Leading charity backs registration of counsellors and therapists

The most influential mental health charity in the UK has joined urgent calls for counsellors and psychotherapists be independently regulated. Mind says people will be left “unprotected” if counsellors and psychotherapists are not regulated.

All psychologists are from today to be regulated by the Health Professions Council (HPC).

Until now the British Psychological Society had used a chartership system to accredit its members. But this system was considered impartial. The HPC will keep a register of psychologists who meet standards for training, professional skills and behaviour.

Mind is now urging counsellors and psychotherapists to also become regulated by the HPC.

Psychological therapies remain one of the least regulated areas of mental health practice in the UK, says the charity. At present anyone can practice as a counsellor or psychotherapist, even if they have no training and do not belong to a professional organisation. But HPC regulation could make this illegal.

The government has said HPC regulation for psychotherapists and counsellors, many of whom belong to a variety of professional organisations, will be introduced by 2011.

Some psychotherapists, notably psychoanalysts, and counsellors argue state regulation will “reinforce protection rackets.”

“Instead of empowering users of services it is looking now as if all state regulation will do is reinforce the protection rackets that rule the roost,” Ian Parker, a psychoanalyst and professor of psychology at Manchester Metropolitan University, wrote in a comment piece for psychminded.co.uk.

“Psychiatrists, for example, are already officially registered (through the Royal College of Psychiatrists), but we know that this has not stopped abuse of patients, nor has it curbed the pharmaceutical companies who peddle the drugs to those ‘professionals’ who write prescriptions and enforce ‘treatment’.”

“It is sometimes said that state regulation or ‘registration’ is needed to prevent another Harold Shipman (the GP who murdered many of his patients). But the big flaw in this argument is that Shipman was already regulated by the General Medical Council.

“And the biggest flaw in the scare-story argument here is that ‘registered’ practitioners are sometimes the most dangerous, and it is those who are outside the registers who do the most creative, supportive and radical work.”

A coalition of around 2,000 therapists has campaigned against statutory regulation.

The coalition, which has outlined its objections in a statement, claims there is no solid research demonstrating widespread abuse by practitioners; nor is there research to show regulation lessens abuse, it says.

But Mind insists there needs to be a body to monitor alleged malpractice by therapists.

Its chief executive Paul Farmer said: “People go to see a counsellor or psychotherapist when they are in distress and it is unacceptable that at their most vulnerable they are not being properly protected.”

The Witness charity for people abused by health and social care workers, says it is approached every month by people who claim to have been abused by therapists.

Its chief executive Jonathan Coe said: “HPC regulation can’t end abuse but it can provide a single, unified and unbiased channel for complaints, and if a practitioner is struck off they are then legally barred from operating under that title.”

The HPC now regulates the following psychologist types: • clinical psychologist • counselling psychologist • educational psychologist • forensic psychologist • health psychologist • occupational psychologist • practitioner psychologist • registered psychologist • sport and exercise psychologist