Monday, 16 June 2014

Checking Credentials - Therapists and Counsellors

The Children and Adoption Act 2006 introduced a variety of tools related to supporting contact activity which the court could access if the child/parent contact broke down. An anomaly was that these tools solely related to supporting contact orders and not shared residence orders. Amendments to legislation in April 2014 corrected this when contact and residence orders were combined within the new child arrangements order (click for more information on Child Arrangements Orders).

One of the tools available to the court allows a judge to order that the parents and/or child attends counselling. The child may be encouraged to meet with a therapist where alienation is suspected or some other unresolved matter is at issue causing the child to feel anxious about or resistant to seeing their parent.

Where contact has broken down entirely, it is critical to get a qualified therapist with experience. If a name is proposed by a legal adviser, welfare officer or judge, you should check that the therapist is suitably qualified and experienced. Why? In 2012, a Channel 4 News investigation found that over a fifth of expert witnesses producing reports for court were not qualified at all. Do not assume that recommended experts and professionals have the required knowledge, qualifications or expertise.

In the area of contact breakdown, alienation, family therapy or conflict resolution it is only prudent to check that those recommended as expert therapists, are! 

For more complex cases, if the court orders that a psychologist assists the family, their credentials and areas of expertise can be checked via a visit to the British Psychological Society website. Via the directory below, you can search for an individual psychologist and ascertain their experience and qualifications.

Counsellors and therapists may also be directed to assist the family. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy holds a register for its members, which you can check to ensure the validity of someone purporting to be BACP accredited. They also, like the other professional bodies, have a code of ethics and complaint procedure should something go wrong or service delivery be poor. Importantly, they publish hearing findings, decisions and sanctions which arise from complaints. The BACP register is approved by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care.

To find a BACP approved therapist, you can also visit their 'It's Good to Talk' site where you can search by region, specialism and approach.

Counsellors and therapists may also be a member of one of the following bodies. Please note the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy directory search function wasn't working when we tried it last night, and the Association of Child Psychotherapists' register doesn't differentiate between trainee and full members.

To help resolve broken contact, expertise is required, and if a therapist is recommended by the court, in our opinion they should be an expert, a member of a professional psychotherapy association and have specific experience. We recommend that if a person is proposed as a therapist, ask which professional body they belong to, confirm their membership by using one of the above links (if they belong to another organisation, contact that organisation to confirm their membership), and check that organisation's code of ethics/conduct and criteria for membership. It's no guarantee of success outcome, but wise, nonetheless.

Warning: You must not seek to have your child seen by a counsellor, therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist as part of a strategy to include the therapist's opinions into court proceedings to support your arguments. In such circumstances, you should seek the court's permission first. See our guide to Psychological Assessments.