More on the loophole that unscrupulous psychotherapists could use to keep practising

Last week I discussed possible ways that a psychotherapist might avoid a misconduct investigation under the new system of “assured voluntary registration” (AVR). Since then I’ve been making some enquiries to the relevant professional bodies, and have had some replies.

Quick recap: after the 2010 general election the incoming Coalition government shelved plans to make counselling and psychotherapy state-regulated professions, opting instead for AVR. Under this new system, existing professional bodies such as the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and the UK Council for Psychotherapy could apply to have their self-regulating procedures accredited by the Professional Standards Authority. The BACP has already achieved PSA accreditation. The UKCP is working towards this, and has brought in a new Complaints and Conduct Process in order to comply with the standards required by the PSA. However, not all UKCP member organisations are signed up to the new process yet, and so the UKCP has not yet achieved accreditation.

Somebody recently tried to complain to the UKCP against their former therapist, making extremely serious allegations. However, the therapist had already resigned his registration, so there was nothing the UKCP could do to investigate.

I e-mailed the following scenario to the UKCP, BACP and PSA, and asked them for comment.

Is there provision to safeguard against a psychotherapist resigning from a PSA-accredited body to pre-empt an imminent complaint against them, and then perhaps later re-registering with another body?

To take a hypothetical example, in which one assumes that the UKCP has become PSA-accredited. In this example a BACP-registered psychotherapist learns that a complaint is about to be made against him. He promptly resigns from the BACP register before the complaint is made, thus preventing it from going forward. At a later date he attempts to register with the UKCP.

Under such a scenario, would the UKCP have access to a “paper trail” which would alert them to the fact that an attempt at a complaint had been made? Will there be information-sharing between the various AVR bodies with regard to such potential issues?

I got the following reply from the UKCP:

Your question about whether information sharing or paper trails form part of AVR should be addressed to the PSA. We can’t answer on their behalf. What we can do is tell you about the ways we aim to safeguard our register.

When someone applies for UKCP registration, they are asked to declare if they have been disciplined by any professional body or membership organisation responsible for regulating or licensing a health or social care profession. We investigate all declarations, contacting the body in question and taking appropriate action.

If someone has been struck off a statutory/voluntary register and applies for UKCP registration, they would have to declare this. We would then refer the details to our Professional Conduct Committee for advice. We would then make a decision to grant registration, grant registration with conditions, or refuse to grant registration.

UKCP’s complaints and conduct process prevents a registrant from resigning once we have received notification of a complaint or concern. If someone is in good standing at the point of resigning we cannot prevent them leaving; this is the case for other regulators.

As far as we know, what we do is similar to other registration bodies – statutory or otherwise. [emphasis mine]

The UKCP is correct that if somebody resigned prior to a complaint being made, other regulators wouldn’t open an investigation either. But here’s a difference: if a nurse resigns from the Nursing and Midwifery Council, they’re effectively striking themselves off. “Nurse” is a protected title and you have to be NMC-registered to use it and to apply for jobs. This isn’t the case for “counsellor” or “psychotherapist”. Because they’re not protected titles they can carry on working regardless of whether or not they’re still registered.

I got a particularly interesting reply from the BACP:

Any BACP member complained against is prevented from resigning from membership in order to avoid accountability under our Professional Conduct Procedure. However, this only currently applies if a complaint has already been received by the Registrar. A former member cannot be held to account under the current procedure if the complaint is received after resignation of membership.

We are currently engaged in the process of changing this procedure. This change will be implemented at the earliest possible opportunity and will enable us in future to hold former members to account for their practice whilst they were in membership, subject to the conduct procedure in effect at the time.

We publish the outcomes of all conduct cases where the complaint has been upheld (either in full or in part) on our website, where they are available to the public, as well as other professional bodies.

I would like to add that this response relates specifically to BACP – we can’t speak for or on behalf of the Professional Standards Authority or other accredited registers.

I’m sorry that I’m unable to give you any idea of timings, but if you would like me to I’m happy to get in touch with you with relevant updates as I’m aware of them. [emphasis mine]

So, the BACP are changing the rules? This makes a lot of sense. If the jurisdiction of a complaint is based on whether they were registered at the time of the alleged incident rather than at the time of the complaint, then that makes it easier to generate a paper trail that might alert other bodies.

Also, given that a lot of people who use psychotherapists hire one privately, it’s also worth emphasising the value not just of a paper trail but also a Google trail. If somebody’s fitness-to-practice ruling is up on the relevant body’s website (or if some sneaky blogger has broadcast the details – hi there!) then a member of the public searching for information about that therapist could be forewarned.

Since the BACP appear to have made a very sensible decision, I hope that other AVR bodies will follow suit.

Finally, here’s the response from the PSA:

Information sharing between holders of Accredited Voluntary Registers (AVRs) in the interests of the public is an important part of accreditation and is an explicit requirement of our standards.

If a registrant is removed from an AVR and subsequently applies to join a different AVR, this must be disclosed to the second AVR and must be taken into account in any decision. Withholding such information would be a clear breach of our standards.

In the example provided, the Professional Standards Authority would expect AVRs to work in partnership to protect the public, even if no formal complaint has been investigated.


6 thoughts on “More on the loophole that unscrupulous psychotherapists could use to keep practising

  1. Nice well balanced information for everyone. Thanks Z.

  2. The main problem seems to be the member organisations themselves particularly those of an analytic persuasion. They assume that if a client complains about a therapist then the problem lies with the client in terms of their pathology. The complaint is seen as a re-enactment of the client’s primary scenario. In my experience of making a complaint I was not treated with respect and the whole procedure was weighted in favour of the therapist. The organisation did not uphold my complaint and the whole process had taken a year. I was given a month to appeal and the response to my appeal was further disregard of my experiences. I was then given one month from the appeal to register a complaint with the UKCP and quite frankly I had no resources left to do so ( financial,emotional or physical). The whole process of complaints needs to be taken more seriously. I am a registered UKCP registered psychotherapist myself so I am still trying to come to terms with the extremely dark side of our profession and the level of collusion and protection of colleagues that is taking place.

  3. Google-fu is powerful Fu. I would not suggest anyone and everyone takes to the blogosphere to air their grievances – it’s all too easy to come across as an embittered and crazy internet looney – however, well written, well sourced and neutrally presented accounts of one’s experiences will lay like a minefield, waiting for a prospective employer or client to collide with.

    Stick to the incontrovertible, documented truth and perhaps, just maybe the Truth will prevail.

  4. A highly unethical (in my opinion) therapist I know of resigned from the BACP just before I managed to get a complaint in about shocking behaviour (serious confidentiality breaches, victimising, harassing and defaming women who complained about her guru-wannabe therapist/supervisor/boss having tried to get their clothes off). I suspect the BACP would have been quite frustrated about the blatancy of her reasons for resignation. She then bragged that the complaint lodged against her wasn’t taken up by the BACP…when she knows full well that her resignation is what stopped it. She publically states that she resigned due to doubts about the BACP’s police-like stance (fails to mention the fact that she was actually parrying a legitimate complaint regarding several breaches of the Ethical Framework). Well yes, if I was a counsellor who was as dodgy as hell I would have problems with the BACP’s professional conduct procedures. But I’m not, and I don’t.
    I very much welcome the potential change in the BACP’s policy. Nefarious therapists should not be allowed to dodge accountability for such disgraceful behaviour; we need to protect clients, not look after therapists. Clients come first. Always.
    Keep up the great work Z 🙂

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