Dan Neville’s address at the EAP Conference – 18th February 2010

Dan Neville’s Address to the Conference on Political and legal status of psychotherapists from a professionals’ and clients’ protection point of view in the European Union.

Address to the “Conference on Political and legal status of psychotherapists from a professionals and clients’ protection point of view in the European Union” organized by the European Association of Psychotherapy (EAP) 18th February 2010.

By Dan Neville TD Fine Gael Spokesman on Mental Health and President, Irish Association of Suicidology

There are no statutory regulations in Ireland for the registration of psychotherapists and counsellors.  As has been pointed out in parliament that there is no state control over who and what qualifications are held by those practicing in these areas.  It is dangerous for untrained, unskilled people to probe other’s unconscious.  They are dealing with human vulnerability and serious damage can be done to such delicate people.

In 2005, the Health Care and Social Care Professionals  Act was introduced by the Irish Government to provide the registration of persons qualifying to use a title of a designated profession and for the determination of complaints relating to their fitness to practice.   Twelve professions were established to perform the powers assigned under the Act to the registration of 12 designated professions.  Psychotherapy was not included as one of these designated professions.  When challenged in parliament at the time of the debate on the bill, the responsible minister stated that the professionals regulated had become so regulated by a process of discussion and consensus.  However the psychotherapies’ and counsellors’ groups failed to agree an approach to regulation.  The Minister employed that statutory regulations in such circumstances would have serious legal implications.  The minister accepted the principle that all psychotherapists and counsellors should be properly qualified.  He pointed out that in consultation with the professional groups involved he was unable to obtain agreement on the criteria.  He stated that he asked that the groups to revert to him with agreed proposals.  The Health Care and Professionals Act, the Minister may, by regulation designate for the purpose of the act any health and care professional not already designated.

In response to the Minister for Health and Children’s request, twenty two organisations established the ‘Psychological Therapies forum for Counsellling and Psychotherapy.  The forum accepted that it is imperative that the public shall be protected by promoting high standards of conduct, education, training and competence among the professions of Counselling and Psychotherapy.   It pointed out that all the bodies involved with the forum provide a code of ethics and practice which their members must abide.  It further stated that “whilst this form of self regulation indeed provides protection to clients of those organizations, it falls short of optimal protection as under our common law system it is possible for any person to take title of Counsellor or Psychotherapist and practice accordingly without the requiring training and competence.

The current anomaly in Ireland does not lend itself to good clinical governance and the maintenance of high standards of patient/client care.  The Health and Social Care professional Act 2005 creates a mechanism to drive forward the clinical governance agenda.  It creates a framework through which practitioners are accountable for continually improving the quality of their services and safeguarding high standards of care by creating an environment where excellence will flourish and optimal protection is offered to the public.  The Health and Social Care and Professional Act 2005 facilitates the State in providing optimal protection to clients who wish to avail of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

All twenty two bodies comprising of the Psychological Therapies Forum have agreed to opt for the statutory Registration Board for Counsellors and Psychotherapists under the name of Psychological Therapist.  Distinctions were made pm the basis of training and accreditation standards between the professions of psychotherapy and counseling

The training standard adopted by the psychological therapies forum for psychotherapy is the European Certificate standard

Irish Council for Psychotherapy (ICP)

The ICP is the main professional body representing psychotherapy in Ireland.  It has 1,200 members form five modalities which are Constructivist, Psychoanalytic, Systemic Family Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral and Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapy.

The ICP is the Umbrella Body for psychotherapy and the National awarding Body for the European Certificate.  As a National Organisation it identifies, develops and maintains professional standards of excellence in psychotherapy through education, training and accreditation.

ICP is a founder member of the Psychological Therapies Forum.

High standards were set, and further developed over the years, in Course Recognition, Accreditation, Complaints Procedures, Supervision, Standards Committee, Appeal Procedures, Ethics and Continuing Professional Development.

From this strong position ICP was in a position to initiate a process in 2005 that resulted in over 20 Professional Bodies forming a Forum with an over-arching title of Psychological Therapists. Their task was to lobby the Irish Government for the Statutory Regulation and Registration of the profession of counselling and psychotherapy under the Health and Social Care Professional Act 2005. This submission was made in September 2008.  In the absence of any response to our submission to date the members of the forum continue to work collaboratively under the following headings:

networking with members of those professions which are currently being processed for Statutory Regulation e.g. social workers, physiotherapists

Consulting with HETAC with regard to training standards and quality assuring the profession

Setting up of a voluntary register of accredited therapists

The regulation and registration of counsellors and psychotherapists is not on any immediate time-scale and is generally thought to be unlikely to be implemented for at least another five years.

Impact of Lack of Legal Status on the Profession

From a professional point of view the Professional Bodies continue to be self-regulatory and work towards a standard of excellence in the profession. They operate complaints and appeals procedures which can only be applied to their own members. Outside this brief, regardless of what is reported the Professional Body is powerless. As previously referred this leaves clients in a vulnerable position.

There is an urgent need for regulation of counselling and psychotherapy on an EU-wide basis which would provide professional protection and opportunities for the practitioner and safety for the client. Prof. Dr. Alfred Pritz, General Secretary of the EAP and Dr. Albina Colden had this to say at a  seminar in Vienna in 2009 “EU-wide psychotherapy legislature will enable psychotherapy practitioners to benefit from the Right to Freedom of Movement of Persons – one of the fundamental freedoms granted under the European Community (EC) Treaty, that in practice cannot be enjoyed by psychotherapists, as their professional qualifications are currently not sufficiently recognized outside of their own country”

Impact of Political Agendas on the Profession

Nick Totton author of Psychotherapy and Politics (Sage 2000) says that “Therapy is inherently political, because it always has positions on how human beings should be, and thus carries a vision of how we could come to be what we should be………..the willingness to tolerate and sit with despair is one of psychotherapy’s contributions to political life”

The President of the International Association of Counsellors, Dr. Courtland Lee, Ph.D in his opening address at the IAC Conference in Warwick in 2009 described the waiting for Statutory Registration as protracted navel gazing while the world is passing us by.

He urged delegates to Think Globally and Act Locally – to think about becoming forces for change in the world.

That is a strong and powerful political statement and one which if acted on would benefit all.

The lack of legal status for the profession leaves both clients and therapists vulnerable

The political agenda has the potential to ensure that clients receive the help they need from appropriately selected, educated and trained professional therapists OR it can choose to ignore therapists and clients alike. In the words of Courtland Lee (IAC) “In a world of savage inequalities are we prepared to walk the gauntlet for social justice?