The pros and cons of joining the BPS or ACP-UK

Learn the lingo of clinical psychology, what the latest issues and legislation mean for us, etc.
Post Reply
User avatar
Site Admin
Posts: 8130
Joined: Sat Mar 24, 2007 11:20 pm
Location: Bucks

Re: The pros and cons of joining the BPS or ACP-UK

Post by miriam »

The first thing to say is to correct a common misconception, you don't need to join the BPS as a student or a graduate to gain GBC. Whilst it is called Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership and suggests it is to do with the individual and involves being a member of the BPS this is not the case. It is an accreditation given to degrees and conversion courses that says they are a suitable step towards practitioner training. If you've completed and passed a course with GBC you have met this criterion. So it is a vital thing to look for when choosing your initial qualification in psychology, but you do not need to pay any money to the BPS or to join them at any point to tick this box.

So then why would you choose to join a professional body?

1) For me the key role of a professional body for psychology is in educating the public about the different tiers of qualification/skill in psychologists and that HCPC regulation is the only meaningful public protection. I want them to understand and represent the value of practitioner psychologists as opposed to "psychologists", "therapists" and other people who draw upon psychological ideas in delivering services. The public need to understand the levels of qualification, and the scope and limits to professional registrations and statutory regulation - and we need to ensure that only expert voices from properly qualified and regulated psychologists are used to inform decision making as expert witnesses in the courts, and campaign for regulation of the term "psychologist" as they have in other countries such as Australia, where it is an offence with substantial fines to claim to be or publish content describing someone as a psychologist if they are not a regulated professional with current registration in that category.

2) Another key role is to show the value of talking therapies and the importance of individualising that intervention through a highly skilled process of assessment and formulation. The professional body needs to advocate for sufficient time, skill and individualisation of therapy, rather than following the trend to reduce therapy to time-limited guided self-help and short predetermined courses of treatment delivered by a workforce with high caseloads and insufficient supervision/support - especially when this becomes a substitute for referral to multidisciplinary teams for people with more severe and enduring patterns of difficulty than these kinds of tier 2 services are designed for.

3) I want a professional body that can articulate the value of a psychological understanding of distress and the key features of how psychologists support people in distress - by listening to their story, including their context and lived experience of wider sociopolitical factors, and the meaning they have drawn from it; by carefully assessing using psychometric tools developed with proper scientific method where appropriate; by drawing together multiple sources of information into a working formulation that we share and constantly adapt with the individual as we learn more and test hypotheses together; and by creating an individualised therapeutic intervention drawing on validated models and a respectful alliance that constantly seeks feedback and is shaped by input from the individual.

4) Whilst I think that we should take full account of any learning, neurodevelopmental, neurological or physical factors, we need our professional body to promote psychological as opposed to medical/diagnostic models of understanding, and not see our profession as subservient to a model in which distress is conceptualised as an illness or chemical state within the individual, but to see the individual in the context of their history, relationships and multiple intersectional demographic features that constantly influence their experience of the world. I don't want psychologists to prescribe.

5) I want a professional body that amplifies rather than obstructs the voices of practitioner psychologists, and responds in a timely way to topical issues and speaks up on socio-political issues, as well as contributing to policy documents and nominating people to join in committees related to best practice guidance and policy making. Such public commentary must be ethical and evidence-based. They must not endorse people who speak beyond their competence, or exploitative or inappropriate courses.

6) I want the body to provide individual clinical psychologists with support with professional issues - grading, supervision, disputes with employers, complaints made against them, etc. They should speak up about workforce requirements, contract terms, minimum staffing ratios, the value of retaining experienced staff and of systemic work, research and service development as components of clinical posts. They should be involved in gatekeeping appointments to consultant grade.

7) I want those who devote time to the organisation to be fairly paid

8) I want a structure that listens to members, and allows discussion & consensus statements to be formed, rather than silos speaking in opposition

9) I want website and communication structures that are easy to navigate & responsive.

10) I want to be part of a wider network of psychologists, to speak with a louder voice, have greater influence on policy, and to see and celebrate the wider picture of all the myriad ways that my peers are helping people and creating positive change in different facets of society.

Sadly, having seen the direction of travel over the past decade taking us further and further away from these goals, I can't see the BPS doing any of these things.

So should we join a professional body?

I definitely believe in the value of a body that is representative of Clinical Psychology and allows us to network, arrange training events, and speak for us in national issues. I used to think that was the BPS, but over recent years I have changed my mind. I think lots of people involved in the DCP and Faculties - who run the committees, organise the conferences and respond to consultations - are wonderful and doing stirling work. But I have grown to think that the central organisation of the BPS hampers rather than facilitates those individuals (who are mostly unpaid) from doing their roles, whilst charging us a lot for a massive central staffing team and executive that appear very conservative and out of touch with practitioners.

For nearly 20 years I was a member of the BPS, and within that the Division of Clinical Psychology and the Child Faculty. I liked it and considered it to be a generally good thing to be part of, and worth what I pay them (and with the practise certificate, a couple of journals, an entry in the register, etc, I probably paid around three hundred quid a year). However, I left the BPS in early 2020. This was because I felt they had failed to address numerous issues about regulation, "celebrity psychologists", the consultation about prescribing rights and ensuring psychologists have a voice in the media. I do think the situation is currently evolving, and there are changes afoot in the society that may or may not address those concerns - but what we have seen in 2021 so far has been resignations and expulsions at senior levels, a CEO who is on long-term leave, and concerns about financial mismanagement. In the meanwhile we have been offered an alternative, as many senior clinical psychologists got together to form the Association of Clinical Psychologists to try to better meet our needs. I am a member of the ACP-UK along with over 1000 other qualified CPs, as I feel they are more responsive and care more about the ethical and regulatory issues that concern me. They are still forming all their networks and forming up their roles and processes, but so far they have been much more responsive to current events, more willing to speak up about sociopolitical issues, and more supportive to CPs during the pandemic. So whilst they haven't been entirely without growing pains, I definitely think they are worth checking out.

How has the picture changed over time?

Part of what has changed over my career is the shift from the BPS regulating psychologists to the statutory regulation role of the Health and Care Professions Council. This means that BPS membership is not required to show you have validated professional qualifications. Whilst the BPS still promote Chartered status very strongly, this has little meaning as it doesn't have any regulatory role. Meanwhile they do not educate the public about the nature of practitioner registration and the role of the HCPC in public protection. When it comes to members of the BPS, or Chartered psychologists, the public can't make complaints as there is no disciplinary process or capacity to prevent people who malpractice from doing so (beyond revoking their membership, which doesn't prevent them from continuing to work in the same way, or involve contacting their employer, let alone protecting the public). Likewise Associate Fellowship and Fellowship are earned by time served and peer-references, rather than distinguished practice. And current proposals are to open membership to a much wider group of people who use psychology, to further muddy the membership grades, and to remove any reference to a hierarchy of skills or qualifications.

My experience

Let me try and explain some of the reasons why I used to be a BPS member, along with some of my reservations:

Firstly the BPS used to keep the register of chartered clinical psychologists. This was a very big reason to be a member in the past, as it was the primary way to show credibility as a psychologist and used to have a disciplinary procedure. However, this role was superseded by the HPC in April 2008. The purpose of Statutory Registration is evident. Before this came into force you didn't have to be chartered or registered to practise - it was always optional. This meant that those who have been struck off and reprimanded etc could easily not disclose this when seeking other jobs, which meant our code of conduct and disciplinary procedures had less bite. However, there is controversy about whether this role is best fulfilled by the HCPC, because their wide remit means they don't always understand the intricacies of our role, and I would strongly argue that limiting the scope of regulation to 7 practitioner categories doesn't protect the public from all the other people who claim to be psychologists or to offer psychological services. However, statutory regulation does at least offer some teeth, as the HCPC can strike someone off, inform employers and publish details to protect the public, which the BPS never could.

Secondly the BPS speaks for psychology. It offers a representation for us in negotiations, and government policies, and all sorts of issues where psychology should have a say. It can also be a point of contact for the media, to find someone suitably qualified to comment on an issue. There are a lot of things that the BPS does you would not be aware of, but are helping us as psychologists - responding to policy documents and trying to advance the public understanding of the science. However, the BPS represents 45,000 members, of whom less than 15,000 are chartered, and only 5,500 are Chartered Clinical Psychologists, so there is a question about whether they truly represent our interests as clinicians. However there are advantages to being the whole BPS as well as disadvantages. For starters there is a weight of numbers. Second there is the link between theory and practise - we are supposed to be scientist practitioners using evidence based practise - and many people have split posts, or have some academic or research component (even if its only doing a day of teaching per year on the local clinical training course). So would it really be wise to separate academic and applied psychology?

Thirdly, on a similar note, they have lots of useful divisions, and local networks, and conferences, and good practise guidelines, and publications. However, the challenge is that we are now a 'family of psychology professions': the qualified psychologists who practise with clients are quite a diverse group themselves, including educational psychologists, clinical, counselling and others. The BPS tries to speak for all of those groups, but they have different perspectives and whilst the silo structure of faculties within the BPS means that we have a more unified identity within each practitioner category, they aren't encouraged to form unified positions and often publish contradictory opinions. Plus, whilst the more specialised networks are helpful to clinicians, the central organisation doesn't always act in a way that makes these useful member organisations able to work effectively - for example, expecting most of the work to be done by volunteers, even though the BPS has hoarded millions of pounds of membership fees.

So is it worth joining the BPS?

Maybe. They publish a lot of good journals and run a lot of good conferences and training events, and getting involved can be a good CV filler and help you feel informed about the wider picture for psychology. Yes, it is too expensive if you are more than 3 years graduated and not eligible for discounted membership - although as people have pointed out all professional expenses are offsetable against tax if you can be bothered - and there are various concerns about the structure and functioning of the BPS, but there may also be good reasons to join, especially if you attend a lot of their events.

The main problem is that since regulation has moved to the HPC, the BPS became partially redundant in its role for our profession, and some might say it became nothing more than a cumbersome dead weight attached to the DCP networks (which are more specific to the small proportion of the BPS that is relevant to applied psychologists, rather than students of academics).

Is the ACP-UK the solution

We do need a professional body, and there are good people gathering and working together to make the ACP-UK provide the best possible services for members, including events, webinars, networks and support systems. They have so far been more responsive, and more supportive to CPs willing to speak up in public forums or to the media, than the BPS have ever been. However, whilst the ACP-UK is starting to be a credible alternative, at the moment the BPS is the larger and better known organisation.

Note: If you have a suggestion about how to improve or add to this wiki please post it here. If you want to discuss this post please post a new thread in the forum. There is information about the structure, rules and copyright of the wiki here.

Content checked by qualified Clinical Psychologist on 13/5/21
Last modified on 13/05/21

See my blog at
Post Reply