Government Proposals on Statutory Regulation

For over a decade now all those involved in counselling and psychotherapy – including the Psychological Therapies Forum of which APCP is a member – have been calling for statutory registration. This has now been advanced significantly by the Government in declaring its intention to put both professions under the auspices of CORU based on qualification advanced by Quality and Qualifications Ireland.

Here is an extract from the 2012 amendment concerning Health and Social Care Professionals by the Minister of State at the Department of Health:

“I thank Deputies for the valuable and thoughtful contributions made on Second and Committee Stages. Deputies highlighted the urgent need to bring counsellors and psychotherapists within the ambit of the 2005 Act. I would like to now restate the commitment made by the Minister, Deputy Reilly on Committee stage to make the necessary regulations under the Act as soon as possible. A key regulation in this regard, namely, the regulation to prescribe the qualifications needed to register under the Act, will be made when the minimum qualifications and standards of knowledge, skill and competence for future counsellors and psychotherapists have been set by Quality and Qualifications Ireland. To explain further, the regulation of designated professions under the Act is, in the first instance, activated by the registration of persons with specific qualifications approved by the relevant registration board. These approved qualifications are awarded by the Higher Education and Training Awards Council, HETAC, now subsumed into Quality and Qualifications Ireland, QQI, or by the universities. In the case of counselling and psychotherapy, however, QQI is only now in the process of establishing standards of knowledge, skill and competence to be acquired by those wishing to practice in this field. When these standards have been determined, in consultation with the professional bodies and other stakeholders, the educational institutions offering courses and programmes in counselling and psychotherapy can seek QQI accreditation and, in time, QQI will be able to award qualifications to those graduating from the accredited courses. These QQI qualifications will be the minimum qualifications required of counsellors and psychotherapists to register under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005.

The Minister, Deputy Reilly, will be asking Quality and Qualifications Ireland to conclude its work as soon as possible next year. In tandem, the Department will work with CORU to have all the other necessary arrangements in place so that there will be no delay in establishing the counsellors and psychotherapists registration board when the minimum qualification standards have been set. On Committee Stage, Deputies raised concerns about inadequately trained counsellors and psychotherapists advertising services to the public. While many services, private and public, have quality assurance arrangements in place, as have a number of reputable professional bodies, there is cause for concern that standards are not universally high. Deputies pointed out that these advertisements are often aimed at people in vulnerable or distressing situations. It was asked whether it would be possible to require those advertising counselling and psychotherapy services to alert the public to the fact that counsellors and psychotherapists are not currently regulated under the 2005 Act. This may be a worthwhile temporary measure in the interest of public safety particularly and the Department is now seeking legal advice on the practicalities involved. The Minister, Deputy Reilly, hopes to be able to come to a clear policy position on this proposal shortly.”

Professional Bodies and the Psychological Therapies Forum

Some people may not be fully aware of the important work undertaken by the Psychological Therapies Forum or of its role in developing standards in counselling and psychotherapy in Ireland. Perhaps this is because most of its work is undertaken as a professional network of counselling and psychotherapy associations, but in truth it is one of the most influential groups involved in counselling and psychotherapy in Ireland today. The PTF membership comprises professional bodies who have all dedicated themselves to the concept and process if achieving proper professional regulation in Ireland. The group which meets on a regular basis was responsible for the submission to government of a paper recommending professional standards in 2008.

Central to their proposals was the belief that counselling and psychotherapy should be represented at two differing levels in any regulatory process. In the proposed standards that have now been developed by QQI (and which are currently in the process of public consultation) the main tenants of original 2008 document are endorsed.  In developing their proposal in 2008, the main professional bodies provided the imprimatur for what is about to take place. For many of the professional bodies involved in the PTF this will require changes from them. In some cases these changes may be quite significant but the prise of a properly regulated group of professions and the protection of the public is one that cannot be overstated.

The upcoming move to statutory regulation will raise the issue of grand-parenting for those counsellors and psychotherapist who do not have the formal qualifications to register as such and the role of the PTF in informing this process will be crucial.

Download the Submission on The Statutory Registration of Counsellors & Psychotherapists in IrelandRegulation Submission 2007 below.


 CORU is Ireland’s first multi-professional health regulator or sometimes referred to as the Health & Social care Professionals’ Council.

CORU initially undertook the regulation of 12 disciplines.  Counselling and psychotherapy were not included in the initial group of professions that came under the remit of CORU, but it is expected that they will be included in the next tranch of occupations.

A central aspect of CORU’s work is to ensure a course has met the required standards it sets for relevant disciplines in:

  • Education
  • Training
  • Assessment
  • Examinations
  • Practice education

In a statement in late 2012, the Minister of State at the Department of Health –  Alex White clearly stated that CORU will be the agency with responsibility for the future regulation of Counsellors and Psychotherapists and that those types of qualification  “will be the minimum qualifications required of counsellors and psychotherapists to register under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005”. 

CORU establishes a registration board for the registration of relevant professions and sets the entry and practice standards.  In that context, current and future practitioners will need to apply to CORU for registration in order to be able to use the titles Counsellor or Psychotherapist when regulation becomes effective.

CORU will also have a role in ensuring that practitioners keep their professional knowledge and skills up to date and continuous professional development  ‘ is part of a practitioner’s professionalism and is required under their code of professional conduct and ethics adopted by the Registration Board of that profession’. CORU website.

Effectively this is likely to mean that your qualification must at a minimum be a QQI qualification that has been approved by CORU and not a course that make you a  member of a particular professional body. It also means as a practitioner, you will be required to demonstrate a commitment to your on-going professional development.

Quality and Qualification Ireland – QQI

Quality and Qualification Ireland was established by the Government in November 2012. It is made up the amalgamation of 4 groups namely the Further Education and Training Award Council (FETAC), Higher Education and Training Award Council (HETAC), the National Qualifications Authority of Ireland (NQAI) and the Irish Universities Quality Board (IUQB). QQI’s principal role is to oversee the quality and qualification offered by the majority of Ireland academic institutions. It does this through a rigorous process that involves agreeing quality assurance with organisations, validating programmes that meet required standards and monitoring organisations to ensure that the quality of their programmes continue to meet required standards.

QQI’s role in Counselling and Psychotherapy has taken on a much more important position since the Minister ALex White issued a statement in Dail Eireann committing to statutory registration of counsellors and psychotherapists as early as possible.  In this speech he also stated that:

 “(…) QQI qualifications will be the minimum qualifications required of counsellors and psychotherapists to register under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005”. 

More recently QQI (Qualifications Quality Ireland) has published a consultation document on award standards which endorses the distinctions recommended by the PTF.  These proposed award

standards are currently the subject of public consultation and are available via the URL: .

Once public consultation has been completed on November 15th the final standards will go to the board of QQI for approval.

Education and Professional Standards

One of the most vexing questions surrounding counselling and psychotherapy in Ireland over the last 20 years has been the subject of educational and professional standards.

The principal difficulty with unregulated professions is that of differing standards and a lack of standardisation. Within the fields of counselling and psychotherapy in Ireland, there are currently over 20 different professional bodies all aiming to represent the needs of their members and to advance counselling and psychotherapy according to their own individual ethos, while at the same time all claiming to represent the best interests of the public. Likewise, counselling and psychotherapy are currently not protected titles, therefore anyone who wishes may legally (though clearly not morally or ethically) refer to themselves as either of these titles. Therefore there is currently no legal impediment to using such titles and thus limited legal protection of the general public.

Having so many diverse Associations attempting to voluntarily regulate practice is clearly problematic for a range of reasons. Firstly some Associations fail to make a distinction between Psychotherapy and Counselling and continue to have the same qualification requirements despite the recommendations of the PTF to government in 2008.

In turn this means that the ranges of qualifications are currently being used in Ireland, without the public having the assurance of uniform standards of skill, competency and knowledge.

The Psychological Therapies Forum succeeded in making shared recommendations to Government in 2008. Achieving that consensus between such a diverse body of professional associations was an achievement. Likewise, since that time a number of developments have occurred which are significant.

  1. In 2011, HETAC (now QQI) – building on the recommendations of the PTF, commenced a process of setting award standards for educational programmes in these fields.
  2. In late 2012, Minister Alex White  issued a statement in Dail Eireann committing to statutory registration of counsellors and psychotherapists as early as possible
  3. In that speech the Minister clearly specified that these “QQI qualifications will be the minimum qualifications required of counsellors and psychotherapists to register under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005”.
  4. The development of award standards by QQI have now been released for public consultation in August, 2013
  5. The role of CORU in overseeing the professions of Counseling & Psychotherapy is now much clearer.
  6. The commitment of the Minister to work with CORU to ensure that there will be “no delay” in bringing regulatory frameworks about.

In essence this will bring about a set of professions which will finally have developed and implemented standards and whose on-going practice will be overseen by a regulatory agency with statutory authority.

Counselling and Psychotherapy – How are both professions likely to evolve?

While there are areas of similarity and overlap between Counselling and Psychotherapy,  differences relate to the level of complexity which fall within the scope of practice of counsellors or psychotherapists and these in turn, reflect the different levels of training undertaken.

Internationally the ‘norms’ of training in psychotherapy require practitioners to have undertaken a minimum of seven years training, including undergraduate study in relevant health/social care areas followed by a minimum of 4 years training at postgraduate level, including a minimum of a Masters level qualification in the area of psychotherapy practice and four years training at that level. As a generality, Counsellors would tend to  work with people who are anxious to make changes in their lives or perhaps with those who present with problems which could be described as falling within the category of the ‘softer mental health areas’. Likewise they might use their skills in an integrative way within such diverse practice areas as youth work, community work etc. Psychotherapy practice on the other hand, because the training is more comprehensive, longer and at Master level means that practitioners are normally more qualified to work in specialist areas of mental health or illness.

These distinctions are consistent with the recommendation of the Psychological Therapies Forum (2008) in Ireland, endorsed in the new draft award standards recently developed by QQI and now the subject of public consultation.

So what is this going to mean?  At the very least it means that the education of Psychotherapists will be distinct from that of Counsellors and will be more intense and specialised. Psychotherapists are likely to be employed to deal with more complex issues of mental health/illness and to be frequently engaged in multi-disciplinary teams with other health professionals.

Should these recommendations be approved, placing minimum educational qualifications for Counselling at Level 8 and Psychotherapy at Level 9 on the NFQ, will in effect, send out a clear message to the public that those wishing to professionally practice in these areas will require a level of competency to carry out this work that reflects the standards of education set out above.

Statutory registration and the involvement of CORU as the guardian and overseer of both areas of professional practice should lead finally to standards which when nationally implemented will become a benchmark for others to follows.