Open letter regarding SCoPEd Project
By Caz Binstead – Counsellor/Psychotherapist in Private Practice, and Clinical Supervisor. Currently sitting on the BACP Private Practice Executive Committee.
12th August 2019
SCoPEd – wow! If there is one word that seems to evoke or frustrate as much as Brexit, it is surely this word!
Amongst the nationwide and global uncertainty, now would feel like an opportune time for unity. Unfortunately, our caring profession, which exists to help people with their emotional well-being, has, this year, become a tense place of uncertainty and worry, and a sparing ground of accusation and recrimination.
As someone who sits on the Private Practice Divisional Executive, at the BACP (British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy), and is a member in my own right, I have had to decide on which side of the debate I lie. Some of my colleagues, such as board members, Una Cavanagh and Andrew Reeves, have recently set out their own personal opinions, and so too, I am choosing here to follow suit.
It is important to state that this article is me writing from my capacity as an independent therapist, and is focussing on my own personal viewpoints of the SCoPEd project itself, and, some of the ramifications (direct and indirect), that have come about since its launch. I wish to also critically evaluate how this project affects us as current members, and ponder how to best move forward in an inclusive and positive way.
In short, I have decided, that I cannot support SCoPEd, thereby concluding that I will need to vote for an AGM Resolution that is being put forward to halt the project (Stevens & Shennan, 2019). This is not at all easy for me as someone who holds a position at the BACP, and who supports the work of not only my own division (where I am currently the lead on an exciting project for new private practitioners), but the work and potential of the BACP as an organisation in general. For me though, being a member of a professional body, is of immense importance and responsibility; it is a place where we work collectively, to ensure the best for our profession. I have avidly read all of the material that has been put out on the subject, and also asked questions and spoken to many people on both sides of the argument. I hope I am supported by my colleagues at the BACP in joining the wider conversation, doing what I feel deep down is right, and activating my rights as a fully paid member. For context, I am currently working as a therapist in private practice, and a clinical supervisor (including, of trainees on a BACP Accredited Training Course).
SCoPEd has been described as ‘a ground-breaking project to map professional competencies for the counselling and psychotherapy professions (BACP, 2019) .
There is so much critical debate which I could go into in this article, but many of these important themes and questions, have already been picked up on by a multitude of people via academic papers and open letters. Some of the criticisms are as follows: it creates a hierarchy, it pigeon-holes practitioners, it makes a distinction between counselling and psychotherapy in a way never done before by BACP, it denigrates counselling, it favours certain modalities, it shows gaps and inaccuracies in the mapping itself, it poses a question of what a ‘point of entry’ actually means and how accreditation fits with this, it ignores the deeply enriching relational element of our work, and finally, it uses a particular methodology that many have criticised. On the other side, SCoPEd team states that they are aiming to promote the value of therapy and create more opportunities for members, and are listening and responding to the feedback they receive. These critiques are largely available on social media, and I would encourage everyone to seek out and read both the challenges posed, and the BACP’s responses, to some of them.
In some ways, navigating my way around the project, has felt a bit like being lost in rabbit’s warren. And at times when I think I understand it, suddenly more questions arise. One good example of this, is on the point around the titled columns (column 1; Counsellor, Column 2: Advanced Counsellor, Column 3; Psychotherapist). A question on this arose during the recently filmed interview put out by the BACP (chaired by Faisal Mahmood, senior lecturer in counselling/psychotherapy, Newman University), featuring, Chief Executive Hadyn Williams, Chief Professional Standards Officer and Chair of the Technical Group of SCoPEd, Fiona Ballantine-Dykes, and Board Chair Andrew Reeves (BACP, 2019). Fiona, in answering the question specifically on BACP’s long-standing differing position to the other bodies on the idea of rigid titles, states:
“The titles, is probably one of the biggest problems we’ve got, because it suggests hierarchy, and it suggests that they’ve been decided. And actually, neither of these things are true. If we just put aside what we call those areas of competencies, or what the person doing them is, then you start to have a more possible conversation. And I think, with the benefit of hindsight, we took a leap there, and there are reasons for that which would take a long time to explain…..we’ve got to own that – that was not a good thing to do”
However, just two weeks later, BACP Vice President Julia Samuel says, in an article put out by the BACP and published on their website and social media sites :
“I don’t see that we are denigrating what we already have by trying to have a clear understanding of what the words counsellor and psychotherapist are” (Samuel, 2019)
But hang on – I thought we weren’t using titles? Confused?! Me too!
Ironically, given the purpose of SCoPEd was to provide more clarity for the public, much of the criticism has focussed on an ongoing sense of bewilderment regarding the muddled nature of the project, levels of miscommunication, and an ongoing lack of clarity – hardly encouraging for clients, when therapists themselves are struggling to understand.
Some of this confusion was around what this framework meant for existing practitioners. BACP have since worked to rectify this, and it is apparent that that there are three stages to SCoPEd:
- Mapping (framework put together),
- Consultation (present stage),
- Implementation (the final stage).
As much focus to date has been on the ‘mapping stage’, I want in this piece, to reflect on the Implementation stage of the project.
Implementation, is the stage which must be of most interest to current practitioners, because, it will be at this stage where there is a degree of unknown, and that vital decisions could be made which would affect you, and your practice. This is important, because once the ‘consultation stage’ is over (even with the extension), there is theoretically, no stopping the project. Implementation means implementation. Yet, weirdly, in this case, in addition to its routine meaning, it also means adding an unquantifiable number of unknowns for current practitioners, and crucially, past the point of consultation. SCoPEd team’s answer, lies in us, trusting the process. Therefore, it seemed fitting in response, to ask myself sincerely if I do have a problem with trusting the process? Well, honestly, I can say with much reflection – I don’t. In fact, it forms a big part of my work as a therapist, both in the practice, and the underpinning philosophy of what informs my work. Do I have a problem though, with sitting with this particular uncertainty, yes…an emphatic yes, and I’ll tell you why. To trust a process, you have to feel secure in the boundaries and framework surrounding it. This, is what creates safety for people. Therapists have paid thousands of pounds to train in this profession, and of course, people are going to be concerned about any changing of the ‘goal posts’ .It is a lot to ask someone to trust the process, when what they knew before, is subject to change, and where this is based on a basic framework that many people now do not trust, particularly given BACP have had to concede that several elements are not viable in their current state. This leaves us with a real lack of backbone information about the Implementation stage in particular. To me, that does not feel safe conditions to trust the process.
Given the number of under-employed therapists out there, I in fact consider myself to be one of the lucky ones. I have a fulltime private practice which I earn my entire living from, I have an interesting position at the BACP, alongside all the other wonderful opportunities I have been afforded in my career. However, I work with colleagues in all differing positions, who are not necessarily so lucky, and would be potentially more affected by the introduction of SCoPEd. Here’s a case study to illustrate:
Sheila, a counsellor, has been qualified for 3 years, and is registered but not accredited. She has struggled with previously finding a paid position, and finds it difficult to maintain a private practice so as a result has money issues. Despite this, she been working hard for free for hundreds of hours beyond qualification, with the hope of building up more experience. The idea of SCoPEd to her therefore, brings a new level of disillusionment. She would fall into ‘column 1’, which defines her knowledge and skills in a certain way – much less than someone in ‘column 3’ who may only be newly qualified but already could be looking more attractive to potential employers. She feels that despite having worked for free to increase her employability, she is back to square 1.
What ramifications there might be for people – or not – despite, any good intentions by the bodies involved, will be of immense importance on a socio-economic level to many people. Because, to live in a world means many things, which includes, consideration of income, job security, status in the world, and how all that and more, affects our own mental health.
Whilst I applaud any aspirations, that existing therapists can move into the higher tiers through either ‘top up’ courses or potentially CPD, how this would actually work in practice, is a huge question in itself. For instance, in an unregulated profession, there is nothing, or rather, nobody, to ensure that private training colleges’ entry access policies, will indeed evolve with SCoPEd, to provide these easier top-up routes. In fact, there may even be more of an incentive for Psychotherapy Course fees to be increased, to meet the demand for the higher status of ‘column 3’, thereby creating further alienation and inequality in certain sectors of our field. And on the latter point regarding CPD, again, a great ideal, but frankly, this would be an absolute logistical minefield to process.
I also find myself asking, why I have to trust the process? I made a decision many years ago to train as a therapist in an unregulated profession, and those qualifications, who I work with, and how I identify, whatever, for whoever, ought, to be honoured.
Andrew Reeves has been vocal about the fact that he supports the principle of SCoPEd and disagrees with the notion it should be scrapped entirely, even though, he is critical of aspects of it. He states “The majority of the criticisms has called for it to be scrapped, but so few have offered anything in its place….I would have loved a resolution for the AGM this year that demanded BACP do something different” (Reeves, 2019). I am not sure that it is the job of the proponent of the resolution to come up with this, and I myself do not think SCoPEd in its current form can necessarily be rectified, but it did get me thinking about what might be an alternative way forward. In short, I actually see where we are at, as a great opportunity. Regulation, standardisation, licensing – these are all historically, hugely complex questions, and let’s face it, we all have differing opinions. SCoPEd, is a bit of a ‘halfway house regulation’, and with that, comes all kinds of potential problems, identified in other critiques, and also as mentioned above, questions around how you manage equality of training education, equal access to the profession regardless of class, etc, particularly, when we might even call some of the parties involved, stakeholders themselves. I personally think there is some sense, in beginning wider conversations again within the profession, to see where we are at. Mick Cooper, professor of Counselling Psychology at The University of Roehampton, who worked on the HCPC panel back in 2009 discussing regulation, recently wrote a short comment on social media regarding SCoPEd, and pointed out that back then, 87% of BACP members who responded to a survey, ‘opposed the proposed differentiation between counsellors and psychotherapists’. How interesting it would be to see if that has changed at all? We need to ask those questions. This would give BACP, in particular, a further chance to embrace their commitment to be operating through a ‘member’s lens’ (as the membership team has so successfully done with the recent generic survey).
There is also a great opportunity here, for a broad church of collaboration. There has been much talk of National Counselling Society, who holds a PSA register and has 9000 members, being left out of talks, which clearly needs rectifying if we identify clients, as the most important stakeholders. I am also aware, of the many groups who speak for, and work for, cultural diversity within our profession. For example, a well-known community of qualified therapists, whose mission is to end the prevalence and culture of unpaid work within our profession, currently, has 5,200 Facebook group members (which appears to be their main place of operation). Given BPC, one of the three parties involved in SCoPEd has, according to their website, 1500 registered members, there is an amazing opportunity to open this collaboration up to larger groups representing voices which may feel otherwise unheard or marginalised, and really create a heard voice for our wonderfully diverse profession as it exists today.
There has been a lot of talk about courage recently in trusting the process. And so, I put this challenge back to BACP Senior Leadership – I urge you, to be courageous. If you truly believe in your plan, then yes, write your articles, put forward your argument, allow others to write counter-arguments, debate, and then……. put it to a membership vote. If you commit to a membership vote at this stage, before the implementation, I can sincerely tell you now, that I, and I am sure many others, would cease to support the resolution. If BACP themselves give their membership a voice on this issue through the most democratic process available, it can be decided fairly by professionals whether going ahead with the SCoPEd plan feels the best and most sensible option, or, whether to abandon it fully, and reconvene as a membership body to decide the best way to work collaboratively forward.
Before I conclude, it is of great sorrow for me, that I am compelled here in my article to touch on the subject of bullying and abuse, which almost feels like it’s become synonymous with the SCoPEd project. First off, I am so sorry to hear that individuals on both sides of this argument have been subject to abuse. None of us need telling that it is not okay to harass BACP Board Chair Andrew Reeves in an abusive way, neither is it okay to target the main proponent of the resolution Erin Stevens – or anyone else full-stop. I don’t need to tell anyone that it is not alright to gaslight, or manipulate, nor to use power and control as a means of intentional harming another individual. As therapists who will often come across these themes in our work, we absolutely must be vigilant to such behaviour, in all in guises; both obvious and more subtle, and whether delivered in more overt or covert ways.
We must also remember that there is an important difference between challenge and abuse. This year, I have really felt the burden of worry for some of my fellow practitioners, and immense sadness at times. We must continue to be empathic to each other and understand the level of feeling on either side of the arguments. Though we might not always agree, we must always understand that there is a human being on the other side, and that will include recognising any and all feelings that arise, even anger (as separate to aggression). To many people, this project may feel like an existential threat, and of course, that will provoke a felt response. One thing I am immensely grateful for in this process, is meeting and debating with the many passionate people on both sides who have a lot to offer. I don’t believe we can really condemn passion, or healthy disagreement/debate, or, we would surely be guilty of writing off many a historical figure, Carl Jung included! The fact that people care so much about their profession is a definite hidden gemstone in all of this. In fact, it warms my heart thinking that there could be a large collaboration of dedicated people working forward together to achieve the best for our profession, for our clients, ourselves, and, in terms of employment and recognition at government levels.
I’ll end therefore by extending my best wishes to anybody who feels inspired and energised to contribute to this very important discussion. Truly, through conversation and working together, we can seek to make our profession the best that it can be for clients and therapists alike.
BACP, 2019. SCoPEd (Scope of Practice and Education). [Online].
BACP, M., 2019. SCoPEd Panal Discussion [Interview] 2019.
Reeves, A., 2019. BACP A view from the chair. [Online].
Samuel, J., 2019. BACP. [Online]
Available at: https://bacp.co.uk/news
Stevens, E. & Shennan, T., 2019. [Online]
Available at: https://ukcounsellors.co.uk/bacp-members-resolution-2019-vote-to-scrap-scoped/
To engage further with me on this debate, feel free to email me on: