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UK College of Holistic Training, 27 Old Gloucester Street, London WC1N 3AX
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I am on the mailing list of the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy (ACP), a group which campaigns for freedom and independence of practice in the UK, and which recently distributed some important news.


The “big three” counselling and psychotherapy bodies, namely the British Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy (BACP), British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) and the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) have launched a new initiative called SCoPEd. The aim of the project is to tighten control over the training and practice of counsellors and psychotherapists, ostensibly to provide better service in view of the “mental health crisis”.


The “big three” associations launched this project without first consulting their members. Recently a consulting period was announced (for “big 3” members only) which was open for only a few weeks, probably not giving enough time for the news to reach everyone let alone to formulate the best responses. Nevertheless, a number of counselling bodies already familiar with the relevant issues have issued statements and objections to the SCoPEd project. The consultancy period closed on 22 February 2019 and ACP themselves only had the chance to circulate interested parties on 12 February, giving a window of only 10 days.


It is feared that the SCoPEd project could lead to statutory regulation in addition to absolute control by the “big three.”  According to ACP, the downsides of the project include “the need for the public to be told which practitioner they should trust.  Only the big 3 can guarantee a practice by applying their framework” ; BACP becomes the only route to “advanced counsellor” qualifiations; if you do not fit within this new proposed system “you will be declared ‘unsafe’ or a ‘charlatan’ ”.


The new initiative would destroy freedom of practice for even the most highly qualified counsellors who would have to adhere to new “benchmarks”  for practice. With such practitioners under heavy scrutiny and other counsellors effectively forced out of the profession, patient choice and the variety of intervention styles available would inevitably suffer. It has been argued for a long time that there is no evidence that such professional control would bring any benefits, and it has been criticised as a power grab by the “big 3” and a money-making enterprise by the BACP. Naturally, professionals and training bodies approved by the new system stand to benefit financially too, to the detriment of their erstwhile peers.


At the moment, we don’t know how effective the consultation has been and how the “big 3” are reacting to it.  The question that arises is: is there any point in people enrolling for distance learning counselling qualifications? Of course, we are not the only provider of such courses, and there are various independent providers of classroom-based counselling qualifications in the independent sector and outside the “big 3.”  Even “live” course trainers are facing the same challenge.  Graduates of all these programmes are dedicated to helping others and many have additional professional qualifications and specialised know-how. Thousands of sincere counsellors, members of established and respected professional bodies and often with years of experience, could be affected.  


I hope that the well-reasoned and orchestrated objections to SCoPEd, including those by some top names in the profession, will make the “big 3” and especially the BACP think again. But we shall have to wait and see. These threats of tightening control over counselling and psychotherapy have occurred in the past, and have rescinded but have never entirely disappeared.


Ten years ago, when the Health & Care Professions Council launched an initiative towards regulation of counselling, the Maresfield Report countered that (in the words of the Alliance) “the diversity and the range of practice in the field of counselling and psychotherapy in the UK served to benefit the public, offering choice as to the aims, techniques and the theories and ethics that underpin practice. Standardisation would reduce choice and diversity.” The Alliance provides the text of the Maresfield Report on its website at https://allianceblogs.wordpress.com/about/


The most alarming feature of the current proposed regulatory scheme is that private counsellors might not even be allowed to choose whether they can see a client unless they reach the lofty “advanced counsellor” status. They might be required to consult a supervisor or other “expert” first.


It is not hard to imagine that this added bureaucracy could alienate private clients, and encourage them to seek out alternative forms of help such as stress management, hypnotherapy, coaching, NLP and energy therapies which give them direct access to a therapist or helper of their choice, as well as the hope of benefiting from brief techniques. Private clients are like any other consumers: they shop around, talk to peers, and often know what they want better than some of those wishing to provide services to them. Put an obstacle in their way, and you will destroy rapport - which often kindles in the initial telephone call - before it has a chance to build. Finally getting the go-ahead with the approval of some faceless superior who has never met them could feel alienating. Needless to say, we have not heard of any plans for a representative sample of stakeholders (including potential clients) to be consulted about these arrangements. The powers that be, or that are about to be, know best.


For now, I strongly recommend that anyone who is currently on a counselling course should complete it.  A sound knowledge of counselling skills and techniques will be advantageous whatever type of helping work you do, and will make you a better and more sensitive communicator. Your qualification will always be an asset to your CV.


I also suggest that because the future is uncertain, it is best to have more than one string to your bow. This may involve training in an additional branch of complementary health care, or in hypnotherapy, NLP or life coaching or one of the energy therapies. Counselling skills are never wasted. Many helping professions do not include a counselling module in their trainings, yet if they did so, rapport with clients/patients could be enhanced, especially as people often talk to practitioners of all kinds about their problems.


Hypnotherapy, life coaching, NLP and energy therapies (e.g. EFT) are unlikely to be restricted, chiefly because the “big 3” have no interest in them.  But if your “big 3” membership includes a hypnotherapy component (as it does for some UKCP accreditations), keep in touch with your professional association(s) for further guidelines.


One possibility is that practitioners could avoid using the term “counsellor” if necessary, by using therapy-specific qualifications, for example CBT Practitioner or CBT Therapist. Or perhaps hybrid terms such as “hypno-counselling” will come into vogue. It is too early to give a definite opinion on the feasibility of such a solution, and some therapy names are not “generic” but have specific restrictions or trademarks in place.


Whether you go for a distance learning counselling qualification (such as ours) is ultimately your personal choice. Please look at our Diploma in Holistic Life Coaching, concerning which we have had very positive student feedback, and also our Stress Management course. In addition we have a new Mindfulness course under development. Please also see our Certificate in Counselling and Helping Skills and our Diploma in Counselling Skills and Stress Management. Our courses page provides links to all our courses.


We will continue to provide counselling courses though if and when necessary, these may become CPD courses for other professions (for example, counselling skills for hypnotherapists or for complementary health practitioners) rather than stand-alone qualifications.


UKCHT takes pride in our openness as being one of the first in our independent distance-learning niche to bring this news to your attention.


For further news including new courses being developed, please subscribe to our newsletter at www.ukcht.uk/subscribe.html


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This article is based on information issued by the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy (though any errors, omissions or opinions about the education of helping professionals are ours). The Alliance does not have any connection with UKCHT and is not involved in our courses in any way. This article may not reflect the opinions of individual members, advisors to or associates of UKCHT.  


The Alliance email said, “If you are not registered with the big 3, you should anyway take note of this latest attempt to define practice standards, one that will play a role in a future push to state regulation. This project can be used to lock out all who are not registered with the big 3.”

The new Alliance website is at https://allianceblogs.wordpress.com/  On 23rd February 2019 the blog led with an article by Denis Postle entitled “Scoped: Butchering Psychopractice.” Other material on the SCoPEd project can be found on the Alliance website.


Copyright © Morris Berg 2019. All rights reserved.


STATUS QUO or QUO VADIS - THE PRIVATE COUNSELLING PROFESSION IN THE UK

Morris Berg
28 February 2019