Finding a Psychologist

There have been many stories in the media recently about members of the public who have fallen victim to unqualified and unregulated therapists.

A recent BBC documentary highlighted heart-breaking narratives of those who had been mistreated by unqualified and unregulated therapists or in some cases companies offering seemingly ‘magical’ solutions to presenting conditions such as depression and anxiety often at greatly exaggerated cost to the individual. This kind of unscrupulous and unethical practice is sadly commonplace in today’s world. The move to online communication and therapy has meant that members of the public can be blindsided by adverts often targeted to their social media timeline in in some cases infiltrating social groups online with adverts.

There is also the longer-term issue of those using the term therapists, psychologist, psychotherapist, counsellor, who do not have the training or credentials to be able to stake this claim. With these issues in mind, for those wishing to find a therapist it can therefore be a minefield.

The Professional Standards Agency (PSA) accredited register is a huge step towards helping people find accredited and qualified practitioners working in this field. https://www.professionalstandards.org.uk/home

I addition the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) regulates all qualified practitioner Psychologists, art therapists offering services to the public. While not a regulator, the British Psychological Society also provides a directory of psychologists offering services to the public. https://www.hcpc-uk.org/

When reading and hearing the stories in the media and from those that have shared their story with me personally, I am struck by not only the numbers of unregulated and unqualified practitioners but the level of unethical practice. The recent BBC documentary gave examples of practice including asking patients to video themselves doing exposure therapy to be then shared on social media, sharing details of other patients, and making derogatory comments about them, appearing overtly disinterested in the person’s narrative during ‘therapy’ sessions to name just a few.

Qualifications and regulatory bodies are important because:

1. Some practitioners claim to be qualified in a certain field yet have only completed a basic course and in some circumstances have been found to have actually paid for a certificate in a certain type of therapy without completing the course (as outlined in the recent BBC documentary). I have also seen adverts from companies offering a course and certificate in cognitive behavioural therapy for a nominal amount which is without hesitation totally unsuitable qualification.

2. You may ask why regulatory bodies are important if someone is ‘qualified”. Well, the purpose of these regulatory bodies is to provide a framework for practice standards including qualifications, supervision, indemnity insurance and clinical governance with the aim of protecting the public from harm.

3. If an unqualified doctor carried out a medical procedure, then this would be dealt with by law. Yet if an unqualified/unregulated therapist treats someone’s fragile mental health then it is quite astounding that there is still no legal framework for dealing with this.

So where does that leave you when sourcing a therapist? While this is not an exhausted or definitive list, I have attempted to document some important things for you to consider:

1. What qualifications do they claim to have?

2. Are they registered with a professional body outlined on the Professional Standards Agency (PSA) website , The HCPC website and the and BPS Directories for Psychologists?

3. Are they registered with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) for the purposes of data collection? Their role is to uphold information rights in the interest of the public.

4. Feel free to ASK for this information and look them up. An appropriately qualified and regulated practitioner will have absolutely no issue with this and will in fact encourage you to do so. A red flag may be those who are reluctant or evasive around this.

5. If you are using Health Insurance to pay for therapy, then these companies also employ rigorous checks on the practitioners they use and will provide you with a list of approved practitioners.

6. If you are paying privately then fees will vary according to profession. Psychologists will charge more than most other types of counsellors and therapists due to the matter of the work we do.

7. Red flags for ethical practice include being offered a ‘discount’ on sessions for leaving a review or doing a video for social media or asking you to be in videos for their promotion.

8. Regulators such as the HCPC have information on their websites about what the public should expect from the professionals they are working with.

If it feel wrong…….don’t ignore that!

Dr Tara Quinn-Cirillo (CPSychol, AFBPsS)

January 2022.