Something has dawned on me today that has really shed new light on SCoPEd and raised new questions about its reason for being. It has been staring me in the face, yet I have overlooked it. I have spent months examining how SCoPEd is unethical/flawed/wrong, but I have paid little attention to why these three professional bodies would get together and create a piece of research that is so lacking in rigour, and so out-of-touch with the realities of practice.
I cannot pretend to know for certain the motivations of the organisations behind SCoPEd, however, I can highlight potential conflicts of interest in the research that should be at the forefront of our attention.
The SCoPEd framework places UKCP and BPC courses at the upper end of the competency continuum. It places competencies such as “Ability to assess and formulate when working with chronic and enduring mental health conditions” (2.1b); “Ability to demonstrate the skills and critical awareness of unconscious process and ethical understanding, to work therapeutically with ruptures and difficulties within the relationship” (3.10) and “Ability to evidence reflexivity, self-awareness and the therapeutic use of self to work at depth in the therapeutic relationship and the therapeutic process” (5.1c) solely in the column describing those who enter the profession through a UKCP or BPC course.
An employer reading this is likely to want to hire somebody with a UKCP or BPC membership, since they can do anything a counsellor can do and more. A client reading this might look for a therapist with a UKCP or BPC membership. And somebody wishing to train is likely to want to do a course which will grant them UKCP or BPC membership because they want to be attractive to employers.
So therapists, aware of the scarcity of paying jobs in the profession, are likely to feel more inclined to pay UKCP/BPC training establishments to train them, and pay the two organisations to accredit them for years to come. This illustrates a potential financial incentive on the parts of UKCP and BPC to reach the findings presented in the SCoPEd framework.
Should organisations be carrying out research where there is a potential financial conflict of interest for them? The BACP’s Research Ethics Guidelines (2018) says:
“Researchers should be particularly alive to the risk of a conflict arising between the best interests of the participants and the personal interests of the researcher or the organisation for whom the researcher works. Personal or work interests (such as financial considerations) should never be allowed to override the researcher’s duties and obligations to the participants and such conflicts of interest must be identified, declared and addressed immediately in order to avoid poor practice or potential misconduct.”
Neither the SCoPEd framework document nor the SCoPEd methodology document declare or address the potential conflict of interest outlined above.
The World Health Organisation, in their 2009 document Research ethics committees: Basic concepts for capacity-building raise particular concern about the potential of financial conflicts of interest to influence the findings of research. They say:
“Financial interests may threaten the integrity of the research process. They may influence the design of the study, the way it is conducted, the interpretation of research data and the presentation of the final results.
Empirical studies have established a statistically significant link between source of funding and research outcome. Industry-sponsored research is more likely than non-commercially-sponsored research to lead to a conclusion that a new therapy is better than the standard therapy. There is systematic evidence of under-reporting of negative studies. There is also evidence of conscious manipulation of research questions and dissemination of results. Unfortunately, financial interests have also led academic researchers to put their name on publications written by specialist agencies working directly for the sponsor of the study.”
I am sure that these organisations would deny that their motivation for SCoPEd is one of financial gain. And I’m sure that the BACP would deny my suspicion that there is a political motivation for aligning themselves with these organisations. However, no matter what their motivations are, it is not good practice to fail to declare conflicts of interest in research, and the BACP’s own research ethics guidelines say so in black and white. Coupled with the undeclared bias in research methodology which I have already spoken about, the SCoPEd project is looking on really, really shaky ethical ground to me.