What kind of regulation for counselling and psychotherapy?

On this blog, I’ve highlighted the need for statutory regulation for counselling and psychotherapy. This is demonstrated by cases such as Palace Gate, where a counselling firm was struck off by the BACP due to 30 proven allegations, but has no legal impediment to stay in business. And indeed, still is in business.

What I haven’t talked about so much is what kind of regulation might work. Time to muster some thoughts.

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Strange goings-on at counselling training provider

In August 2014 the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy withdrew the membership of Chrysalis Courses Ltd, which provided training in counselling and hypnotherapy. Allegations were upheld over failure to provide appropriate feedback to coursework, and the company was heavily criticised for failing to respond to the allegations or to engage with the complaints process. According to the BACP the company was dissolved in May 2014.

However, there’s still a website up and running for Chrysalis Courses, advertising training in counselling and hypnotherapy. So what’s going on here?

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Exeter church plays Pontius Pilate over Palace Gate abuse case

In recent months I’ve covered the Palace Gate abuse case, in which the two directors of Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter, were struck off by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. John Clapham was found to have taken sexual advantage of two women during therapy sessions. His co-director Lindsey Talbott then aided him in a lengthy campaign of harassment and defamation against the complainants.

Palace Gate Counselling Service rents its premises in the Palace Gate Centre from South Street Baptist Church. Because counselling has only voluntary self-regulation rather than state regulation, Clapham and Talbott have been able to continue running their firm despite the striking-off order. Which is not to say their business hasn’t been impeded. Outside agencies have stopped referring clients there. Fundraisers have pulled their support. Even so, they’re still there at the Palace Gate Centre.

Which begs the question, why haven’t South Street Baptist Church evicted them from the premises? I now have a statement from the church.

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Struck-off Exeter counsellors also running services in Plymouth and Taunton

I recently blogged about Palace Gate Counselling Service, whose Exeter-based directors John Clapham and Lindsey Talbott have just been struck off by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Under their trading name Phoenix Counselling Services, a whopping 30 allegations were found proved against them, including sexual abuse during therapy by Clapham.

Palace Gate Counselling Service are still going despite this. Indeed, their company blog still has a spectacularly libellous blog post online about the two women who complained. A little suggestion, Mr Clapham and Ms Talbott. If you’re objecting to being called a ‘therapeutic cult’, it’s generally not a good idea to make long, rambling public statements claiming to be under attack by nefarious people for vague reasons. It kind of makes you look a bit cultish. Continue reading

BREAKING NEWS: Exeter counselling “cult” struck off by British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

In February 2014 I commented on a public statement by Palace Gate Counselling Service (also known as Phoenix Counselling Service), an Exeter-based organisation that took the bizarre step of making a lengthy blog post condemning two therapists who have made complaints against them. They stated that these two therapists have accused them of running a “therapeutic cult” and that this was the subject of a hearing at the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. These hearings appear to have triggered their resignation from the BACP, though the hearings continued regardless of their resignation.

Palace Gate claim to be deeply dissatisfied with how the BACP have handled the allegations. The outcome of the hearing has not yet been published. However, Palace Gate have made a new online statement in which they confirm that allegations have been found proved and they have been struck off. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Exeter counselling “cult” condemns British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy

The story so far…in February an Exeter-based counselling service, Palace Gate Counselling (also trading as Phoenix Counselling) took the unusual step of publishing a lengthy blog post, “The Conflict”. They stated that two other therapists have accused them of running a “therapeutic cult” (which they strongly deny) and that they were close to a disciplinary hearing against their firm. They didn’t state in “The Conflict” who the hearing was with, but it was clear from elsewhere on their blog that it was with the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Today, Palace Gate have published a follow-up post, “Our Service, the BACP and the regulation debate”. As with the original post, it’s rather lengthy, but I’ll attempt to summarise it here: Continue reading

The Exeter counselling service denying “cult” allegations – Palace Gate responds

Last week I wrote about Palace Gate Counselling Service (also known as Phoenix Counselling Service), a firm in Exeter which recently made an online announcement that they are facing complaints from two therapists who accuse them of running a “therapeutic cult”. They state that these complainants have (unsuccessfully) reported them to a number of agencies, including the police, Adult Safeguarding, the Employment Tribunal Service and the Advertising Standards Authority.

Palace Gate strongly deny any wrongdoing, and accuse the complainants of acting out of commercial motivations. They state that there is a misconduct hearing pending, but decline to say who with. However, it appears to be with the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

The dispute seems to have triggered a decision by Palace Gate not to renew their membership of the BACP.

Since then I’ve had a couple of responses from Palace Gate via the comments threads to various blog posts, so I’ll collate them here. Continue reading

BACP closes regulatory loophole

A few weeks ago I wrote about a loophole that could enable an unscrupulous psychotherapist to evade a misconduct hearing. Of the various professional bodies, it usually isn’t possible to bring a complaint against a practitioner who has resigned their registration prior to the complaint being made. Admittedly this is true for other professions such as nursing. But there’s a difference in that “nurse” is a protected title and in order to practice you have to be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council. Any nurse who resigns in anticipation of a complaint is effectively striking themselves off.

This isn’t true of psychotherapy. “Psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not protected titles, and although various professional bodies exist (the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the UK Council for Psychotherapy, the British Psychoanalytic Council etc) there’s no legal obligation to belong to one of them. So, if a counsellor or psychotherapist gets wind that a complaint of misconduct is about to be made, they can just resign from their professional body and carry on practising. No complaint can then be made, therefore there’s no record of any safeguarding concerns that could put vulnerable adults or children at risk.

Just so people know why I mentioned this particular loophole, it’s because the above scenario isn’t a hypothetical one. It’s happened. On more than one occasion by the sound of it.

I previously had an e-mail from the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, which is the UK’s largest psychotherapy body. They said they were “currently engaged in the process of changing this procedure.” It now appears they’ve done exactly that.

The BACP have published the following amendment to their Professional Conduct Procedure.

1. Page 1, paragraph 1.3 ‘Complaints against non-members’ is now replaced with:

1.3 Complaints against non-members / former members

a) The Association cannot deal with complaints against individuals or organisations that were not member/registrants of the Association at the time of the alleged misconduct.

b) The Association can deal with complaints made against a former member/registrant if that former member/registrant was a member at the time to which the complaint relates, subject to the provisions of paragraph 1.5.

c) Members/registrants of the Association referred to herein will be deemed to include former members/registrants.

d) Paragraph 1.3 b) only applies to members/registrants whose membership was current at the time of the adoption of this revised paragraph 1.3 by the Association by resolution of its Board of Governors pursuant to 5.1 of the Standing Orders of the Association on the 20th day of September 2013.n [emphasis added]

That should prevent any unethical practitioners from thinking they can avoid a BACP hearing through a just-in-the-nick-of-time resignation. This is welcome news, and I hope the other professional bodies will follow suit.

There’s been a couple of other developments recently with regard to professional regulation in psychotherapy. Under the previous Labour government there were plans to make counselling and and psychotherapy state-regulated professions under the auspices of the Health Professions Council (now the Health and Care Professions Council) which already regulates clinical psychologists and arts therapists. This was shelved by the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in favour of regulation-lite or “assured voluntary registration” where the existing professional bodies could apply to be accredited by the Professional Standards Authority. So far only the BACP has achieved this accreditation.

In July Geraint Davies MP tabled an early day motion, calling for the previous plan to be reinstated.

That this House notes that anyone can set themselves up as a counsellor or psychotherapist without training or experience with no recourse for the patient if something goes wrong; further notes that there are more than 50,000 registered counsellors or psychotherapists and an unknown number unregistered; further notes that millions of people, often with mental health problems who are therefore vulnerable and at risk, are being given therapy in an unregulated industry with no uniform code of conduct or ethics; and calls on the Government to regulate counsellors and psychotherapists by bringing them into the jurisdiction of the Health and Care Professions Council.

So far 53 MPs have signed it: mostly Labour, though with a fair sprinkling of MPs from the other parties.

Back when HPC regulation was first mooted, there was a small but very noisy campaign by certain psychotherapists who predicted that the sky would fall in if psychotherapists had to be accountable for their actions in the same way as doctors, nurses, social workers or just about any other profession that routinely works with vulnerable people.  I’ve previously (and only semi-jokingly) referred to those campaigners as “the worst bunch of malevolent hippies since the Dharma Initiative in Lost.”

Their argument was essentialy that state regulation would bring in “market values” to psychotherapy. If that argument sounds oxymoronic, then…well, that’s because it is. They used a lot of left-wing language to argue against regulation, but essentially what they were saying was that psychotherapists should be left to regulate themselves, much in the same way financial services and the tabloid media were. And we all know how well that ended.

If you’re wondering about the commitment of these anti-regulation campaigners to protecting the public from abuse, take a look at this beyond-parody article by Denis Postle, reporting on the hearings for Derek Gale, struck off by the HPC as an arts therapist for running a nasty therapy cult.

The imaginal universe of the human condition is ubiquitous. Since the Vedic traditions, Buddha, and Freud, we know we can’t turn it off. It runs. It leaps. We may hide from it but we can’t escape. We resonate with the world, the world reverberates through us. As practitioners we know that grasping the ‘real’ is matter of navigating multiple transferences and embodied foregone conclusions, this article included. The HPC as it seems to me stands in defiance, studied intentional defiance of this. The HPC has spectacles through which it sees only categories. Health. Standards. Competence. Treatment. Note-keeping. Effectiveness. This is a ‘hearing’ and in this room, as we were repeatedly reminded, what matters are ‘particularized facts’.

Also in defiance but of another order, from another paradigm, is Mr Gale, who for almost thirty years has had a private practice of individual psychotherapy and groupwork.

His defiance, as was apparent from the first three days proceedings, has its roots in Humanistic Psychology and the Human Potential movement, personal development traditions that stand outside the HPC’s medicalised models of healthcare.

I guess it was the HPC’s “medicalised models” that decided that Gale was sexually, physically, emotionally and financially abusing his clients. I’d attempt to deconstruct Postle’s article, but at this point we’re not talking about oxymoronic arguments. Just plain moronic.

Postle is a leading figure in the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, which helped coordinate the anti-regulation campaign. What are they doing now? Among other things, they’re crying foul about another development, in which the BACP has apparently applied for a royal charter. If they’re successful, this could mean that the BACP might bestow such titles as “chartered counsellor” or “chartered psychotherapist”.

The Alliance has written an open letter objecting to this.

We do not believe that BACP’s desire to bestow chartered status on its members will do anything for the field as a whole, nor do we think it in the interests of service users or of the public generally. On the contrary, we consider BACP’s move to be a potentially divisive and retrograde step which could be construed as a predatory attempt to steal a march on other organisations at a time when the government’s new voluntary register system, under the PSA, is just beginning to find its feet.

In due course, we will be writing to the Privy Council, the Department of Health, MPs and Peers, asking them to join with us in resisting this move by BACP. But we feel that the major membership organisations of counselling and psychotherapy should
join with us and we invite you to allow us to mention your names in whatever further communications we send out.

Or, to put it another way….

 

The BACP are of course entitled to apply for a royal charter. If other bodies feel that’s giving the BACP an unfair competitive advantage, then they could apply for one too, and take their place among such august organisations as Marylebone Cricket Club and the Worshipful Company of Lightmongers. Unless of course, such bodies simply aren’t good enough to meet the criteria for a royal charter.

If the BACP are successful, then that would be very good news for them indeed. It would mean that they’re the only psychotherapy body that could give a practitioner both chartered status and PSA accreditation. In other words they’d be the gold standard that any respectable counsellor or psychotherapist would be expected to be registered with.

These anti-regulation campaigners wanted to be free from the shackles of a single state regulator, so they could be left to set their own standards. Well, they got that. Now, for all their anti-market rhetoric they could well be about to discover exactly what happens in the marketplace when your product is visibly inferior to that of your competitor.

I can’t say I feel sorry for them.

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.