The Alberta Government is moving forward with a piece of legislation that will serve to regulate and standardize mental health counselling services in the province.

According to the Chair of The Federation of Associations of Counselling Therapists in Alberta (FACT Alberta) Nicole Imgrund, currently, anyone in Alberta can claim to be a counsellor.

"We have in Alberta, we estimate about 5000 counselling therapists, who work in the area of mental health who are non-regulated professionals. So they do not belong to one of the colleges that already exists under the Health Professions Act."

Currently the profession has been regulated in all 50 states in the US and four provinces in Canada, including Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Imgrund says there are many benefits to enacting legislation towards regulating the practice.

"Currently in Alberta anyone can call themselves a counsellor. So this will help take the burden off often vulnerable people asking for help, to figure out whether or not the professional they are seeing have the required training and education to preform the task safely and effectively. It will also help standardize counselling in the province, so that people have the same entry to practice competencies and it will provide some oversight. If someone needs to make a complaint, there will be a body that they can do that to, providing accountability to the practice. Those are things that have been missing in Alberta for people seeking a mental health aide."

The legislation will aim to create a College of Counselling Therapy, overseeing the practices of Counselling Therapists in addition to practitioners working in the field of addictions support and child counselling.

Imgrund says that faulty counselling can have a myriad of consequences to vulnerable people, beyond what is expected.

"We hear this a lot, people going to somebody and they weren't really someone who had the education or training so they decided that counselling doesn't work, thus, they avoiding seeing someone for help, for a very long time. In addition to incompetence we hear about abuse and exploitation, or breach of privacy or unethical business practices. People charging excessive fees, or charging for services they didn't provide. All of those things we hear from people quite often, so it's very real to us, the risk that it poses."

While the time span for the creation of a college is still being determined, Imgrund says she looks forward to working with the province to enact the regulation changes to the practice.

"The goal being, that we clearly identify all of the competencies to be an effective, safe counselling therapist and then identify those people who have those qualifications."



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