At this very moment, across the country, some people are considering getting help from a counsellor or therapist. It is often difficult to make the decision to seek out therapy, to take that step. Fortunately, most will find someone who can help guide them in ways that help, but how can a person know the relationship will be successful?
Choosing a counsellor can be a challenge especially where there is an ‘open market’ on the services such as in British Columbia. By that we mean regulation is nearly non-existent. There are multiple professional organizations that register counsellors and therapists, but there is no overriding provincial licensing body. That means anyone can call themselves a therapist, counsellor, spiritual healer or such. They can then charge fees for their services and advertise their availability. Despite a lack of regulation, many, perhaps most, of these people provide a good and valuable service. But they are not the ones to be concerned about.
(The Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in British Columbia) is an umbrella group that pulls together 12 organizations that register therapists and counsellors. They include for example, the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors, the Association of Registered Clinical Hypnotherapists, and the Music Therapy Association of British Columbia. While members of FACTBC perform an important function by registering their counsellors and therapists, they do not have specific, legislated authority to act in cases of misbehaviour. While FACTBC and its members do have rigorous criteria for registering with their organizations, it is not mandatory. There is a complaint resolution process, but again, it is not mandatory. This brings up one of the challenges of a lack of statutory regulation: joining is voluntary, as is resigning. This is what some individuals will do rather than face complaint resolution.
British Columbia has some 26 regulated health professions, 25 of which come under a regulatory ‘College’ listed in the Health Professions Act (HPA). Among them are Dental Technology, Chiropractic, Midwifery, Physical Therapy, Massage Therapy and Pharmacy. Counselling Therapy is not included.
A portion of FACTBC’s mission is to pursue the regulation and development of the College of Counselling Therapists. Using the professional college model would integrate these professions under the Health Protection Act and provide an appropriate licensing and review body. That means anyone wanting to practice in the field would have to prove core competency and adhere to professional ethical standards. Presently, only three provinces regulate counselling in this way: Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia. With such statutory regulation would come the ability to transfer to or from these provinces with credentials intact or with minimal additional criteria.
While FACTBC and its members do have dispute resolution processes, they cannot replace those of a college. Implementing regulation of the profession would build public trust and provide an assurance of accountability. It would enable the profession to censure members or mandate and implement corrections. Doing this would mean clients or patients could have more confidence in the system, and in their chosen counsellor.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for the Sunshine Coast and Powell River.