Child psychotherapists will soon be breaching the rules of the Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) if they continue to treat adolescent patients after their 25th birthday. According to the ACP, the treatment of those over the age of 25 is “not appropriate and goes beyond the remit of our professional training by our ACP accredited Training schools”.

It has been the source of much debate over the years, but the ACP has at last this week, issued clear guidance on the upper limit for the treatment by its members of psychotherapy with older adolescents.

The previous unwritten rule prohibiting members from providing therapy to patients over the age of 25 has now been incorporated into formal guidance, which will in due course be embedded into the ACP Code of Professional Conduct and Ethics. The ACP states that compliance with the guidance is mandatory from now.

According to Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist Alison Cantle, this new guidance is “…very helpful to members …Training for Child & Adolescent Psychotherapy is distinctly separate from Adult Psychotherapy yet there has been a rather grey area between the two in terms of patient ages. This new guideline provides clarity for practitioners and safeguards patients.”

We agree. Child and Adolescent Psychotherapists are a specialist profession, trained and accredited by the ACP to work with young people and their parents. The treatment of older patients brings with it concerns about the suitability and competence of the practitioner to meet the need of the patient.

Is compliance with the guidance compulsory? (the legal bit)

Guidelines issued by professional bodies such as the ACP, should be complied with unless there are good, clear and explicable reasons for departing from it. Breach of a guideline may justify action being taken against your membership. The will of the ACP has been made clear, and although not yet incorporated into the Ethical Code (the rules of the body), practitioners would be wise to consider it a bright line rule.

What to do if you have patients over 25 years of age

The ACP recommends that members that are involved in the on-going treatment of patients over the age of 25, contact the ACP Registrar to discuss the way ahead and plan an end to the treatment or the transfer of the patient to an adult psychotherapist.