HOW do I choose a mental health professional?

I thought I would discuss this important topic to be really transparent about professional accountability and over and above everything else, to help you, ‘the public’, make informed choices about who you speak to our seek advice from about what.

There is a vast amount of choice out there with mental health professionals and it can be difficult to know how to make a fully informed choice about who to trust with something as important as your child’s mental health, your families’ wellbeing and/or your own mental health.

The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) sets standards for professionals’ education, training and practice. They are the regulating body for healthcare professionals outside of Medical Doctors (who are regulated by the General Medical Council aka: GMC). They hold a register of professionals who meet the standards and they take action when professionals within the register do not. Some of the professionals within the register include Art Therapists, Dietitians, Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, Practitioner Psychologists, and Speech and Language therapists amongst others.

What many might not know is that NOT ALL TITLES ARE PROTECTED BY LAW. Professionals who use protected titles must be registered to use them. For example: Clinical Psychologist is a protected title, however Psychologist and Therapist are not. Counselling Psychologist is a protected title but Counsellor is not. This means that anyone can call themselves a Psychologist or a Therapist but only those who have done the relevant training to work with people can call themselves Clinical Psychologist, Counselling Psychologist, Health Psychologist, Educational Psychologist, Forensic Psychologist, or Practitioner Psychologist (see HCPC for a full table of titles of all the professionals they regulate).

Understanding this matters for you to be able to make an informed choice about whom you are seeing. Working with professionals who have protected titles and professional registrations protects you and gives you the assurance that the work you are doing with that person is happening under clear guidelines, that the professional adheres to policies, that their work is evidence-based and ethical, and that they receive clinical supervision and are subject to yearly reviews of their work performance.

There are other regulating bodies of professionals outside of the HCPC that may also matter for you to understand:

· The British Psychological Society (BPS), the representative body for psychologists in the UK that sets standards, guidance and support for fellow practicing psychologists. You can search for psychologists near you by postcode or model of work in the Directory of Chartered Psychologists. Chartered status with the BPS gives you the assurance that the psychologist you are seeing has completed a course that is recognised in equipping them to practice clinically with members of the public.

· The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies (BABCP or MBACP for members) is a multi-disciplinary interest group for those involved in the practice and theory of behavioural and cognitive psychotherapy. The BABCP accreditation give you the assurance that the therapist you are seeing has met the standards needed to practice in their field.

Being a member of the BPS and/or the BAPC is voluntary – they are not mandatory bodies but they do offer guidance and support in our practice. It is always good practice to look out for professional bodies, what they stand for and what the standards of accreditation are.

If this is sounding like hard work, fear not!! Most professionals clearly label HCPC and any professional bodies they are members of in their bio or at a minimum on their website. You should be able to see people’s training at a glance without working hard to look for it on their website. You can also check under HCPC, BPS and BACP for the accredited members using their full name.

If this isn’t clear or you cannot find the person you want to work with – ASK. One of the easiest and quickest ways for you to know the level of training and accreditation that someone holds is to openly ask about this. Do not hesitate to enquire about where someone has trained and whether they hold accreditation (and who with). Most professionals working in this field will be fully transparent about their ways of working and will not be offended by you wanting to know more about them because most of us want and do practice in ways that hold us accountable and keep you safe. If for any reason someone avoids the question or doesn’t want to share this I would strongly question what is making it hard for them to be open about this.

We know that you are at a vulnerable time when you are looking for support for your mental health or that of your loved ones. The greatest predictor of outcome is the therapeutic relationship and it is important you find someone who is a good fit for you and you feel comfortable speaking to them. That therapeutic safety is vitally important. However, it is critically important that you are fully aware of whether the person you are seeing is adequately trained and have the professional standards that you feel comfortable with.

At the end of the day, who you see is your choice. There are 100s of excellent health professionals and it can sometimes be overwhelming and tricky to understand the differences in title and the jargon that comes with acronyms and professional labels

I fully believe in transparent ways of working and I hope sharing this information will help you make a better informed decision about who you trust with the most precious and valuable of things – your mental health or that of your families’.

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