26 January 2010

Confer Conference State Regulation: The Issues

23 January 2010, Conway Hall, London

This conference provided an opportunity for members of the counselling and psychotherapy professions to ‘clarify the facts about statutory regulation, explore concerns and to put questions to a panel’. It was well organised and well attended by some 250 delegates from a wide range of modalities and backgrounds. The panel consisted of Lynn Gabriel, Chair BACP, Andrew Samuels, Chair UKCP, Marc, Seale, Chief Executive, HPC, Julian Lusada, Chair BCP, Darian Leader, Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy Against State Regulation, Michael Fischer, psychotherapist and researcher from Kings College and Di Waller, HPC Council Member and Chair of the HPC PLG.

During the morning the panel offered their views on some pre-set questions followed by a general question and answer session, and in the afternoon participants took part on café style conversations followed by feedback.

Michael Fischer described his observations of a small sample of doctors and their fear of the growing ‘blame culture’ in society. Julian Lusada spoke about the need for regulatory processes which were ‘sensitive and thoughtful’, but offered protection to both patients and therapists. Lynn Gabriel reiterated the need for counsellors and psychotherapists to be of equal value in whatever system emerged, and the need to address the mis-perceptions which existed about the HPC. Andrew Samuels proposed that there would be ‘independent statutory regulation’ in some form in the future.

My observation was that there was more agreement than disagreement on the need for some form of regulation beyond the status quo. Various options were presented and discussed – HPC regulation, regulation by a new independent regulator, ‘alternative professional accountability’ as well as reference to profession led forms of regulation elsewhere in the world. There was also agreement than whatever form regulation in the future might take, it must, in the words of Darian Leader, ‘respect the diversity which exists within the field’.

It came as no surprise that the panel expressed very different views on almost all topics. However, I was struck by the amount of misunderstanding there was amongst some members of the panel on, for example, the continuing misperception of the universal use of the medical model by HPC regulated professionals, the suggested lack of a contribution from the counselling and psychotherapy professions to the drafting of the current version of the Standards of Proficiency, the mistaken assertion that ‘user groups’ were denied access to the PLG, and the somewhat confused and therefore confusing discussions about the application of the criteria used by the HPC for assessing readiness or otherwise of a profession for regulation.

Despite this, several clear and constructive themes emerged from the panel and from the delegates. First, there was a call for more dialogue, more discussion between the HPC and members of the profession in order to achieve a regulatory process that was ‘fit for purpose’. Second, there was a call for re-assurance that HPC were listening and would address ongoing concerns from the professions. During the feedback sessions in the afternoon, the word ‘trust’ recurred more often than any other. Trust was acknowledged as fundamental to progress. Third, there were calls for the professional bodies to work together and agree more on a way forward.

I found the café conversations particularly helpful. There were discussions about the impact of statutory regulation on the ‘relational space’ in therapy, and the importance of preserving its unique contribution to society. There were also concerns about clients who might have become obsessed with litigation during or before therapy, others who might use litigation as a means to play out other more unconscious and unresolved conflict in their lives. Regulation needed to address these complex areas. On the other side there was acknowledgement that the professions had not to date made much progress themselves with regulation and that perhaps an independent body might actually provide the impetus for positive change. Overwhelmingly however I felt the discussions highlighted to me the mis-understanding and lack of accurate information about HPC regulation and the desire for further discussion and dissemination of facts. If we are to achieve this, we must pursue the facts and work harder to build trust on all sides.

I would like to thank the organisers of the conference for offering this opportunity for dialogue and debate. We look forward to continuing the dialogue at other meetings in the future.

Anna van der Gaag
Chair HPC