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Meeting with the SCoPEd technical group 3 February 2021

by Janet Tolan
Published on 26 March 2021

Present: Technical Group: (Chairing) Fiona Ballantine-Dykes (BACP), Jan McGregor Hepburn(BPC), Lindsay Cooper (NCS), Kathy Spooner (ACC), Keri Johnson (BACP, minuting), Person-Centred group: Andy Rogers, Peter Blundell, Janet Tolan.

  1. The original purpose of the SCoPED project was to map the current training field in counselling and psychotherapy. It was to have been a three month endeavour but has now been going for years. This meeting revolved around not just the competencies but the issue of implementation of the SCoPEd framework. The Person-Centred group (PCG) were not opposed to the mapping exercise but said that they could not properly comment on the project until they knew how it would be implemented. The SCoPEd Technical Group (STG) were insistent that the framework was simply that. However: “Decisions about implementation have not been made. The opposite end of that is we have not done all this work to stick it on a shelf” (F B-D). 
  1. The PCG asked for an independent impact assessment taking into account modality, inclusion and diversity. The STG said that there was no impact yet, because it was just a mapping exercise. The PCG disagreed, saying that prospective students were changing course and courses themselves were changing to fit in with the perceived levels of SCoPED. An impact assessment may give an insight into some of the unintended consequences of SCoPEd.
  1. The PCG challenged the notion of levels, pointing out that academic level does not distinguish therapeutic competence. The difference often lies in an ability to write academic essays and undertake research. PB and JT had worked on courses in HE, FE and the private sector (JT submitting three courses for BACP Accreditation) and the standards for therapeutic competence were equally rigorous in all sectors.
  1. Further, students with non-traditional educational backgrounds are more likely to study at a local community college or private college than gain access to a University, so that a distinction based on levels will entrench existing discrimination.
  1. F P-B: “It is not just about level. It’s a combination of how long the training is, how many client hours, what’s the extent of supervision. Those do differ. That’s not a value judgement. The middle column is Level 4 to level 7. BACP has Accredited courses from L4 to L7 that are delivering to the same level” “It’s a matrix of things which is very hard to explain. One of the enabling things about the framework, to go to your point about access and inclusion, is: – in the olden days if you did a level 4 and then you decided you wanted to do a psychotherapy training, you would be asked to start again from scratch. What the framework suggests is that that’s a nonsense. There will be things you can add on.”
  1. The PCG pointed out that this clearly moves from mapping to implementation. Moreover, when the STG talked about providing gateways between levels so that people could do a “top-up” rather than start again, the PCG expressed great scepticism that the psychotherapy organisations such as GPTI and the psychoanalytic associations would ever accept into membership people who had done an “add-on” or “top-up”. This also raises the question of assessment. Who would be the assessors? How would the gateways be monitored? Assessment of competencies usually focusses on what is easy to assess, often peripheral rather than the “heart” of therapy. And why put up fences in the first place so that gateways are needed?
  1. F B-D: “We are inviting genuinely, openly, collaboratively, for you to tell us what needs to happen.”The PCG acknowledged the genuineness of this invitation but replied: “It is really hard to buy into something when you don’t know how it’s going to be used. There’s so much uncertainty. People here today have said ‘we don’t know how it’s going to be used’. It’s a big ask for us to commit to something when we don’t know what it’s going to turn in to.”
  1. The PCG pointed out that there is no evidence that more competencies equal better therapists, more depth of practice, wiser therapists, more thoughtful, more reflective. The lack of an evidence base was acknowledged by the STG, as capability and timeframe had not allowed of this. “At the moment, we don’t have any evidence that an accredited counsellor is better than a registered counsellor.” (F B-D) 
  1. The STG asserted that all the levels did was describe the different trainings and what was involved. The PCG pointed out that the SCoPEd project was moving from describing what is to cementing it into what should be. A different approach would be to learn from the mapping then put it to one side and ask, “Where do we want to be as a profession?” This was not responded to. (NB The person-centred community might become involved if this were to be the approach)
  1. PCG: A useful piece of research might be into who goes on courses in columns A, B and C– class, ethnicity etc. Then we might identify inequality and put effort into challenging that. The framework potentially inherently legitimises what it is describing and cements inequalities – if it moves beyond simply mapping.
  1. There was a discussion about the complexity and ethics of the therapy field – courses that require therapy and supervision from their own members, the creation of specialist trainings that then become mandatory, the lack of clarity, elitism and so on. The cultural, ideological and philosophical underpinnings of different therapies were acknowledged. In contrast, the PCG pointed out, the competency framework has a deceptive and illusory simplicity. It is not a neutral assessment of things that exist in reality.
  1. STG: We are trying to do something helpful and constructive that has brought together a lot of people who don’t normally talk together and there was a lot of synergy. We are not just going to stick it on a shelf. Will you get involved?
  1. PCG: The current fundamentals are that there will be a hierarchy and that there will be gateways between the levels. But other models would allow people to evidence particular competencies without privileging some above others – without “moving up”. It is hard to get involved when it feels like a lot of SCoPEd is already set in stone – what it is and where it is heading.
  1. STG: We will take back all the things you have said and would like your involvement. We are willing to have another meeting. Any comments on the language would be helpful. Bigger questions like whether we are prepared to pause, for example, need to go back to the strategic group. PCG: We welcome openness to change for example the language – but is that just tinkering with what is? Is there an openness to pulling back and considering where it is leading – possibly unintended – and whether that is the right move for the profession? Not just to defend but to deeply listen. So many people are uncertain. STG’s predictions about where this is leading are all benign but others are seriously concerned about future possibilities. STG: “We have thought about that at every stage. These are decisions that have been taken by all the Boards of the participating organisations. We’re just the foot soldiers.” PCG: That’s at an organisational level. We’re also coming at it from a grassroots level.
  1. STG rehearsed the aims of the project, one of which was for the profession to be able to speak with one voice to eg Government, commissioners, employers. PCG said that it is also about politics and territory. UKCP are happy to be involved because by definition their members will be at Level C.
  1. PCG: We have the PSA registers. Does SCoPED add anything to that? STG: Employers don’t trust the PSA. “I see very little prospect of us abandoning this endeavour. But it’s not a done deal. There’s a lot of support for the aims and criticism of the detail.” (FB-D)
  1. The meeting concluded with thanks on both sides and an open-ness to further discussion.

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