B.C. moves to regulate psychotherapy

The B.C. government says consultation will begin to designate psychotherapy as regulated health profession. (BlurryMe/Shutterstock - image credit)
The B.C. government says consultation will begin to designate psychotherapy as regulated health profession. (BlurryMe/Shutterstock - image credit)

Psychotherapy could soon be a regulated health profession in British Columbia, according to the province's health ministry.

The province is proposing changes to the Health Professions Act to regulate psychotherapy so those in the field, include people those who use titles such as clinical counsellor, counselling therapist and psychotherapist, will be subject to government oversight.

The provincial government says it will consult with the public for the next month and then decide whether to formally regulate psychotherapy.

If the province decides to regulate, a new regulatory college will be formed and regulations around responsibility, scope of practice and more will be created.

Right now, anyone can call themselves a therapist and advertise their services to British Columbians seeking support for mental and emotional health. They don't need any training and there's no official body with legal powers to hold them accountable for any damage they might cause.

Erika Penner, a clinical psychologist and director of public advocacy for the B.C. Psychological Association, said she's not sure why those who practise psychotherapy in B.C. aren't regulated.

"Psychologists have been regulated in our province for over 20 years, and we see what a difference that makes in terms of ensuring the quality of service services," Penner told On The Coast guest host Amy Bell.

People practising psychotherapy can voluntarily join associations, according to Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in B.C. (FACTBC) chair Nicole Le Bihan.

But professional associations run into conflicts because, as Le Bihan points out, they exist to both oversee and protect their members.

"Because being a part of a professional association is voluntary, there could be a lot of practitioners out there who do not have any oversight," she told CBC's The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn.

"If it's mandated by the government to be part of a regulatory college, if you're not complying with the regulations, then you wouldn't be able to continue practising."

FACTBC called on the province to regulate psychotherapy as a matter of public interest in 2020. Le Bihan said regulation will help protect the public from harm.

"Patients will have an understanding if they go to a psychotherapist, what that means," she said.

"Just like when we go to a doctor or a nurse, we have an understanding that … there's a certain code of ethics and expectations around their education, their skills and competencies and their scope of practice."

She said the first step is defining what psychotherapy actually includes.

"Psychotherapy is working with mental health disorders or mental health problems or issues or challenges, psychological challenges," she said. "There's just so many different modalities and theories of change within the psychotherapy field."

Regulation will 'legitimize' profession, says FACTBC chair

One of the added benefits to regulating psychotherapy, Le Bihan said, is that it will lend credibility to the profession and mental health care as a whole.

"If psychotherapy is designated as a health-care profession, then it's going to legitimize it much more and that would be ideal. Mental health is equally as important as physical health," she said.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix echoed those sentiments.

"Taking care of our mental health is as important as caring for our physical health," Dix said.

"By moving ahead on this consultation, we are ensuring that those who offer psychotherapy and those clinical counsellors who focus on treating mental health conditions are recognized as health-care providers, as well as making sure they provide safe care to patients."

LISTEN | Psychotherapy could soon be regulated in B.C.