Can Anyone Call Themselves A Therapist?

It's hard to believe that we are already a month into 2020 and sometimes it seems time passes by quicker and quicker somehow. I've continued to be massively busy with hypnotherapy clients and, as always, anxiety and fear form a large part of the issues I've been helping them with. As I mentioned last time, I've also been busy in the studio adding to the hypnosis downloads I have available for you.

Combined with chasing the kids around, it can sometimes feel like there isn't a moment to pause (and I seem to have been learning a lot of geographical and musical terms and definitions in recent weeks while I've been testing my daughter for her tests). In fact the only downside recently seems to be the achillies injury I picked up running and that has curtailed my usual fitness routine. I'm banned from running, jumping and lunging for the next few weeks! 

Which was probably how I had a bit of time to scroll over the BBC website the other morning while eating my breakfast. And there, sitting on the News home page was a link to a video called, 'Can anyone call themself a therapist or counsellor?' which naturally piqued my professional curiousity (the video may or may not still be there by the time you are reading this!)

So, what is the answer? Can anyone call themselves a therapist here in the UK?

The World of Therapy

Over the last decade that I've been working as a full time hypnotherapist, I've heard and come across all sorts of stories and the like within the world of therapy.

There are the occasional tabloid headlines where a therapist or hypnotherapist is accused of some crime or other in a headline, and then when you go and read the full story you discover that their profession is nothing to do with what they are alleged to have done. They could have just as easily been a builder, baker or candlestick maker for all the relevance hypnosis or therapy had to the story. Yet it's certainly a theme that highlighting hypnosis, for example, seems to add more interest in the eyes of a reporter.

Then of course, like in any profession, you learn of hypnotherapists 'embellishing' the facts. For example, I've come across therapists claiming to be full time therapists yet having another business website that suggests otherwise. Or those who suggest they have several therapists operating under one roof yet you would most certainly only ever be able to see the one person no matter how many times you go there.

Sadly too, again just as with every other profession and walk of life, there will be those who lack the proper training or who may be unethical.  

And for many, many reasons, not every client who goes to a therapist (of any type) is necessarily going to get a positive outcome. It depends on what the therapist does, what the client does and how they work together towards the therapeutic goals. Not every therapist is going to be right for every person and not every person is going to be right for every therapist (which is why, in my opinion, you should aim to meet face to face before starting sessions). 

As the BBC video reported, pretty much anyone can call themselves a therapist or counsellor in the UK. There are many professional bodies with their own training standards and codes of ethics, and a therapist could join one, several or indeed none of these bodies. So what else did the BBC reporter discover? 

The BBC Report  

In the BBC video, reporter Jordan Dunbar investigated the lack of regulation in the world of therapy. 

Unlike some therapists who I have seen commenting on social media talking about the programme, I would have no problem with regulation. However, it seems very unlikely that the Government would be likely to instigate this anytime soon. And I certainly have no problem with people being fully informed to make the best decision they can before commencing their sessions with a therapist.

I found the video link just sitting on the BBC news home page so I have no idea as to any background behind why their piece was commissioned, or where (if anywhere) it is meant to sit on the BBC website. Is it part of a wider series investigating mental health issues? Is it a standalone investigative piece? Is it something else?

My only concern with the BBC plonking it on the home page like this with no other commentary or context (save for a few links to some mental health organisations) is that it could scare people off seeking therapy where there is no need to be put off. At a time when the main push is to promote people feeling safe to talk about mental health issues so they can seek help, it would be a huge shame if this piece (that even likens the therapy world to the wild west at one point) was to have the effect of putting people off seeking help. Although there may be undertrained or unethical therapists out there, the vast majority are well trained, ethical and can help you with your mental health issues.

The description alongside the video on the BBC website reads, 

"A BBC investigation has uncovered there are no laws against anyone operating as a therapist, psychotherapist or a counsellor in the UK.

Cheap online courses allow you to cheat to complete them, meaning qualifications are often meaningless.

BBC reporter Jordan Dunbar has been uncovering the impact of this lack of regulation."

Now I don't want to start by picking holes but I'm not sure there was much to uncover about how anyone can operate as a therapist, counsellor or even hypnotherapist in the UK. Certainly Dunbar could have asked any therapist (or Google'd it) because we all knew! Nobody, to my knowledge, is trying to hide the fact or pretend otherwise. However, I appreciate not everyone would know so perhaps that one should just slide!

can anyone call themselves a therapist hypnotherapy ely

In the video, he describes how he has suffered with anxiety and depression in the past and had been to see a therapist to get some help. And whilst the vast majority of his therapy was positive, one experience left him feeling worse that he did at the start. It's a shame that he doesn't explain whether this was his experience with one particular therapist over one or more of a course of sessions before changing therapist, or if he had one session within a treatment plan that left him feeling worse where all his other sessions were generally positive).

Dunbar goes on to describe how there are hundreds of courses available online, and how he bought one for ten pounds and cheated his way through it to get a certificate as a certified therapist.

I think the availability of cheap, often poorly designed, online courses is a bugbear for many of us. Most days, I will see an advert somewhere online telling me how I can learn CBT or counselling etc. online for just a few pounds. There is no way that these courses are up to scratch and I think anyone who completes one in the hope of a new career as a therapist will be sorely disappointed with the end result. It's a good reason why you should ask your prospective therapist about their training and qualifications before you start working with them (more on how to choose your therapist below). 

He also highlights the case of Matty who had a bad experience with a therapist when seeking help for his depression and anxiety (but he is thankfully in a better place now). He also talks to a therapist called Amanda who also had a negative experience in therapy and who describes how working with an untrained or unethical therapist may lead to people now getting their issues addressed, and how they could even be retraumatised by their therapy. Certainly all possible and another reason why you should be asking about training and qualifications, meeting your therapist for a chat first and seeking evidence by recommendation or testimonials to help inform your decision.

Of course, what we don't know in either case is whether regulation would have made any difference. Being regulated doesn't mean that someone will automatically be professional, honest and ethical (and naturally we aren't privy to what sort of training and experience the particular therapists in question may have had). Any profession, be it doctors, nurses or solicitors, can have rotten apples despite all the regulation and standards.

It's always disappointing in the small number of instances when a client doesn't get a positive result despite the best will a, effort and application of both therapist and client. A therapist can apply training, experience, knowledge, best practice and evidence, yet whether it's hypnotherapy, CBT, physiotherapy or medical treatment, it increases the likelihood of a positive result, but can't guarantee it. And a client or patient has a role to play too and needs to be open and honest, commit to the plan and diligently carry out tasks and exercises outside of appointments. Therapy is built on the therapeutic alliance between therapist and client where both play an active role in the process. I'm very blessed that people I have worked with have kindly written positive reviews or recorded testimonial videos.

Of course, if as outlined in the BBC video, if a 'therapist' is poorly trained, lacks knowledge and is unethical then the likelihood of a positive outcome massively diminishes irrespective of other factors.

And as it seems unlikely that the Government is going to regulate hypnotherapists, counsellors or other therapists any time soon, how can you make the best decision on who to work with to overcome your issues like anxiety and depression?

How To Choose Your Therapist

So with all that in mind, if you do need help from a therapist here are a few things to consider in making your decision:

1. Meet Your Therapist First

Before you decide to invest time, money, energy, commitment and hope into overcoming your issue, you should meet your therapist. You want to know that you are comfortable with them and their location, as well as having the opportunity to talk through your issue, ask about their qualifications and have your questions answered. Any professional hypnotherapist should be more than happy to meet you for a complimentary consultation in advance of therapy.

2. Ask About Their Training and Qualifications

As the BBC report highlighted, anyone can call themselves a therapist and it's possible to get a certificate from completing a cheap online course. When you meet for your free consultation, ask them about their training and qualifications. Sadly, as the profession is not regulated, simply being a member of a professional body doesn't carry too much weight. A professional therapist will be happy to answer any questions you may have about your issue and how you would work together to tackle it.

3. Recommendations and Reviews

Before you trust someone enough with your mental health, try and find out what other people have said (mine are here). I'm very lucky in that the majority of my clients are recommended to me by people I have helped before. Also have a look at their reviews and testimonials. These can give you a good idea of what other people think. Personally I would seek out dated testimonials (so you know how recent they are) and, ideally, video testimonials where you can be sure that a person is genuinely sharing their opinion.

I covered a few more things to consider in this previous article: How To Choose Your Hypnotherapist

The BBC report could potentially give the impression that therapists are poorly trained, unregulated, unethical charlatans who operate in a kind of wild west world. Sure, the qualifications, experience and capability will be along a range yet, in my experience, most therapists do want to help you and many thousands of people have found effective help and support. And if you are struggling with an issue like anxiety or depression then there is certainly help available from a good therapist. Keep in mind some of the points above when choosing your therapist and you may very well find yourself feeling better very soon.

To your success,

Dan Regan

Hypnotherapy in Ely & Newmarket