Therapists vs Quacks – A coming schism at the UK Council for Psychotherapy?

Last week I commented on a tendency for some psychotherapists, particularly among those formed in the 60s era of mysticism, to assume the mantle of guru, wise man, and in some cases cult leader. From recent bulletins out of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, it looks like the gurus and other assorted quacks may have to make a decision soon about whether they’re willing to behave like accountable professionals.

A bit of background. After the shelving of plans by the former Labour government to bring in state regulation for counsellors and psychotherapists, the Coalition announced that self-regulating bodies like the UKCP could apply to the Professional Standards Authority (PSA) for accreditation – so long as they’re doing a good enough job of regulating their members and handling complaints.

The UKCP needs this accreditation. Their main rival body, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) is already PSA-accredited and it won’t be long before any therapist wanting work from the NHS, social services, schools or universities will need to belong to a PSA-accredited body.

Key to achieving this is the UKCP’s new Central Complaints Process (CCP). Previously, the various member organisations (OMs) that belong to the UKCP did their own complaint-handling, frequently in a manner dominated by “crony-ism and amateurism” (not my words, but the words of the former UKCP Chair). The result was that all manner of rogues were able to get away with all kinds of misconduct. Jungian pueri aeturni playing at being prophets. “Body psychotherapists” who were rather too keen on other peoples’ bodies. Cults masquerading as therapy groups.

When the CCP was first deployed, with a Jungian analyst called John Smalley, it was a total shambles. After three years of delay and prevarication, the UKCP decided he had committed serious misconduct, but declined to issue a sanction. Not even a caution.

Since then a steady stream of cases have started coming before the CCP. Subsequent complaints seem to have been more rigorously-handled, and therapists are now being sanctioned for misconduct. I’ve been scathing about the UKCP’s complaint-handling in the past, and don’t apologise for that. Even so, I think it’s important to recognise that changes have taken place.

Change is an important concept in psychotherapy. Let’s hear some words on the topic from Professor Balboa of the Apollo Creed Institute of Systemic Practice.

But there’s a snag. Of the various organisational members, not all of them are signed up to the CCP. In a recent UKCP bulletin, the chief executive David Pink expressed his frustration at the slow progress.

The indication we were given is that our [PSA] 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!

If one were cynical about the “mañana” organisations, one might query whether their procrastination about signing up to the CCP may be because somebody might…oh, I don’t know….use it? One might be nervous about an offer to clean out the closet if it’s stuffed to the brim with skeletons.

At the other end of the therapy spectrum, imagine you’re, say, a psychotherapist working at a children’s home, or a family therapist in a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service. You need that PSA-accreditation to keep working, not “mañana” but right away.

And on that note, here’s a hot-off-the-press bulletin from the chair and chief executive. From the outset, they make it clear that this is big news.

We wouldn’t normally send a bulletin on a single topic discussed by the Board. But we felt it was important to let you know of the significant decision made about you and CCP at its meeting on 19 July.

What follows next carries the thud of a foot being firmly put down.

The UKCP Board has unanimously decided to make CCP a condition of individual registration with UKCP as from 1 October 2013, and has authorised the both of us to take any necessary action to make this happen. Each trustee had their say at the meeting and this was the unanimous decision of all, as well as being the view of the non-voting vice-chairs.

The board wants to emphasise that while the decision about all individual members of the UKCP register becoming part of CCP has been made, we are not intending to coerce organisational members in any way. We still would like to talk to those UKCP organisations who have not signed up and allay their concerns so they can feel more comfortable about their members’ coming under the scheme.

While “we are not intending to coerce organisational members” sounds nice and reassuring, there’s a link to a feedback page. Some of that feedback is pretty eye-opening.

− “It seems crazy to me that OMs are prevaricating on this matter at the expense
of the majority who are signed up to CCP. Should UKCP therefore give those
organisations a deadline by which to sign up or resign from the UKCP umbrella
− “I would strongly recommend that we give any defaulters a time limit to
conform to UKCP requirements to sign up.”
− “Please don’t jeopardise our voluntary registration because a few OMs won’t
be held by your complaints procedures. Give them a deadline to sign up and
commit to UKCP like the rest of us or leave and let us get on with registration.”

− “It is totally unacceptable to continue to wait on member organisations – for the
UKCP to have credibility and teeth it needs a kitemarked register – and I for one
am totally disgusted that still, that still! – in July 2013 the UKCP is not in a position
to be ready to be first choice to be able to hold a register – what a total travesty – I
am appalled. Get on with it! – get hold of the organisation and for those who don’t
understand the times – let them go.”

Back in January I pondered what would happen if the UKCP allowed itself to fall behind the BACP when it comes to PSA accreditation, and made the following prediction.

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.

From reading some of the feedback, it sounds as though that has already started.

− “If UKCP does not get on with registering then I will have to leave and join
BACP who seem much further ahead.”

– “We would very much welcome the CCP to extend to cover those trainees
who have been cleared by their UKCP Training Organisation to commence
Clinical Practice and are doing so within the TO’s protocols and standards of
supervisory care and limits to practice. This would also eventually help to stop
the “bleed” of trainees who go instead to BACP because their placement
demands they are covered by a central complaints process such as that
which is universal across BACP.”

I’d congratulate myself on getting the prediction right, but you really didn’t have to be Nostradamus to see that one coming.

The feedback also contains some pieces of bluster from the “mañana” organisations, but a hefty number of voices seem to be coming back with the message, “Shape up or ship out.”

And shape up or ship out they will have to do, sooner or later. Probably sooner, actually. If a migration has started to the BACP, then the UKCP really doesn’t have the luxury of time. This is only a rough guess on my part, but I suspect that some will shape up and fall into line. In doing so they may well inadvertently result in the CCP having a busy caseload for a while. Meanwhile others may ship out to wherever quacks and cultists go when somebody suggests the Emperor should put some clothes on. For those UKCP-registered psychotherapists who genuinely do act like accountable helping professionals, their departure is unlikely to be missed.


2 thoughts on “Therapists vs Quacks – A coming schism at the UK Council for Psychotherapy?

  1. Brilliant piece by Nostradamus. Thanks Z for articulating the process for everyone. It amply demonstrates the frustration that people are feeling. Not so long ago there was an article by the Chair published in the UKCP magazine ‘The Three levels of Belonging’ in which he encouraged people to stay with their ‘ukcp tribe’. It seems that taking that advice so publicly broadcast may have been detrimental to progress as a professional ….but then……er…..well do I really need to say more?

  2. If the organisational members of UKCP were actually just being obstructive I would support your attack. However the prime concern is that CCP as it stands is sloppy and *not rigorous enough*. It is not tied to a specific code that is explicit about what constitutes malpractice, instead relying on the woolly concept of “fitness to practice”, with reference to long and complex documents that get bogged down in circular definitions. This is not good news for anyone bringing a complaint. Individuals within UKCP are working hard to get CCP tightened up These are not quacks, but ethically concerned professionals who want a regulatory system that is clear, fair and works.

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