Basic Math Muddies BACP Supervision Hours Guidance

Frequently a target of criticism over its practitioner accreditation requirements, the BACP recently attempted to clarify its supervision hours guidelines, only to muddy the picture even further. Despite attempts to market it all as ‘quite clear’, the basic mathematics of BACP guidelines lead to some counter-intuitive conclusions.

Is it All ‘Quite Clear’?

One answer in an article called ‘More accreditation myths addressed’ published in the BACP magazine (therapy today, May 2006) left me flummoxed. In reply to a question posed in the article about whether hourly supervision every 3 weeks would meet the BACP accreditation minimum of 1.5 hours per month, the article states:

‘Fraid not. Let’s be quite clear about this. The 1.5 hours of supervision each month is a minimum for accreditation. It is neither a ‘target’ nor an ‘average’ of two or more months. So an hour every three weeks will not meet the minimum requirement.

I believe the original intention behind this guideline was to articulate a quantity of regular supervision deemed to be a minimum consistent with good practice. Unfortunately, that intention has been codified in a form which might seem clear and precise but arguably just isn’t. As a result, the requirement now invites interpretations, such as that offered in the May article, which might or might not match up very well with the original intention — or with practitioners’ intutitive grasp of what makes for appropriately regular supervision.

For instance, consider a hypothetical practitioner who sees their supervisor for an hour every 15 or 16 days, like clockwork, for a total of up to 25 hours in a year. According to the ‘quite clear’ reply, the question of whether this person will have been adequately supervised turns out to depend on which day of the week they chose to begin their regular supervision appointments. Example: Eddie sees his supervisor on 31 July, then 16 days later on 16 August, then 16 days later on 1 September, and so on. He ‘clearly’ hasn’t been adequately supervised for the month of August, when he completed just one measly hour in a whole month. Too late, Eddie realizes he should have gone for supervision on a Friday in July instead of on a Monday, because it makes all the difference.

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Was it really the original intention of the requirement that someone completing 24 or 25 hours of supervision as regular as clockwork should be deemed inadequately supervised, compared to someone doing 18 hours of irregular supervision? Does this match practitioners’ intuitive sense of appropriateness?

Speaking of irregular supervision, consider someone who sees their supervisor for 90 minute sessions rather than just an hour at a time. It turns out that this person enjoys a great deal of flexibility under BACP requirements, since they can work with clients for over 8 weeks at a time without any supervision at all. They might even decide to go for some intensive back-to-back sessions, with two 90 minute meetings spread over two days, in which case they only need to get together 6 times in a year. Example: Charlie sees her supervisor on 1 April, then around 8 weeks later on 31 May. Perhaps she has to travel quite a distance to make the appointments, so she arranges just to stay in a hotel for a night and have supervision again on 1 June, before waiting another 8 weeks for a meeting at the end of August, and so on.

Was it really the original intention of the requirement that someone working with clients for 8 weeks at a time without seeing a supervisor should be deemed adequately supervised? Does this match practitioners’ intuitive sense of appropriateness?

Or is it All a Bit Nit-Picky?

Are these nit-picky examples? Maybe they are. But then, if you’re looking for nit-picky, I have a super-duper nit-picky question: why is it that a one hour meeting every 21 days does not meet the BACP accreditation minimum, while a 1.5 hour meeting every 30 days does, given that both yield 18 hours of supervision per year? (If the answer to that one is that we ought just to assume every supervisor works strictly in chunks of exactly one hour, never more and never less, why not simply state the requirement as it really is, which is a minimum of 2 hours per month?)

I’ve offered the examples of Eddie and Charlie to illustrate that if the original intention behind the requirement was to ensure that practitioners see their supervisors fairly regularly, every few weeks, then stipulating 1.5 hours per month just does not capture the original intention very well.

Is There a Better Way?

Fortunately, there is a straightforward way of doing exactly that: specify both a minimum average quantity of supervision over a given period of time and a maximum interval between supervision meetings. For example, requiring an average of 1.5 hours per month, with a maximum interval between meetings of 4 weeks, would easily distinguish Eddie’s supervision as adequate and Charlie’s as inadequate. It would also make one hour of supervision every 3 weeks adequate. Even better, we could all be ‘quite clear’ about it in advance.

If a maximum interval of 4 weeks seems too short, it could be set longer; if it seems too long, it could be set shorter. My aim is not to cheerlead for any particular number.

Rather, my aim is just to highlight this underlying mathematical feature: the examples show that current guidelines as interpreted in the May article do not distinguish between supervision intervals as brief as just over 2 weeks or as long as 8 and a half weeks. As a result of not distinguishing between such extremes, current guidance yields highly counter-intuitive and seemingly arbitrary conclusions about what will or will not meet BACP accreditation requirements, leaving practitioners guessing about how best to manage the apparent clash between the letter and the spirit of the guidance.

What Does BACP Say About This?

What does BACP have to say about the topic? I’m not sure… I provided this feedback to them directly, soon after the original article which prompted it appeared in their magazine. But after they waited many months for a reply from the organisation’s accreditation department, the magazine still hadn’t decided what to do with the feedback. Since it’s now been more than half a year since it was all presented as ‘quite clear’, and since I myself will shortly be taking some time off for paternity leave, I decided against delaying any longer before publishing these thoughts.

I haven’t heard from them on the topic now for some months, despite asking a couple of times, so I’m afraid I’m none the wiser as to whether the magazine plans to do anything with the feedback or whether the accreditation department plans to offer any clarifications.

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