Mind/Witness: Barred arts therapist can practice as counsellor

Charities have called for the closure of a regulatory loophole which would allow an arts therapist struck off this week to practice as a psychotherapist or counsellor.

Mind and Witness said the two groups needed to be subject to compulsory registration to protect the public from abusive practitioners, following the case of Derek Gale.

Therapist free to switch job title

Gale, 59, from Loughton, Essex, was removed from the arts therapists’ register by regulator the Health Professions Council for repeatedly crossing professional boundaries with clients.

A HPC conduct and competence committee found Gale smoked cannabis in front of clients, swore at them and also discussed sexual activity during sessions. He admitted taking one female service user on holiday on four occasions but explained it was part of her “therapy”.

However, under the current regulatory framework, Gale remains free to practise as a psychotherapist or counsellor despite being banned from working as an arts therapist.

Government signals tighter regulation

Among mental health professionals, the HPC regulates arts therapists and the General Medical Council psychiatrists.

The Department of Health announced plans to extend regulation, under the HPC, to psychologists, psychotherapists and counsellors in a 2007 white paper on the regulation of health professionals.

Since then, legislation has been brought in to regulate psychologists, with the HPC due to open its register to the profession on 1 July. A professional liaison group has been set up to consider regulation of psychotherapists and counsellors and the HPC has said that it anticipates regulation being extended to these groups in 2011.

Campaigners urge action

Mind, the mental health charity, and Witness, which campaigns against abusive practice in health and social care, urged the government to press ahead with the plans.

In a joint statement, Mind chief executive Paul Farmer and his counterpart at Witness, Jonathan Coe, said: “At the moment, anyone can call themselves a psychotherapist or counsellor and begin treating patients without any formal training, or sticking to any code of conduct whatsoever.

“Derek Gale has been legally banned from practising as an arts therapist yet under current rules, there is nothing to stop him from continuing practicing as a counsellor or psychotherapist.”

National talking therapies programme

Their campaign coincides with the government’s talking therapies programme, worth £100m in 2009-10 and £170m next year, which is designed to widen access to counselling for people with anxiety and depression across England.

However, a group of therapists led by psychoanalyst Darian Leader is opposing the move towards tighter regulation.

The Coalition Against Over-Regulation of Psychotherapy, which includes high-profile supporters such as Tracey Emin and Hanif Kureishi, says registration would “destroy the growth and vitality” of individualised therapy.

A DH spokesperson said: “Psychotherapists and counsellors are amongst the priority groups for the introduction of statutory regulation, because what they do can impact significantly on patients and the public. Regulation should not interfere with innovation or restrict patient choice. It is designed to provide assurance of the quality of care that people have a right to receive.”

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