We need a B.C. College of Counselling Therapists

We need a B.C. College of Counselling Therapists

by Glen Grigg, Ph.D., RCC

 

Reprinted from The Vancouver Sun, May 1, 2016

 

What assurance does a British Columbian have that, in choosing a counsellor, they are not signing up to receive services from — pardon the expression — a quack?

In fact, they have no assurance. And that is because, in B.C., there is no regulatory body determining who can be a counselling therapist. No disciplinary body for all counselling professionals exists to deal with complaints arising from questionable conduct. Associations do what they can to set and enforce standards, but they do not have legislated authority, and there is nothing they can do about non-members.

It is shameful to admit during Mental Health Week, but B.C. remains the “Wild West” when it comes to the oversight of its counselling therapists.

This is a real problem because counselling is a crucial service on which people depend at the most vulnerable moments of their lives. At a time when society is working to remove the stigma from mental health services, people increasingly are seeking help from counsellors. This is a positive thing.

But the way in which the profession is governed is problematic.

B.C. has a society of professional associations representing roughly 5,000 counsellors and therapists who practice here. It is known as the Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in B.C. (FACTBC) registered two years ago.

FACTBC represents groups ranging from the Music Therapy Association of B.C. to the B.C. Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.

The difficulty is that the therapists affiliated with FACTBC have joined voluntarily. Helpful as this is, voluntary self-regulation still leaves the public vulnerable and open to misrepresentation.

Which is why FACTBC aspires to put itself out of business. It would like to evolve to a B.C. College of Counselling Therapists, under the province’s Health Professions Act.

We are not inventing a new wheel here. Such a body would not be unlike a College of Physicians and Surgeons which oversees and safeguards medical practice. Counselling Therapists in Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia, and across the U.S., already have established their own colleges.

A college protects British Columbians from harm while promoting availability and high standards. A college will set a code of ethics and standards of practice. It can issue orders, hold hearings, do audits, hold inspections and compel the cooperation of anyone claiming to be a counselling therapist. It can investigate complaints and mete out disciplinary measures

It would entail no cost to the public as it would be funded by counselling therapists’ annual member fees.

Counsellors in B.C. have been working toward appropriate regulation of their profession for some 20 years now, including approving competency requirements for those aspiring to become counselling therapists. The Competency Profile developed by FACTBC has been used as the basis for professional registration of therapists across Canada.

We have thought through the policies and procedures needed for a College of Counselling Therapists and are standing by to contribute in any way we can when a college is proclaimed. At present, various types of counselling therapists are treating some 200,000 British Columbians annually.

Obviously all these people deserve the safest and most effective professional care available. And the only way to guarantee they get it is through comprehensive, systematic oversight and regulation. In other words, by making counselling therapy a fully regulated health profession in B.C.

Every profession needs objective oversight. It would be the job of a College of Counselling Therapists to weed out those who harm their patients whether they are qualified therapists, or just claiming to be so. The scary reality is that, right now, no one is assigned to do this essential job.

We have been working with government officials for years to create a College of Counselling Therapists, something that does not require new legislation, only ministerial approval. We are hopeful our government will see the logic and utility of such a regulatory body and quickly address this glaring omission in the B.C. health care system.

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Glen Grigg is chairman of the Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in B.C.

Photo by Sangh Trinh / CC BY

 

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