In the last ten years we have been busy composting a mix of new learning, study and the accumulated experience of the previous two decades. For each of us these have now become a fertile soil in which working lives as group facilitator, counsellor and psychotherapist are growing. Parallel with this, it seems that several decades of the life and work of other practitioners in the field of personal development are beginning to crystallise into proposals which seek to establish psychotherapy as a profession.
As we look at our own work and hear of these developments both political and personal questions are raised for us. First the political ones.
If the active empowerment of psychotherapy clients is the first priority for all of us, how can the pursuit of professional issues of credibility, respectability and security of employment avoid pushing this into second place? Isn't the professionalisation of psychotherapy denying one of the lessons of its own history, that the trapping of expertise in professions leads to defensive monopolies that legislate against innovation and change? For us this has been one of the fundamental realisations to come out of the personal development tradition that embraces psychotherapy.
Are not the handful of key people at the centre of the present moves towards professionalisation in effect erecting a wall around a section of the personal development tradition and attempting to take possession of it? To change the metaphor, into locking up and making claims of privileged possession of psychotherapy expertise aren't they "stealing the flame" that belongs to everyone? And even if they succeed in this dubious enterprise, how can they ensure that their professional "light" at the centre does not cast a shadow that perpetuates mystification, deference and ignorance in those outside the professional domain? Isn't this what the medical profession so obviously does and is trying to modify?
Many of the people and organisations who are active in the present moves to professionalisation seem to be economically committed to psychotherapy training. Is this really going to ensure that ethical and practice standards are upheld across an unfolding career? Is this really a reliable basis from which to actively pursue the wider empowerment of potential clients? If protecting clients' interests are really at the centre of the moves to create a psychotherapy "profession", wouldn't an association using a "business", "trade" model along the lines of those in other service industries, actually be more appropriate?
For instance, the kind of do-it-yourself plumbing, building, heating and electrical skills that are commonplace in this country used to be non-existent in Switzerland, because there, those professions had the legal power to refuse to supply or deal with anyone who wasn't a member. How do we avoid similar restrictions if psychotherapy becomes a profession? For example, co-counselling or re-evaluation co-counselling are DIY approaches to psychotherapy, they actively de-mystify and make openly and cheaply available much of the core knowledge from psychology about human functioning and the related strategies of personal development and transformation. Where in the designs for the new psychotherapy profession do they sit? Are they represented at all? If not why not?
The second layer of questions are more personal.
In the new scheme of things would we personally be acceptable as a psychotherapists? for example as members of AHPP, the most obvious organisation which we would seek to join? As things stand the answer is no.
According to the AHPP guidelines, study at a recognised psychotherapy training centre and long periods in personal psychotherapy both appear to be over-riding requirements. We have neither, but our core experience of many years of ad hoc training rooted in the practice and teaching of co-counselling, provides the basis for what we regard as our considerable competence as counsellors and psychotherapists.
Should we just accept this professional demarcation? we could always take up the easy option of becoming an AHPP member as a group facilitator, for which we have reason to believe we would be acceptable. But suppose we did that, wouldn't this be grossly anomalous? As a group facilitator we would then be "licensed" to work with individuals in a group setting, over a period of months or years, on any material or topic and to any depth that seemed jointly feasible but we would not be "licensed" to work with the same people on the same material on a one to one basis over the same period. How could we join an institution that insisted on this kind of incongruity?
The AHPP full membership process asks for an "honest self assessment statement" and on the basis of this text, operates as gatekeeper who emits a yes or no. How come AHPP seems to have no appreciation of the essential contribution of peer assessment to an accreditation process? To unilaterally set criteria for acceptance which requires us to be responsible and self directing in our work with clients and that deny our capacity to evaluate our own competence, seems fundamentally contradictory and oppressive. It rings of an unresolved clinging to an autocratic, "medical", "treatment", model for personal transformation that has yet to come to terms with the challenge of the "education" model for personal development, i.e. that psychotherapy is intrinsically a branch of general education. All of this has suggested to us that a whole range of other people would be likely to be sitting on equivalent anomalies, exclusions, or doubts. Are you one of them we wonder? If so what do we do about it?
Obviously as individuals we can be actively vigilant about attempts to professionalise psychotherapy. We can make reminders about the political value of making psychotherapy more widely available through co-counselling or its equivalents. And thirdly we can devise and diffuse an exemplary way of providing a valid form of self and peer accreditation as practitioners - some process that will provide an appropriate level of ethical rigor, while honouring the diversity of routes into the effective practice of psychotherapy and how their individual competence sits within the broader field of personal development. How might this look?
What we'd like the AHPP guidelines for practitioners to say is something like this, "yes we affirm your capacity to constantly monitor and appraise your professional competence and development and to take personal responsibility for the ethical, financial and organisational issues which arise in your work as a practitioner.
'in support of this, we require you to engage in a full peer and self assessment process over say 6-12 months, following a declared/published but evolving, set of criteria". "At the end of which you arrive at an agreed self-accreditation for a stated period of perhaps three years". "This will set out what you are competent to do and what you are excluding from your work as a psychotherapist and which areas of knowledge, experience, or pathology require attention, and any plan of action needed to implement these". "This document along with the peer amendments and requirements to be lodged with AHPP and available for inspection".
We would be interested to hear from any one who feels aligned either with these views or these proposals. We plan to institute a version of the accreditation process outlined above and we would be willing to support others in doing the same.