What is the Scope of Practice and Education for the counselling and psychotherapy professions (SCoPEd) all about?

SCoPEd is a collaborative project between the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), the British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) and the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). The aim of SCoPEd is to agree a shared, evidence-based competence framework to inform the core training requirements, competences and practice standards for counsellors and psychotherapists who work with adults.

Our vision is that this work will help to clarify the professions for the public, trainers, employers, clients and patients and other stakeholders in this field. Ultimately our aim is that SCoPEd will have a positive financial benefit on our members by increasing opportunities for employment and in turn offering clients greater access to therapy.

To date we’ve presented the initial findings of the mapping and research of the competences, professional standards and practice standards for counselling and psychotherapy, and consulted with our memberships and key stakeholders. Our work has specifically focused on mapping existing competences to identify the minimum requirements for counselling and psychotherapy. This has shown areas of overlap and differences between counselling and psychotherapy.

SCoPEd competency framework (pdf 0.3MB)

We used an evidence-based approach and the results indicate three differentiated levels of competence for counselling and psychotherapy.

SCoPed methodology (pdf 0.5MB)

Why is SCoPEd important?

Some counselling and psychotherapy organisations choose to belong to the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) accredited register programme. Counselling and psychotherapy are not statutorily regulated activities. However, the PSA only sets standards for organisations that hold registers in health and social care and does not set standards for individual practitioners.

This means that organisations can set their own education and training standards when applying for their register to be accredited by the PSA. Currently, the PSA-accredited registers in the field of counselling and psychotherapy each have different standards of training, practice and associated entry requirements. This can cause confusion for the public, clients and patients, and employers.

There is also a lack of clarity for those who are considering training due to disparate entry standards, the wide range of courses available at different academic levels, and the different qualification frameworks.

As collectively BACP, BPC and UKCP represent 60,000 counsellors and psychotherapists, we felt it important to start to address the ambiguity within the current landscape. As such the three professional bodies agreed to collaborate and take a leading role in researching and mapping the evidence for standards within the counselling and psychotherapy professions. This is a ground-breaking first step, and we hope that in the future the wide range of other professional bodies will find the SCoPEd competence framework useful as a reference point for their standards and training.

What is a competence framework?

Competence is usually defined as the integration of knowledge, skills and attitudes. Competence frameworks identify and bring together all the relevant knowledge, skills and values that are key to working effectively in a specified area. When you undertook your initial training, the course would have worked from a competence framework to structure the individual lessons and ensure that all the competence aspects were covered during your training.

By mapping existing competence frameworks and standards, the SCoPEd framework identifies the knowledge, skills and values that are relevant to counselling and psychotherapy.

Competence frameworks are a starting point and we recognise that they don’t capture the full complexity of what happens in therapeutic work. However, they give us the language to promote the knowledge and skills of our members to external audiences.

What are practice standards?

Practice standards include: client hours, supervision, personal therapy, and placement requirements.

Who is undertaking the work?

There are three key groups:

  • a Technical Group, consisting of representatives of the three organisations who have drafted this framework. The Technical Group have conducted the main mapping of competences. The group consists of three counsellors (BACP), two psychotherapists (UKCP and BPC) and one psychotherapeutic counsellor (UKCP). Each member of the Technical Group has a range of teaching experience within counselling and psychotherapy training, from level four diploma to MA/MSc Programmes.
  • an Expert Reference Group (ERG), comprising academic experts in the field of counselling and psychotherapy drawn from the three organisations. This group scrutinises and oversees the work of the Technical Group, the methodology utilised and the iterative development of the framework. The ERG has and continues to be overseen by an independent chair and is supported in its research by an independent information analyst. In response to member feedback, the ERG was expanded in August 2019 to be more inclusive of a wider range of voices.
  • a Steering Group, which includes the chief executives of the three organisations and oversees the framework development process.

What does the SCoPEd framework show?

The draft framework is the result of extensive mapping of the current competences and standards within the fields of counselling and psychotherapy. The framework is looking to map the competences of a counsellor or psychotherapist at the point of completing their core training. The aspiration of the framework is that it offers consistency to the training pathways of future generations of counsellors and psychotherapists who are looking to undertake training and progression.

The mapping showed that there are three potential levels of entry, which were set out in the draft framework sent out to members for consultation in January 2019. The draft framework sent out for consultation in January 2019 used the terms ‘qualified counsellor’, ‘advanced qualified counsellor’ and ‘psychotherapist’ to describe these entry points. Member feedback has strongly indicated that these descriptors are problematic, hierarchical and need revisiting; this is part of the ongoing work of the Technical Group and ERG.

The SCoPEd framework has mapped current standards and competences within the field. It is not setting new standards. All the evidence researched can be found listed in the methodology document.

Are all modalities being taken into consideration with this work?

The aspiration of the SCoPEd project is to agree a generic, shared core competence framework for working with adults which is not modality specific and is written at a high level. The framework is intended to be inclusive and represent all members regardless of their modality and theoretical orientation across all three levels identified in the framework.

The vision is that individual training organisations and professional groups that choose to use the framework will see the competences as a starting point and find appropriate ways of detailing content and associated training which reflects their own theoretical background, philosophy and approach.

The Technical Group and ERG are continuing to work on the language of the competences to ensure that it is as inclusive as possible. Two new members have been recruited to the ERG to help with this specific task (August 2019).

Does the draft framework create a hierarchy?

The draft framework is the result of mapping current training and practice standards; SCoPEd hasn’t created differentiation.

We have found evidence that there are differences between a newly qualified therapist at level 4 and someone who undertakes a longer more in-depth training with higher practice requirements that allows the opportunity to gain more experience and meet higher level competences.

We want to see a world that understands and values therapy and believes that defining the entry points can help this. The descriptors (‘titles’) for the levels are purely illustrative but we acknowledge that they may have added to this feeling of hierarchy. It’s not our intention to create a hierarchy but to match client need to therapist skill.

How does the SCoPEd work align with BACP’s previous stance that there is no evidence that counselling and psychotherapy are different?

There is clear evidence in the draft framework that there are different entry points to the profession in terms of competences and practice standards. 

We have chosen to articulate these differences in ways that value all our members and the important contributions that they make to helping clients and changing their lives.

The entry levels are not saying that one therapist is more important than another, but that different therapists have different training experiences and expertise when they enter the profession; this is no different to any other professional group.

There was a lot of debate in 2009 about the difference between competences at entry point and the practice of individual therapists over time. While the Professional Liaison Group (PLG) was constantly reminded that the work was meant to be about entry level, the debates, including our own at the time, were always about practice - where there will continue to be overlap.

The objective of SCoPEd was to look at what was there to see if we could map what the evidence showed. This more inclusive evidence-based approach is one reason why the debate has progressed from the areas identified during the 2009 PLG discussions.

How did you choose the methodology for the SCoPEd work?

The process of BACP competence development, which the collaboration agreed to use, has historically aligned with Roth and Pilling (2008) Methodology whereby the competence framework is developed through a systematic review of the available research literature, presented for discussion by an independent analyst. This literature was then scrutinised by the ERG.

In applying this methodology to the development of the SCoPEd competence framework, it became evident that the approach was not broad enough to capture all relevant information about training and practice standards. For example, instead of searching only training manuals, other information was looked at such as practice standards, job descriptions, learning outcomes from training curricula and qualifications at all levels, as well as ethical codes of practice. Direct client outcomes-based evidence was excluded from the research inclusion criterion as this doesn’t relate to competences acquired at the point of completing training and entering the profession. A full list of sources can be found in the methodology document.

The ERG also offered their clinical judgement and experience of working with clients to make recommendations. The SCoPEd framework is not modality based.

The draft SCoPEd framework is a starting point and if adopted will evolve through undergoing a regular cycle of evaluation to keep up to date with the latest research and methodologies.

Why haven’t other professional bodies been asked to join?

The SCoPEd project between BACP, BPC and UKCP arose from an existing collaboration - the CCPP (Collaboration of Counselling and Psychotherapy Professions) - which has been going on for several years.

This is a starting point as we continue to build relationships. Other stakeholders, including organisations with PSA accredited registers, have been invited to comment through our consultation processes.

During the literature research stage, the published standards and competences from other professional bodies were analysed and included where appropriate. These documents are detailed in the methodology document (appendix iv).

It has always been the intention of the collaboration to freely share the outcomes of this work. Specific involvement of other bodies will depend on how the relationships develop and how work on the framework is taken forward.

How is the SCoPEd work funded?

Each organisation is funding SCoPEd work from within their existing operational budgets and are not receiving any external funding for this work.

How will this work affect employment opportunities?

If members decide we should take this forward we believe it would put us in a better position to promote their skills. This is about finding work for all our members and raising awareness of the significant contribution that counsellors and psychotherapists make to changing lives. We want to recognise the value that people bring at every level. Other related professions have raised the entry level to level 6 or higher education only. We’re doing the opposite because we know the value that counsellors and psychotherapists bring from a range of different entry points - including greater diversity which offers more choice for clients and patients. We believe SCoPEd will also have a positive impact on the commissioning of therapy because we will have a way of talking about the skills and knowledge of our members to those who find it difficult to navigate the complexities of the current landscape.

Is there a risk that potential clients will be confused by the draft framework?

The draft framework in its current form is not designed as a public facing document but the information it contains offers the possibility of making things clearer for the public. If the public understand what our members can offer, we believe they will more easily be able to get the help they need. We would like to use this work to showcase our professions. If we can help signpost which therapist will help clients/patients with their concern, we can more easily get them the support they need.

Our aim is to produce documents with different audiences in mind to ensure the understanding of what our professions offer is clear - that will increase the public’s ability to get the help they need. Any document for the public would be presented in an understandable and client-friendly format. We will also ask the public for their views by including them in future consultation.

Why did you consult members after producing the first draft framework?

To enable us to consult with our memberships and stakeholders we needed to present what the research evidence showed about the existing landscape. This was the starting point. We are now analysing the responses to the consultation. The consultation in January 2019 was the first opportunity to seek members’ views.

Will I continue to be consulted and when will I know more?

Yes, you will continue to be consulted. We're planning further member engagement which will include online chats, videos, presentations, email bulletins, focus groups and much more. We will keep all of our members up to date as this progresses.

If BACP were to adopt the framework, how would it affect me as an existing member?

While we're consulting on the framework, existing membership, registration or accreditation will not be affected.

The current phase of work is still looking at the mapping of the training and practice standards rather than creating a framework that includes the post-qualifying experience and knowledge of our current members.

At this stage no decisions have been made about implementation and will not be made without further consultation with our members. However, we can reassure you that if the framework were adopted, we would have to find acceptable ways to capture the vast knowledge and skills members have acquired since first qualifying. This would be a critical part of any proposed implementation plan.

I’ve seen a course that says it will help me meet the competence for ‘advanced counsellor’, should I undertake the course now?

The SCoPEd project is still in progress and the competence framework has not been agreed or adopted. Members and stakeholders are still being consulted and feedback from the January consultation is being incorporated in the work. This means it is not possible to design or offer training to meet specific areas of competence in the current draft framework.

How would the framework help a client when seeking therapy from a member working in private practice?

The framework doesn’t look specifically at private practice or any particular setting. However, if the framework were to be adopted, our vision is that it would help clients and the public to understand the minimum level of training and competence to expect from a qualified counsellor and psychotherapist. This is important in an unregulated environment, where protection of potential clients is paramount.

Are there plans to merge the professional bodies?

The SCoPEd project is a collaboration, not a merger, and all three professional bodies view SCoPEd in this way.

Is this work about moving towards statutory regulation?

We’re not aware of any current plans for statutory regulation. It is not within BACP’s remit to seek statutory regulation nor is there a direct correlation between the SCoPEd work and the likelihood of statutory regulation.

If the government considered some form of statutory regulation in the future, the outcome of SCoPEd, and the collaborative nature of SCoPEd, would put us in a better position to contribute to the clarification of the field and the setting of standards.

Who do I contact if I have any further questions?

You can email the team at scoped@bacp.co.uk and we'll get back to you.