On 24th February 2014, the Guardian published an article by Patrick Strudwick, ‘We can’t leave mentally ill people at the mercy of unregulated therapists’. Patrick contends that the psychotherapy and counselling professions are far from adequately regulated. In effect, he thinks, people are at the mercy of ‘the untrained, the unqualified and the unethical’. Patrick has done a lot of excellent work in the interests of people at risk from gay conversion therapy, but in this instance, we felt his article actually risks harming vulnerable people. Here’s our reply.
We are grateful that you raise major concerns about the regulation of counsellors and psychotherapists. It is a subject the British Psychoanalytic Council takes extremely seriously and is why we regulate our members according to the highest professional standards. As well as being a voluntary regulator we have consistently held the view, like you, that statutory regulation (and protected titles) would be in the best interest of the profession and crucially the general public. This is why, during the last Government, we worked closely with the Health and Care Professions Council to try to achieve statutory regulation.
Unfortunately, as you mention in your article, statutory regulation was abandoned by the incoming coalition Government. We found this very frustrating after putting in so much time and effort. We have recently submitted our register for accreditation by the government-backed Professional Standards Authority (PSA) scheme. Whilst not full statutory regulation the scheme goes some way to increasing safeguards and it is well worth noting what the PSA has to say:
‘Anyone employing, recommending or using a practitioner in an unregulated occupation now has the option to choose one from a register that has been vetted by the Professional Standards Authority. It is important that they do so.
Oversight by the Professional Standards Authority ensures that voluntary registers have the authority, resources and processes to identify and address incompetence and harmful practices.
Individuals cannot be removed from one accredited voluntary register and join another when faced with a sanction, as we require voluntary registers to share information and recognise each other's decision to remove registrants.’
Your article, although clearly with the best interests of mentally ill people at mind, used language that many would find ‘scaremongering’. We are concerned that it may actually put off some people from seeking professional help who would benefit from it. You suggested that mentally ill patients are at the mercy of ‘the untrained, the unqualified and the unethical’ – yet countless severely ill or suicidal people have benefited from our highly trained, highly qualified and highly regulated psychotherapists – both on the NHS and as private patients.
We appreciate your endeavours to drive the issue up the political agenda. It is right that our politicians should be aware of the dangers of unregulated psychotherapists and counsellors and it the case that there are still some untrained, unqualified and unregulated individuals claiming to be psychotherapists in the UK. But it is wrong and potentially harmful to suggest that voluntary regulated professionals are a danger to mentally ill people.’