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Jul 2015 by PCI College

Regulation and Accreditation in Counselling & Psychotherapy – The Current Situation and Future Prospects

Eoin Stephens, President of PCI College addresses the planned regulation of counselling & psychotherapy in Ireland and outlines the current situation with regard to accreditation and academic validation.

For those working in, and those entering, the Counselling & Psychotherapy profession, Statutory Regulation is an issue that still can lead to much doubt and confusion. This is partly because the situation is still far from clear, but also because unnecessary confusion and misinformation can be added to the mix. The following is a summary of the current situation, along with future possibilities as far as they can be determined.

 

Currently, ours is a self-regulating profession, as are many other well-established professions such as Physiotherapy and Social Care. This means that the profession determines its own standards for education/training and for professional practice, and sets up its own regulatory bodies to monitor these standards. In the field of Counselling/Psychotherapy in Ireland, there are a number of regulatory bodies which have been set up within the profession. The largest of these is the Irish Association for Counselling & Psychotherapy (IACP), but others include the Irish Association for Humanistic & Integrative Psychotherapy (IAHIP) and the National Association for Pastoral Counselling & Psychotherapy (NAPCP). IACP is the main organisation whose standards PCI College works to comply with, and all our Diploma in Counselling & Psychotherapy courses, awarded at the end of Year 3 of the BSc (Hons) degree, are currently accredited by IACP.  In addition to these  professional standards for training/education, many institutions also provide academic validation of their training programmes, either by a national or international university (such as Middlesex University in the case of PCI College) or by Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI).

 

By contrast, Medicine and Dentistry are regulated by the state, each via a statutory body set up under relevant legislation. It is planned that Counselling & Psychotherapy will become a regulated profession at some point in the future, as will Physiotherapy, Psychology and a number of others. CORU (the Health & Social Care Professionals Council) has been set up for this purpose. According to their website:

“CORU is Ireland’s multi-profession health regulator. Our role is to protect the public by promoting high standards of professional conduct, education, training and competence through statutory registration of health and social care professionals. CORU was set up under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 (as amended). It is made up of the Health and Social Care Professionals Council and 12 Registration Boards, one for each profession named in our Act.” www.coru.ie

 

This process has begun and to date CORU has regulated five professions (Dietitians, Occupational Therapists, Radiographers and Radiation Therapists, Social Workers, Speech and Language Therapists).

 

The professions still to be regulated are:

  • Clinical Biochemists
  • Medical Scientists
  • Orthoptists
  • Physiotherapists
  • Podiatrists 
  • Psychologists
  • Social Care Workers

 

According to CORU “Registers {i.e. Regulation} for the other professions will follow, on a phased basis, between 2015 and 2017.”  Counselling & Psychotherapy will be dealt with during this latter phase.

 

Once regulated, “Counsellor” and “Psychotherapist” will then become ‘protected titles’, in other words only those who have achieved certain prescribed standards will be legally entitled to call themselves a Counsellor or Psychotherapist. There will presumably be some lead-in time for this process, and there may be some form of ‘grandparenting” procedure for those already practising, as has been the case for other professions already regulated by CORU. More details here http://www.coru.ie/en/faq/what_is_grandparenting.

 

Despite the dates given in the quote above from CORU, just when this will happen is still uncertain. There has been an increase in political rhetoric on this issue in the last few years, and formal statements of intent have been made - see e.g. Deputy Alex White, Minister of State at the Department of Health, speaking about the Health and Social Care Professionals (Amendment) Bill 2012 in a Dáil Debate on Thursday 29 November 2012 at this link: http://oireachtasdebates.oireachtas.ie/debates%20authoring/debateswebpack.nsf/takes/dail2012112900017?opendocument.  An important portion of Deputy White’s statement is the following:

“A key regulation in this regard, namely, the regulation to prescribe the qualifications needed to register under the Act, will be made when the minimum qualifications and standards of knowledge, skill and competence for future counsellors and psychotherapists have been set by Quality and Qualifications Ireland... These approved qualifications are awarded by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, HETAC, now subsumed into Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, or by the universities. In the case of Counselling and Psychotherapy, however, QQI is only now in the process of establishing standards of knowledge, skill and competence to be acquired by those wishing to practise in this field.” 

 

These standards were published by QQI in May 2014 – see link:

http://www.qqi.ie/Publications/Counselling%20and%20Psychotherapy%20-%20QQI%20Award%20Standards%202014.pdf

In the Foreword they state: “For regulated professions in Ireland it is typical for educational (academic) standards and professional standards to be distinct. In essence meeting the educational standards entitles a person to an educational qualification but entitlement to practise requires a person to meet (and continue to meet) a distinct professional standard. An approved (accredited) qualification is necessary but insufficient for professional practice … The draft awards standards are educational (and training) standards and they are not designed to regulate the profession and are (alone) not fit for that purpose. However, it is hoped that the existence of widely agreed educational standards will assist in progressing better regulation and regulatory initiatives whether they be voluntary or statutory. The awards standards translate the National Framework of Qualifications’ descriptors into language that is accessible to those involved in the provision of programmes of education and training in counselling and in psychotherapy at Level 6, 7, 8 or 9 in the NFQ … In developing the standards it has been assumed that counselling and psychotherapy can each be served by a common framework of standards ... The awards standards make no attempt (beyond the stated assumptions) to define counselling and psychotherapy or distinguish between them. These are matters for the professional associations and any future statutory regulators.”

 

They are also, of course, matters for education providers such as PCI College.  Our job is to ensure, as we do, that our honours degree programme, which is validated by Middlesex University meets these educational & training standards both now and in the future.

 

What the QQI Foreword also highlights is the continuing need for recognised professional accreditation to work in tandem with education and training standards. They state that the standards “are not designed to regulate the profession”.  In the interests of clients and referring healthcare professions and organisations, the standards and safeguards provided by established accreditation bodies like the IACP will continue to be a vital reference point, particularly as long as Government regulation is not in place.  For current students and those considering embarking on a career in Counselling and Psychotherapy therefore, both academic validation and professional accreditation are essential elements in any training programme. This is why the PCI College degree is validated academically by Middlesex University and accredited professionally by IACP.

 

As far as professional associations are concerned, IACP have published a Position Paper on the issue of future regulation (see http://www.irish-counselling.ie/iacp_position_paper), where they state “IACP recommends that level 8 on the National Framework of Qualifications (NFQ) should serve as a minimum baseline academic qualification for counselling/psychotherapy.” Level 8 on the NFQ is equivalent to an Honours Bachelor Degree (see http://www.qqi.ie/Pages/National-Framework-of-Qualifications-%28NFQ%29.aspx), so even though the PCI College Diploma in Counselling & Psychotherapy meets the standard currently required for accreditation by IACP, we incorporate it in our Middlesex University validated Level 8 BSc (Honours) in Counselling & Psychotherapy degree on the assumption that this will be the required standard in the future.

 

If there is any change to these standards as the regulatory process becomes clearer,

we will of course adjust our educational provision accordingly.

 

Eoin Stephens, MIACP, MACI

PCI College President

(July 2015)

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