SCoPEd framework -Navigating Mixed Messages from my Professional Body

In November 2018 I went to a morning of workshops and discussion hosted by the BACP, to which I had been invited because of my involvement with the BACP’s Older People Expert Reference Group (OPERG). I greatly value the work the BACP does campaigning for better access to counselling and psychotherapy for older people – a demographic whose engagement with counselling is disproportionately low and I am proud to be a part of it. I was pleased to see that one of the workshops I could choose to attend addressed the SCoPEd framework – something I had been aware of since the spring, and yet had little idea of what it was actually going to look like.

It seemed to me that there could potentially be some benefits for the public in having a clear understanding of what our profession looks like, its diversity and training routes so that clients are able to make informed choices, and have greater awareness of what “qualified” is and isn’t. I had visions of such a framework explaining that a six week online course is insufficient to be recognised as a counsellor by the professional bodies, and to encourage the public to check the membership bodies’ registers to ensure their therapists are appropriately qualified. What I didn’t expect was assertions such as that counsellors are incapable of assessing whether a client is suitable for therapy without first consulting with a supervisor or other professional. It seems to me that careless insinuations like this one will confuse the public further, denigrate the profession and damage public confidence in counsellors and counselling organisations. I’m not sure how to reconcile this with the BACP’s promotion of counselling throughout their history.

When I first sought therapy I looked for a counsellor. I don’t think I even really knew what a psychotherapist was, and I certainly never would have thought to myself “I need psychotherapy”. My therapist calls himself a counsellor and psychotherapist, and states in his literature that he doesn’t make concrete distinctions between the two terms. I’m very glad, because I have no idea where counselling ended and psychotherapy began in my personal therapy. As a client, what I needed to know was that I could trust in him to assess my suitability for counselling and know how to appropriately work with what I was bringing. If I had read this framework, I think I would have been concerned about hiring a counsellor at all.

One of the biggest ethical concerns I have about this framework is that, in my view, it risks misleading the public. If I were a client reading this, I would probably assume that every counsellor, “advanced counsellor” and psychotherapist I could possibly hire must meet the stated criteria, because these authoritative sources seem to say so. But as we know, these titles are not protected, and setting up as a counsellor or psychotherapist after a six week online course (or no course at all) is completely permissible, so clients who believe the framework may feel a false sense of safety hiring somebody using these titles on the basis of what it asserts. Far from providing greater clarity for clients, it seems to me that this obfuscates things further and could potentially have detrimental consequences.

What a trick the professional bodies have missed here to support their membership, hold those who meet membership criteria as the gold standard and to properly inform the public about the charlatans who may be practising without professional body membership or adequate skills and experience. Instead they have unfairly dismissed the skills and experience of large sections of their own membership. Wow.

At the workshop I attended in November, a BACP member suggested to me that by having a framework in place, if statutory regulation happens, we will be best placed to put forward the structure for the regulation, and the process will be more on our terms than if we enter those negotiations without a framework. My question would be why does this have to amount to splitting the profession down arbitrary lines dictated by an unrepresentative reference group? (The group evidently consisted of 7 psychoanalytic; 2 integrative (unspecified combination); 1 hypno-psychotherapy; 1 pluralistic (unspecified); and 1 humanistic-integrative therapists). Surely it would have made more sense to focus on who we are as a united profession rather than to divide it.

My relationship with the BACP at this point feels confusing. On the one hand, I value the work they do, I love being a part of the OPERG, and I have met many wonderful, inspiring people working very hard to promote counselling and psychotherapy within the organisation, on the other hand, I feel that the membership and the public have not been at the top of the priority list in the formation of this framework, and this seems to me to be in conflict with the BACP’s own ethical values of justice and respect.

I hear a lot of people expressing a desire to leave the BACP, and I understand this. I did mention at the workshop I attended at the BACP that this may happen, and I was disheartened at the presenter’s apparent lack of concern about members choosing to vote with their feet.

For me, the principles and values of the BACP inspired me to choose counselling and psychotherapy as a career, and I feel that the organisation is a force for good at its core. I want to remain a part of the BACP because I feel I can only effect change when I engage with the elements of the profession I feel do not currently meet the needs of clients or practitioners. I love counselling and psychotherapy, and I believe it is in all of our interests to work on a solution that does not divide those titles or the profession.

This somehow feels like a good moment for a rhyme…

They made a framework,
called it SCoPEd.
It wasn’t quite
what I had hoped.

I thought it might
have been designed
to help the average
person find

a counsellor
to meet their needs,
but that’s not how
this framework reads.

If I were
seeking therapy
I’d read this
and I’d surely be

less informed
and more unsure
of whom I should be
searching for.

Dear BACP:

You say that
“Counselling Changes Lives”
If so, let’s please
ensure it thrives.

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