which the largest professional body involved, the British Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP), had argued previously there was no evidence for, has come in for much criticism; mostly – but not exclusively – from counsellors whose work has been downgraded, with newly qualified psychotherapists defined in the framework as more competent across a range of practice areas.

Inconvenient histories

Before I get side-tracked into the many overlapping issues here – not least around the organisational politics that feed this project – let’s just step back into the world of the person-centred therapist.

In PCT, there is not, and never has been, any meaningful differentiation between counselling and psychotherapy. A contemporary practitioner might be attuned to how others use these terms in a differentiating way and to the tendency for trainings with these labels to meet the differing requirements for professional organisations that cater mostly for either ‘counsellors’ or ‘psychotherapists’. They might also note wryly the way this division operates in the field of employment, with differences in pay, fees, context, status and so on. As Thorne (1999) writes, we need to ‘face the unpalatable truth that the business ethic is all-pervasive… In such a marketplace it is not politic to affirm that counselling and psychotherapy are indistinguishable’ (pp.229-230). Yet, in terms of the therapy itself, i.e. what happens between practitioner and client, there is no substantive case for differentiation within person-centred working.

In the academic literature, the tendency is to refer simply to ‘Person-Centred Therapy’ or to use the terms ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’ interchangeably. I was going to reference some texts here to illustrate the point but it makes more sense to throw out a challenge: find me a book or paper that articulates the difference between person-centred counselling and person-centred psychotherapy. If any exist, they will still be contradicted by almost all the other person-centred literature.

Much of the contemporary person-centred attitude to these terms has evolved from the position of the approach’s originator, Carl Rogers, who clearly viewed PCT as a form of psychotherapy (just browse his book titles), yet made no distinction between ‘psychotherapy’ and ‘counselling’. As far back as 1942, Rogers was using the terms interchangeably, writing that, ‘intensive and successful counseling [sic] is indistinguishable from intensive and successful psychotherapy’ (Rogers, 1942, p.4, my emphasis). Poignantly for the current debates, the general use of ‘counselling’ for the work of therapy also has its roots in Rogers’s life and work. As a clinical psychologist with no medical training, he made a tactical switch to ‘counselling’ in the mid-1950s in Chicago, when legally the practice of psychotherapy required medical qualifications.

Whatever the pragmatic motivations at the time, it is important to note that the person-centred approach was already becoming a direct challenge to the hegemony of the medical model (and would continue to be so, with increasing vigour and depth), so the switch also made sense politically and philosophically. Clearly, 1950s Chicago is a world away from the UK in 2019, but it is interesting how relevant this moment remains, how the terms continue to have a political potency: are contested, subject to claims of ownership and find themselves jostled into a status hierarchy that serves the interests of those who already have more power in the field by bolstering their portrayal of superior legitimacy, skill, depth or competence.

And there is another more recent historical nugget to unearth here too, which is that PCT’s association in the UK with ‘counselling’ rather than ‘psychotherapy’ could easily have gone the other way. In the early 1980s, as the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) developed in parallel with the BAC (then without the ‘P’ for psychotherapy), the person-centred approach had not yet established national organisational representation. So, as Mearns & Thorne (2000) write, there was,

‘no institutional process by which the approach could be involved with the developing professionalisation of psychotherapy/counselling. The result was that the work of engaging with professional organisations was left very much up to individuals, […] person-centred specialists [who] made the pragmatic choice of investing their time in BAC.’ (p.26)

Importantly, the decision not to go with UKCP was not made because PCT failed to qualify as ‘psychotherapy’. In fact, ‘it was only small matters of difference which inspired this choice’ (ibid.), mainly around personal therapy requirements and the approach’s potential positioning within UKCP’s humanistic section.

This alignment with BAC(P) would inevitably lead to an association with ‘counselling’ rather than with ‘psychotherapy’, so it is intriguing to wonder about how the field would have looked had PCT found its professional home within UKCP instead. Who knows how the approach – and indeed UKCP – would have evolved? But the SCoPEd project washes its hands of these inconvenient histories and their attendant complexity and illuminating angles.

Undoubtedly times have changed but PCT has never reneged on its philosophical, political and practical position in relation to ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’. As one of its leading thinkers in the UK has argued, the case for differentiation – inseparable as it is from professional politics – demands close scrutiny:

‘there is no essential difference between the activities currently labelled “counselling” and “psychotherapy”… [T]o suggest that there is is the result of any one or a permutation of the following: muddled thinking; a refusal to accept research evidence; a failure to listen to clients’ experiences; a lust for status; needless competitiveness; power mongering; a desire for financial gain; or some other unworthy motive prompted by professional protectionism.’ (Thorne, 1999, p.225)

Maps and missing territories

The fact that one of the most established therapeutic traditions in the UK has a lot to say on these matters – not only differentiation but manualisation and professionalisation generally – has been of such little interest to the SCoPEd project that there was no PCT representation on the teams tasked with developing the framework. Even the humanistic modalities more broadly were grossly underrepresented in the Expert Reference and Technical Groups, which were dominated by psychoanalytic practitioners. Statements from BACP following the outcry amongst members about this blatant bias have made small admissions that they got some of the language wrong and were endeavouring to recruit new people to better balance the team.

But how can this have been so overlooked at the outset? What does it say about a project which wants to ‘map’ the world of counselling and psychotherapy that it would erase a whole continent of thought and practice and then, when the inhabitants are outraged, desperately try to patch things up with reassurances that they are ‘listening’ and want to get it right?

What does it say about a project which wants to ‘map’ the world of counselling and psychotherapy that it would erase a whole continent of thought and practice?

Why has the person-centred approach been ignored in this way? Perhaps part of the answer lies somewhere in the SCoPEd organisations’ uncritical embrace of a ‘competency framework’ methodology derived from UCL’s manualisation of CBT for the IAPT project (IAPT, 2007; Roth & Pilling, 2008). While these frameworks might have some uses, it is difficult to understand the perception of the supremacy of this specific method for resolving difficulties in the field and promoting the profession, unless you actually want to bulldoze nuance and erase complexity in order to ‘clarify’ things. But BACP especially seems heavily invested in this approach, having already used it to create frameworks for a range of practice areas (including, it should be said, an IAPT-compliant, manualised version of PCT). Indeed, the organisation is so attached to the Roth & Pilling methodology that in a statement in Therapy Today, the Chief Professional Standards Officer and Chair of the SCoPEd Technical Group, Fiona Ballantine Dykes, claimed that the alternative to developing the SCoPEd framework is ‘doing nothing’ (Therapy Today, May 2019, p.51).

Given this single-minded, blinkered commitment to the competency framework process, it is hard not to conclude that person-centred perspectives – with their critical takes on both the manualisation of therapy and the associated alignment with healthcare values and medicalisation – are simply too awkward, too inconvenient, too damned political. As if a project like SCoPEd could not be political! As if, in its much-trumpeted spirit of collaboration between competing organisations, it could magically transcend all the history, politics, power struggles and diversity of thought and practice in order to objectively ‘map the competences’ of ‘counsellors’ and ‘psychotherapists’, without in the process distorting the field to shoehorn it into such a simplistic hierarchical structure.

I am not suggesting a deliberate conspiracy here, more that a number of professional interests converge around the adoption of these frameworks, whose politically expedient effect – in the apparent coherence of their efficiently organised categories and columns – is to eliminate awkward truths, not least in the profession’s sales pitch to governments and the NHS.

From this perspective, the SCoPEd project is so full of holes that, in one sense, it is hardly there at all. Part of me wonders whether, for all the fanfare and controversy, it will end up – like so many other documents – parked on our hard-drives or floating in the digital cloud, read more than once by almost no one outside of the organisational players, ignored by most of the public, of little interest to potential clients, perhaps skim-read by other stakeholders in the mental health field and then… what?

Well, it is how these things linger on the edges of awareness that says something about their potential power, about how – once installed – their unspoken values seep almost unnoticed into all sorts of areas of our lives as therapists (practice, training, supervision, organisational procedures, government policy). In person-centred terms, they begin to form a hard-to-grasp but nonetheless influential set of conditions of worth for therapeutic practice, which further externalise our professional loci of evaluation.

This is particularly problematic for PCT because, as I wrote in my own submission to the BACP consultation, the draft SCoPEd framework is alarmingly ignorant of person-centred working. Some of the exclusively ‘psychotherapist’ competences, for example, are almost the bread and butter of person-centred therapeutic relationships, which in the real world are often engaged with under the banner of ‘counselling’. Check out 3.5.c:

Ability to negotiate issues of power and authority experienced in the inner and outer world of the client or patient as part of the therapeutic process.

As I say in my response, for person-centred counsellors this would be a central principle of everything they do. Yet ‘qualified counsellors’ are deemed only to have the:

Ability to recognise and understand issues of power and how these may affect the therapeutic relationship.(3.5)

They are perceptive but passive witnesses to issues of power, which for me edges into an unethical disavowal of both the potential impact of their role and the asymmetry of the therapeutic encounter.

Read on and we find that only trained ‘psychotherapists’ have acquired the:

Ability to evidence reflexivity, self-awareness and the therapeutic use of self to work at depth in the therapeutic relationship and the therapeutic process.(5.1.c)

Which, again, is at the very heart of person-centred working (e.g. Mearns & Cooper, 2017). Yet ‘qualified counsellors’, we are led to believe, have only an:

Ability to demonstrate a commitment to personal development that includes self-awareness in relation to the client or patient to enhance therapeutic practice. (5.1)

Elsewhere, other competences make ‘psychotherapist’ the sole territory of those who lean heavily towards medical or psychoanalytic thinking, e.g. Ability to demonstrate the skills and critical awareness of unconscious process (3.10.b), which further alienates and excludes person-centred therapists.

Language barriers?

In response to the criticism attracted by the draft framework, BACP has suggested it will attempt to iron out some of these issues with language tweaks in future iterations, but such errors are extremely revealing of the way the unique theory and practice of PCT is invisible in the project, subsumed and submerged within generic statements around counselling practice while its more challenging perspectives have been redacted or just ignored into oblivion.

In any case, we should be wary of the reassurances from the SCoPEd teams that they just need to get the language right. For one thing, this smacks of PR rather than full engagement with the critiques (as in the infamous politician’s or corporate CEO’s defence, “I misspoke”). Furthermore, in this focus on language, BACP et al seem (wilfully?) to misunderstand the various challenges and objections, which are not only about words – as if swapping them with others would make it all better – but rather see language as the most obvious manifestation of deeper flaws in the project.

Something else I find troubling here is my own personal experience of having the same conversations with senior individuals at BACP about another competency framework, one drawn up for university and college counselling in 2016, which I had criticised as inappropriately redefining the sector as a branch of manualised healthcare (Rogers, 2019). In a face-to-face meeting and follow-up emails, it was acknowledged that BACP did not ‘get the language right’ and I was offered reassurances that this would be taken on board for future frameworks. Yet here we are again. I have no idea what the people I spoke with took away from our chat but somewhere in the subsequent organisational processes these reassurances evaporated into nothing and PCT once more finds itself ignored and excluded.

The person-centred approach, arguably, is not blameless in all this. Perhaps we have not been great at organising; perhaps we have felt so compelled to make concessions to the dominant narratives in ‘mental health’ and the therapy professions that we have our lost ourselves a little along the way, woozy with disorientation and gripped by a fear of judgement if we defy the trajectory of our own field. Nevertheless, the fact that a voice speaks with less assertiveness amid the noise of our culture’s deepening conversation with psychological distress is no excuse to ignore it, and it is troubling – and disturbingly ironic – when therapy organisations fall into this trap.

Perhaps my own tiny sketch of PCT’s political difficulties does it a disservice too. While I have drifted away from person-centred forums (journals, organisations, conferences etc.) over the years, social media – for all its flaws – has reminded me recently that there is a vibrant community of practitioners out there and PCT still has a unique and vital contribution to make to our field, to ‘mental health’ thinking generally and to our culture more widely. As ever, what the person-centred approach has to say is not always easy listening for those with professionalising aspirations and intentions, but surely it is our job as therapists to hear the things that others cannot bear, to listen to the most difficult truths, to welcome their complex, quietly spoken messages, to meet and fully engage with the challenges they present – why can’t our organisations do the same?

Tipping point

 As I researched the background to PCT’s early alignment with counselling and BACP (as discussed above), I stumbled across another passage in the same book (Mearns & Thorne, 2000) that, although written in my early days as a person-centred therapist twenty years ago, rings as true now as it did then:

‘It would be a tragedy… if person-centred therapists lost heart at this stage when, precisely because of some of the unfortunate moves towards a sterile professionalism… there is a greater thirst than ever among therapists and would-be clients for an engagement with what is truly human’ (p.218).

Whatever happens as SCoPEd ploughs on, we urgently need to find our voices. There are shifts in the mental health sector across disciplines and hierarchies. The medicalisation of distress, the dominance of biomedical psychiatry/pharmacology, the related mechanisation of therapy as another manualised treatment for discrete psychological ‘disorders’ and its subsequent co-option by the State in health and welfare policy are all coming under increasing pressure from a range of critical standpoints.

We may be at a tipping point. The more people experience this rigidly medicalised ideology in practice, the more they become aware of a need for something else and actively begin to seek it out. With IAPT’s legitimacy crumbling (Jackson & Rizq, 2019), the promises of psychopharmacology unfulfilled and psychiatric diagnosis itself falling further into disrepute, it is starting to look as if Person-Centred Therapy was on the right side of history all along.

Our professional organisations might want to listen more closely to what we have to say; not to assist their PR blitz around contentious projects, but to reset the course of the professions in ways that more authentically respect and promote the core values and diverse perspectives found in our field’s rich ecology of practitioners.


Andy Rogers has been a BACP member and counselling service coordinator in further and higher education for 20 years. He also works in private practice in Basingstoke, Hampshire.


References

IAPT (2007) The competences required to deliver effective cognitive and behavioural therapy for people with depression and with anxiety disorders. https://www.ucl.ac.uk/drupal/site_pals/sites/pals/files/migrated-files/Backround_CBT_document_-_Clinicians_version.pdf (accessed 05 July 2019).

Jackson, C & Rizq, R (2019) The Industrialisation of Care: Counselling, Psychotherapy and the Impact of IAPT. Monmouth: PCCS Books.

Mearns, D & Cooper, M (2017) Working at Relational Depth in Counselling and Psychotherapy. 2nd edition. London: Sage.

Mearns, D & Thorne, B (1988/2013) Person-Centred Counselling in Action. London: Sage.

Mearns, D & Thorne, B (2000) Person-Centred Therapy Today. London: Sage.

Rogers, A (2019) ‘Staying Afloat: Hope & Despair in the Age of IAPT’ (pp. 142-155) in Jackson, C & Rizq, R (2019) The Industrialisation of Care: Counselling, Psychotherapy and the Impact of IAPT. Monmouth: PCCS Books.

Rogers, C (1942) Counseling and Psychotherapy: Newer Concepts in Practice. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Roth, AD and Pilling, S (2008). ‘Using an evidence based methodology to identify the competences required to deliver effective cognitive and behavioural therapy for depression and anxiety disorders.’ Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 36, pp. 129-147.

Thorne, B (1999) ‘Psychotherapy and counselling are indistinguishable’ (pp. 225-232) in Feltham, C. (1999) Controversies in Psychotherapy and Counselling. London: Sage.

 

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SCoPEd: new consultation responses

Two therapists – one a BACP Senior Accredited counsellor and supervisor, the other a UKCP Registered psychoanalytic psychotherapist – share their SCoPEd consultation responses with the Alliance.

 

Arthur Musgrave, BACP Senior Accredited Counsellor and Supervisor.


The consultation questions

This consultation exercise seeks answers to four questions –

  1. How will the framework affect clients or patients in being able finding the right kind of help to meet their needs?
  2. How will the framework affect employers in being able to establish which counsellors or psychotherapists to employ in their service?
  3. How will the framework affect trainees in their understanding of the pathways open to them for core training with adults? (sic)
  4. How will the framework affect professional bodies being able to promote the skills and services of their members?

Summary

This draft framework promises to provide clarity but fails to deliver. Take, for example, the employment of counsellors and psychotherapists – there is already a well-established and much more satisfactory way of establishing whom to employ and that is through the use of a well thought out person specification and a good selection process. It is hard to see that whatever is finally ratified will add much to this.

Nor does the draft framework offer clarity to other stakeholders who would much prefer that other, more fundamental issues were resolved The key components of training and practice that lead to a good outcome remain as obscure as ever. To what extent, for instance, is there any correlation with the length of training a counsellor or psychotherapist has undergone? Or with hours of personal therapy? Or with hours of supervised practice? Do trainee psychotherapists in practice receive more supervision than trainee counsellors? And, if they do, does that mean their clients/patients are necessarily more satisfied?

Without satisfactory answers to questions of this nature campaigns promoting the skills and services of counsellors and psychotherapists will have limited value. And neither potential clients/patients nor anyone wanting to decide what qualification to pursue will be much the wiser.

“further layers of complexity and obfuscation”

But a document of this kind does more than fail to provide clarity – it actually adds further layers of complexity and obfuscation. The answer to each of the consultation questions must therefore be that the draft framework will make clarity harder to achieve.

Much is being claimed for this exercise, but at root it is an attempt at tidying up discrepancies in documentation held by each of the three sponsoring bodies in order for these bodies to agree between themselves what they regard as the distinguishing characteristics of a ‘qualified counsellor’, an ‘advanced qualified counsellor’ and a ‘psychotherapist’.

Stripped bare of any significant benefit for others, what becomes starkly apparent is that the three sponsoring bodies are set up to be the main beneficiaries. As a result of reaching a shared consensus about common standards for practice and education, they will be better placed to press for control over the entire field of counselling and psychotherapy.

There a serious danger here that once competencies are laid down in this fashion, a common curriculum will be prescribed and good practice will then be judged primarily in terms of adherence to what is taught on training courses. This would undoubtedly have a devastatingly inhibiting effect on creativity and the development of good practice.

Specific concerns: (1) Language

The language is opaque. The competency statements are peppered with words such as ‘suitable’, ‘appropriate’ and ‘relevant’. This language requires a further gloss from those within the profession and defeats the stated purpose of offering clarity to outsiders such as members of the public and potential trainees.

Even when qualifiers of this kind aren’t used the competency statements necessarily lack precision so that, for instance, it is unclear to what extent practitioners of all kinds have “the ability to reflect on their own cultural background and history and have the capacity to work in an authentically non discriminatory manner” (Theme 4.8). It is equally unclear what constitutes sufficient “knowledge and ability” to be able to work within professional and ethical frameworks (Theme 1.1).Two decades and more ago I was involved in helping to draft standards for National Vocational Qualifications and, time and again, found that the language in competency statements was imprecise. At each iteration of the drafting process we were reassured that this would not be a problem since the assessor would be selected by the candidate and would be someone from within the field. In the case of the SCoPEd Framework such an interpreter will clearly not always be to hand.

At other places in the draft framework rather nebulous concepts are deployed in order to distinguish the work of an ‘advanced counsellor’ from that of a ‘psychotherapist’ – for example a ‘psychotherapist’ is able to “negotiate issues of power” whereas an ‘advanced counsellor’ is only able to “address issues of power”. What is the distinction here – that psychotherapists are expected to be in dialogue whereas advanced counsellors are limited to making a speech?

There is great scope for misunderstanding when imprecise language is deployed and this can have serious consequences. In following a case before a Health and Care Professions Council disciplinary panel I had the experience of seeing how problematic matters can become when definitions established in one context are interpreted by others whose professional expertise lies elsewhere. In the case in point a narrow definition of confidentiality based on the notion of consent for medical treatment was utilised to rule that conventional understandings about confidentiality in a group supervision setting were unethical as, somewhat inevitably, personal information about group members was disclosed to other trainees in the group.

Specific concerns: (2) Skills must be tested in context

A serious and even more fundamental problem lies in the fact that skills cannot be adequately tested in isolation from one another as they are in the draft framework. Let me give an example as to why not. I was once approached for help by a student on a counselling diploma course counsellor who had failed her viva apparently because she hadn’t demonstrated basic counselling skills. She brought a tape with them of the session she’d presented at the viva.

When I listened to it in was clear that, at one point when she said something like, “So what you’re saying is A and B”, the client replied, “No I’m not! What I’m saying X and Y!!!”Although the student got things very ‘wrong’ her client was able, as a result and for the first time, to state his viewpoint forcefully and congruently. The trainee then gave her whole attention not to the ‘mistake’ but to what her client had to say. This exchange proved to be the turning point in their work together – which, of course, was why the student had selected it for the viva.

Overtly, then, there was direct evidence of this trainee’s inability to meet Theme 3.8 (i.e. the examiners had detected a failure to sustain the therapeutic relationship) to the point where the existing relationship had been disrupted. However there was other, more subtle evidence, that the student had been able to deal with this rupture in a wholly positive fashion, thereby not simply responding successfully to a difficulty in the relationship (Theme 3.10) but also demonstrating both an ability to work therapeutically with ruptures and difficulties (Theme 3.10 b) and an ability to work proactively to minimise further damage.

Paradoxically, then, this trainee counsellor, in failing her viva, demonstrated that she was able to do something over and above what this draft framework claims only a trained and qualified psychotherapist is capable of doing.

Specific concerns: (3) A flawed threefold separation of roles

The distinction in the draft framework between ‘qualified counsellor’ and ‘advanced qualified counsellor’ doesn’t really work. It is better understood if it is viewed not as a difference in training but as a difference in experience, e.g. in the use of supervision (Themes 1.6 and 1.6a); team working (Themes 1.10, 1.10a and 1.10b); working online (Themes 2.10 and 2.10a); critical reflection on the client/patient’s process within the therapeutic relationship (Themes 3.8 and 3.8a); ability to find ways of making progress in the face of difficulties (Themes 3.12 and 3.12a); and so on.

The ‘advanced qualified counsellor’ reads more as someone who has assimilated what they gained from their training in the light of some years of practice. The threefold division between ‘qualified counsellor’, ‘advanced qualified counsellor’ and ‘psychotherapist’ is therefore fundamentally flawed as like is not being compared with like.

“There is a fundamental problem that training and experience cannot easily be separated when talking about competence”

There is a further fundamental problem in that training and experience cannot easily be separated when talking about competence. Someone whose initial training was as a counsellor can, for instance, obtain further training and experience that gives them the ability to “understand medical diagnosis of mental disorders and the impact of psychotropic medication during assessment and throughout therapy” (Theme 2.4b). Previous attempts to define competency have sometimes floundered on an artificial attempt to determine that labels are acquired only at the point of qualification, a view that can be hard for commissioners of services, employers and members of the public to appreciate when what they are primarily concerned with is practical applications, not demarcation disputes.

Even more problematic is the point that what distinguishes ‘psychotherapist’ from others is largely to do with matters that aren’t essential to what therapy is and that are perhaps better viewed as distinct areas of expertise.

A surprising number of extraneous activities are captured within the rather eccentric definition of psychotherapy used in this framework including being able “to take an active role within the professional community locally and nationally” (Theme 1.10c); being able to “resolve contradictions between ethical requirements and work requirements” (Theme 1.6b) as if psychotherapists are automatically capable of resolving these matters whereas others are necessarily either incapable of dealing with issues of role clarity or only manage to navigate their way pragmatically through intractable situations and irreconcilable expectations; being able “to assess and formulate when working with chronic and enduring mental health conditions”(Theme 2.1b); being able to being able “to critically appraise the history of psychological ideas”(Theme 4.2b) as opposed to simply being able “to critically appraise a range of theories underpinning the practice of counselling and psychotherapy” (Theme 4.2a); being able to utilise audit and evaluation tools/methodologies “to contribute to improving the process and outcomes of therapy” (Theme 4.9b) as opposed merely monitoring and maintaining standards within practice settings (Theme 4.9a); and being able to undertake substantial research projects (Theme 4.10).

A number of somewhat grandiose claims are made for both ‘advanced counsellors’ and ‘psychotherapists’. Apparently they are able to critically challenge their own values and beliefs, whereas mere qualified counsellors aren’t able to do this (Theme 5.3a). They are also able it seems, and again in contradistinction to qualified counsellors, to critically appraise published research on counselling and psychotherapy and integrate relevant research findings into practice (Theme 4.10a).

But to what extent do ‘advanced counsellors’ and ‘psychotherapists’ do either of these in practice? And to what extent do they differ in these respects from qualified counsellors? It is often forgotten that access to published research is limited for those in private practice who do not hold an academic post.

Some of these grandiose capabilities are in the purlieu of psychotherapists alone. They can apparently even “resolve contradictions between different codes of practice and conduct” (Theme 1.6b). They apparently also have a unique ability “to integrate relevant theory and research in the areas of diversity and equality into clinical practice” (Theme 4.8c).

Finally, over and above this substantial list of supposed distinguishing characteristics, one of the most immediately striking aspects of the draft framework is how many gaps it contains. In only a third of the listed competency themes has the draft framework so far been able to distinguish a ‘psychotherapist’ from a ‘qualified counsellor’.

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Joe Suart, UKCP registered psychoanalytic psychotherapist, working and living in Cornwall.


There is a problem with the Roth/Pilling methodology [used to draft the SCoPEd framework], as pointed out in 2008 when Skills for Health were trying to develop National Occupational Standards for the profession. These problems have not been addressed and so have not gone away. The Council for Psychoanalysis and Jungian Ananlysis (CPJA) sent to Skills for Health its response in April 2009, in which it stated:

“Following continuous discussion and debate throughout this process, within the CPJA and with our colleagues in other professional organisations representing psychoanalytic and psychodynamic psychotherapy in the UK, the CPJA has concluded that it cannot support either the process or the outcomes of the Skills for Health consultation. The CPJA will be recommending to the UKCP as a whole that it withdraw its participation and support from the project in favour of its own more appropriately-derived statements of occupational standards for psychoanalytic/psychodynamic and other modalities of psychotherapy”

While the current attempt to standardise Professional/National Occupation Standards is not the same process, its reliance on the Roth/Pilling methodology (which was produced initially specifically for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy practice and then applied to other modalities) repeats the problem that was endemic to the previous attempt.

The SCoPEd Consultation claims to be evidence based, and yet there is no evidence that it’s methodological basis of matching perceived competencies of the therapist to improved life experience of the patient actually works. The collection of descriptions of activities of the therapist, presented under the term competencies are themselves not based in evidence gathering but in the opinion of practitioners and trainers concerning what it is they think should be the case.

The model of gathering empirical data is not well suited to the confidential conversation of two people in camera. At best it can only be done by reportage, usually only done by the therapist. This is an argument that is well known and leads to a well-worn criticism of the process of the ‘talking cure’, however the attempt to get round this problem by defining competencies in the manner done fails. Rather, in attempting to do so, it presents an image of a reality that has been distorted by the wishes and intentions of the presenters. As workers in the field of Freud’s legacy, this is not something that should be ignored or brushed over.

“there are many different and conflicting psychotherapeutic views, some of which would support the competencies and their implications, and some of which would be vehemently opposed to them”

Even within the framework itself, in its own terms, there are problems. The use of the three terms, ‘Counsellor’ ‘Advanced Counsellor’ and ‘Psychotherapist’ is confusing at the outset. It would have been better to use non-specific terms to denote different levels of sophistication and complexity, such as level 1, level 2, level 3. For the use of these terms that imply a reflection on current qualifications and associated capacities appears to mirror and reinforce a hierarchy of professional status that many would say is already in place.

There is then the additional problem that this implied hierarchy of professional status and capacity is one that is intended to become enshrined in nationally recognised standards which training bodies will be obliged to adhere to, and which, when the next attempt to statutorily regulate the profession occurs, will become enshrined in law. When that happens it will become an offence to practice unless you fit yourself into these frameworks.

The success of this attempt to standardise the activities and responsibilities of counsellors/psychotherapists whilst being carried out in the noble desire to protect patients, will have the effect of both reducing patient care and therapists’ ability to respond to the specific and individual needs of the patient. Many of the competencies as set out in the document are written as if they are neutral and non-controversial in their import. This is not the case as there are many different and conflicting psychotherapeutic views, some of which would support the competencies and their implications, and some of which would be vehemently opposed to them.

For example, there are assumptions which would be vigorously challenged when the competencies use terms like ‘conscious’ and ‘unconscious’, ‘inner world’ and ‘outer world’, ‘transference’ and ‘countertransference’. The nature of the complexities and even existence of some of these apparently neutral terms, let alone how the mechanisms, phenomena and experiences that these terms are meant to refer to have been the subject of debate and even controversy for decades. The validity of this history of debate and disagreement is given no recognition by the consultation.

The consequence of this standardisation attempt being successful will be to reduce the options of talking therapy work available to the public, and risk making it an offence for them to be provided with options that are not in agreement with it. This point has been made with full description and elaboration in the Maresfield Report.

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‘Psychoanalytic coup’ – Andrew Samuels on the SCoPEd Competence Framework

Sent to the Chairs and CEOs of BACP, UKCP and BPC

January 24th 2019

From Professor Andrew Samuels


You have every right to ignore this.

I was in the room as chair of UKCP when the HPC Professional Liaison group in 2010 were told by Prof Peter Fonagy that counselling was inferior to psychotherapy. BACP (Sally Aldridge) were apoplectic. But now, when I look at the lists of competences, I feel sure that many counsellors meet those ascribed to psychotherapy. I’ve trained some of them.

(Incidentally, didn’t the abject failure of the Skills for Health competency based project stick in anyone’s memories?)

Moreover, the interests of Jungian analysis, body psychotherapy, arts psychotherapies and transpersonal psychotherapy have been downplayed. I am not sure how a humanistic and integrative psychotherapist might react, to be honest. Not well, I surmise.

What has happened is that psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy have pulled off a major coup. Their values and approaches have triumphed. I am sure that this will be widely recognised by anyone who reads the documents. It reflects the dynamism and skill of their top people, in my view, so hats off to them in a way!

I have returned the survey to BPC and UKCP. In the free section, I have expressed astonishment that the discredited work done by Roth and Pilling in different contexts has been utilised in this one. Those academics are gung-ho for NICE, IAPT and statutory regulation. They are not friends of the work that we do.

The whole thing strikes me as an example of fiddling while Rome burns. Actually, it is worse than that. We’ve spent decades making sure that, for example, job adverts ask for BACP or UKCP or BPC membership where once the BPS held sway. I’ve been proud to be a part of that. We even managed to reduce the stress on modality in most adverts, except those where the consultant doctors were psychoanalysts. We have begun to get the Professional Standards Authority on the map.

Now three utterly bizarre neologisms are being put forward. And this is going to make getting jobs easier? Or help applicants? ‘Qualified counsellor’, ‘advanced qualified counsellor’, ‘psychotherapist’.

Even if the old terms are restored once the survey has run its course, the discrepant crunch between the two indicative languages will be so confusing.

And what is the point of saying that these terms are ‘loosely described’? They are not loosely described at all; they are clearly differentiated (albeit on shaky grounds) and formed into a tendentious hierarchy.

Sorry for the passionate way in which I write. I am hoping that there will be massive opposition to these proposals but am realistic: the supine memberships mostly won’t bother about it at all – a few will support, a few will oppose, and we shall lumber on, promoting the demise of depth, relational work – what I still call (semi-seriously) ‘real psychotherapy’.

Finally, I will comment on page 72 of the main document where the membership of your Expert Reference Group is given. There are 12 in total, 7 of which are psychoanalytic, 2 integrative (unspecified combination), 1 hypno-psychotherapy, 1 pluralistic (unspecified combination) and 1 humanistic-integrative. Add in the chair and information analyst and I believe it comes to 8 psychoanalytic and 6 others (of which only two are explicitly humanistic in orientation).

How is this a balanced group of experts??

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regulation, professionalism and cultures of dominance

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.


Brief references

Books

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

Videos

The PsyCommons – Ordinary Wisdom and Shared Power

Around 75% of the UK population have no need of ‘mental health’ services. What is it they know and do that keeps them psysavvy? The psyCommons examines the ordinary wisdom and shared power hidden from us by the mental illness industries and the medicalization of ordinary human distress.

The psyCommons and its Enclosures: Professionalized Wisdom and the Abuse of Power

The second in a series of videos about the psyCommons looks at how the basic human capacity to resolve and survive the ordinary difficulties of daily life through family, friends and local communities, is undermined by the psychological professions, along with their pharma allies.