Firstly, if you're not a counsellor reading this you may well not know what SCoPEd is. Secondly, if you are a counsellor reading this and you don't know what SCoPEd is, where have you been for the last couple of years...? My site here at The Humanistic Autistic is set up for the main purpose of my evolving neurodiversity-affirmative work, but as a practising counsellor I do have rather a lot to say about SCoPEd and my profession. Perhaps by talking about it here I might highlight some areas of my profession that are less widely understood. Futhermore, SCoPEd, I believe, is hugely relevant to the wider picture around neurodiversity and access to therapy, so if you're interested in that you might want to keep reading - counsellor or not.
SCoPEd stands for the 'Scope of Practice and Education for the Counselling and Psychotherapy Professions'. It is a proposed framework being led by membership bodies like BACP alongside several other PSA (Professional Standards Authority) accredited bodies who represent more than 75,000 practitioners in the UK. BACP have a tagline on one of their YouTube videos that says "SCoPEd: Enabling a credible, diverse and thriving profession."
The profession of counselling and psychotherapy is saturated in private practice now with all kinds of people who make all kinds of claims. The reality in 2023 is that someone can call themselves a counsellor or a psychotherapist with very little to no training if they choose to. This isn't all that widely known outside of our profession by the general public, in my experience. These private practitioners may not be insured or a member of a professional body, but here's the thing, they don’t have to be… The counselling and psychotherapy profession is largely unregulated. Besides, what does it actually mean to be with a therapy membership body anyway? The professional bodies that we have (the big players being the likes of BACP and NCS) are voluntary bodies.
Now, there is a difference for counsellors who want to work in organisations like the NHS here. Most organisations will have job application criteria which state a minimum training standard that applicants for counselling roles need to have undertaken in order to be registered with one of the main professional bodies.
That's good then, right? Well, kind of...
What it means is that when you see a counsellor who is registered with one of these membership bodies (whether privately or through an organisation) you can know a few things for certain about their core training and professional requirements in that they have met the required standards set out by that professional body. But that's it really.
We have a profession where you can go down the what is perceived as the ‘right’ (according to the big professional membership bodies) training routes and get insured and get registered with a professional body if you want to, but you don’t HAVE to…
This hasn’t really changed in decades. We also have a profession that is only accessible to those who can afford the ‘right’ training routes, and / or can access those routes depending on other factors such as personal circumstances and educational background, which means we still have a profession that is widely not diverse in terms of accessibility.
I’m one of the therapists who chose the best training route available to me at the time (2006) because I wanted to make a difference in the most valuable way possible in my future work as a counsellor. Side note here, but I was aware I would also struggle with academic pressures alongside working my paid job which also influenced my choice of training route at that time. I had a statement of educational needs which allowed me certain adjustments.
Unsure what all this means? Stay with me a little bit longer...
For one, it means that currently we have a largely unregulated profession. Is that important? I think so, when we're working as practitioners with people who are trusting us with their deepest challenges and trauma.
As mentioned earlier, to work in an organisation like the NHS as a counsellor you do need to have taken a training route that meets the minimum requirements as set out by a professional body such as BACP or NCS. The SCoPEd framework now proposes that there are three tiers to core training requirements and that the minimum makes you the least competent kind of therapist in Column A, and the most competent in Column C. A majority of already qualified therapists will automatically come into the framework at Column A. Excuse my language, but that sounds a bit shit doesn't it? The majority of qualified counsellors showing the least set of competencies? And having studied the framework at length, I really think it is.
The stipulated core training for Column A therapists is still hugely involved. It’s 2 years on average (at least), which includes between 300-400 taught hours, 100 hours of client practice hours (usually voluntary) and personal therapy hours too. My own route as an example took me nearly 4 years to undertake which was studying part time whilst also working a paid job of 30 hours per week. I couldn’t afford to give up my paid job and finance a different route (a route that may have seen me as a Column B or C therapist on the SCoPEd framework) but I chose the most comprehensive and recognised route available that would offer me the opportunity to be insured and registered with BACP or NCS upon completing my qualification. Based on my core training, I’ll be a Column A therapist under SCoPEd. The majority of counsellors will be Column A therapists. Regardless of experience or further training...
If SCoPEd is implemented by the big membership bods and organisations decide they want to only employ the ‘most competent’ therapists (remember, this is according to those big membership bods) they can then advertise for Column B or C applicants only. This will exclude a majority of the practitioners who are registered with these bodies. Practitioners who may have years of experience and further qualifications with lots of skillsets to offer. And let’s be real about this, if big players like BACP and NCS bring in SCoPEd then that framework of competency is going to be used in this way by organisations. That's exclusionary.
Because who and on what evidence says that a Column A therapist is LESS competent than a Column B or C therapist? To date, we’ve not been given any information on this other than the framework points - which if you look at them are all too often contradictory in themselves. There appears to be a core training route bias that leans heavily towards the medical model approaches to therapy with no information on how one might even progress from Column A to B or C should one want to...
I don’t want to see my profession continue down a path of further exclusivity and elitism which equates to, "if you have the money and follow the medical model you’ll be a top therapist!"
I want to see practitioners who have continued their professional development through a variety of routes and want to keep making a difference with integrity and client values at the heart of their practice, acknowledged by their membership bodies. I want to see more diversity in who can access training routes into the profession. This is particularly important in terms of neurodiversity. For example, myself and many others in the profession feel strongly that neurodivergent clients should be able to seek out neurodivergent therapists for neurodiversity-affirming therapy. We need to encourage and make our profession more accessible in order for this to happen, not less.
I'd also like to see the NHS employing an existing workforce that's out there of qualified counsellors instead of investing new money in narrowed down, restrictive, one size fits all therapy services and just changing the name of it every couple of years and I'd like to see our membership bodies challenging that.
I believe our membership bodies should be looking at these issues. Not, in my opinion, how to conjure up an exclusive, medical model biased competency framework that makes little sense and the impact of which is at best unknown, at worst, foreseen as damaging to our profession.
At the end of the day, none of what SCoPEd is proposing can guarantee the 'quality' of therapist according to the column they fall into. It's a list of suggested competencies. The framework itself even says, "Therapists can practise competencies from the other columns if they have the skills to ethically do so..." See what they did there?
To conclude, on this basis, it is not my belief as a practising counsellor with over a decade of experience that SCoPEd will do what it claims to for the profession of counselling and psychotherapy. I see no potential progress in the credibility of our profession by adopting this framework, and I definitely don't see how it will encourage a more diverse and thriving profession. Whether we are in private practice or not, student counsellor or already qualified, shouldn't these issues be important to all of us, ethically?
I think so.
I'm a member of NCS. I voted 'NO' when given the opportunity to vote on whether SCoPEd is implemented. Just in case you were wondering...
ALT text: Picture of me working in my office last night with my boy Malcolm for company - my gorgeous labrador, who is so shiny and sleek he sort of melts into the sofa behind me and you can barely see him...