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B.C. looks to regulate psychotherapy, designate it as health profession

Abbotsford News - 6/5/2024

Clinical counsellors may soon have concrete oversight in B.C. if the province moves forward on designating psychotherapy as a regulated health profession.

It's a step provincial and national associations have been requesting for decades, in the hopes of both legitimizing mental health care and ensuring those who practise it are held to certain standards.

As it stands now, only psychologists are regulated in B.C. This means they belong to a professional college, which demands certain qualifications and enforces ethical guidelines. If a psychologist's patient has a bad experience or a complaint, they can bring it to the college and the college has the power to investigate the issue and dole out discipline, if necessary.

There is no equivalent oversight for clinical counsellors or therapists, meaning anyone in B.C. can use those titles, even if they don't have the education and experience to back it up.

"When people go to see a therapist, there's no baseline foundation of what is ethical …they have very little protection," said Nicole Le Bihan, who chairs the B.C. Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists.

Having set standards in psychotherapy is crucial, Le Bihan said, in order to ensure there isn't an abuse of power.

"There's the potential to cause more harm when somebody is incredibly vulnerable emotionally and/or mentally," she said.

Carrie Foster, president of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, pointed to a recent instance in Alberta where a regulatory college determined a family doctor had sexually abused a vulnerable patient of theirs and was barred from practising in the province. She then went on to begin offering addictions counselling. Because Alberta is still in the process of regulating psychotherapy, there was no body to determine whether that should be allowed or not.

In Canada, psychotherapy is regulated in Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Alberta committed in March to doing the same and, at the end of May, B.C. launched a one-month consultation process to determine if it too will follow suit.

Who exactly would fall under a psychotherapy regulatory college and what qualifications they would need to have are yet to be determined, but psychotherapists are generally required to have at least a master's degree level education in counselling, psychology, psychotherapy or the like. Foster said other provinces who have introduced a regulatory college allowed a "grandfathering in" period, where they determined whether someone without a master's degree may have the equivalent in other experience and education.

Beyond oversight, Le Bihan and Foster both said they hope that by designating psychotherapy as a regulated health profession, the province could be moving closer to publicly funding mental health services. With the federal government set to make psychotherapy and counselling sessions tax exempt, an official designation by B.C. would also make the service a little bit cheaper.

The province's consultation on the change is set to end on June 24.