Think of a happy place and ask yourself this: does it take more skill to heal the body or heal the mind? Few would entrust their physical health to anyone who was professionally unqualified, unaccountable and under no professional obligation to try to make you better. Which is why, if you seek help from a podiatrist, chiropodist, or several other health professions, you are protected by statutory regulation. If a physiotherapist gets too familiar, for example, you can complain to a government watchdog, which will decide whether to strike him or her off a national register. Those falsely claiming to be such professionals can be prosecuted or fined.
With matters of the mind, however, no such conditions apply. Anyone can put up a brass plate and call him or herself a psychotherapist or counsellor, and those looking for expert guidance through their most intimate issues must rely on trust, often at a time when they are most vulnerable.
This week, the Health Professions Council (HPC), the regulator chosen to correct this anomaly, will make its formal recommendations to the Government on how best to control the psychotherapy and counselling industry. “It will,” promised Marc Seale, the HPC’s chief executive, at the time of the watchdog’s appointment, “for the first time, create a legal framework that will allow for the removal of rogues and charlatans from practising and potentially harming the public.”
Ranks are split between therapists who grudgingly accept a need for regulation by a watchdog with teeth, and purists who argue the process of therapy should not be subject to the same biomedical codes of conduct that already govern, say, paramedics and X-ray technicians. The spectre of state intervention has also highlighted issues as old as Freud — namely, how do you regulate psychotherapy when no one can agree on what it is, and how do you find the right rulebook if, as some claim, there are many different types of therapy?