By Aidan Moloney
A Spiritual Degree
One day during a workshop I escaped to take a stroll through the building where it was taking place. The primary purpose for the building was as a seminary and the order still lived and worked there. They had a beautiful small chapel that just to sit in it calmed and soothed one’s anxiety. I sat for a while and absorbed its calmness and then proceeded to investigate further. I have a fondness for long wide corridors and this building had them in abundance. As I walked them I began to notice what was on the corridor walls. At one stage there were notices for the young seminarians that included the results of their examinations. I was stunned to see that they were awarding degrees and diplomas in Spirituality. One person had achieved first class honours in Spirituality and another second class and god forbid, others only acquired third class honours in the subject. I felt there was something wrong with the concept of examining and certifying Spirituality in such a manner. I could say right away that the first class honours in Spirituality might not turn out to be more spiritual than the third class. When I tried to imagine the assessment procedure I thought of the meditation exam. We could measure the time by the clock but how does one ascertain the quality or the degree of difficulty? Maybe there was the sitting test, the more difficult kneeling test and the ultimate bed of nails test. Just then I heard the bell calling me to return to the workshop and I forgot all about it until now.
Currently Psychotherapy and Counselling have an obsession with certification, accreditation and standards. The obsession is not limited to Psychotherapy and Counselling because certification and standards are endemic to professions and outbreaks can occur for a variety of reasons.
The origins of the current outbreak are varied.There are at least three drives
- The EU
- A new developing profession
- The risk of professional involvement in or in areas connected to prominent scandals.
For administrative purposes the EU empire seeks to have uniformity across all members with regard to disciplines, professions and skills. Every single programme supported by EU money receives bonus points if accreditation and certification are one of its outcomes.
This interest derives from the Treaty of Rome (1957), which established the European Community and provided that a citizen of any Member State should be free to work, seek work, set up business or provide services anywhere in the community. The Single European Act (1985) defined the single market as “an area without internal frontiers in which the free movement of goods, persons and services is ensured.
“ However, although it has been illegal to discriminate on grounds of nationality, there was originally no requirement to recognise qualifications in other Member States. Lack of recognition of qualifications has been a barrier to the free movement of labour. Where the exercise of an occupation is regulated in some way by law or administrative rules, the European Council of Ministers issued Directives on mutual recognition. Where employers, despite the lack of formal regulation, are only likely to employ those whose qualifications they know and recognise, the approach has been to improve the “transparency” of information on qualifications.¹
While all bureaucracies have a natural inclination to standardise everything that they have to administer, the EU has a particularly virulent form of the disease. One only has to think of the fate of the poor banana which the EU bureaucrats decided could only retain its identity if it straightened itself and gave up the curves. Chicken giblets received a similar treatment. They could only be validly sold if they were put in plastic bags inside the chicken carcass. I could go on and on. It is tempting to ascribe the particular form of the obsession prevailing in the EU bureaucracy as being Germanic in origin. In Germany standardisation, accreditation and certification have developed into a form of occupational arteriosclerosis.
But in the case of Psychotherapy and Counselling it is probably the British form of the disease that the Irish are most likely to acquire – National Vocational Qualifications.
National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ)
Criteria for National Vocational Qualifications (NVQ) in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are set by the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) established in 1986. NCVQ require an NVQ to be a statement of competence which recognises the ability to use skills and apply knowledge within the context defined by the qualification. Candidates are able to qualify for NVQs by accumulating units of competence.
Standards are based on the needs of employment and embody the skills and knowledge, and the level of performance relevant to the work activity. They form the prime focus of training and the basis of vocational qualifications.
Competence is defined as the ability to perform the activities within an occupation or function to the standards expected in employment. A candidate’s competence is evaluated by a test or exercise that assesses whether or not he/she has reached the standards specified. Competence is a wide concept which embodies the ability to transfer skills and knowledge to new situations within the occupational area. It encompasses organization and planning of work, innovation and coping with non -routine activities. It includes those qualities of personal effectiveness that are required in the workplace to deal with co-workers, managers and clients.
Developing standards for a particular occupational area is equivalent to developing an operational definition of competence in that area. This is done by deriving a set of individual elements of competence and their associated performance criteria. An element of competence describes what can be done; an action, behaviour or outcome which a person should be able to demonstrate Each element of competence has associated performance criteria which define the expected level of performance.
A unit of competence is made up of a number of elements of competence (with associated performance criteria) which together make sense to and are valued by, employers so that they warrant separate accreditation. Qualifications are normally made up of a number of related units which together comprise a statement of competence relevant to an occupation.
To illustrate some elements of the process, a unit entitled “Identifying and Applying Concepts” within a Personal Competency Model for managers (but which could equally apply to therapists or counsellors) is presented below.
Identifying and Applying Concepts ³
“Identifying and Applying Concepts” is a subcategory of a higher order category entitled “Using Intellect to Optimise Results” which must describe what we do every day. The unit has a list of associated behaviours;
Analysing relationships 1. Identify patterns or meaning from factors which are not obviously related. 2. Distinguish cause and effect relationships in situations. 3. Differentiate key issues from irrelevant or secondary factors. (This includes establishing relationships between elements.) Generating models 4. Build a total and valid picture from restricted or incomplete data 5. Produce own ideas or theories from experience and practice Making use of different perspectiives 6. Reconcile and make use of a variety of perspectives when making sense of a situation. 7. Check logic of own thought processes with others.
Once the behaviours have been listed then the evidence needed to demonstrate these and under what conditions the performance must take place (the performance criteria) is specified.
A new developing profession lacks self-confidence and seeks to acquire it by exclusion and self promotion. The urge to form associations is endemic. The need for a constitution, a code of ethics are de rigeur to legitimise oneself. We all get together in a room and decide to accredit ourselves in a rush of self-congratulation. Those who are not in must satisfy the requirements of admission and apply to join the club. This is of course all for the protection of the client. Then there are the complaints procedure and the appeals procedure. What should we include in the code of ethics?
An analysis of the ethical codes of the leading professional bodies revealed a number of common key standards. These are listed below;
“It is expected that a member of the profession will…. – earn and retain the trust of the client – take due care of the client and his/her interest – exercise reasonable competence in applying knowledge/skills on the client’s behalf – act safely – maintain confidentiality (unless this would be unlawful or quite inappropriate) – act honestly and with integrity towards the client and others – always retain his/her professional independence and thus act impartially – exercise due diligence in pursuit of the client’s interests – be aware of duties to the community at large as well as to the client – avoid undertaking work which is out of his/her depth, including – seeking a second opinion, where appropriate – never seek to exploit clients financially, sexually, emotionally etc. – follow established (clinical/others) procedures, seek advice from a senior colleague when confronted by an apparent conflict of duties – operate within the law at all times – ensure that he/she is professionally indemnified against possible claims of negligence².
However the fortifications to keep us on the moral high ground fail to distinguish us from anybody else. We could be lawyers (Ouch!), doctors, social workers, managers etc.
I remember when I received my NLP training from John Grinder NLP practitioners had just formed an association to regulate, certify and accredit all those who aspired to practice. John Grinder was informed by the new Association that graduates of his training would require accreditation from the Association and that he as a trainer would be accredited and endorsed by them. I can still see the enigmatic look on his face when he informed us and I realised I was a in a timewarp in a parallel universe where the founder had been preceded by his disciples who wished to certify and accredit him. But maybe that’s a conundrum all disciples present to their founder
How do we assess ethical behaviour?
During the timescale of gaining a qualification a person is unlikely to confront many ethical problems and successful demonstration of ethical competence today is no guarantee that the individual will continue to behave ethically tomorrow let alone next year. Consequently assessors should at least take into account several sources of evidence as to the best way to get a fair impression of the individual’s standing on this matter.(4)
My dad was a great believer in education, mostly because he thought he didn’t have enough himself. Education was the solution to all our problems and I was expected to absorb it by the bucketful. There was one thing that shook his faith. He was always puzzled when someone who had acquired a university education was guilty of criminal or immoral behaviour. No matter how often I told him that qualifications do not guarantee ethical or moral behaviour, I can still see the perplexed look on his face because he believed that training and education built character. However I have yet to encounter a process that guarantees a moral character. The contemporary scene is littered with examples of processes that claim to do so failing completely to detect the most immoral behaviour. So we should be clear that standards, certification and accreditation in the forms they are currently presented relate to skills and are no guarantee of how those skills are used and for what purpose. In so far as they create the illusion of a guarantee of professional integrity they weaken the client’s responsibility to take care and be discerning.
Listening to the radio recently I heard a man assert that the psychics working in his centre were all certified and I knew that I could have confidence in consulting them when I next needed to know about my future. So not only has Spirituality been certified but so has Spiritualism. When I walk into a consulting room and I see all the framed certificates I wonder should I do like the man in the restaurant and eat the menu?
1. Twininig, John, Vocational Qualifications – the European Dimension, Competence and Assessment, Issue 27, Employment Department, Pendragon Press, November 1994, p.16.
2. Edmonds, Tim, & Melanie The, Personal Competence Where does it fit in? Competence and Assessment. Issue 13, Employment Department, 1990, p.6.
3 Fennel Edward, Ethics in the Workplace: The Rights and Wrongs of Developing Occupational Standards, Competence and Assessment. Issue 27, Employment Department, Pendragon Press, November 1994, p. 2
4. ibid, p.4