A Brief Guide to Therapist Registration in the UK
In this post, as brief a word as I can manage on the registration and accreditation of counselling and psychotherapy practitioners in the UK. Be warned, this is a territory crowded with acronyms. I will do my level best to ensure you don’t get lost in it.
Unlike creative arts therapists, who enjoy the benefits (and arguably also the constraints) of government regulation via the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), British counsellors and psychotherapists are not subject to statutory regulation. There was a time, circa 2010, when it looked like statutory regulation was going to happen, but in its wisdom the Department of Health decided not to extend regulation to ‘talking-cure’ practitioners. A shame, in my view, as the designations ‘psychotherapist’ and ‘counsellor’ remain unprotected titles, unlike those of, say, ‘educational psychologist’ or ‘art therapist’. This means that anyone in the UK can set themselves up as a psychotherapist or counsellor and they would not be doing anything illegal.
Having said that, the professions of psychotherapy and counselling are regulated. Essentially, they regulate themselves through a number of well-established national organisations, with some oversight from the government-backed Professional Standards Authority (PSA). In my view, the four organisations that count are:
UKCP The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy accredits psychotherapists who have completed a clinical training to Master’s-degree level. Such training programmes last for a minimum of four years part-time, but more typically five or six years. Trainees are expected to be in personal psychotherapy throughout the duration of their training. To register with UKCP, a psychotherapist needs to have logged at least 450 supervised clinical hours. UKCP also accredit some shorter courses in psychotherapeutic counselling.
BPC The British Psychoanalytic Council emerged from the UKCP as a specifically psychoanalytic organisation in 1992. BPC accredits psycho-analysts and psychoanalytic psychotherapists, who also train to at least the equivalent of Master’s-level. A BPC-approved training is a long process, during which trainees are themselves required to undergo intensive personal therapy with a training analyst. To qualify for BPC registration, a psychoanalytic psychotherapist will need to have logged several hundred hours of closely supervised practice. BPC also accredit some shorter courses in psychodynamic counselling.
BACP The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy accredits counsellors, the majority of whom will have completed an introductory counselling skills certificate followed by a clinical training lasting typically two years part-time. Most training organisations expect their students to undergo some personal therapy whilst enrolled on their courses. BACP-accredited trainings usually run to Diploma level and only occasionally to Master’s level.
An individual BACP accreditation certificate reads ‘BACP accredited Counsellor/Therapist’. However, from a UKCP or BPC point of view the holder is not a psychotherapist. They are a counsellor, and that’s exactly the kind of confusion that can happen when professional titles go unprotected.
A little history: up until 2000, BACP was known as the British Association for Counselling (BAC). I, for one, wish they had not taken the controversial decision to extend the acronym by adding the letter ‘P’ for psychotherapy. In the public perception, the distinction might have been clearer: BAC for counsellors, UKCP for psychotherapists, BPC for psychoanalysts. Some twenty years on, BACP still do not oversee or set standards for psychotherapy trainings, only for qualifying courses in counselling, which invariably are shorter programmes.
Other professional bodies
BABCP The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies is the leading organisation for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in the UK. BABCP accredits CBT training programmes – many of which take place at universities – both at Level 1 (generally to Certificate and Diploma level) and Level 2 (Postgraduate Diploma, Master’s degree). As far as I can tell, BABCP is not overseen by the Professional Standards Authority, but its members are required to adhere to the Association’s standards of ethics and practice. If you’re looking for a private CBT practitioner in the UK, BABCP is the organisation to go through. Personally, I’d give any other bodies claiming to regulate CBT practitioners a wide berth.
That, for the most part, is what I wanted to say. However, if the professional landscape outlined above wasn’t tricky enough to navigate already, there’s more, not least the question of Counselling Psychologists registered with the British Psychological Society (BPS). If you’d like to research further, Counselling Directory provide a helpful summary of approximately two dozen practitioner organisations at https://www.counselling-directory.org.uk/accreditation.html