B.C. Green Party leader, Sonia Furstenau is tabling legislation that could lead to therapy, counselling, and social work being fully regulated in the province. 

The private members bill would amend the Health Professions Act so that the health minister is obliged to take action when the regulation of a profession is determined to be in the public interest. The amendment would allow for more thorough regulation of counsellors, therapists, and social workers in the name of improving mental health care in B.C.

B.C. Greens have also created a petition calling for accessible, no-cost mental health care by incorporating psychologists into the primary care system. 

In a press release on June 2nd, Furstenau expressed the importance of having adequate mental health care, especially during a pandemic. 

“Anxiety, stress, fear, and loneliness are having significant impacts on our mental health. British Columbians have reported significant impacts to their mental health as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the disruptions we’ve all faced to our lives. As we imagine a brighter future, we believe that access to safe, effective, and accessible mental healthcare is a critical part of that path forward for British Columbians.”

The importance of regulation

The current system allows anyone to call themselves a therapist or a counsellor and advertise their services in British Columbia. There are no training or education requirements and no official agency to issue licenses and hold practitioners accountable for misconduct. 

Social work is partially regulated through the British Columbia College of Social Workers, however, there is a list of exemptions for social workers who have not attended the college. 

In an interview with the CBC, Furstenau explained that the regulations would protect vulnerable individuals who are seeking mental health care. “What we want to establish, first and foremost, is real transparency so that you can know exactly what kind of care you’re accessing”

The consequences of leaving mental health care unregulated are dire. In December, 2019, Bernadine Fox came forward accusing her Vancouver-based therapist, Pamela Sleeth of abusing her position of power to groom and sexually assault her. 

Regulating psychotherapy gives mental health professionals proper training, education, and a standardized code of ethics for their behaviour. It also ensures that patients have an avenue for reporting misconduct at the hands of their therapists and making that information accessible to the public. Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Alberta all have regulations for counsellors and therapists. 

Support from mental health professional networks

Dr. Glenn Grigg, Chair of The Federation of Associations for Counselling Therapists in B.C. (FACTBC) expressed his support in a press release for the amendment to the Health Professions Act. 

“FACTBC enthusiastically supports this legislation because it aligns with our mission to protect people by making mental health services safe, available, and accountable. Lack of clarity in the current legislation has allowed successive governments to avoid their duty to protect the public by delaying, delegating, and deferring statutory regulation of counselling therapy. This amendment closes those loopholes, spells out the duty of the Minister of Health to act, and makes clear that mental health is an essential part of the healthcare system.”

FACTBC is a society of 14 professional associations that represent over 6 000 counselors and therapists practicing throughout B.C. In December 2020, FACTBC submitted a formal application for designation under the Health Professions Act to the Honourable Adrian Dix, Minister of Health, but their application was rejected in February 2021. 

The B.C. Association of Social Workers also supports the bill introduced by Furstenau. 

The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has brought unique mental health challenges into the homes of all Canadians. It is extremely important that citizens have access to quality, regulated mental health care. 

Erika Mackenzie

Erika is working towards a Bachelor of Arts Degree from McGill University in Sociology with a double minor in International Development and Communications. Erika's passions include environmental protection, racial and gender equality, Indigenous rights, and affordability for all. Erika has also been published in the McGill Tribune and HuffPost Canada.

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