The current landscape of competences, standards, training and practice requirements within counselling and psychotherapy is a bit of a dog’s dinner. SCoPEd may or may not be the answer to that problem, but the question we’re more interested in is “Will it help me to become a better therapist?” So far, the jury’s out
This feels a little shameful to admit, but I have a bad reaction to the term competences.
I know I shouldn’t, I know it’s wrong, but every time I hear or read the term when applied to counselling and psychotherapy, I feel the urge to lie down, take two paracetamol, and wait until it goes away. Every time I hear or read the term, I feel like a bit of my therapeutic soul dies. It’s as if the essence of what we do, the magic that occurs somewhere in the space between art and science, is being reduced to a set of competences.
This reaction has been responsible for me coming very late to the SCoPEd table. I even had to look at the BACP website to make sure I had the upper and lower cases in the right order. How off the pace am I?
Come to the table, however, I feel I must. But first, indulge me while I offer a little self-analysis, which you’re welcome to read, or otherwise skip over.
So, Barry, let’s explore this ambivalence a little further shall we?
Back in the first decade of this century I was part of the BACP’s Association for Counselling at Work Executive. I forget the precise detail, but my recollection was that BACP’s divisions were invited to map the competences that are specific to their specialist areas.
This was the first time that I recall my adverse reaction to competences. Needless to say, I didn’t put my name forward, and I’m grateful that other colleagues who were more enthusiastic did.
What exactly is my problem? At its heart, I think it’s my inability to get past the belief that a competence framework won’t make me a better therapist. Let me qualify that a little. I’ve never found a competence framework that feels remotely as if it might help me to become a better therapist. And that’s what I care about more than anything. Please note I speak for myself here. You are free to disagree, and also free to comment below.
What SCoPEd is, and what it isn’t
It isn’t my purpose here to diss the BACP, British Psychoanalytic Council (BPC) and the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP). Neither is it my purpose to devalue the stated aims of SCoPEd, nor the Herculean effort that has so far gone into its development.
According the latest iteration of the SCoPEd framework:
The driving force behind this project is to find a shared way of representing the therapeutic work that counsellors and psychotherapists do – which we know profoundly changes peoples’ lives. The current landscape is rich in different traditions and associated titles, but it can also be confusing for employers, commissioners, clients, patients and trainees.
Confusing for employers, commissioners, clients, patients, and trainees. That is putting it mildly. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to describe the current landscape of competences, standards, training and practice requirements within counselling and psychotherapy as an absolute dog’s dinner.
It was bad enough when I was in the business of recruiting counsellors at the Royal College of Nursing in the mid-90’s. It’s surely got worse.
Now, I can pay £29 for an online counselling diploma course and call myself a psychotherapist.
Many have and many more surely will, until such time as counselling and psychotherapy are regulated professions. That’s a day, by the way, I hope never to see.
So, I have a lot of sympathy with the driving force behind SCoPEd. Maintaining the status quo is becoming increasingly untenable. To an external stakeholder, it must appear a bewildering picture.
I’m therefore open to an argument that a framework is needed that will put the professions, in the words of the framework’s latest iteration:
…..in a stronger position to talk to external stakeholders about opportunities for all our members.
The framework also states the confidence of the collaborating bodies in the “…potential for this framework…… to maximise paid employment opportunities for members.”
I’ve been around long enough to have seen the damage done to counselling and psychotherapy by the advent of IAPT. Our apparent fragmentation and lack of a credible evidence base have not served us well in that process. We’re still paying the price and I don’t want us ever to be in that position again.
Is SCoPEd the answer? I think it’s still too early to say. It is a work in progress, but what’s clear from social and professional media channels is that there are very many who remain to be persuaded. But, and for me it’s a big but, however well SCoPEd achieves its aims I can’t help feeling it’s never going to help me be a better therapist.
An opportunity missed?
The SCoPEd framework has been informed by a vast exercise of mapping the existing competence frameworks, professional standards, and practice standards across the partnership bodies, augmented by extensive consultation with members. One of my key concerns, however, is that I don’t seem to see this fully reflected in the structure of the framework.
What I see instead is this. Every item under the five themes of the framework: Professional Framework; Assessment; Relationship; Knowledge and Skills and Self-awareness and Reflection, appears to be framed as a competence.
Ability to provide and maintain a secure framework for clients or patients, in terms of meeting arrangements and the therapy setting
Ability to assess client or patient suitability for online therapy
Ability to critically reflect upon the client’s or patient’s process within the therapeutic relationship
Ability to understand the use of audit and evaluation tools to review own counselling work
Ability to monitor and evaluate fitness to practise, and maintain personal, psychological and physical health
A competence is not the same as a practice standard. A competence states what we should be able to do. A practice standard, surely, states what we will do? Compare the following:
A: Ability to utilise audit and evaluation methodologies to contribute to improving the process and outcomes of therapy (Theme 4: Knowledge and Skills; Column C)
B: Therapists will routinely assess with each client their level of engagement with therapy, as well as evaluate the degree of impact it has for the client
Having avoided competences successfully for most of my adult life I don’t profess to be an expert in these matters, but A above would seem to me to be a competence, and B a practice standard.
Travelling in hope
The SCoPEd process has a long way yet to go. Finalised, it may yet succeed in its aim of putting the partnership in a stronger position to advocate for its members and maximise paid employment opportunities. If it does I hope that it can achieve that without too much collateral damage.
I live in the hope, though not necessarily the expectation, that the next iteration of the framework might go beyond competences into the realm of solid practice standards. Ones that will help me to be a better therapist. Ones that require me to draw upon the evidence of what works. Ones that require me to benchmark my impact with clients. I’ve offered an example of one above, but there are plenty more where that came from.
We know what works in therapy. Isn’t it time we started to incorporate that knowledge not only into competences, but also standards for the way we practice?
Until that happy day, I’ll keep on lying down and taking the tablets……
Leave a comment
Just like you we thrive on feedback. Please leave your thoughts on what you’ve read in the comments section below.