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 for this project is to find a shared way of representing the therapeutic work of counsellors and psychotherapists - which we know profoundly changes people’s lives. The current landscape is rich in different traditions, practices and associated titles, but it’s also confusing for employers, commissioners, clients, patients and trainees.

If we can agree a shared framework which respects our different traditions, practices and training routes but which upholds common standards, we’re in a stronger position to talk to external stakeholders about opportunities for all our members. In this way we hope to increase access to counselling and psychotherapy for clients and patients in recognition that they have diverse needs and access therapy in many different settings. We hope this framework will maximise paid employment opportunities for members.

As collectively BACP, BPC and UKCP represent more than 65,000 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. The fact professional bodies are working together to agree shared standards increases confidence and credibility in our members.

What work is currently being undertaken on the framework?

Following the consultation with our members in January 2019, the Technical Group (Tech Group) and Expert Reference Group (ERG) have been working on integrating the feedback from members and stakeholders into the framework. More than 3,500 comments were analysed along with overarching themes from emails that were received by the collaboration organisations.

In response to member feedback, the ERG was expanded in August 2019 to be more inclusive of a wider range of voices – including those from a person-centred background.

What has changed in the next draft framework?

The Tech Group and ERG revisited the existing mapped evidence, consulted new evidence, listened to feedback and made changes to the language and framework content to ensure it’s more inclusive and addresses specific concerns.

What is the next step?

The next iteration of the framework has incorporated feedback from member and stakeholder consultation. As an additional quality check and to ensure that consultation feedback has been rigorously incorporated, a small group were asked to comment on whether the work done on the revised framework reflects the member feedback and whether it has been presented in the clearest possible way. Once this is incorporated we will share this for further engagement with our membership.

Who is in the group?

The three partner organisations in the collaboration each selected people for the additional quality check. The group includes internal divisions and committees, certain members of staff (of each partner organisation), members of each of the Boards of Governors and external contacts such as training providers and academic researchers. The range of the group seeks to ensure that a broad variety of expertise and understanding supports the rigour of the process of assessing the work undertaken in the revised framework. 

What has the group been asked to do?

The role of this small group is to compare the previous version of the framework with the latest iteration and to comment on whether the feedback in the consultation has been incorporated. Their involvement is to support the rigour of the work that has been undertaken by the Tech Group and the ERG. To ensure this, the group have been given a series of questions asking:

  • whether the revisions in the document faithfully capture the concerns and feedback raised in response to the 2nd iteration of the framework
  • specific comment about whether feedback has been incorporated has also been sought in all the areas identified within the consultation as needing addressing:
    • titles and hierarchy
    • modality and language
    • complexity
    • practice standards 
    • gaps and omissions

Finally, the group have been asked whether the narrative and presentation of the new documents are sufficiently clear to avoid confusion.

How are we using the feedback?

Each organisation is collating and organising the feedback from its own members of the group. Every item of feedback will be considered by the Tech Group and any resulting recommendations for changes in presentation of the framework, or that consultation feedback has not been sufficiently incorporated, will be presented to the ERG and Steering Group. 

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 attitudes that are key to working effectively in a specified area.

By mapping existing competences and associated practice standards, the SCoPEd framework identifies the knowledge, skills and attitudes that are relevant to counselling and psychotherapy. The project mapped existing competences across the field to ensure the most comprehensive results.

Competence frameworks are a starting point and we recognise 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; including employers and commissioners.

What are practice standards?

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

Due to the complexity of the work and the focus on the three participating bodies, it was decided to limit the mapping of practice standards to the three participating organisations. This could, of course, be extended at a later date.

Who is undertaking the work?

There are three key groups:

  • a Technical Group (Tech Group), consisting of representatives of the three organisations who have drafted this framework. The Tech 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 Tech 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, with experience of both Higher Education and Further Education, 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. Individually the ERG represents a range of different counselling approaches to ensure inclusivity.

  • 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 first draft framework, published in January 2019, was the result of extensive mapping of the current competences and occupational standards within the fields of counselling and psychotherapy. The framework looked to map the competences of a counsellor or psychotherapist at the point of completing their core training.

Following feedback from members and stakeholders, the Tech Group and ERG revisited the mapping of competences and practice standards. We’re confident the further work we’re doing shows more clearly that it’s the combination of competences, practice requirements, length and level of training and experience that together indicate a differentiation between groups of therapists across three levels.

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

Why can’t BACP promote its members as things currently are?

We actively promote our members using the current membership categories.

Beyond our own membership the difficulty is that there is no common framework for training and standards across professional bodies. Terms such as ‘accredited’ and ‘registered’ mean different things in different organisations. Having a shared framework will actively help us when campaigning for roles and opportunities. Experience shows us the current differences in training and standards is confusing and does cause difficulty when talking about our field to those outside our own memberships.

We also know that title alone does not indicate whether somebody is more highly trained or more experienced. The advantage of a shared framework is that it provides a shared benchmark against which these differences can be mapped and explained.

Where do existing members fit in the framework?

We’re confident all our members would sit within the current draft framework. We believe the framework can represent the full breadth of knowledge and skills that all our members bring to the profession.

When a final framework has been agreed, we’ll be able to look at how we might embed the framework into our existing membership categories, policies and processes. Until that time, we’re unable to answer this question in relation to a specific individual with their training and experience.

Are all modalities being taken into consideration with this work?

The aspiration of the SCoPEd project is to agree a generic, shared core framework of competences and associated practice standards for working with adults. 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 Tech Group and ERG have worked on the language of the competences to ensure it’s as inclusive as possible. Two new members were 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; this project simply maps this differentiation.

We’ve found evidence, for example, 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. Both of which are captured in the framework. We also appreciate that the first iteration of the framework does not capture post qualifying training and experience.

We’re seeking to address the concerns about hierarchy and post-qualifying training in the next draft framework.

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

There’s clear evidence in the draft framework that there are different entry points and progression points within the profession in terms of competences and practice standards.

The 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 and as their career progresses; like 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 continues to be an overlap.

The objective of SCoPEd was 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 and this was the starting point for the project. However, when reviewing the available research literature, it became apparent that this methodology 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 criteria 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.

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

The SCoPEd project between BACP, BPC and UKCP arose from an existing collaboration - the Collaboration of Counselling and Psychotherapy Professions (CCPP) - which has been meeting for several years to discuss areas of interest. This in itself, marked a significant change in the way professional bodies worked with each other.

This collaboration is a starting point as we continue to build relationships. Other stakeholders, including organisations with PSA accredited registers, have been invited to comment throughout the SCoPEd consultation processes, and we aim to continue to liaise with them.

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’s 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?

We believe, if there’s agreement to take this forward, it would put us in a better position to promote members’ skills. It would allow us to clearly articulate to multiple audiences the huge range of skills our therapists have. One of the key aims of this project is to create more paid employment opportunities for our members. We believe this could be possible by enhancing the understanding of what our members offer to a wider range of audiences who may not fully understand the field. We want to enhance work opportunities for all our members and raise awareness of the significant contribution that counsellors and psychotherapists make to changing lives. We want to recognise the value that you 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 it would empower us to talk about the skills and knowledge of all our members to those who find it difficult to navigate the complexities of the current landscape.

How will a shared framework help clients?

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.

How are members being asked to share their views?

Members were consulted after the first mapping phase in January 2019. We will continue to engage with members as we progress the work.
We're planning further member engagement which will include online chats, videos, presentations, email bulletins, focus groups; please get involved in the conversations. 

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 framework is still a work in progress.

At this stage no decisions have been made about adoption of the framework and will not be made without further consultation. 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 plan.

What is the impact on members who work in private practice?

The framework doesn’t look specifically at any particular setting rather it is intended to be inclusive of all settings. The framework encompasses all members including those in private practice.

Why does the framework exclude vocational training routes, particularly those at level 4?

The framework explicitly values and recognises vocational qualifications, such as level 4, as an entry to the framework. This is one of the defining features of the framework unlike other professions where a degree is the entry point. The SCoPEd framework will enable us to represent the skills of those in the Therapist A column better and more strongly than ever before, as well as offering clearer progression routes or ‘gateways’ for those who want to do further training.

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?

There are no current plans for statutory regulation. It is not within BACP’s remit to seek statutory regulation nor is there any direct relationship 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.