Psychotherapists and counsellors to be regulated

Rules proposed by Simon Harris aim to address concerns on under-qualified therapists

Almost 5,000 counsellors and psychotherapists are to be formally regulated for the first time, under plans that have been unveiled by the Department of Health. The two professions will be legally required to comply with rules of professional conduct and individual members will be subject to disciplinary hearings where complaints are made.

The new rules will formally define the professions of counsellor and psychotherapist, and only people who have the required qualifications will be able to use these titles in their work. For many years, there has been concern about the lack of regulation in the health counselling area and the level of qualifications held by some of those offering services.

Minister for Health Simon Harris has invited submissions on the approach planned by his department, to be furnished by the end of November.

The two sectors will be regulated by Coru, the Health and Social Care Professions Council, which has already begun regulating other health practitioners such as physiotherapists and opticians. The Department of Health, in a briefing paper, says the move will ensure counsellors and psychotherapists have minimum qualifications, that only those who are registered can use these legally protected titles and that practitioners would be subject to sanctions, up to the cancellation of their registration where complaints are upheld against them.


The note states: “There is concern that, in many cases, there is no statutory oversight of their competence and conduct and that some practitioners lack the qualifications and professional training needed to work with such vulnerable clients.”

It says a number of issues remain to be resolved, including the number of professions to be regulated, the titles to be protected and what “grandfathering” qualifications would be required for existing practitioners.

Unlike other professions that have been previously regulated by the council, the 5,000 counsellors and psychotherapists do not form a cohesive professional body, according to the department.

While the council is recommending a two-step approach, with the creation of a voluntary register before the statutory register is put in place, Mr Harris is proposing the establishment of one registration board for both professions, operating separate registers for each profession. Other forms of counsellors, such as in the area of finance or careers, will continue to be able to use this title in their work.

The new regulations will require the approval of the Oireachtas and a two-year transitional period will apply before the changes are fully introduced.

Fianna Fáil TD for Sligo-Leitrim Marc MacSharry said the Minister’s proposals were “a long overdue step forward in improving mental health and suicide prevention initiatives”. Mr MacSharry said it was outrageous that people could describe themselves as a counsellor or psychotherapist after doing a six-week course.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times