Following my appointment in April to be the Independent Chair of the SCoPEd Oversight Committee (SOC), a number of people have been keen to know more about my views of the counselling and psychotherapy professions and what I hope to achieve as Chair.
We are very fortunate to have on the SOC, in addition to the seven CEOs, four experts by experience who help us see issues from the point of view of service users, patients and clients, as well as registrants. It’s also really good to have a representative from the Professional Standards Authority observing as there is significant read-across to their accredited registers programme as I explain below.
It’s also understandable that as I spent 25 years working for the General Medical Council (GMC), there may be an anxiety that I have an off-the-shelf model for the professions in mind, based on the medical profession, and that I will seek to smuggle it in.
Let’s get that one out of the way first. My role as Independent Chair is to bring the partner organisations together, to facilitate discussions and to support their wish for greater collaboration. There is no question of trying to transplant a medical regulatory model into the very different environment of counselling and psychotherapy – in my opinion, it just won’t happen. But what I do bring from my GMC experience is an understanding of the immense power of collaboration and cooperation across different organisations, especially where there is an aligned view on standards and outcomes for service users, patients and clients. I also bring, I hope, an awareness that an initiative of this kind, which is ground-breaking, is bound to raise questions and concerns for many registrants – and it’s an important part of the job of the SOC to put itself in the shoes of members of the professions who want to know where all this will lead. I’ll come back to that shortly but first some general reflections.
Of the many welcome social changes I have witnessed in my life so far, perhaps the greatest has been around attitudes to mental health and wellbeing. I remember, when I was first becoming aware of politics in the 1970s, hearing about a US vice-presidential candidate who had to withdraw his nomination when it emerged that he had suffered episodes of depression – as if this was a shameful secret. Since then, and especially in the last 10-15 years, there is much greater acceptance of mental ill-health or emotional distress as an unavoidable part of life for many, even a majority of, people at some time.
There is also, importantly, much greater understanding of what can be done to promote better mental health. A few years ago I chaired a GMC staff wellbeing group for a while and I found a 2008 report from the then Chief Scientific Adviser called ‘Mental Capital and Wellbeing: Making the most of ourselves in the 21st century’ an invaluable source of ideas. It’s still well worth seeking out if you haven’t come across it already.
As for what SCoPEd can achieve, that is a matter for the seven partner organisations themselves to determine (and consult on), not for me. But let me sketch out a few possibilities.
First, there is already a need, and it will inevitably grow larger, for potential service users, patients and clients to be able to distinguish properly trained professionals (those who are members of the seven partner organisations) from people who may legitimately choose to call themselves counsellors or psychotherapists but in fact have done a few days or even hours training. Because those titles are not protected, that is where the PSA’s accredited registers come in, as only a properly trained professional can be listed. The PSA have been taking stock of how accredited registers are currently used, and they recognise that they need to be better promoted and more visible.
Second, with greater visibility of accredited registers (which can only be a good thing) will come demand for greater clarity and transparency around different types and length of training, different practice modalities, different competences and capabilities that practitioners have. In other words, exactly what it is that sits underneath the fact of being on an accredited register, and why. No one in the professions should be afraid of being asked that question and no one should be unable to answer it.
Third, the demand for the services of trained counselling and psychotherapy professionals in the NHS, independent practice and the public and private sector is almost certainly going to increase significantly, as the extent of the damage to the nation’s mental health caused by COVID-19 becomes apparent.
So for me, much of the value in SCoPEd is in enabling the professions to get ahead of the curve and, working together, to be able to respond to that demand for information and understanding in the next couple of years and beyond. I think that presenting a joined-up face to the world, while at the same time being clear that there are and will continue to be different traditions, modalities and trainings within the professions, sends an incredibly important message about the value of solidarity and community. If we have all learned just one thing in the past 18 months it is surely that.
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Views expressed in this article are the views of the writer and not necessarily the views of BACP. Publication does not imply endorsement of the writer’s views. Reasonable care has been taken to avoid errors but no liability will be accepted for any errors that may occur.