Counselling/Psychotherapy Regulation and Choosing a Practitioner
There have been many attempts to regulate counselling and psychotherapy but they have not yet come to fruition. Statutory regulation of the "protected titles" of counsellor and psychotherapist was proposed in 2009, but a year later this was challenged in the High Court by the Alliance for Counsellors and Psychotherapists on the basis that such practitioners did not pose a "serious risk of harm" to the public, nor had the Health Professions Council (HPC) demonstrated that it was a suitable body to regulate the profession.
The Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence (CHRE), a government body, was subsequently formed and started a consultation process with interested organisations to introduce voluntary regulation of existing registers of practitioners. Now re-named the Professional Standards Authority (for Health and Social Care) (PSA), this body has finalised its criteria for accrediting bodies to access their Assured Voluntary Register. In other words, organisations will be able to apply for inclusion on the AVR if they can show that they have good standards of ethics, including complaints procedures, accreditation, governance and public protection. As of yet, the PSA does not itself set standards for the profession. Some applications are being piloted, but the AVR is not yet functional.
At present, most people are aware of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) as a large organisation which accredits individual counsellors and some counselling training courses. However, it is not the only organisation to do this and currently has no different status compared to other accrediting bodies, such as the United Kingdom Association for Humanistic Psychology Practitioners (UKAHPP) or the Counselling Society. The same may be said for psychotherapists with regards to the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP), an umbrella organisation which accredits a number of psychotherapy training courses and also registers some psychotherapists accredited by other organisations.
Thus the future of regulation for counsellors and psychotherapists remains uncertain. The only current safe way for intending clients to determine that any counsellor or psychotherapist is a safe and ethical practitioner, is, firstly, to check their qualifications and accreditation status. Then, explore the nature of the accrediting body - what standards do they set? What sort of demands do they make of their practitioners to ensure that they are properly trained, experienced and continuing to practice in an ethical and informed way? What would happen if the client was unhappy with the service given by the therapist; what safe-guards would there be? If things didn't work out, would there be a prolonged formal complaints process, or is there a less unwieldy way of expressing concerns that would save time and expense, such an a review or mediation procedure?
Remember, accredited practitioners will be subject to scrutiny from their organisation and will have signed up to a code of conduct and practice. Non-accredited practitioners will not be beholden in the same way. For this reason, those who are accredited and experienced are likely to charge more for their services - and will be worth it for the support that their organisation offers.
In the absence of regulation, intending clients will unfortunately need to do the spade-work to establish a practitioner's credibility. Once this is done, and you know which practitioners to approach, the most important part of the process follows. This is the way the counsellor or psychotherapist communicates with you. This will give a sense of whether you can build a rapport, whether you have a feeling of trust - in other words, your instinctive reaction. Sometimes it is obvious from the start that this person feels "right" for you. If you are unsure, then arrange to meet a few practitioners, and you will soon get the sense of the best one to work with. No relationship is perfect, but starting with the requirements for competence and ethical practice are the best precursor to the actual first meeting.
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