Celebrating 30 years of UKCP

First publish in the autumn 2023 issue of the New Psychotherapist, written by Catherine Arnold.

The launch of the first UKCP register of psychotherapists took place at the House of Lords in May 1993. The Rt Hon Tim Yeo, then Minister of Health, was present, as was the outgoing chair of UKCP’s predecessor, the UKSCP (United Kingdom Standing Conference for Psychotherapy), Dr Michael Pokorny, who signed the register. Dr Emmy van Deurzen, who was about to become the first chair of UKCP, also attended. The occasion was a triumph for the new organisation. But this reveals little of the hard work leading up to this moment. The United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy was established on 10 January 1993, having evolved from the UKSCP, which had been formed for two reasons: the requirement for a national organisation representing psychotherapists; and increasing government concern that regulation of psychotherapists was necessary to protect the public. 


Regulation concerns 

The call for government regulation of psychotherapy dates back to the publication of the Foster Report, Enquiry into the Practice and Effects
of Scientology, in 1971. Written by Sir John Foster, a lawyer and former MP, the report was chiefly concerned with regulating Scientology. However, in an aside, Foster recommended that the profession of psychotherapy in the UK should also be regulated to protect the public. The Professions Joint Working Party on the Statutory Registration of Psychotherapists was set up under the chair of Paul Sieghart, a law reformer and writer, to report on this proposal.

In 1978, it published The Sieghart Report, recommending indicative registration for psychotherapists, meaning that only registered practitioners would be legally allowed to call themselves psychotherapists. In 1981, Graham Bright MP introduced a bill to the House of Commons to regulate psychotherapy and related disciplines in the UK, which caused consternation in the profession at the time. But, according to Dr Pokorny, later the first chair of UKSCP, the bill fell at the second reading ‘because it had a lot of controversial legislation in front of it and was never called’.1 In July of that year, the then Department of Health and Social Security (DHSS) called a meeting of 32 representatives of the psychotherapy profession. It soon became obvious that there would be no action from the government to introduce statutory registration until the profession could speak with one voice on the issue, produce a register and agree who should be on it. To keep the momentum going, in January 1982 the British Association for Counselling (now BACP) invited as many organisations as possible to its headquarters in Rugby to discuss the Foster and Sieghart reports and the issues raised by the DHSS meeting. This conference and the seven that followed would be profoundly influential on UKCP’s development. The issue of registration was set aside in favour of dialogue between the different forms of psychotherapy, with the aim of creating a ‘standing conference’.


Third class citizens

According to UKCP psychotherapist Professor Brett Kahr, ‘back in the mid-1980s, the British Psychological Society had begun to formalise itself more fully with the creation of its “Chartered Psychologist” status. In consequence, the psychotherapy community felt
like third-class citizens compared with psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and occupational therapists
– all of whom enjoyed the protection of national organisations – whereas psychotherapists, by contrast, did not.’2

By 1985, a working party had been created to develop the standing conference. ‘I remember when the working party was set up in 1985,’ says psychotherapist Dorothy Hamilton, now a UKCP honorary fellow.3 ‘It was exciting. One autumn evening in 1985, a group of delegates from the Rugby conference assembled in [psychoanalytic psychotherapist] Elspeth Morley’s elegant drawing room overlooking Highbury Fields, having agreed to take forward the work of the proposed profession of psychotherapy.

‘At first, we were a group of strangers, without a leader. Personalities arrived. As the evening drew on, one man, with clear-cut features, striking white hair and beard, and a pronounced speaking manner, began to emerge as having ideas distinctly more developed than those of the rest of us. By the end of the evening, it was clear who was to be our future chair.’ This was Dr Pokorny and, according to Hamilton, ‘Michael was the clear leader. Michael was the creator, the initiator of UKSCP.’ Hamilton was later asked to become secretary. Initially, principles and strategies ‘emerged’ from discussion and took on greater weight and formality as the organisation developed through time. Subsequent Rugby conferences saw the evolution of a federal structure. ‘Sections’ emerged as a way to group together the different types of psychotherapy and a draft constitution was drawn up, subject to the advice of the Charity Commission.


Creating structures

In 1989, at the eighth and last Rugby conference, the Standing Conference for Psychotherapy was inaugurated in front of 120 delegates from 66 organisations. Its aim was to provide psychotherapy with agreed common training standards and ethical requirements. In 1990, UKSCP delegates voted to form a register of psychotherapists and a year later agreed the structures required to produce and monitor the register.

But, in 1992, just as the UKSCP was about to transition from a standing conference to the more permanent UK Council for Psychotherapy, the Council of the British Psycho-Analytical Society decided to leave. To this day, UKSCP members recall the departure of the psychoanalysts as a traumatic event. ‘Without doubt, the rivalry among various professional bodies proved the major obstacle during the early days,’4 recalls Kahr.

One of the main contentions was training. Van Deurzen says, ‘The psychoanalysts wished to impose their condition of five days a week training onto the psychotherapists. There were terrible arguments. The psychoanalysts felt that the Freudian approach was the only one. They denied CBT [Cognitive Behavioural Therapy] completely. It was never going to work. The split was inevitable.’5 Nevertheless, UKCP was established in 1993 as an organisation of member organisations, its national voluntary register of psychotherapists was launched and, despite the rocky start, UKCP soon established itself as a respected professional organisation.

As the number of registrants rose, and more administrative staff were required, UKCP outgrew its tiny office in Regent’s College, ‘little more than a cupboard’, recalls Kahr. UKCP moved to larger premises in Great Portland Street, then Wakley Street, Islington, before arriving at its current home in America Square. In the 1990s, roadshows and conferences helped UKCP gather pace, while the next decade involved public engagement and improving the council’s profile.

In 2009, UKCP changed its constitution, moving it from an ‘organisation of organisations’ to an organisation that also had individual members. It was expected that the psychotherapy profession would be statutorily regulated by the Health Professions Council and UKCP was working to develop a role as a membership body. However, in February 2011, the new Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government announced that instead of statutory regulation, there would be a system of voluntary-assured regulation overseen by the Professional Standards Authority for Health and Social Care (PSA).

Moving to PSA accreditation highlighted the need to involve service users and other mental health organisations, as well as increasing the involvement of lay members on committees. UKCP worked with service user-led charity the National Survivor User Network (NSUN) to host a service user group meeting to help focus the organisation on the protection of the public and service users, to develop greater confidence that the organisation was working for public benefit and to provide a greater diversity of perspectives across UKCP committees.

In 2013, UKCP rolled out its new complaints and conduct process to all registrants. This process streamlined the way it handled clinical complaints, and moved the organisation from a member-led system to a process that was more robust, transparent and independent. 

A great achievement  

Later that year, UKCP’s register was awarded PSA-accredited voluntary register status. Demonstrating that it met the demanding standards set by the PSA was a critical achievement. The application process was challenging, but provided the council with a valuable opportunity to consider what it meant to be a good regulator with public protection at its heart.

The death of founding member Dr Pokorny in 2017 saw former chairs and colleagues look back on his achievements, particularly his skill
in encouraging dialogue between different modalities. ‘Michael always championed the ideals of inclusiveness and tolerance,’ said van Deurzen. ‘It was his vision that we should all be able to work out what we had in common and collaborate in establishing psychotherapy as a separate profession in its own right in the UK. It was his genius idea to put us all into separate sections for safe boundaries. Whenever there were conflicts, of which there were many, Michael stuck with that vision and stood strongly against intolerance and exclusivity. In this way, he was a role model and a rock for the organisation, and his strength in guiding us steadily towards the objective of becoming a professional body was exemplary.’

References and reading
  1. Pokorny, MR (1995). ‘History of the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy’, British Journal of Psychotherapy, 11 (3).
  2. Kahr, B, email to author.
  3. Hamilton, D (2017). ‘Obituary, Michael Pokorny, 1937–2017’, The Psychotherapist, Issue 66, Summer 2017.
  4. Kahr, B, email to author.
  5. Van Deurzen, E, interview with author.


Professor Emmy van Deurzen, first chair of UKCP, 1993–1995.

When we used to come together for our UKSCP conferences on psychotherapy, in the late 1980s, people began to see it was important to create a profession of psychotherapy to avoid the profession being taken over by psychiatry or clinical psychology, as had happened in other countries. We also realised the value of coming together with people from different orientations and of having open- and fair-minded discussions about how we practised and trained our students. 

UKCP has continued to grow ever since we launched the register in May 1993. It has been a good thing for psychotherapists to build a base of strength and to represent the interests of our clients in the NHS and in private practice. It has also been important for us, our clients and potential clients to have representation with government and for us to meet and learn from each other in conferences and other events. It has been interesting to observe the various waves that UKCP has gone through, and a relief to find it has come through a little stronger every time it has encountered a new obstacle. 

As I remember how unlikely it seemed at one time that we would ever manage to bring the profession together, it gladdens me to see how established and widely recognised that profession is now. UKCP has been a role model to many other countries, and I am pleased I was able to play a small part in the development of the organisation.


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