The provincial election campaign has not officially started, but when all three declared candidates show up for a meeting about changing provincial laws, impromptu electioneering is inevitable.
That was the scene on Jan. 12 at the Gibsons Public Art Gallery, when local artist and writer Janice Williams held a public meeting on regulating mental health therapists in BC.
At present, anyone in BC can hang out their shingle as a mental health therapist without possessing any qualifications, answering to any standards of practice, or being accountable for their conduct. Williams, a victim of professional misconduct, has joined a province-wide campaign to regulate the profession.
Incumbent NDP MLA Nicholas Simons, playing to an audience of longtime supporters, gave a ringing denunciation of the Liberal Party’s 16 year reign of de-regulation. This left Liberal candidate Mathew Wilson defending the current government’s lack of regulation. Green Party candidate Kim Darwin spoke on the importance of giving citizens an effective voice in government.
The politicking, which occurred at the end of the evening, did not overshadow the deeply personal stories of Williams and artist Bernadine Fox, who related their traumatic experiences with abusive therapists.
Dr. Sue Penfold, retired psychiatrist and UBC professor, described the vulnerability of people who seek help for personal problems and who place their trust in a therapist. When that trust is abused or exploited, the aftermath can include depression, marriage break-up, loss of employment or even suicide. Victims are usually pressured to keep the abuse secret, and feelings of shame further prevent people from revealing it even to close friends and family.
Glen Grigg from the Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in BC (FACTBC), called for the regulation of counselling therapists “the same way that all other health care is regulated.” Griggs noted that he has been involved in lobbying for this since 1995. Frustrated at the ineffectiveness of discussions with government, FACTBC, which represents over 5,000 therapists, has gone public in a campaign to create the political will for change.
Counselling therapists are regulated in most other jurisdictions, including the UK, Australia, all 50 US states, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
Not to minimize anyone’s suffering but if you regulate “Therapists” then hucksters will advertise themselves as “Coaches” and if you regulate “Coaches” they will advertise themselves as “Guru’s” or “Providers” and so on.
The specific regulation being lobbied for was not reported in the article but it is hard for me to imagine an effective solution other then consumer education. Consumers could be educated to check if the person they are hiring, for any service, belongs to a standards body and what, if any, government licensing is involved in the profession. The alternative is to say no body can provide any advice or service of any kind without government licensing. That sounds rather oppressive to me.