Palace Gate Counselling Service, the BACP & the regulation debate

Palace Gate Counselling Service is essentially a community of volunteers, working collaboratively to offer an according-to-means/not-for-profit service providing person-centred talking therapy. Everyone working with us chooses to volunteer at least half a day’s time. Our therapists have diverse day jobs and training backgrounds. We are not all person-centred ‘purists’ – although we all work in ways compatible with that over-arching ethos. Our therapists are around 80% post diploma or M.A. (with many years’ experience), and around 20% final year diploma students. We have around 10 applicants for each placement space, so we exercise care around our choices and pay attention to the fit between us as a service and the individual applicant[1]. Most of our placement students stay on after qualifying, and many of our therapists have been with us for 5 years or more.

A lot of our therapists have individual membership of the BACP, UKCP, Association for Humanistic Psychology Practitioners or another such organization, in relation to their work inside and outside this service. We are happy to support them in that (and in seeking registration if that is their choice). We also have many years’ experience supporting our placement students in meeting their course requirements and the parameters of their own such memberships of professional bodies.

We don’t require our therapists to belong to such a body, or to register under the BACP scheme or any other such scheme that may come into being. We do not define what makes an effective therapist in these terms. In our experience, there are effective, ethical therapists who have such memberships; effective, ethical therapists who do not; and ineffective or unethical therapists in both categories too. It would seem to us a nonsense for a person-centred service to impose external locus requirements of this nature on our therapists, nor do we believe it would serve client interests or that holy grail, ‘safety’.

Our best and indeed only possible assurance of the quality of the service we offer our clients lies in:-

  • our careful, reflective processes in choosing therapists we think will be able to offer clients the core conditions, and an effective therapeutic relationship; and then
  • working closely with those therapists through our well-developed in-house supervision structures. We offer at least 3 ¼ hours per month of 1:1 and group work, as well as community meetings and C.P.D. events. Supervision is a person-centred exploration of client work and therapist process. It provides us with in depth experience of the therapist and their work, in which they/we can identify and work on development areas.

We give central place to supporting our therapists in developing qualities in themselves that will help them to be effective & trustworthy therapists: e.g. self-awareness & self-ownership, a well developed inward ethical sense, compassion, openness, integrity, resilience, wisdom, humility & courage. The BACP Ethical Framework outlines personal qualities that we too think help make an effective therapist:

As we have said in previous posts, we were organisational members of the BACP for many years (a membership we inherited from the service’s beginnings in the 1990s, long before it took its current shape). We have never experienced a client complaint to the BACP. We have had some increasing reservations about our membership, and finally decided not to renew when it came up for renewal in October 2013. This decision was not about the BACP Ethical Framework, which we think is a sensible and useful set of principles, compatible with an internal locus of evaluation (although we have difficulties with its application within the BACP professional conduct process, which seems far more rule-based/external locus[2]). However, we had increasing concerns about the fit between us as a person-centred service, & the BACP as an organisation with a very different world view & values. We have seen this gap widen over the years.

We have also in the last 18 months experienced a conflict centred around a couple of therapists who used to work with us. We have covered these extreme and exceptional events on this blog:

These two therapists each made a complaint to the BACP against this service. We also made complaints against them/one other, for behaviour we consider to be grossly unethical.

We have some serious issues, primarily with how the administrative wing of the BACP has handled this conflict and the complaints (as opposed to the Panel/hearing process itself). We also have concerns with aspects of how the BACP is constituted and operates. Hearings have taken place on the two complaints against us. The complaints related to the two therapists’ own alleged experiences, rather than to client work (the allegations in this conflict all emanate from other therapists, not from clients). We do not yet know the hearing outcomes. We therefore think it would be inappropriate at this stage to comment in detail on the BACP-specific elements. We do want to give a brief overview of some of the issues as we see them – given that we have been publicly challenged on this: ):-

  • The BACP appears to have applied different (and harsher) standards and criteria to the complaints by us, than they have to the complaints against us. For example, we were required to redraft our complaints to remove some references to third party material. This seemed to us difficult to sustain as an argument, in the context of an organized group of complainants – the group element, and the process contamination/distortions this creates, are key to our response to these complaints. Moreover the complaints against us contained extensive third party material, which was not challenged by the BACP.
  • The BACP ultimately rejected the complaints we made. This was not, as the complainants have stated, ‘on the merits’ – there was no hearing to determine the merits. The BACP gave several grounds for its decision, and we remain unclear on their basis. However, it is clear that one reason was that we as a service were never the ‘clients’ of the therapists concerned. We think this makes nonsense of any concept of ethics. It cannot possibly be an intelligible or defensible viewpoint that it does not matter how one therapist behaves to another, however unethical, so long as they are not seen to take similar attitudes and behaviours into their client work.
  • The BACP sets itself up to hold therapists ‘accountable’, without itself apparently being willing to accept accountability. We have repeatedly challenged aspects of its behaviour, without this being adequately addressed, or addressed at all. The BACP has a complaints policy, which is extremely limited in scope. A therapist might use it, for example, if they bought a BACP publication and it arrived missing some pages. The BACP has no complaints policy in respect of the far more fundamental issues we have raised, nor any discernible process for dealing with such challenges.
  • Our advisors tell us there are essentially two possible means of challenging the BACP from outside, both via the court system: a contractual claim, or judicial review. They have advised us that a litigant would be unlikely to succeed in a contractual claim, because the BACP has drafted its contractual/membership documentation to allow it to do whatever it chooses. There is also a difficulty with judicial review, because this recourse is generally only available for public bodies. The BACP, although it has undertaken some of the roles of a public body, is actually a private company operating a members’ association. It is thus questionable whether it is subject to judicial review at all. Our understanding is that a number of people have looked at taking the BACP to judicial review, and been deterred by the extremely expensive process and the uncertain outcome (partly because of this public/private issue).
  • Our belief, and that of our advisors, is that there are solid grounds for judicial review against the BACP, assuming the court would accept jurisdiction. One example of this: the BACP has no process for hearing/examining evidence from the person complained against, except through the full hearing process. So, for example, a client could make a complaint that a therapist said/did something to them on a particular date, and the therapist could have alibi evidence that they were in Australia at the time. Such a case would still proceed to a full hearing, involving the therapist in expense, stress, reputational damage and hours of work – because the BACP has no other/prior mechanism for looking at the alibi evidence. That contravenes fundamental principles/processes of justice. There are other examples – both in general terms and in relation to our own experience.
  • We have an ethical issue (and disconnect) with all of this: how can an organization purporting to bring accountability to the profession justify setting itself up so that it is, effectively, unaccountable?

We will not be rejoining the BACP, nor do we intend to join another such body. We are instead giving focus within our service to ways in which we, as a community, can strengthen and develop our abilities to support ourselves and each other in our client work and our own evolution as therapists, and also offer/receive this beyond our service. Our client/therapist facing Ethos Statements[3] are a manifestation of the first element, this blog of the second.

We do not believe that regulation and professional conduct processes – at least in the form they currently exist and as practised by the BACP – are a helpful way forward. We are by no means alone in the therapy world in taking this view. Brian Thorne makes an eloquent argument in this excellent article published in Therapy Today in 2009:-

We agree with Brian that it is ethically imperative to oppose compulsory regulation (and also creeping regulation, whereby the message is given to clients and therapists that – as Brian puts it – ‘if we care about clients then we will be in favour of statutory regulation.’)

We resonate with his opening remarks:-

‘I have long since wearied of trying to join in rational debate with those who are convinced that the statutory regulation of counselling and psychotherapy is desirable, necessary or inevitable. Such people, it seems, are impervious to arguments which seem to me to carry considerable weight – for example: i) that no convincing proof exists that state regulation protects clients from abuse, ii) that therapy is not a medical or even usually a medically associated activity and that regulation by the Health Professions Council consequently makes no sense, and iii) that the uniqueness both of persons and relationships indicates the inappropriateness of a state regulatory process which must inevitably encourage uniformity and militate against creativity of practice.

These, to me, powerful arguments, are dismissed as irrelevant, defensive, protective of the selfish ambitions of therapists, and unrealistic in the context of a world which demands accountability, risk-free behaviour and constant monitoring. In such a world, it is self-evident that statutory regulation is desirable, necessary or inevitable – and probably all three. End of discussion: accept, conform, make the best of a bad job and carve out as much personal freedom and flexibility as is possible in the emerging system. And stop being paranoid – all professions worthy of the name are state regulated and why should therapists be arrogant enough to see themselves as exceptions? If, to my mind, valid arguments fall on deaf ears, it is perhaps even more disturbing to discover that what sometimes seems to be the majority of therapists have either thrown in the towel or genuinely believe – sometimes passionately – that state regulation is, in fact, a good thing, ethically responsible and to be welcomed enthusiastically. Who, I ask myself, are these fellow practitioners and how has it come about that I find myself in such company?’

There is an argument which is implicit in Brian’s article, which seems to us profoundly important, especially if you consider yourself to be a person-centred therapist or have a resonance with person-centred ideas. The person-centred approach is rooted in the idea of internal locus. As Rogers puts it:-

“Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person’s ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me. Neither the Bible nor the prophets — neither Freud nor research –neither the revelations of God nor man — can take precedence over my own direct experience. My experience is not authoritative because it is infallible. It is the basis of authority because it can always be checked in new primary ways. In this way its frequent error or fallibility is always open to correction.” From On Becoming a Person, 1961 Carl Rogers

The regulation approach is – by definition – about rules, uniformity, and evaluation/judgement from an external locus. This way of seeing/doing is very popular in our culture. It’s woven into our social structures, from education to the medical system to criminal justice. We would argue that this is a broken model. It has not delivered us a healthy, thriving society, families or individuals. Instead it supports fragmentation and disconnection, and the self-destructive/socially divisive behaviours that arise from this. This model is also inherently incompatible with a person-centred way of seeing. It is a nonsense for a therapist on the one hand to argue with Rogers that we support our clients in their therapeutic journeys and actualizing by offering relationship characterized by the core conditions – i.e. respectful of internal locus – and on the other to support a regulatory structure based on ‘accountability’ in the sense of external locus, judgement and punishment. If that way of being does not support client growth, it will not support therapist growth or social/cultural growth either.

So what are the alternatives? That is a big question, and outside the immediate scope of this post – although we will return to it. One possible answer is the Independent Practitioners Network, or a similar structure. We are looking at the idea of creating a more accessible version of the I.P.N. ourselves, for person-centred talking therapists and also those who work from a similar philosophical/ethical base in other therapeutic fields. On a smaller, more personal/local scale, there is the process we would use within our service to respond to a client raising issues, outlined in our client-facing Ethos Statement. This comes from the section headed ‘Conflict’ near the end:-

‘…..If need be, we will explore the issues through a collaborative process. This might be: your therapist with their supervisor working with them; you with another experienced therapist/supervisor here working with you; a 3rd experienced therapist/ supervisor to provide another perspective. We would meet/talk separately &/or together, as needed. We as a service would do our best to resolve matters & meet any concerns.

• We do not see this process as being about blame/punishment (we do not believe this is a helpful way for people to relate to each other). Instead we see it as a collaborative process aimed at exploring the circumstances, & finding a helpful way through. Less ‘crime & punishment’, more ‘truth & reconciliation’. Ultimately our purpose is for you to get the help you are looking for in coming to therapy, in a way that works for you.’

In our 18 year history, we have had a client raise an issue requiring this process only once, a few years ago[4]. We convened the collaborative process described. The outcome was a consensual one, and both client and therapist expressed themselves satisfied with it. The therapist left our service by their own choice/decision, and remains on good terms with us.

There are unending ranks of organisations and ‘therapeutic’ structures in our culture that support the pro-regulation way of seeing, so therapists who also support it have plenty of ‘career paths’ to choose from. Clients too have a choice about which therapist to see. We have no agenda around trying to change the minds of those who are passionately wedded to the pro-statutory regulation arguments. Like Brian Thorne, our experience is that this viewpoint disregards the lack of evidence base and seems impermeable to reason, so we see no purpose in wasting energy on arguing. We would rather focus our energies on the 160 or so clients who choose to work with us each week, and on those therapists who feel a resonance with person-centred in its fuller sense and who choose to work within our service.

However, we do have an interest in voicing some of the counter arguments to those who may be undecided, or open to another viewpoint, or privately uneasy/troubled by what they are hearing from the pro-regulation voices, but fearful of saying so (for there are consequences). We have a passionate interest in serving our clients by continuing to offer the subtle, complex, aliveness that is relationship characterised by the core conditions – in Brian Thorne’s terms: the dance, not the regimental drill. We have an interest in serving the therapeutic world, and therapists in their personal arcs of development and learning, by offering diversity where the pro-regulators would have homogenization.

Our clients show us and tell us on a daily basis that they want us to keep doing what we do, in the way that we are doing it. Many are effectively refugees from the psychiatric system or from NHS-sanctioned C.B.T. and want something different from that. Many do not have the buying power to choose a private therapist. So they find their way to us. We believe wholeheartedly in what our therapists offer them, and in what we offer our therapists. Whatever the outcome of the recent BACP hearings, we will continue to offer what we offer, and to fight for what we believe in, on these critical and fundamental questions about what serves us as actualizing human beings.

Palace Gate Counselling Service

[1] In relation to the conflict we refer to later on in this article, it is fair to say we accepted a few trainees some years ago who were not a fit for this service – and that these placements were in retrospect unwise choices by all three parties: us, them and the training provider. These students came from a specific training provider, with whom we had noticed increasing issues. We had questions about the quality of the training based on what we were seeing in supervision and/or in the students’ client work. We were also noticing a widening gap in ethos and approach between us as a person-centred service, and this training provider as a decidedly not-person-centred organization. This created tensions and confusions for placement students coming in, which were not helpful for them or us. As a result of this, we decided in May 2012 (before the conflict began) to stop taking anyone on placement from that training provider, pre-diploma. Several of those involved in this conflict were diploma training peers with this training provider.

[2] For example, in respect of dual/complex relationship. The Ethical Framework speaks of the potential for this to be ‘powerfully beneficial’ or ‘powerfully detrimental’, and asks practitioners to exercise care. BACP professional conduct decisions suggest a far more hard-edged ‘complex relationship is to be avoided’ approach. We see that approach as incompatible with a person-centred way of working or respect for internal locus and relational/circumstance specifics.


[4] Of course conflict inevitably arises in therapeutic relationship, as in any relationship. Our experience is that this can usually be met and worked through within the allied containers of therapy and supervision, and that the process we describe here is needed only in rare circumstances.

This entry was posted in internal locus of evaluation, Palace Gate Counselling Service, person centred, regulation and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Palace Gate Counselling Service, the BACP & the regulation debate

  1. jobaker1967 says:

    But we still don’t know what the complaints were about. Have you gone and stuck your fingers into some kind of situation?

    • Actually what we have done is respond to a situation – or sequence of events – and choices made by the complaining therapists. That is described in our post on this blog ‘The Conflict’. We do not have anything more to add at this point.

  2. Pingback: Recent BACP process | Palace Gate Counselling Service

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