26 October 2010

A meeting of minds

On the 7th October, HPC held an information event for counsellors and psychotherapists in Glasgow. It was well attended. We began with a presentation on the purpose of regulation, and moved on to an update of the work of the Professional Liaison Group for psychotherapists and counsellors and a description of the HPC’s Fitness to Practise process. This was followed by an hour long Question and answer session with a panel. Brain McGee, Chief Executive of COSCA (Counselling in Scotland) and member of the HPC’s PLG, joined us on the panel.

The audience raised a wide range of issues about the proposals for statutory regulation. First, there were concerns about the potential financial impact of regulation on voluntary sector organisations and their volunteers. In Scotland there is a strong and well established infrastructure of volunteers who provide counselling services, perhaps more so than in other parts of the UK, and the issue of funding the fee could become a breaking point. There was discussion around whether the Scottish government could or would offer a subsidy, given the widespread use of volunteer counselling services in Scotland.
Some representatives from the voluntary sector organisations also asked about the timescale for the implementation of statutory regulation, and expressed frustration at the continuing delay. As well as the desire to fully address the complexity of some of the issues about regulating psychotherapists and counsellors the uncertainly around the current governments position in this regard was also noted by the audience.

There was discussion about some of the unresolved issues still being considered by the PLG, such as the criteria for selecting voluntary registers for transfer, differentiation between counselling and psychotherapy, and what individuals would call themselves post regulation. There was some feeling expressed that the result of the consultation exercise showing that 78% of individuals did not favour differentiation should be taken as a clear sign of the views of counsellors and psychotherapists. However, the HPC noted that these figures might not convey the full picture as a number of the current voluntary registers had asked individuals to respond directly to them and had collated views.

There was a discussion around the relationship between professional bodies and the regulator – with concerns expressed that regulation would diminish the role of the professional bodies. Clearly, HPC could not replace the services and support offered by these bodies. The panel responded by referring to previous experiences from other professions where the role of the professional body as the body focused on promotion of the standards and the reputation of the profession was enhanced once the disciplinary function was transferred.

Fitness to practise processes were also raised, in particular concerns about how the HPC supported those individuals for whom there was no case to answer. What was the duty of care to them? Kelly Johnson, Director of Fitness to Practise described the processes that had been put in place to support individuals and outlined the work being done exploring the role of mediation in a regulatory context. She acknowledged again the significant stress arising from any scrutiny of an individual’s practise.

I personally was heartened to hear that at least one individual who had attended one of our previous stakeholder events held in Manchester in 2009, said she felt this event showed that the HPC was listening to the views of practitioners and was more constructive in the dialogue. There has been the need for some culture shifts/changes in approach for us as an organisation in thinking about the regulation of psychotherapists and counsellors. I hope that such listening will continue on both sides.. The whole event did feel like a conversation that was illuminating for both listeners and speakers, and I was pleased to be part of it.

Anna van der Gaag
Chair HPC