SCoPEd 2 – What’s changed? (spoiler: not a lot)

SCoPEd 2 has been released. I’ve had a look through and tweeted a few significant points. I won’t have the time to write anything more substantial today, so here I have replicated a few high[low]lights that I have highlighted in tweets:

The first thing I notice is that for ‘column C’ you need 450 client hours during core training. So if your training involved less than 450 client hours, you can never achieve column C.

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They have removed the titles, but they plan to put them back in (so why remove them, unless it is simply to make it appear more palatable?)

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You are still incapable of taking an active role in the profession nationally, and communicating effectively with other professionals in imparting information, advice, instruction and professional opinion, unless you’ve done UKCP/BPC/450 cl hour training, for some reason:

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Enshrinement of the medical model persists:

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Fabulously ironic one here about recognising discriminatory practices and power differentials. Gotta be a proper elite top of the heap psychotherapist for that!

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Again, the assertion that non-column C therapists can’t work therapeutically with ruptures is frankly insulting:

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Remember, fellow non-Column C-ers, you dont have the ability to critically appraise the history of psychological ideas, the cultural context, and relevant social and political theories to inform and evaluate ongoing practice:

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Only column C therapists are deemed fit to evidence reflexivity, self-awareness and the therapeutic use of self to work at depth in the therapeutic relationship and the therapeutic process. Yet isn’t that necessary both in training and in the accreditation process?

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There are plenty more nuggets like this in the framework, and I am yet to take a good look at the methodology paper, so expect to hear more from me in the coming days and weeks.

 

In the meantime, a poem:

 

Counsellors, you’ll never be

A therapist in column C

You’ll never have the skills you see

So just make do with column B

And counsellors in column A

Just reach for B, you’ll be okay

But never C, you hold no sway

So stick with A and B, we say.

 

– Erin Stevens

 

 

 

 

I’m Leaving the BACP – Here’s Why.

The BACP members’ Facebook group, set up last year, has been the single most revealing environment I have been a part of, when it comes to highlighting systemic harm, privilege and abuse of power in the counselling and psychotherapy profession.

A recent thread on racism was deleted by BACP, apparently after complaints from some BACP members that the post was not relevant to the profession (in spite of the discussion in the thread demonstrating the relevance unequivocally). After several anti-racist members protested (and BACP initially simply directing the original poster to their (inadequate, in my experience) complaints process) they finally apologised for the deletion. Further threads and posts popped up, more comments, microaggressions and, in some cases downright racist comments were made by members on various threads, each challenged by therapists including the OP herself.

One post in particular, which went unchallenged by the BACP for over a week (until I saw and publicly highlighted it), has led me to the inescapable conclusion that BACP is an organisation whose values are no longer compatible with my own. This incident managed to combine the assaultive weaponisation of pathology (which I have highlighted with the org a number of times) and the silencing of a black woman as she spoke about racism. It was truly abhorrent. On a personal level, I am also deeply saddened that the organisation has learned nothing from the damaging experiences I had of being publicly pathologised by therapists, last year.

The offending poster, naming the OP, claimed that she had placed herself in the ‘victim role’ to BACP’s ‘persecutor’ and went on to attempt to silence the discussion about race by claiming it was being “utilised to foster division”.  The original post was long, and went on in this vein. The post received 6 ‘likes’ from other therapists.

The fact that 7 therapist are willing to publicly align themselves to the weaponisation of pathology to attack a black woman talking about race is shocking. The fact that a professional body would do nothing about it for over a week, in spite of having plenty of previous opportunities to learn these kinds of lessons means, in my view, the organisation’s understanding of racism, white supremacy, power, pathology and structural inequality is wholly inadequate, and, given that this is not the first time that these kinds of dynamics have occurred in the forum, not sufficiently open to change.

I stayed with the BACP for this long because I see good in the organisation. I have volunteered with their older people’s expert reference group and met fantastic people, putting clients first, with real, honest passion and integrity. I wanted the systemic problems in the body to change; I wanted to be a part of bringing about change and re-centring social justice and client needs in the largest professional body in the country. I submitted the scrap SCoPEd resolution to open up debate about the kind of future we want for this profession, and to highlight the acts of inequality that exist silently, subtly in the upper echelons of the organisation, but become seismic for clients, trainees and therapists when they are enacted. I wanted to be a part of that change, so that I could continue to support the BACP. But sadly, I have to concede that my values and those of BACP have diverged so far, that at this point,  I no longer feel it is congruent or proper for me to continue to pay a membership fee to the organisation.

I have been a member of NCS for some time, so this decision does not leave me without ethical support or recourse for my clients, but it does leave me with a sense of loss. Both in terms of the cessation of my work with OPERG, which I enjoyed very much, and also the loss of the potential to be a part of bringing about the change I wanted (and still want) to see from BACP. I am not ruling out a return to BACP one day, but this would only be possible if considerable structural change occurs at many levels of the organisation, including the overhaul of their resolution process to make it statistically possible for a member resolution to be heard at AGM. The current system is completely undemocratic, and in my view, shows disdain for member views.

So for me, this is goodbye to BACP. I will continue to be a committed campaigner against SCoPEd, and I have extended an invitation to Fiona Ballantine Dykes to keep open lines of communication, should she wish to do so, however, I cannot tolerate the systemic issues that, in my opinion, the organisation has proliferated by not deleting abusive posts, and instead deleting important anti-racist posts. This feels like the final straw for me, and so I must now, with some regret, vote with my feet.

 

The Plausible Deniability of Harm

This weekend, for the first time, it has felt okay for me to talk openly about some of my harmful experience of therapy. I tweeted about an incident which took place two years post-termination, in which my former therapist messaged me out of the blue, told me he had split up with his wife and asked whether I wanted to “catch up”. I chose to disclose this incident in particular, I suppose, for two reasons. Firstly, because it is probably the least subtle of his abusive behaviours, and therefore the one I felt was least likely to be excused, or dismissed as not as bad as I think (which is sadly something that victims of abuse do have to consider when deciding whether it is safe to speak out), and secondly because it happened two years after termination, I felt less vulnerable at the time it occurred, so it did not, in itself, have a traumatic impact on me (more validating actually, due to just how illustrative it was of things that had previously occurred, but had been much more difficult to explain to others). I chose this example primarily to keep myself safe.

Most of the therapists responding to my tweet, really wanted to engage with the topic and learn more about how harm occurs. Other people who have been harmed in therapy joined the thread, and it truly feels that a positive conversation has been happening. I had quite a few people tell me I should report my former therapist, some suggesting that I owe it to the profession or to any future clients.  I explained this was not an option for me, and furthermore, I strongly believe that the onus is not on the victims of abuse to protect the public. I may have reported him given the opportunity, however the complaints systems themselves can be harmful and retraumatising, and I do not believe any victim of iatrogenesis should be pressured to do so, or blamed if they don’t.

A small number of comments from therapists were not altogether validating. One suggested that perhaps his emails had been hacked (a response which feels like “maybe you are wrong about it”) and another saying that in not reporting, I am playing a role in enabling him to do it again (feeling like “you are partially to blame for future abuse”). These are very common responses that people who are abused face when disclosing. The illuminating recent #IWasBlamed hashtag shed some light on this phenomenon.

Now, I don’t actually mind that therapists responded this way. In fact, I already know that there is a culture of denial regarding harm in counselling and psychotherapy. It is structural and it comes from the very top. For me, it is to be expected that some of this shadow will seep into online conversations about harm in therapy. In fact, I would venture a guess that far more therapists thought these things than actually said them, when they read the thread. For me, it is only when we hear our thoughts and attitudes out loud that we are most likely to recognise and reflect on them. What I really hope to do in speaking out is to raise these questions now, so that we are thinking about them honestly, because when a client who has been harmed walks into our therapy room, it is far better that we have a greater awareness about our unconscious biases, attitudes, and even our propensity to want to deny. Because if these parts of ourselves emerge for the first time with clients, we have the potential to do further harm.

I ran a workshop last year for therapists as a part of Nick Langley’s residential week, The Comfy Chair, in which therapists had the opportunity to reflect on their attitudes, feelings, bodily sensations when hearing about harm in therapy, and were also invited to put themselves in the position of somebody returning to therapy after a harmful experience, and consider what their particular feelings and needs might be. It was a fantastic exercise, full of rich discussion and learning. We are facing our professional and individual shadows here. We all have the potential to do harm, and the profession demonstrably does do harm, not just to individual clients but systemically too. It takes courage and honesty to face up to our shadow.

Earlier I said there is a culture of the denial of harm in the profession. I just want to touch on that a bit. Counselling and Psychotherapy in the UK is deeply political, and one of the key reasons I oppose political manoeuvres such as SCoPEd, is that the potential for harm to clients, therapists, or the profession, resulting from the project has been completely overlooked. For example, no declaration of conflicts of interests were made in the research, and no assessment was made about how enshrining elitist trainings would impact on diversity and equality in the profession, and the detrimental effect decreasing diversity in the workforce might have on the diverse client population. Especially important considering that clients from marginalised groups report experiencing significantly higher levels of harm in therapy than the general population.

So, I believe SCoPEd is a structural example of the plausible deniability of harm in the upper echelons of counselling and psychotherapy. I also have a more personal one, again, relating to my own experiences:

When I submitted a resolution to scrap SCoPEd, I experienced bullying on the BACP’s own Facebook group, with upwards of 40 therapists piling on to pathologise me for submitting the resolution, claiming that my opposition to SCoPEd was the result of unresolved childhood issues. Nothing was done at the time by BACP when I asked for the thread to be deleted so I submitted an official complaint to them. A key finding of the BACP complaint was that I was not bullied. I contested this point, citing the Government’s own definition of bullying, from their workplace bullying and harassment guidelines: “Bullying and harassment is behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended.”.  BACP’s official response to this (and this is what I recognise as the plausible deniability of harm) was as follows:

“With regards to our definition of bullying, we have already stated that BACP does not have its own definition however we would use the commonly understood meaning of seeking to harm or intimidate others. The government link you sent refers to bullying and harassment in the workplace which differs slightly from the current topic.”

So, as we can see, because the incident took place in the BACP’s forum (which I would argue is an extension of the workplace when we are engaging online in the forum of a professional body) allows the BACP here to deny that the behaviour was bullying, and therefore absolve themselves. The focus on intention rather than impact concerns me from an organisation concerned with counselling.

When a culture of denying harm exists at the very top of a profession, it seems to me that it is likely to filter down into trainings, into supervision and into the attitudes and responses of therapists, at least to some extent (I want to say again that there is also a wonderful amount of reflection in the profession, and some truly fantastic trainings) But this trickle is how the shadow forms. The shadow belongs to the whole profession, and in my opinion, it is up to all of us to examine it together.

Fear and SCoPEd

I have been reading a book about supervision called “In Love With Supervision” by Robin and Joan Shohet. A section exploring fear in supervision, and the phrase “If anything appears to go wrong, there may be some unacknowledged fear in the system” have led me to reflect on what has happened with SCoPEd in this last year or so.

It is quite straightforward for me to recognise fear in myself, as an individual, around SCoPEd. I am scared that the profession will move further from relational practice, that certain organisations will monopolise, and that this will damage diversity of practice. I am scared that the hierarchical nature of SCoPEd will further the inequalities that are already in evidence in this profession, both on a practical and attitudinal level. More personally, I am scared that I have invested myself into a profession which is not what I thought it was. I am scared that the profession does not mirror the expectations I had from my experiences as a client, and probably most of all, I am scared of a rupture in my relationship with counselling and psychotherapy. I am scared of the pain inherent in that conflict, and I am scared of the loss I already experience, and will continue to experience as the SCoPEd train inevitably trundles along the track which already appears so clear. I am scared for what that means for my identity.

I also recognise that these fears in me mirror other fears in my life, past and present. From loss, grief, and rupture in relationships, to political issues which feel so out of control, such as Brexit, and of course, coronavirus. My vocal opposition to SCoPEd must necessarily be in relationship with my fear.

On a wider level, it seems to me that therapists, systems and organisations also experience fear, on all sides of the SCoPEd debate. It is not for me to speculate on which individuals may be experiencing fear or why, but it seems to me that the creation of SCoPEd in itself may reflect a fearful position (What are we? Will we be recognised? What happens if we become statutorily regulated?), and I feel a sense that some of the interactions I have had with BACP in particular (but also with other supporters of SCoPEd) have been conducted from a mutual place of fear. I have certainly felt very defensive and vulnerable in the face of some really targeted and personal comments and actions. I own the fear that I have felt, and I am also coming to understand fear as systemic, and perhaps on some level we all share in it, I am not sure.

So why am I sharing this? Principally because one thing I have noticed about SCoPEd and the way it has played out, is how easy it is to dehumanise individuals and fail to recognise that we are in relationship with the very human feelings that emerge, both individually and collectively. I think from this place, we will only ever have division. I am not sure if there is a way to resolve these types of systemic dynamics, at least not simply. When money, livelihoods, reputations, and status are thrown in the mix, it is a complex web to untangle indeed. On all sides. I do feel that an important step is to acknowledge it. I invite others to do the same (if you have not already), whatever your opinion of SCoPEd. Do you feel fear in connection with SCoPEd? If so, what sense can you make of it, and how do you think it connects to a sense of collective fear, not just in people with whom you agree, but those with whom you don’t, as well?

I will continue to challenge SCoPEd robustly, because I believe that scrutiny is helping the team developing SCoPEd to reflect on the impact of the project on therapists, clients and counselling, and more needs to be done on that, especially around hierarchy and its impact on equality and diversity in the profession. But I will also do this with a renewed awareness of fear in the system. Mine, others’ and that of the system itself.

Multiple Therapeutic and Supervisory Relationships – My Twitter Polls, My Reasons and My Thoughts

Yesterday I posted two Twitter polls. One asked whether therapists would consider more than one supervisory relationship, inviting comments about how they would manage conflicts of advice, modality etc, and the other asked therapists whether they would work with a client who was also seeing another therapist at the same time. The results are in and show that, of the 129 therapists who voted on the supervisee/supervisor poll, 78% would consider seeing more than one supervisor and 22% would not, whereas on the client/therapist poll, of 129 therapists, 36% would see a client who saw another therapist, while 64% would not.

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I posted the polls because I am curious about how other therapists work, and how they conceptualise therapeutic relationships they form with clients and supervisors. I strongly believe in the importance of autonomy, both for therapists and clients. This means that I think it is important that therapists develop their own boundaries (within the bounds of ethical practice, of course) and that clients should be free to either accept or reject the terms that the therapist offers. I think this is the value of a diverse profession – some therapists’ ideas around boundaries will be useful for some clients, and others will be useful for others. Autonomy goes both ways.

While therapeutic and supervisory relationships are not the same, I feel that they are comparable in some respects. They both usually offer holding, space for reflection and are characterised by some kind of process (how this is conceptualised and understood will depend on a range of factors). In the thread below my supervision poll, therapists reported that different perspectives from different supervisors were often useful, and that the therapist themselves were able to make sense of differing advice, and integrate their learning into their practice. Some preferred to keep different client groups for different therapists, and some found taking the same client work to different therapists beneficial. There was a real sense of autonomy, self-trust and learning permeating that thread, I felt.

There was less in the way of consensus on my thread asking about clients with more than one therapist. Some said it would depend on circumstances – for example somebody might want to work on a particular issue with a specialist therapist, or try particular interventions such as CBT or EMDR whilst also seeing a more relational therapist alongside, and that this would be okay. Others theorised that clients wishing to see more than one therapist might be playing out relational enactments, possibly even oedipal in nature. Another simply said “unethical”. Others took a different view, considering the balance of client autonomy, and the potential impact on the therapeutic relationship, or the process. Another said that not ‘allowing’ (my word and my inverted commas!) clients to see more than one therapist seemed like “protectionism” on the part of the therapist.

So what are my thoughts about the questions I posed, and how would I have answered the polls? Well, fundamentally, I believe that there is a richness and dynamic quality to multiple relational dyads in the context of counselling and psychotherapy, and I think this can be true both for therapists as supervisees, and for clients.

Anyone who regularly reads my blog will know I am interested in issues of power in the therapeutic relationship. My interest is piqued immediately when I think about the notion of a therapist ‘allowing’ or ‘not allowing’ a client to do something outside of the therapy hour. Of course, clients are free not to work with a therapist with such a rule, but if the desire to consult with a second therapist emerges some way into the relationship, I propose that it might very much feel that they are being prohibited from doing so, by their therapist.

Are there other circumstances when we, as therapists prohibit clients from doing something outside of the therapy room? All that comes to my mind is that therapies with certain foci, such as self-harm or substance abuse may create ‘rules’ around behaviour outside of the room and these examples seem directly related to the issues the client is in therapy to address (I still think debates could be had about power and autonomy, but perhaps that is for another day).

I can’t think of another circumstance where a client would be explicitly told that the therapist will not work with them if they do a particular thing outside of the therapy room, with their own time and money. For this reason, I am very curious about therapists’ stance on the issue, and the reasons that are given for the choices they make. For example, if, as some therapists believe, the desire to see more than one therapist has its basis in relational patterns or attachment, is there value to allowing it to emerge and working with it? If we believe it might damage the relationship or the process, do we know how? Might it enhance the relationship or process? How do we know? How much of our concern about this scenario has its basis in supposition?

Do we carefully examine our potential discomfort about being talked about to another practitioner? What is our fantasy about our relationship with therapists we don’t know? What about the comparisons that a client would inevitably make about the different styles and personalities of their therapists? How do we feel we would ‘measure up’? I say this without any guesses or judgment about the practices or processes of others. I want therapists to feel free to practice in a way that works for them. But I do think it is important that we consider these feelings for ourselves, especially when we are dealing with the precious and delicate balances of power and autonomy in the therapeutic relationship.

I have two experiences of seeing two therapists at once as a client. The first time, was when I consulted with my current therapist whilst still seeing my previous therapist, with whom I experienced multiple relational difficulties. I knew that my first therapist would not ‘allow’ me to see a second therapist, so I did not tell him. And herein lies a significant issue, for me, with prohibiting the client to do something outside of the therapy room – they might just do it anyway, and if their therapist is unlikely to trust their decision, they are unlikely to trust their therapist with the information. For me, “you don’t trust me, so I don’t trust you” would characterise that first relationship very well. Going to see a second therapist helped me to recognise the multiple abuses which were taking place in my first therapeutic relationship, and I subsequently left and stayed with my current therapist. I am grateful to my current therapist for trusting my process when I came to him and told him that I already had a therapist. Without it, I may have had a great deal more difficulty leaving an abusive therapy situation.

My second experience was relatively recent – I wanted to consult with a second therapist about a particular issue. I didn’t ask my therapist if I could, I told him that I am. I know that he trusts me wholeheartedly to make the right choices, or to learn from it when I don’t. That unwavering trust has been the single most valuable and enduring ingredient in the nurturing and growth of my own self-trust. By gifting me self-determinism at a time I felt unable to take it for myself, I had an opportunity to take ownership of it, and now that I do, will readily gift him a place alongside me to explore it: “You trust me, so I trust you”.

I don’t have any answers, or truths, but, in the spirit of sharing ideas and reflecting on our practice, I offer my own experiences, and questions that come up for me when I hear therapists say that they don’t see clients who see another therapist. I hope this blog post opens up this discussion, and I invite therapists, whatever your policies, thoughts or gut responses, to continue conversations about our boundaries, power in the therapeutic relationship, and how we think about our relationships with clients and supervisors.

Therapy and Politics – Acknowledging the Relationship and Owning the Discomfort

Here we are on the brink of one of the most extraordinary and important elections for a generation. Our society is almost unrecognisable from that of twenty years ago, as we were approaching the millennium. Technology now connects us inextricably, and I think that this ability to connect with one another has driven great movements, promoting voices and/or influencing positive policy change for historically oppressed groups including LGBTQ+ communities and people of colour. Alongside this has been the undeniable rise of right-wing politics in the mainstream, Trump, Johnson and Farage gaining popularity, and right-wing ideas influencing the direction of this country, from Brexit to the NHS.

The questions that I can see being mooted amongst therapists, both overtly, and more indirectly, are: what role does politics have for therapy and for therapists? Should we, and indeed can we, separate ourselves from the political? What impact does our political activity have on clients?

I see a great deal of discomfort on therapist forums as we broach the political. Are we “sullying” the profession by talking about party politics? Is being vocal about our political allegiances going to be damaging to our clients? Is there an ethical difference, for example, between my saying “I am anti-austerity.” and saying “I am going to vote Labour.”? Is one less ‘professional’ to admit to than the other? Are they both okay? Or should we not be talking about politics at all?

I might as well come right out and say it: my personal opinion is that we cannot separate the political from the professional. It is my view that in counselling and psychotherapy, the political runs to the very heart of what we do.

Austerity impacts on the lives of clients, it impacts on the counselling services on offer, and it impacts on the lives of therapists too.

IAPT is political. We need to talk about the fact that, according to a new survey, 41% of IAPT workers are being asked to manipulate performance data. All of this is inherently political and if we are not talking about it, we are missing an opportunity to challenge harms which are being enacted on clients and on the profession.

The voluntary culture of counselling is political, as is the accreditation of uncapped courses. SCoPEd is extremely political. Ethics, and the therapeutic values we uphold, from autonomy to authenticity to respect are steeped in politics. This profession does not exist in a vacuum, it exists in a deeply political context.

BUT I have experienced significant discomfort about it. And I am not alone. When I trained as a therapist, I probably thought to myself “It is best that my clients never know my political views, and therefore they should not be shared publicly”. And while, of course, a therapy session is not an appropriate place to whip out a party political leaflet, I have a much more nuanced view of how we manage the uncomfortable marriage of therapeutic neutrality (if such a thing exists, or even ought to exist), and our wider political selves.

My clients, past, present or future, could Google me. If they did, they would probably read about my views on SCoPEd. They would probably read that I oppose it on the grounds that it promotes inequality, and further espouses an elitism, which I believe already exists in the profession. They would read that I disagree with the way in which it encourages a system of unpaid labour post-qualification, and they could probably make some pretty accurate assumptions about my political views.

They might also note that I have joined the PCSR steering group, an organisation whose stated aims include challenging racism, sexism, homophobia, classism and all discrimination, as well as “developing ideas about how economic, political, ecological and cultural issues can be integrated into theory and practice”.

These are authentic parts of who I am, and they follow me into the therapy room whether I choose to hide them or not.

So no, I don’t introduce myself to clients by outlining my political opinions, and no, I do not judge clients who express different views to my own. But I acknowledge that we all see political issues in the therapy room every day. From the economic, to the social, to national politics, it appears in the therapeutic relationship and we work with it in our practices whether we name it or not.

Recently, when the Met police were outrageously arresting Extinction Rebellion protestors engaged in peaceful protest, UKCP erroneously released a statement which suggested that members who were arrested for peaceful protest could be bringing the profession into disrepute. This created understandable challenge from members, and the UKCP later said that the statement had been sent out in error. It seems to me that the fact that it was written at all says enough about the attitude to activism by some in the profession, particularly certain professional bodies. Incidentally, BACP were unable to categorically state that arrest for peaceful protest would not bring the profession into disrepute, whereas NCS were immediately forthcoming with a categorical statement that arrest for peaceful protest would not constitute disrepute.

I am concerned about these mixed messages, and lack of clarity, not least because autonomy and authenticity are central values, and ‘professionalism’ in counselling and psychotherapy needs to embody the values we espouse, unequivocally. Professionalism must not become synonymous with compliance. If we were not able to challenge injustice, or question the status quo, our profession would not be able to move forward at all. Indeed, there would have been no Carl Rogers, whose development of person centred therapy challenged psychoanalytic dominance and was borne of a period of political and social change. Carl Rogers described himself as a rebel, and his courage, integrity and tenacity to challenge the status quo is widely celebrated. In my opinion, now is not the time to lose that courage.

I think this is a difficult area for many therapists and what I have seen recently expressed about party politics seems to confirm this (not to mention the response by many to the challenge to the SCoPEd framework). I think we need to own that discomfort, name it and feel it, but we also need to acknowledge the centrality of politics to our profession, how it impacts us at every level. And therapists as a whole need to be talking about it. We don’t have to agree, but we need to be able to discuss. If we ignore politics, it won’t cease to exist, in therapy or in our lives.

So this is an invitation to therapists, and clients, and supervisors, and tutors (and whoever else is uncomfortably straddling political spheres and the world of counselling and psychotherapy) to see, touch, explore and own the huge area on the Venn diagram where these worlds overlap. It’s okay to talk about it, as much or as little as feels comfortable, it’s important to understand it, and in my view, it’s vital we don’t pretend that it doesn’t exist.

The Latest Twist on the SCoPEd-a-coaster

It has been an eventful ride since I last updated these pages. I’m sure many readers of my blog will already know that our resolution asking BACP to discontinue its association with SCoPEd achieved an amazing 1780 votes, amounting to 3.5% of the membership. I fully expect (when the BACP finally respond to my request for the historical voting figures) that our resolution will have attracted the highest ever number of votes on a resolution.

An unprecedented membership engagement! Member interest clearly demonstrated. So when do we get to vote on the resolution at AGM? Well, we don’t. Two years ago, a resolution passed which asked the BACP to stop advertising volunteer roles on their platforms, the BACP said they “believed it was not the solution for addressing the wider employment issues.” and were clearly unhappy with its passing. The following year, the bar had been raised from 25 votes (around 0.05%) to reach AGM voting, to 5% of the membership, or roughly 2500 votes. 100x greater than the previous target.

To give an indication of the impossibility of the 5% target. Here are the statistics from the 2017 resolution which appears to have precipitated SCoPEd:

2017 resolution 4 part 1

2017 resolution 4 part 2

So at this crucial second stage of voting, (having received the 0.05% needed to get to this stage), this resolution passed with approximately 1.89% of membership support. If this is indicative of the levels of general membership engagement, our 3.5% was spectacular, and 5% seems an impossible and prohibitive target. It should be highlighted that the purpose of the first stage is to indicate membership interest in the topic. If members haven’t demonstrated their interest over the last few months, I don’t know what ever will.

In spite of the disappointing result, a great deal of good has come from the campaign. The original implementation date for SCoPEd was expected to be spring 2019, and I believe this period of ongoing consultation, and addition of…erm…one person centred therapist to the psychoanalytic-leaning ERG is, in no small part a result of the organised way we have been able to hold the BACP to account. That is a massive achievement in itself.

I want to talk a little bit about the way in which the SCoPEd discussion has played out on social media. It seems to me, in parallel to national events, the emergence of SCoPEd has exposed deep divides within the profession, and, perhaps surprisingly, those divides have translated to some quite uncomfortable exposure of the professional shadow, in my view.

There has been a lot of ‘othering’ of colleagues online during the discussions around SCoPEd. It seems to me that each side sees the other as outrageous and wrong, when actually, I suspect we all actually want what is best for clients, and need to develop a respectful way to articulate our differences, and listen to others regarding the ways this might be achieved. I have seen glimpses of respectful discussion, for example, in my online conversations with Andrew Reeves, but not nearly enough. I think it is the responsibility of everyone to do better.

I would particularly like to highlight the weaponising of armchair diagnosis to discredit colleagues; having been on the receiving end of this myself, I can tell you it is the most horrendous abuse of power, and has been deeply hurtful to me personally. I have seen speculation about unconscious motivations appear on both sides of the debate. I would like to see something introduced to the BACP ethical framework, similar to the APA’s Goldwater Rule, which specifically addresses public diagnosis and speculation on the psychological processes of others. I think that publicly pathologising to discredit those legitimately seeking to bring an issue to a membership vote is a serious ethical breach, which raises questions about our attitude to pathology and to activism as a profession.

In this, I also note the position of power that the BACP finds itself in when it assumes the responsibility to moderate online debate. It took the BACP days to close the thread on their Facebook group, by which time there had been 109 comments. In my view, this is an enabling position which amounts to complicity in contributing to my personal distress. The Psychotherapy and Counselling Union have expressed concern about the BACP’s handling of this issue on my behalf. The response from the organisation so far has been wholly unsatisfactory in my opinion. I will happily share their response on my blog, once I have pre-warned the BACP of my desire to do so, and offered them the chance to make further comment.

After the resolution results came through, I received an email inviting me to join the SCoPEd team for a meeting, in order to start a dialogue. I have not had positive experiences of one-on-one engagement with the BACP with regards to SCoPEd and the power imbalance I am likely to experience in attending such a meeting by myself is befitting of the power issues inherent in the whole process of SCoPEd. I have not said yes or no to such a meeting yet; I am considering my options, and of course will provide an update on this either here, or on other social media.

I want to give my heartfelt thanks to Tara Shennan, who has also faced a lot of flak in putting this important topic to a members’ vote, as well as the brilliant organisations Counsellors Together UK, Psychotherapy and Counselling Union, Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility and The Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, who have been so generous with their time and support throughout this process.

The road does not end here. The BACP have expressed a desire for a dialogue, and I will do my best to make sure that can happen in a fair and safe way. There is a lot more campaigning to do; I await the second iteration with interest, and there are many of us on hand to ensure it receives the careful analysis and scrutiny it requires.

SCoPEd: Talkin’ ‘Bout a Resolution

As many people reading this will no doubt already be aware, Tara Shennan and I have submitted a BACP AGM resolution asking BACP to end its association with the SCoPEd project and that any future move towards developing competency framework must be undertaken with full membership consultation from the outset.

So what has led to this unprecedented action? The more I have dealt with the BACP, the more frustrated I have become by their seemingly pre-rehearsed lines and steadfast refusal to entertain the idea that SCoPEd is in fact not in the best interests of clients, therapists, the BACP or the profession. There is another Q&A planned for BACP members, and I fully expect to hear the same lines we have heard over and over again: ‘entry points’, ‘evidence-based’, ‘creating opportunities’, ‘we got the language wrong’, ‘we’re listening’ and so on, without directly addressing any of the problems that have been raised with these lines, such as the disprovability of the ‘evidence’, the fact that ‘accredited therapist’ is not an entry point, the lack of evidence that this will create jobs, and so on.

I haven’t taken the decision to submit the resolution lightly; I am aware that the profession I love is at an extremely difficult point in its history, and that the result of this resolution represents a crossroads for BACP, its members, clients and the wider profession. It is rather surreal to find myself so centrally involved in this pivotal moment. But I can see the crossroads ahead, and I can see the path that the BACP are aiming for. It is a path which forces psychotherapists to accept an increasing alignment with the medical model, that casts counselling as psychotherapy’s poor relation and dismisses counsellors as incapable of some of the most basic therapeutic skills. It is a path of IAPT, of elitism, of hierarchy, power and endless volunteering. It is not a path I am willing to let therapy go down.

The first round of resolution voting opens on 19th August and closes 10th September. If you are a BACP member, you will receive an email from BACP (or someone from BACP, or mi vote) providing you with a unique voting link. This vote will decide whether or not the resolution will get through to an AGM vote. If you are a BACP member (including student member) we really, really, need your vote on this because the bar has been set very high – we need 5% of the entire BACP membership to vote for our resolution. That is approximately 2500 members. Unlike BACP, we do not have means to contact all of the members to make them aware of the importance of this vote. So please spread the word, amongst colleagues, friends, fellow students, at networking meetings, conferences, on social media, please keep talking #SCoPEd and help us overcome the massive imbalance of power we are facing in this campaign.

The second round of voting is the actual AGM vote. Again you will receive an email from the BACP or mi vote with a unique link to cast your vote. Online voting for the AGM opens 1st October and closes 4th November. If you are intending to attend the AGM, you may vote in person instead. Rather than needing a particular percentage, for this round we need a simple majority. This means we need to get more votes in favour of the resolution than there are votes against. Again, we need everyone’s support and vote in this round. BACP will be doing everything they can to encourage people to vote against the resolution, so it is hugely important to make your voice heard in this, the deciding vote.

If we are successful in securing a majority in the AGM round, BACP will be legally bound to implement the resolution and discontinue their association with the project. This would be a fantastic result for therapists, clients and for counselling and psychotherapy. It will also be an important message for the membership bodies to hear – the bodies must not lose sight of their responsibility to members, and we will make our voices heard.

For those who haven’t seen it (and even for those who have!) here is the wording of our resolution:

Summary

It is proposed that the BACP discontinue their association with the SCoPEd project, which portrays counsellors as less competent than psychotherapists and questions their capacity for independent judgement. Furthermore, we propose that any future move towards developing a competency framework must be undertaken with member-consultation from the outset.

 

Explanatory Statement

We propose that BACP discontinue their association with the controversial SCoPEd project, and that any future move to develop a competency framework should be undertaken with member-consultation from the outset.

Communication with members has been poor, and many members are unhappy with the way the research has been conducted. The joint project between BACP, UKCP and BPC was developed without any initial member-consultation. The majority of the expert reference group are psychoanalyst/psychodynamic therapists, and several modalities are unrepresented, including person-centred therapy.

The tiered system presented in the project favours trainings associated with two of the bodies involved with the project – UKCP and BPC. While the authors of this resolution do not suggest any impropriety from researchers, we suggest the absence of declarations of potential conflicts of interest is a serious ethical limitation of the research.

The SCoPEd framework places counsellors and psychotherapists on a competency continuum which deskills counsellors, and is not reflective of the ways in which members work in reality.

Claims that SCoPEd will provide clarity for clients, therapists and other stakeholders are called into question by members who report feeling confused by the project. The SCoPEd team have said the terms ‘counsellor’ and ‘psychotherapist’ are not titles, while presumably the evidence they draw upon in the research would use these terms as titles.

BACP have said that the tiers are ‘entry points’, yet ‘Advanced Counsellor’ is only attainable for the vast majority of members through accreditation or equivalent post-qualification experience, which is not an entry point. Facebook chats and Therapy Today articles appear to have only obfuscated further. Members are concerned about what SCoPEd means for the future, because the BACP are not providing clarity about this.

Additionally, concerns have been expressed about the use of medicalised language in the framework, which does not reflect the diversity of modalities and therapeutic approaches amongst members. This comes as movement to challenge the medicalisation of distress gains traction in the field (See: Power Threat Meaning Framework, Johnstone and Boyle, 2018).

If this resolution is successful, the BACP will discontinue its association with the SCoPEd project. This will mean that the tiered framework will not be implemented for BACP members, and the BACP will not spend members’ fees and resources on its further development or implementation. The authors of this resolution propose that this is in the interests of the organisation, its members and clients.

If this resolution is unsuccessful, we do not know what this will mean for the future of the BACP or the profession. At the very least, it is likely that courses leading to UKCP and BPC membership will be seen as preferable from the perspective of new students, employers and perhaps even insurers, since SCoPEd declares therapists entering the profession with those qualifications to possess higher competencies around assessment, ethics, ruptures, unconscious processes and more. The authors suggest that these propositions are damaging, do not reflect the realities of training and practice, and are based on flawed research.

 

And for anyone who got the reference in the title, or didn’t but is curious anyway, here’s a bonus bit of listening: Talkin’ ‘Bout a Revolution

 

The Medicalisation of Therapy – What can we infer from the language of SCoPEd?

The recent conferences and events highlighting the impact of IAPT, and discussions around the medicalisation and industrialisation of therapy on social media, have left me wishing to directly address the significance of the medicalised language of SCoPEd.

The psychoanalytic skew of SCoPEd’s expert reference group has been well documented, and this apparent bias is reflected in the tone and language of the framework itself. Strikingly, the language appears to become increasingly medicalised the further up the competency continuum you go, suggesting that an approach to therapy which aligns itself with a medical model is associated with higher levels of competency.

Some key examples can be found in section 2: Assessment (see below)

scoped assessment

The reality is that many non-‘advanced’ and ‘advanced’ counsellors are working at column C on this, and many other therapists, from all columns, reject diagnostic models altogether. The debates around pathologising distress are well-known, and the SCoPEd group seem to have completely disregarded how limiting, exclusive and irrelevant this framework is to large sections of the profession, and clients too.

Of course, the SCoPEd framework is an outrageous misrepresentation of counselling and psychotherapy theory and practice. So what have the BACP said they will do about this, in response to an unprecedented tidal wave of criticism? Well, technical group chair Fiona Ballantine Dykes has stated that they plan to recruit new members to the ERG to help with the language.

There are some pretty significant problems with this plan. Firstly, the research has been done. Presumably the findings are based on the research, ergo the language is a reflection of what they have found in the research. So how can they change the language without changing the research?

Secondly, this is about more than language. This isn’t just a few misplaced words. The entire thrust of the research is about differentiating counselling from psychotherapy, and enshrining diagnostic-leaning trainings in the process. Take a look at the placement requirements for the top tier:

scoped placement

We are talking about a requirement for psychiatric placement experience, and at the very least, mental health familiarisation, even for the middle tier (as an entry point). So therapists, including many of a person-centred orientation, who reject the concept of therapy as a branch of mental healthcare, will never achieve the top tier. As a reminder, these titles are not owned by anyone; what right do these organisations have to define what we do?

I am deeply concerned that the same three organisations behind SCoPEd are instrumental in the development of the new All-Party Parliamentary Group. When a group with such rigid and inaccurate ideas about therapy, who have continued to steamroller a project without member-support, get their foot in the door of parliament, I think serious questions need to be raised about what they are doing, and why.

Important: Tara Shennan and I have submitted a BACP AGM resolution for the discontinuation of BACP’s association with the SCoPEd project. If you are a member of the BACP please vote for the resolution when the voting opens on 19th August, and again at the second stage in October. BACP resolutions are really difficult to get passed, and we need a lot of support now and going forward. Follow me @aclientfirst Counsellors Together UK @UK_Counsellors and the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy @Alliance4CP to keep up-to-date with the campaign.

The BPS Psychotherapy Section Conference 2019 – The Outsider: Inclusion and Exclusion in the Therapeutic Relationship

Colleagues at the British Psychological Society’s Psychotherapy Section have offered me an exciting opportunity to collaborate and work alongside the BPS Psychotherapy Section, helping to guide and contribute to their position on SCoPEd. The prospect of working with BPS psychotherapy section is particularly attractive to me because of their commitment to the values I believe therapy must continue to embody – diversity, respect, equality and the value of relationship. Held in London on 18th October 2019, The BPS Psychotherapy Section’s 2019 conference “The Outsider: Inclusion and Exclusion in the Therapeutic Relationship” offers a number of £20 reduced-price tickets, both to students and to people who self-identify as belonging to marginalised groups. I think this is a fantastic way to honour the philosophy of the conference, promote inclusivity, and provide an opportunity for the voices of a diverse group of colleagues to be heard.Additionally, 10 FREE tickets are being offered to students who wish to present a poster on any topic relating to psychotherapy. I love that students are being encouraged to share their work and passions in this way!Please read the information on the conference below, which has been written by the BPS Psychotherapy section chair-elect Dr Phil Cox, and get involved! Hope to see you there!

Psychotherapy Section’s 2019 Annual Conference

Welcome to the Psychotherapy Section’s exciting and innovative 2019 Annual Conference, entitled: The Outsider: Inclusion and Exclusion in the Therapeutic Relationship. Join us in a day of exploration with the Psychotherapy Section during which we seek to deepen our understanding of the complexity of the therapeutic relationship and the unconscious barriers that exclude outsider and marginalised groups.To remain philosophically aligned with the conference topic, there are reduced price tickets to just £20.00 for those who self-identify as belonging to marginalised groups, and a number of students. 18 October 2019 9:00 am – 4:30 pm, BPS Offices, 30 Tabernacle Street, London, EC2A 4UE https://www.bps.org.uk/events/outsider-inclusion-and-exclusion-therapeutic-relationship

Free conference entry for 10 poster presenters

We are giving away up to 10 conference free entry tickets to people who would like to present a poster about any topic linked to psychotherapy. Posters can be for any stage of the research process. I (Phil) can offer support and guidance on how to prepare or present a poster. Students on any counselling/psychotherapy or psychology course are particularly welcome – we are not looking for a work of art, just to support you. You’ll have the opportunity to stand by your poster during breaks and answer questions – it’s a great way to develop how to explain your research and ideas – it’s also great exam/viva voce practice. Feel free to contact me PsycheLetter@bps.org.uk

Dr Philip Cox (D.Psych, CPsychol, EuroPsy)

HC

PC reg, BACP (Snr Accred)

BPS Register of Applied Psychology Practice Supervisors

BPS Psychotherapy Section Chair-elect

BPS Psychotherapy Section e-letter editor & Facebook co-editor

Psychotherapy & Counselling Union consultant for professional complaints