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Counselling therapists to be regulated by College of Alberta Psychologists but questions remain

Counselling therapists in Alberta will soon be regulated by a professional college, but it won’t be the one they expected to have for the past few years.

The provincial government has asked the College of Alberta Psychologists (CAP) to start work on providing professional oversight, discipline and regulation of counselling therapists.

The surprise announcement from Mental Health and Addictions Minister Dan Williams on Friday is the latest twist in the years-long quest for the Association of Counselling Therapy of Alberta (ACTA) to become a professional college called the College of Counselling Therapy of Alberta. 

CCTA was intended to regulate child and youth care and addictions counsellors in addition to counselling therapists in Alberta. 

The former NDP government passed legislation that would create the CCTA upon proclamation, but under the governing UCP, that proclamation never came. 

A news release on Friday said the section of the 2018 Mental Health Services Protection Act that would create the CCTA would be repealed in the spring sitting of the Alberta legislature. Future legislation would come this fall after consultation with stakeholders. 

On Friday, Williams met with Nicole Imgrund and Laura Hahn, respectively the chair and CEO/registrar of ACTA to give them the news. 

In an interview with CBC News this week, Imgrund and Hahn weren’t able to provide details of what Williams discussed with them. But they acknowledge the subsequent news release left them with few answers to the questions they are facing from ACTA members.

“I think we’re clear that counselling therapy is going to be regulated by CAP (College of Alberta Psychologists),” Imgrund said. 

“I think what we don’t have any information about is if the government has plans to regulate addiction counsellors and child and youth care counsellors.”

Indigenous concerns

The Mental Health Services Protection Act was passed by the previous NDP government in 2018. But the UCP was reluctant to move ahead with the CCTA regulation when it came into power in 2019, offering a range of reasons including concerns raised by Alberta First Nations. 

Two weeks ago, ACTA hoped they had finally met all the concerns raised by the province by securing the support of Cody Thomas, grand chief of the Confederacy of Treaty 6 First Nations, and Arthur Noskey, grand chief of the Sovereign Nations of Treaty 8.

In an interview with CBC News on Wednesday, Williams said the decision for CAP to regulate counselling therapists was to keep the title of the profession as broad as possible. 

Williams said it was his “hope and intention” that the term would include people who work as addictions counsellors.

“We have 26 different colleges in the province,” Williams said. “Just like with those colleges, we don’t necessarily regulate every finer sub-category specialization, but they’re still held to that high expectation standard for the public interest.”

Williams said current addictions counsellors will be hired into Alberta’s recovery system if they meet the regulatory standards set by CAP. Those standards will be developed with some direction from Williams and consultation with stakeholders. 

ACTA is facing questions from its membership about what transpired. Several members expressed concern on the organization’s Facebook page where the government’s announcement leaves addictions counsellors who have paid dues to ACTA, expecting it would eventually transform into a professional college. 

Child and youth counsellors

The Child and Youth Care Association of Alberta (CYCAA) also doesn’t know where its members fit into Williams’ plan. 

Michelle Briegel is the president of CYCAA and an associate professor in the department of Child Studies and Social Work at Mount Royal University in Calgary. 

Under the 2018 legislation, Child and youth counsellors would be represented by the CCTA. Briegal said Friday’s announcement doesn’t clarify whether they will be regulated by CAP, a move that left her disappointed and confused.  

“What are the next steps for the child and youth care counsellors and more importantly, what are the steps that the government are going to put in place to keep children and youth safe?” she asked. 

Briegel said child and youth counsellors work with vulnerable and highly traumatized individuals. She said a professional college would ensure these counsellors follow ethical standards that keep their clients safe. 

Williams said answers will come as CAP works through the process. 

“I expect in the coming weeks and months many of those questions they have are going to be resolved with a college that has a tremendous reputation and decades of experience working in regulating in this space to the highest standard,” he said. 

Imgrund said the membership deserves recognition for all the work they’ve done to lay the groundwork for a regulatory college that would protect the public by providing professional and ethical standards and a disciplinary process. 

“We haven’t even really had a chance to fully express to our members how meaningful their commitment to this really has been all these years to get us to this place where we are finally going to see some public protection in this field,” she said. 

“And I hope that they can feel this even though that there’s a shift right now in terms of the direction that’s going to happen.”

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