British Columbia

B.C.'s lack of oversight for counselling therapists leaves no recourse, says patient

In British Columbia, there is currently no professional oversight body holding counselling therapists accountable for their actions.

Existing associations 'lack the authority to really make it stick when it counts': advocate

'If a college is in place, there's no way to avoid accountability short of going on the lam and moving to the north pole,' said Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in B.C. chair Glenn Gregg. (iStock)

A Vancouver artist and writer is raising concerns over the lack of a provincial oversight body for counselling therapists in B.C.

Bernadine Fox claims she documented and reported her own former therapist's inappropriate behaviour for years, but the counsellor faced no legal repercussions and was able to continue treating clients.

"As a therapist you're put in a position of absolute trust," Fox told CBC's B.C. Almanac host Gloria Mackarenko. 

"It was her job to keep those boundaries in check and that's not what was happening."

Fox describes a therapist-client relationship that slowly became romantic. She claims her counsellor — who she is choosing not to name — gave her medical power of attorney and discussed sessions with other clients.

"She was betraying the confidence of other clients, and ultimately I would find out that she betrayed my confidence as well with those people," said Fox. 

Membership not mandatory

She reported her counsellor to the BC Association of Clinical Counsellors (BCACC), and the therapist resigned her membership. But membership in the BCACC is voluntary and is not a requirement in order to charge clients for counselling services.

On top of that, like other organizations of its kind, the BCACC has no ability to punish its members, aside from revoking their membership.

"No matter how much the associations do to set standards and enforce standards, they lack the authority to really make it stick when it counts," Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in B.C. chair Glenn Grigg told Mackarenko.

The group comprises 12 professional associations similar to and including the BCACC, represents over 5,000 therapists and has been advocating for a provincial oversight body for decades.

Grigg says the rigorous registration processes, quality assurance programs and client complaint protocols that many member associations already have in place need to be made legally binding, possibly under the Health Professions Act, or with the creation of a B.C. college of therapists or similar government body.

Unavoidable accountability

"If a college is in place, there's no way to avoid accountability short of going on the lam and moving to the north pole," he said.

Grigg has been collaborating with what he calls senior government officials to make such a college a reality, saying B.C. Health Minister Terry Lake is supportive of the initiative.

"We've seen nothing but diligence, understanding and good will from them. They're working hard on this file," Grigg said.

"Our duty as counsellors is to keep this collaboration alive, to bring it out to the public, because in the past we've gone back and we've found that we've dropped off the to-do list."