On the last day of March, a Tuesday, at the very end of the working day, a message appeared in an Internet CBT discussion that, if it had been sent just hours later with Wednesday’s date on it would almost certainly have been dismissed with laughter — “Ha, ha, nice try, but I’m no April Fool!”
Was it intended to be read the following morning? Apparently not. Within a few hours there had been astonished replies. Later that evening the author of the message tried to “clarify” what had been meant, but this only had the effect of confirming that the original message had been genuine.
The message was from someone who has a Master’s degree in CBT — a well-qualified professional, you might think. But the message asked for advice on how to go about the very first steps of working with clients. So what you might think would be wrong. This therapist has no clear idea of how to go about the business of therapy.
The fact is that CBT training is largely (though not exclusively) in the hands of academics, and an academic qualification is no guarantee of the practical knowledge and skills required to be an effective therapist.
So this unfortunate Master’s graduate is not alone in having a nice certificate but little idea of what to do — only alone in having blurted out the truth in a message that went around the world on the Internet.
The real message
Having a Masters degree in CBT (or any other qualification) is not the same as accreditation, and neither of those things is the same as effectiveness.
Potential patients who want to recover from real problems in their lives need to be aware that university graduates of all shapes and sizes, doctors, professors, chartered professionals, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, life coaches, CORGI-registered gas fitters, and uncle Tom Cobley and all…are not necessarily accredited as CBT therapists. They don’t necessarily have any idea how to do CBT.
Of course, it’s important for inexperienced therapists to have someone to practice on. If you have very little wrong with you, then you have nothing much to lose by giving an inexperienced therapist a try.
And there are probably some very brilliant and gifted therapists around who just haven’t seen very many clients yet. So if someone has a great reputation but is not accredited yet, don’t let their lack of accreditation put you off.
In general, though, unless you are going on a therapist’s reputation, don’t risk unaccredited therapists. They might have fine academic or other qualifications, yet not know what to do.
There’s worse news. Accreditation is itself unreliable.
So even if you choose an accredited therapist, you still run the risk of getting someone who just goes through the motions of CBT without really understanding how it works.
This happens because the accreditation process itself is closely tied to (mainly academic) training courses. Almost anyone who enrols on the right kind of course, and who pays the money, will eventually end up accredited — no matter how bad they really are as therapists.
In my series of posts about finding a CBT therapist a while ago, I set out some steps that you can take to work around these difficulties. Here are the links:
I think there’s hope for a beginner in CBT who blurts out the truth. In a sense, recognising the truth and blurting it out is at the heart of therapy, and being able to do that is much more important than having a Master’s degree. Such a person could be on the way to becoming a wise and valued colleague.
But for patients the truth is that not everyone who claims to be able to do CBT really can. It’s easy to be fooled, and not only on April 1st.