Back in January I warned of a potential crisis at the UK Council for Psychotherapy. Unlike doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers or, for that matter, chiropodists, there is no statutory regulator for psychotherapists. There are only self-regulating bodies like the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). When the Coalition took office, they shelved plans for state-regulation in favour of “voluntary assured registration”, whereby organisations like the UKCP and BACP could be accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA). But only if they were doing a good job of handling complaints and dealing with rogue therapists.
The BACP has already achieved PSA accreditation. The UKCP has not – and for good reason. The UKCP acts as an umbrella body for 75 psychotherapy organisations. These organisational members (“OMs”) have in the past each had their own separate complaints procedure, some of which are shockingly awful. Patients looking to make a complaint have found that they can’t find out how to make a complaint, or that an organisation might not follow its own procedures, or they might be greeted with hostility and unhelpfulness. In some organisations, patients have even been told that if their complaint is rejected then they’ll have to pay the cost of the investigation!
The disregard for safeguarding has been absolutely appalling. For years, people raised concerns with the UK Association of Humanistic Psychology Practitioners about Derek Gale. He was running a therapy cult in which he sexually, physically, emotionally and financially abused his clients. Their complaints fell on deaf ears. The UKCP eventually struck him off, but only after he was first struck off as an arts therapist by the Health Professions Council.
Or there’s Geoffrey Pick of the Arbours Association. He was found to have committed serious sexual misconduct with an NHS patient. The NHS trust admitted liability and settled out-of-court for five-figure damages and an unreserved apology. The patient remains deeply traumatised by the experience and continues to receive therapy for this. The Arbours Association simply suspended him for a year and then allowed him to re-register with them as a psychotherapist. In any other profession, anything other than a striking-off would have been unthinkable.
Unsurprisingly, the PSA is not going to rubberstamp this. In an attempt to improve standards, the UKCP has developed a new Complaints and Conducts Process (CCP) to take over complaints-handling from the member organisations. The first time it was used for a Jungian analyst called John Smalley. It was an absolute shambles, taking over three years to decide he had committed serious misconduct (his member organisation, the Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists, had simply declared there was “no case to answer”) but they decided not to sanction him anyway. He now seems to have quit psychotherapy.
Since then two psychotherapists have been sanctioned and one suspended under the CCP. These appear to have been handled much more rigorously and professionally than the Smalley case (though Derek Gale remains the only psychotherapist ever struck off by the UKCP in recent years). The trouble is though, not all the member organisations have signed up to it. Back in December 2012, the UKCP chief executive David Pink complained,
I am disappointed that many of our member organisations seem to be reluctant to engage with the central complaints scheme…By this time next year we need everyone to be signed up to the central complaints or in the process to becoming signed up. By then, other leading reputable therapy organisations (including BPC and BACP) are likely to be fully PSA accredited. Employers, referrers, commissioners and clients will begin to expect practitioners to be on a PSA-accredited register as a minimum requirement. We must not fall behind.
In January I wrote about what would happen if the UKCP organisations failed to sign up, and hence the UKCP couldn’t achieve PSA accreditation.
The UKCP have been failing for years to protect the public from rogue therapists. It now looks like they’re having trouble getting their member organisations to sign up to their new complaint system…No wonder they’re getting worried that rival bodies like the BACP will get the PSA accreditation and they won’t.
If that does happen, the results will be utterly predictable. All the reputable psychotherapists will promptly sign up with the BACP, leaving the UKCP to shrivel into a rump organisation housing the quacks, hucksters and chancers of the therapy world.
So, how’s that going? Again, David Pink gives the answer, in the latest UKCP bulletin.
But there is one area which has attracted [the PSA's] particular concern – that not all our individual members are covered under UKCP’s complaints and conduct process (CCP). The indication we were given is that our application is at risk because we are unable at present to declare when, or even if, we will have all UKCP registrants covered by CCP…Only one or two organisations have expressed fundamental concerns about CCP in principle. But there are many other organisations who have said they will join, probably, sometime soon – mañana!
I think I know the “mañana” of which he speaks. Back in May 2012 when I was investigating the John Smalley case, I contacted the Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists who had dismissed the subsequently-proved claims of misconduct. I asked them if they planned to join the CCP. This was their reply.
Since the UKCP Central Complaints Process is not yet finalised, it is too early to say if IGAP will sign up to it or not, but is likely to do so if it is felt to match our professional standards and has nothing that contradicts our existing Code of Ethics.
Or, to put it another way, mañana!
Incidentally, if you go to the IGAP website, there’s no information at all about how to make a complaint. When I asked for a copy of their Code of Ethics (which also isn’t on the site) they didn’t send me one. They did however admit that they haven’t sanctioned a therapist for misconduct in years.
I’ve been harshly critical of the UKCP in the past couple of years, and I don’t apologise for that. However, to be fair to them they do now have a system in place for dealing with misconduct. and which after a dreadful start now seems to be getting results. But it can only truly work if everyone is signed up to it.
Clearly, there are now two possible futures for the UKCP. There are those who see a future in which its practitioners are accountable and where a UKCP registration is a stamp of reassurance for the public. However, there seems to be also those who may be happy for the quacks, incompetent, cultists and outright abusers of the therapy world to carry on with free rein, even if this means that the UKCP becomes officially second-rate to rival bodies like the BACP.
Of course, of these two possible futures, in only one outcome could the UKCP genuinely expect to have a future.