This spring I took the decision to stand for election as a governor of the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). The BACP is the largest regulatory body of counselors in the UK, although even the term regulatory is debatable when neither counsellor or psychotherapist are protected professions – meaning anyone can call themselves one, without any training. The BACP has attempted to formalize training, qualifications needed, provide a complaints pathway, and a framework which ethical practitioners adhere to. There is a tension, just as with organisations such as the British Medical Association, when a body represents both the profession and those who engage the services of members of that profession. However, this is certainly not a unique tension.
Some, who know my history of interactions with the BACP may have been surprised by my decision to stand. I believe in the importance of being a critical friend, whether highlighting the importance of signing the Memorandum of Understanding (2) questioning the advice given from the pages of Therapy Today or objecting to the promotion of anti trans groups. Many of my peers have decided that the BACP is simply not the place for them, and walked away, a decision I understand and respect.
However, it is not a decision I feel able to take. Partly this is because I passionately believe we need better regulation of counselling. Phil Dore and Amanda Williamson among others have been campaigning on this for some time. Our clients are often very vulnerable, and need, and deserve protections. How we balance this with also advocating for those who work in the profession is most certainly not simple. Nor do I believe that other organisations do not also consider the needs of clients. It is the case though that the scope, and reach of the BACP mean that in my opinion it is best placed to be able to do both.
My very first open letter to the BACP concerned the prohibition of conversion therapy by its members. Many of you may feel that myself and my colleagues were pushing at an open door, but the reality is that it was a challenge that had to be made. LGBTQ+ understanding and competency have often been missing, both from training curricula and considerations of competency, ethics and ethos. I am a member of the LGBTQ+ community, a community which has faced pathologisation and ill treatment at the hands of mental health professionals. Even today LGBTQ+ individuals can face prejudice, disgust, ignorance and stereotyping.
I am also a working class person in private practice. These two things are, I believe interconnected. I take an intersectional approach to identity, believing we are all made up of a web of experiences, behaviours, privileges and oppression which come together to make us who we are. Very often it seems that counselling has been the preserve of those with independent incomes and little worry about paying the rent or ensuring there is money to cover all the bills. This has not been intentional, there is no guiding hand here, but it has meant that often the concerns of those with less privilege are overlooked. Perhaps this has been most clearly seen in the campaign against “voluntary” counselling roles. Many of those in private practice, or qualifying as counselors, struggle to find paid work. Charities and other organisations have become used to expecting highly qualified, and experienced professionals to work for them for free. When they cannot find these people they are putting students in to work with vulnerable people. Recently I saw an advert looking for counsellors or final year students to work unpaid in a prison, worrying and, I believe deeply unethical.
This situation had to end, and I believe the BACP can be a part of creating real change here. If counselling is to be respected, part of that will come from demanding we are treated as worthy of payment for our labour. We are not well meaning amateurs and it is time both internally and to the public at large that certain stereotypes were challenged.
I believe that in standing I will be able to represent all these voices so rarely heard. It may be personal stubbornness, or optimism but I believe it is worth trying to have those voices uplifted. I shall follow up this personal piece with a second wider article on what changes structurally, and in attitude and ethos I believe need to take place.
You can find out more about all the candidates, and vote here.