Phillip Hodson: Counselling needs a legal basis for client protection

11th April 2009 Published in The Independent

Counselling and psychotherapy are first, last and always about being “client-centred”. We do not sit in judgement or like a psychiatrist come up with a syndrome such as “sex addiction” to define your feelings away. We provide a safe space, perhaps for the first time in your life, where you can feel, think or say anything you like. The goal is not to diagnose and treat you as a doctor but to work within your own values to decide what changes in your situation to make – if any. We never preach; true therapists, as opposed to gurus, hold no pet theories. I’m fond of saying therapy is hard work for both sides.

Therapy is one of the few professions to grow throughout the recession. Even Hillary Clinton said: “Counselling saved my marriage.” At times of increasing uncertainty and dissatisfaction with the status quo, counselling and psychotherapy help people face the harder realities of life – its unavoidable unhappiness. Not all clients have problems. Many just want a personal audit.

The origins of therapy point to its current dilemmas. We have grown out of Freud and Jung, marriage guidance counselling and behavioural psychology, existentialism and the 60s liberation movements. Some older practitioners cannot come to terms with political correctness, safety guidelines and mandatory supervision. The biggest dilemma concerns the “R” word.

Regulation of the talking therapies is agreed to be necessary by all the large organisations like the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), if for no other reason than that the public deserves legal force behind sanctions against bad therapy and rogue therapists. BACP has been campaigning for statutory regulation for 13 years. At present, you, dear reader, can call yourself a psychologist, psychoanalyst, counsellor or psychotherapist, hang up your brass plate (to go with your brass neck) and gull the public this very afternoon. That must stop.

Those opposed to anything but self-regulation are making political points or needlessly panicking. It is neither true that 451 new rules are about to abolish psychoanalysis nor that the new regulator will make us all vote for American capitalism.

Phillip Hodson is a Fellow of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy

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