As the UKCP makes slow progress towards responding to the rift between itself and the BABCP, it is forming plans that include both positive and negative elements.
The UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) was always meant to be an umbrella organization that brought together all the different kinds of psychotherapist. It had a fatal flaw.
The flaw was that it allowed itself to be dominated by two big organizations, the British Psychological Society (BPS) and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). All the other organizations under the umbrella were treated as second-class.
This flaw was compounded by the fact that both the BPS and the BACP are not exclusively, or even primarily, psychotherapy organizations at all. Psychology and counselling deal mostly with people who are mentally well. Yes, they both extend to therapy — treating mental illness — and the former BAC added that P to its name a few years ago to reflect the fact, but the result was that the UKCP always had an uncomfortable non-therapy feel about it.
This would not have mattered much except for one thing — a therapy known as CBT became everyone’s favourite therapy, and CBT was not controlled by the the BPS or the BACP, it was controlled by the behaviour therapists, the BABP (who added C for Cognitive to their name and became the BABCP to reflect the fact).
Then the UKCP made two operational errors.
First, it set its annual subscription much higher than the value that individual members really get from it. Being registered by the UKCP became a matter of vanity. Junior therapists would join to make themselves look respectable, but after establishing a good personal reputation there was never much point in keeping it going.
Second, the UKCP encouraged government to take over ‘regulation’ of psychotherapists. When that eventually happens, the only good reason for anyone to pay the UKCP’s annual subscription will have disappeared completely.
The BABCP, together with a related organization, the AREBT, pulled out, leaving the UKCP to sink. With the two main CBT organizations gone, the UKCP’s original vision of bringing together all psychotherapies is in tatters, and its practical purpose of being the primary registration body has been abandoned.
But that’s not quite the end of it. Clinging to the idea that they can still represent all psychotherapies, the UKCP has plans to reinvent itself. To do so, it needs to correct those two operational errors.
Value for money
The first error, not giving individual members value for money, turns out to be the more difficult one. Why would anyone pay the UKCP? What does it do that’s useful?
A draft of an article to be published soon in The Psychotherapist proposes that:
UKCP…is expanding into a professional membership organisation to which both individuals and organisations would want to belong.
This very much remains to be seen. The only substantial idea that anyone seems to have come up with is research. Presumably the UKCP would somehow compete with well-established academic bodies to add to the huge volumes of poorly designed research that constantly bombards everyone these days.
Why do I assume it will be poorly designed? It will have to be to satisfy the UKCP’s internal politics. Well designed research might come up with clear-cut results, and clear-cut results would almost certainly offend some member organization or other.
But the quality of the research is not really the point. The point is, why would individual psychotherapists pay an annual subscription only to see some research being done? It makes no commercial sense. It will fail.
In the area of regulation there is actually some hope for the UKCP. Although it effectively gave its regulatory role away to a quango, the Health Professions Council (HPC), the quango is certainly going to be very bad at it.
The HPC’s regulation of other professions has been almost completely useless, and the unsackable bureaucrats who run it are very unlikely to change. So this is a market opportunity. The UKCP could run an effective regulation scheme in parallel with the HPC’s useless one, and the public would eventually learn to trust UKCP registration.
There’s a problem, though, and the problem is everyone’s favourite therapy, CBT. A parallel regulation scheme would have to regulate CBT, and the UKCP cannot do that because the CBT organizations, the BABCP and AREBT, walked out.
This is where the idea of a college comes in. It’s proposed that the UKCP would create a new organization, called perhaps the Cognitive Psychotherapies College. The newly-formed College would provide a ‘voice’ for CBT therapists within the UKCP, and more importantly allow the UKCP to have a voice in the regulation of CBT.
The idea seems crazy when you consider the strength of the BABCP’s position as the lead organization for CBT in the UK. But it’s not crazy. The BABCP has a fatal flaw too.
The BABCP’s fatal flaw is that it was originally an organization for behavioural therapy, and it never really integrated CBT as well as it could have. Key members of the BABCP’s inner circle are either academics, not therapists at all, or they are therapists who do no cognitive work with their patients.
The BABCP has failed to forge alliances with other organizations involved in types of cognitive therapy (apart from the AREBT). These other organizations might welcome the opportunity to come together within the UKCP and for their work to be more widely recognised.
A new college with a clear focus on cognitive work in psychotherapy could capture the soul of CBT and wrest it from the behaviourist BABCP’s control. This seems to be what the UKCP is proposing:
…the college could prove to be a home for other registrants who more closely identified with cognitive traditions.
Uncertainties still surround the proposed new College. No one seems to have a clear vision for it, and the various organizations involved all have a long history of strategic incompetence. The business plan is woeful. There are quangocrats to struggle against.
Yet the College has the potential to restore failing public faith in CBT by differentiating therapies that really have a sound basis in cognitive work. That would be such a prize, such a real help to ordinary people with mental health problems, such a cost saver for the NHS, such a selling point for CBT therapists in private practice, that I earnestly wish the College well.