The hollow shell of voluntary “regulation” for psychotherapy

Earlier this week I published an appalling press release from Regent’s University London. A psychotherapist, Andrea Scherzer, was struck off by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy due to alcohol addiction, combined with what reads like a spectacular failure to engage honestly with her misconduct hearings at the BACP. Despite this, she continues to teach psychotherapy at Regent’s.

What does this say about the new system of “accredited voluntary registration” for counselling and psychotherapy?

It says to me that it’s a miserable failure.

When asked why they were employing a struck-off psychotherapist, I received the following reply from Regent’s.

As Andrea Scherzer was not an accredited member, the BACP have the right to suspend membership but do not have authority to suspend therapeutic practice or her employment as a teacher, which is left to the University to decide. The School of Psychotherapy & Psychology became aware of Andrea Scherzer’s membership suspension in November 2013 by reading about it on the BACP website. An internal investigation was then carried out at the University in December last year which reported its findings in January of this year. The investigation concluded that there was no reason for Andrea not to continue in the role.

Their statement is inaccurate in that Ms Scherzer was not simply suspended from the BACP register, but had her membership withdrawn.

I asked the BACP what they thought of Regent’s statement. They told me.

In the interests of public protection we publish any upheld decisions under our Professional Conduct and Article 12.6 procedures, following exhaustion of those procedures. Once we have placed the information in the public domain, the decision is accessible with a view to public protection.

What this response demonstrates is that the statement by Regent’s is essentially correct. Galling and horrifying, but correct. The BACP can take away her registration from their organisation, and they can put information about her conduct on their website for public protection. But it’s simply a statement for information only. Legally (morally may be another matter) Regent’s are entirely within their rights to say, “Yes, we know she’s gone through a lengthy hearing that’s concluded she’s not fit to practice psychotherapy……but la-la-la we don’t care.”

Ms Scherzer is also registered with the UK Council for Psychotherapy. They were kind enough to send me their Policy document on decisions by other organisations, which details their procedure for when a UKCP registrant is sanctioned by another body such as the BACP. They (understandably enough) can’t comment on any pending investigations though.

So, an individual can be struck off by a professional body, they could potentially (and I stress “potentially” because Ms Scherzer has a right to a fair hearing at any further proceedings) be struck off by two professional bodies…..and nobody has to take any notice.

What this suggests is that voluntary registration with no statutory backing is simply not a robust regulatory system.

And voluntary self-regulation worked so well for the financial industry and tabloid media too. Oh wait.

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