Does striking off a counsellor or psychotherapist stop them from working? (Updated results)

Back in March 2014 blog reader Jo D Baker sent me an alarming bit of number-crunching. He downloaded all the striking-off orders issued by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy from October 2005 onwards. He then did Google searches to see how many of them had online business websites still advertising themselves as counsellors or psychotherapists. He found positive results for 22% of them, which shows that self-regulation isn’t effective at removing struck-off therapists from the workplace. Scary.

I decided to update the data to the present day, and also add data from the UK Council for Psychotherapy. The new results are, well, still scary.

A few words on methodology. As when Jo compiled the original data, I haven’t included results from social networking sites such as LinkedIn, because a lot of people (me included) don’t update theirs regularly. I also added a cut-off date of August 2015, to give people a fair amount of time to take down their websites. I decided not to include any results from the Counselling Directory that were less than a year old, because some people pay their subscription annually. Though that didn’t turn out to be an issue in practice, because I didn’t find any results from there.

The striking-off orders on both the BACP and UKCP websites give both the name and location of the therapist (or in some cases with the BACP, therapy business), so when searching online for them I was able to check the location matched too, to give a high degree of confidence I hadn’t found simply a different therapist with the same name. When searching for business websites, I specifically looked for those that advertise counselling and/or psychotherapy, and not any other professional roles (e.g. life coach, complementary therapist, etc).

So, the results…

In updating Jo’s data, I found that a further 15 counsellors, psychotherapists or businesses had been struck off by the BACP since March 2014.  That brings the total number of strikings-off by the BACP to 68 over the last ten years.

When I added the numbers from the UKCP, I only found four strikings-off from the same time period, the earliest being Derek Gale in 2009. If that sounds alarmingly low, it may be worth mentioning that their Complaints and Conduct Process is a relatively recent procedure. Previously complaints were handled by UKCP member organisations rather than the UKCP themselves. The UKCP would only get involved if there was an appeal following this, through their (now-defunct) Central Final Appeals Procedure. Strikings-off by the UKCP are published in their magazine The Psychotherapist. However, the UKCP have confirmed to me that there are no such notices from 2005 up to Gale’s striking-off in 2009. It’s possible that some notices aren’t there because they were struck off by a member organisation rather than the UKCP themselves. That said, there’s also plenty of evidence that at least some of those organisations were handling complaints in a godawful fashion prior to the UKCP centralising their complaints procedure. See cases such as Geoffrey Pick or Stuart Macfarlane for therapists who committed serious sexual misconduct and still weren’t struck off.

It may also be worth noting that 3 of the 4 strikings-off by the UKCP were in the last couple of years. If three still sounds like a low number, it may be worth pointing out that the UKCP is much smaller than the BACP. The UKCP has 7,800 registrants, whereas the BACP has 41,000. I did a bit more number-crunching, and worked out that if one takes the BACP as a benchmark, and factors in the size difference of the two organisations, one would expect the UKCP to have struck off 5 or 6 therapists over a two year period. Given the very small sample sizes, I wouldn’t really call that a statistically significant difference. I’d say the UKCP numbers suggest their complaints procedure used to be rubbish, but has recently improved.

So, 68 struck off by BACP, 4 struck off by UKCP. That gives a total of 72 supposedly ex-counsellors or psychotherapists. What happened when I Googled around for them?

I was able to find online evidence that 17 of them were still practising as counsellors or psychotherapists after being struck off. That equates to 23.6% of the total, very close to Jo’s original result.

The results were also eye-opening when breaking them down between the two organisations. Of the 68 struck off by the BACP, 14 were still found to be still practising, or 20.6%. Of the four struck off by the UKCP, only one – that godawful charlatan and cult leader Derek Gale – doesn’t appear to be still advertising his services online. His Twitter profile says he’s retired.

So, that’s a one in four risk that a counsellor or psychotherapist will continue to practise after they’re struck off. If they’re from the BACP, it’s a one in five risk. For the UKCP it’s a three in four risk. If I’d only based my results from the last five years, the risk level for UKCP would have been 100%.

If anything, these results are likely to be an underestimate. It doesn’t include people who may be practising but don’t have a website. It also doesn’t include people who may have changed their name or location, perhaps due to reputational damage.

On a slightly self-congratulatory note, I can say that I didn’t find any recent results that haven’t already come to the attention of this blog. The new results from the BACP were people like Palace Gate Counselling Services or Linda Bretherton, who have previously been discussed here.

As for the three from the UKCP, they’ve also been highlighted on this blog. Julia Eastwood, struck off for failing to comply with a sanction, as well as Charles Davison and Ray Holland, both of whom were struck off for serious sexual misconduct. Incidentally, if Ray Holland (or Ray Bott-Holland, or whatever else he’ll be calling himself next week) is reading this and wants to send me another one of his spurious legal threats – Ray, feel free to send it to the usual address.

So, the take-home message from this is, if you’re seeing a counsellor or psychotherapist always, always check their registration.



12 thoughts on “Does striking off a counsellor or psychotherapist stop them from working? (Updated results)

  1. Of course it doesn’t work. Why would it, when the public are not aware that the profession isn’t regulated? Most assume it is, because, well, quite frankly, why the heck wouldn’t it be?

    Is it an actual profession or not? *scratches head* As a member of the “profession” I’m not entirely sure… As a therapist who sometimes picks up the pieces by working with clients who have been abused by other “professionals” I feel somewhat ashamed of what my “profession” is able to inflict, mostly unimpeded, on the people we are supposed to be helping.

  2. The biggest limitation of register based regulation is that it only regulates people who choose to be on the registers in question, that is true of both statutory and non-statutory registers. Counterintuitively, the ultimate sanction that the regulators can impose is to refuse to continue regulating someone, being struck of a register effectively wipes your slate clean because you no longer have any reason to pay heed to the regulations.

    On its own register based regulation is nothing more than trademarks with delusions of grandeur, you can do whatever you like just so long as you don’t infringe on one of the protected brands. The only difference between the registers you talk about above and statutory protected titles is the level of delusion involved.

    Derek Gale’s an interesting case, he was struck of the statutory register of Art Therapists before being kicked of the UKCP register and neither striking-off stopped him from practicing. The first striking off meant he could no longer use the word “Dramatherapist” to describe himself, the second meant he could no longer use the words “UKCP registered” to describe himself; his options for marketing himself were curtailed but no-one had the power to tell him stop practicing.

    • So what are the other options, Patrick?

      Name and shame

      Morally dubious, no proper process, open to abuse and scurillous actions by the disgruntled.

      Caveat Emptor

      Very limited protection

      Criminal sanction

      Draconian, likely to be ineffective

      Civil sanction

      Potentially make working as a therapist impossible due to the riisk of litigation

      I am struggling to see the upside of any of these. Your posr hints at another that I want to think about some more.

      • Civil sanction – that exists already, as people already can and do sue their therapists. One thing that concerns me is that anyone working while struck off is unlikely to have indemnity insurance, which pretty much makes them unsueable (because the costs alone from a lawsuit would likely bankrupt the average person, meaning there’s no compensation to sue for.)

        Name and shame – I work very hard at that, but it doesn’t seem to stop people working.

        Caveat emptor – It would take a large scale, well-funded information campaign to have even a hope of succeeding. I have no idea where the money would come from. It’s not as if the UKCP and BACP are rolling in piles of gold like Scrooge McDuck.

        Criminal sanction – not draconian at all. If you can be banged up for impersonating a nurse or social worker, what’s wrong with banging up people for impersonating a counsellor or psychotherapist?

  3. Caveat Emptor

    This could be made to work by adopting a proactive approach of teach the buyers to be wary, rather than a passive let the buyer beware. I argued in a guest blog that if the Professional Standards Authority was publicised enough to make it a household name, so that most people knew to look for their logo when trying to find a health or social care practitioner, then being struck off an Accredited Register really would have an impact: you might still be able to practice legally but you’d find it much harder to make a living.

    Criminal sanction

    I agree that laws aimed specifically at policing counselling and psychotherapy would have to be draconian to be watertight, but the Serious Crime Bill passed earlier sets an interesting precedent by introducing the new offence of “Controlling or coercive behaviour in an intimate or family relationship”.

    A similar law could be enacted to make “Controlling or coercive behaviour in a professional relationship” illegal, covering anyone who offers a service, not just therapists, and workplace abuse between colleagues.

  4. If an organisation hired people for social worker or nursing posts without knowing what qualifications they should be asking for then that organisation would be criminally negligent; it would be draconian to treat people who choose a counsellor without knowing what qualifications they should be asking for in the same way. If you tried to adapt the laws for social works or nurses to counselling then the changes you needed to make would render the system either Draconian or ineffective.

    If counselling were regulated like dentistry then it would be illegal to offer a service that involved listening empathically to your clients, because that’s what counsellors do (just as you can’t offer a teeth whitening service because that’s what dentists do). Effective but draconian.

    If counselling were regulated like podiatry then people would be free to offer whatever counselling services they wanted just so long as they don’t trespass on the “Counsellor” brand (just as a Foot Healthcare Practitioner can ignore the HCPC’s podiatry regulations). Non-draconian but ineffective.

    I’ve read a lot of posts saying that counselling and psychotherapy should be regulated by law, but to date I have not read a proposal for such laws that would, if used effectively, offer any more protection than the current regulatory framework of Accredited Registers would do if they were used effectively. It’s easy to point at other professions and say “If they can do it so can we”, but I’ve yet to see anybody follow through on that sentiment and propose a legal framework that is any better than the one we already have.

  5. How can you sue a therapist? I was told that it will cost me “thousands”! Is this true?

  6. If the therapist has come to the attention of a local authority or health care organisation, they can be referred to to the DBS (criminal record check) organisation, even without being criminally prosecuted.

    The relevant bit of this being:

    “Where there is concern that a person has caused harm or poses a future risk of harm to children or vulnerable adults the ISA can add them to the Barred lists which they manage. The organisations who are under a duty to make referrals include:

    Regulated activity providers;
    Personnel suppliers;
    Local authorities and Safeguarding Boards;
    Education and Library Boards;
    Health and Social Care (HSC) bodies;
    Professional Regulators and other authorities named in the legislation”

    Being on this register would stop them from being employed by organisations requiring criminal record checks.
    It’s not a lot, but it helps…

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