SCoPEd: Summary of Views and Perspectives

SCoPEd: Summary of Views and Perspectives

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Scope of Practice and Education (SCoPEd) is a framework that sets out the core training requirements and practice standards for counsellors and psychotherapists working with adult clients. It has been developed by six professional bodies that hold registers accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA):

The SCoPEd framework categorises practitioners into three columns – A, B and C – which are shown in the image below.



A handout on SCoPEd: Views and Perspectives is available for download in the green button above.


The SCoPEd project and resulting framework have led to much debate and many questions among student and qualified counsellors and psychotherapists. Key questions posed in the Counselling Tutor Facebook group include the following:

  • By accepting this framework, are professional bodies saying there is a difference between counselling and psychotherapy?
  • Should students who are studying at Level 3 consider moving on to Level 7 if they can, rather than to Level 4?
  • What impact will SCoPEd have on my Level 4 qualification?
  • Will the Level 4 route to qualification be phased out?
  • How do Level 5 courses fit into the SCoPEd framework?
  • Will awarding bodies make it clear which column their training sits in?
  • Will the professional bodies tell practitioners where different client presentations fit within the columns (for example, whether a practitioner in Column A can work with depression)?
  • How do you move from Column A to Columns B and C?
  • Can a purely person-centred practitioner enter Column C? If so, how?
  • How will SCoPEd impact those who are accredited or senior accredited by their professional body?
  • Does SCoPEd imply that therapists with Level 7 qualifications should be paid more than those with Level 4 qualifications?
  • Will practitioners in employment with Level 4 qualifications currently working with clients in Column C lose their jobs?

We asked two professional bodies (the BACP and the NCS) and an awarding body (the CPCAB) for their views on these issues. We also asked two individual practitioners – one who is in favour of SCoPEd and one who is against it – about their perspectives. We share all the results in this summary.


By accepting this framework, are professional bodies saying that there is a difference between counselling and psychotherapy?

Because the counselling and psychotherapy professions are not regulated (relying instead on voluntary registration via the PSA), practitioners are in effect free to choose their professional title.

There are some differences between training paths that are typically associated with the titles ‘counsellor’ and ‘psychotherapist’. These differences relate to various factors, for example the length of training and the academic level – plus the requirements for research, client hours, supervision and personal therapy. Some people who have done psychotherapy training may choose to call themselves ‘counsellor’, and vice versa.

It may be that psychotherapy training is likely to place practitioners in Columns B and C, but people who have undergone counselling training are likely to appear in any of the three columns. While the first iteration of SCoPEd mapped the title ‘psychotherapist’ onto Column C, the final version does not define the difference between the two titles.

Should students who are studying at Level 3 consider moving on to Level 7 if they can rather than to Level 4?

Each student is of course be free to choose which course they feel will be right for them in terms of their career goals and personal journey. It will be possible to move through the SCoPEd columns without a Level 7 qualification, since professional competences relate not purely to academic qualifications, but rather encompass a more holistic view of practitioners’ growth, including practice experience and learning gained through continuing professional development (CPD).

If you intended to study Level 4 before and were happy with that option, the SCoPEd changes don’t require you to change that decision. This route is likely to suit you if you want to qualify via a vocational training route, part-time over two years at local colleges or independent training centres whilst gaining practice experience on placement in a counselling agency.

If you are genuinely interested in alternative routes (e.g. an undergraduate degree or postgraduate study), have the relevant entry qualifications, and feel this mode of study would fit your personal circumstances (including budget and time), then choose a programme that provides all the elements you are looking for, including practice (as this is required for becoming a practicing counsellor at the end of it).

What impact will SCoPEd have on my Level 4 qualification?

SCoPEd fully acknowledges the range of competences gained on the CPCAB’s Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling, and shows that these are what is being asked for from a qualified counsellor. Completing this diploma should therefore give you at least the competences you need to work safely and ethically as a qualified practitioner.

Will the Level 4 route to qualification be phased out?

The CPCAB has no plans to phase out its Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling, as SCoPEd does not affect the relevance or value of this qualification. This diploma allows students to become qualified to practise, and to join a wide range of professional bodies recognised by the PSA, including those in the SCoPEd partnership.

The competences specified by SCoPEd to enter Column A have been directly drawn from existing qualifications, including the Level 4 Diploma. This is evidence that the diploma provides what employers and professional bodies are looking for in a competent counsellor.

How do Level 5 courses fit into the SCoPEd framework?

The CPCAB offers a range of Level 5 qualifications, including three qualifications that build on the initial competences gained in the Level 4 Diploma. These additional competences fit within the SCoPEd framework. For example, the Level 5 Diploma in Psychotherapeutic Counselling assesses in depth the use of a coherent client assessment strategy, which aligns with Column B competences. This may therefore help practitioners in Column A to work towards moving to Column B, if they wish to do so.

As SCoPEd was designed to reflect competences for working with adults, it does not represent the CPCAB Level 5 Diploma in Counselling Children and Young People. However, this new CPCAB qualification was fully mapped, at design stage, to the existing competence frameworks for working with young people published by both the BACP and the NCS.

Will awarding bodies make it clear which column their training sits in?

In its annual review of its documentation this year, the CPCAB will make reference to the SCoPEd framework and give indications of where the framework represents the CPCAB qualification competences. The vocational training qualifications from the CPCAB map seamlessly to the framework, and are not lacking in any of the competence areas that you will need to be a counsellor.

When choosing a course, do ensure that you first read through the SCoPEd framework in detail, so that you have the facts – rather than letting misunderstandings or rumours affect your decision on what training is right for you. If you have any questions, do contact your centre, tutors or the CPCAB.

Will the professional bodies tell practitioners where different client presentations fit within the columns (for example, whether a practitioner in Column A can work with depression)?

The framework does not categorise the range of client presentations into the columns, and the BACP and the NCS will both continue to trust their members to work ethically within their skills, knowledge and training – getting supervisor support or referring on when needed. This is in line with both bodies’ ethical frameworks.

How do you move from Column A to Columns B and C?

The SCoPEd partners are currently working to agree the mechanisms for moving between membership categories. There will be a set of mechanisms that will apply during the transition period, and then other mechanisms and routes will be added later. For example, the BACP plans to add new accreditation schemes that will open new routes to move between columns. This means that it will be possible to move to Column C without holding a master’s degree. Indeed, practice experience and CPD will be key to progression.

The SCoPEd partners will initially align their existing membership categories to the SCoPEd columns (rather than deciding which column each individual member sits in). So to move between the columns, you’ll need to look at your professional body’s criteria for changing membership categories and work towards that.

Many practitioners have been concerned that if they’re in the ‘wrong column’, they won’t be able to practise in a certain way or will have to stop seeing certain kinds of clients. This is not true: regardless of which column you are in, you will still be able to practise competences in other columns, providing you have the skills, knowledge and experience to do so. The ethical frameworks of the professional bodies will continue to focus on the necessity of therapists working within their skills and competences rather than moving to a model based purely on the SCoPEd columns.

Can a purely person-centred practitioner enter Column C? If so, how?

The process of moving to a different professional-body membership category (and so a different SCoPEd column) is not linked to the practitioner’s modality. So long as they can evidence the relevant competences, practitioners of any theoretical orientation will be able to represent themselves within any of the membership categories (and therefore columns).

One section of the NCS’s member consultation will be specifically for person-centred members, in order to help inform them of its SCoPEd processes. The NCS also holds an Accredited Register for Person Centred Experiential Therapy; this will be launched and made available to all registered members this year.

How will SCoPEd impact those who are accredited or senior accredited by their professional body?

In the NCS, all Accredited Registrants (the first category of membership) will automatically be in Column A, and all Accredited Professional Registrants (the second membership category) in Column B.

Senior Accredited Registrants in the NCS (who are established practitioners with additional experience) will be asked to undergo a free assessment to check that they map to the Column C competences. Any who don’t will be able to stay as Senior Accredited Registrants for at least three years while they meet the new criteria if they wish. They won’t have to complete a Level 7 qualification as there will be an additional route in place for all NCS members wishing to transition from Column B to C in the future.

In the BACP, meanwhile, Accredited Members will sit in Column B. There will be a mechanism for members who meet all the practice standards and competences of Column C but have chosen not to apply for the current senior accreditation scheme to move membership category during the transition period.

Senior Accredited Members will initially be in Column B (as the current senior accreditation schemes don't align with Column C competences) but will have the opportunity during the transition period to move to Column C, if they are eligible. This process will be free of charge. After the transition period, there will be a new senior accreditation scheme that will align fully with Column C.

Both Accredited and Senior Accredited Members in Column B will still be able to practise Column C competences where they have the right skills, knowledge and training.

BACP members who hold a specialist accreditation (e.g. Counsellor or Psychotherapist for Children and Young People, or Supervisor) will keep this alongside their membership category, regardless of whether they choose to stay in Column B or move to Column C. In time, there will be new specialist accreditation schemes that will sit outside SCoPEd but will be mapped to the BACP’s competence frameworks.

Does SCoPEd imply that therapists with Level 7 qualifications should be paid more than those with Level 4 qualifications?

In any job market, people with more qualifications may possibly have more opportunities, but experience is often rated just as highly or perhaps even more so – and this is recognised in the SCoPEd framework.

It is hoped that SCoPEd will improve work opportunities for all practitioners, since it will provide a framework that should make it easier for those outside the profession to understand what we can offer. For example, governments are often confused by the wide variety of qualifications and approaches in counselling and psychotherapy. This has meant that they have often created new and separate types of practitioners to meet a specific mental-health need rather than use counsellors. SCoPEd may prevent this from happening.

Similarly, SCoPEd may help employers and commissioners who don’t have a detailed understanding of counselling and psychotherapy to make more evidence-based and informed choices by improving their understanding of the skills, knowledge and experience of a wider pool of qualified practitioners.

It may be advantageous in future for practitioners to be members of one of the professional bodies that are mapping their membership categories to SCoPEd, as work roles may over time be mapped to the framework and it will therefore be valuable to be able to demonstrate that your combination of qualifications and experience fits with the relevant column.

The professional bodies are keen to ensure that all their registered members – regardless of which column they sit within – are paid fairly and appropriately, and have greater access to more opportunities.

Will practitioners in employment with Level 4 qualifications currently working with clients in Column C lose their jobs?

It is professional-body membership categories – rather than clients or practitioners – that are mapped to columns. It seems highly unlikely that an employer would decide, for example, that they would tell an existing employee who was an NCS Accredited Registrant or BACP Registered member that they needed to upgrade to keep their job. Indeed, that person would already have been selected for the role based on their demonstrated competence to work ethically with the relevant clients.

Some practitioners have voiced concern that employers will over time require that job applicants are in higher columns. However, this may in fact be less likely to happen, as defining competences more clearly may help employers to understand better what counsellors and psychotherapists can offer, and what skills each role truly requires. This may lead them to drop any spurious requirements, making the job market fairer and creating more paid employment opportunities, including for practitioners in Column A. For example, one employee assistance programme (EAP) has recently removed the requirement to be accredited, and is now looking at the evidence of what it needs for its counselling service and how Column A therapists can meet that need.

Practitioners’ Views

Opinion among practitioners is divided on whether or not SCoPEd is a helpful development in the world of counselling and psychotherapy. When we asked members of our Facebook group to share their views on SCoPEd, we received many responses. Here, we provide two real-life case studies, each summarising the responses of a practitioner: one largely in favour of SCoPEd and one largely against. Their names have been changed to provide the anonymity that both have requested.

Case study 1: ‘Catherine’ the psychotherapist

 Catherine is largely in favour of SCoPEd both as a practitioner and a trainer. While she hears the frustration of people who feel concerned they will be prevented from progressing, she believes there will be clear pathways through the columns.

The reason she gives as being in favour of SCoPEd is that when she worked as an employer in the third sector, before training to be a psychotherapist herself, she found it hard and time-consuming to understand the different qualifications held by job applicants. She feels the framework will make this clearer and simpler.

In Catherine’s experience, some people apply for positions before they are qualified or experienced to do so. She feels she is particularly aware of this in light of having done over 500 hours of personal therapy herself, which she has found to make a big difference in her client offering through enhanced self-awareness in practice, personal development, and ability to hold clients’ pain. In her current work in training institutions, she sees the difficulties that can arise when there is insufficient investment in personal development.

Catherine would like training providers to review course quality, and to interview all applicants, to avoid offering unrealistic hope of successful careers in counselling and psychotherapy. She can see arguments both ways on whether or not academic qualifications are related to providing high-quality therapy. Overall, she believes that they do have an important place, especially when working with clients with fragile process.

Training to a high standard is very costly, and Catherine would like professional bodies to use some of their funds to support trainees with this, perhaps through providing scholarships so that training access would be less affected by societal inequalities.

Ultimately, clients deserve not only an empathic listener, but also a deeply reflective, capable, knowledgeable and competent therapist; Catherine believes that this is what SCoPEd sets out to do. While competence can’t be guaranteed, it should be enhanced as far as possible, for the sake of our clients.

Case study 2: Thomas the counsellor

Thomas feels very apprehensive about the direction of SCoPEd, which he sees as having caused much division and cost a lot of money over its years of development. He would have liked to see this money being spent instead on research evidencing the effectiveness of different types of therapy. But it feels like the project has now gone so far that it has become impossible to turn back.

Thomas believes that SCoPEd began with a set agenda and that this has not changed. He feels that SCoPEd fits poorly with the BACP’s Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions, through not considering the personal quality of fairness when promoting equality of opportunity. In particular, Thomas notes the perceived elitism of the columns, which he sees as pitting practitioners against each other by devaluing certain training routes and experience.

Thomas agrees with the points expressed by the Person Centred Association.

What Happens Next

Now that the SCoPEd partners have agreed the final version of the framework, implementation work can begin. This involves work for each professional body on aligning their existing membership categories to the SCoPEd columns of competences, and looking at arrangements for new members and for existing members who wish to change their membership category. Members will be kept informed at each stage, as implementation progresses.

Processes will largely stay the same for the rest of 2023, while planning takes place. A transition period will then start in early 2024, and is expected to last around two years. During this phase, professional-body members will have the opportunity to move membership categories if they have the relevant skills, knowledge and experience.

The NCS is about to launch a member consultation exercise in order to ensure the views of members who voted against the adoption of SCoPEd are fully heard and taken into account.

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