The Charlatan’s Law
I was, to my great surprise, invited to the EMCC Global Conference last week, nestled in on Zoom among over 500 eager beaming others. My main reason for being there was to join a session on ‘Regulation,’ a choice which will come as no particular surprise to those that know me, as I have a number specific regulatory axes to sharpen with ‘professional’ bodies (or trade associations, as my wife Louise calls them.)
In order to get into that juicy conversation, I was prepared to patiently sit on my hands through an opening presentation on ‘departures in regulation in Hungary,’ unfairly expecting to have to endure a glorious tale of awakening and inclusion by the Hungarian government of the coaches among them, affording them licence and legitimation on a hitherto unprecedented basis – perhaps just to show the rest of us?
How wrong could I have been? Far from learning of the permissive issuing of licences to operate on a universal scale, I heard instead of an opposite trajectory. I heard of a shocking State Directive entitled ‘The Charlatan’s Law.’ This law stated that no-one other than those with state approved ‘talking therapy’ qualifications, gained though a recognised Hungarian university, could put any professional designation after their names save the state approved ones. Nor could they practice in any form, or run a coach training school under threat that they would inevitably be discovered. And the penalty for violating either of these injunctions against designation or practice? One year in prison. No grace period was permitted on the enacting of this law, and no discussion allowed.
As you might imagine, alarm bells rang throughout the coaching and therapeutic communities in Hungary, who were forced into all sorts of defensive manoeuvres to tackle this draconian move, some of which have proven marginally successful.
I am not writing here to go any further into this case study, compassionately though I feel for our Hungarian comrades . Amid all the sharp intakes of breath evoked by this saga, I was left hypothesising how it might be if, by some mighty global swing of a regulatory axe, all talking therapy were forbidden across the entire planet until they could prove their efficacy. The problem of charlatans proliferating through the pandemic and through digitisation would be dealt with in a heartbeat, as would the problematic task of deciding who is worthy and who is not. ‘Professional bodies’ and their parasitic adjunct colleges would exist no longer, unless they were rebuilt from the ground up on the soundest of theoretical bases, and taught and assessed by those who could be trusted to do the same, unencumbered by commercial imperatives. Underground coaching resistance cells might form, tunnels dug, pamphlets stuck under doors, secretive one-on-ones in public toilet blocks …
The possibilities continue to intrigue me. I day-dream of LinkedIn coaching communities being subject to such scorched-earth treatment. Whole categories of practice stripped bare of most of their content, obliterated at a stroke. All post-nominals strung after their name now gone. Only birth names visible, now that the professionalising tide has gone out, with many left shivering-cold and exposed, leaving only those with legitimate doctoral and masters designations, and other stringent practice requirements standing proudly on the beach, while others retreat, cowering with fear.
Where would prospective clients turn from now on, if indeed they were inclined to turn anywhere at all? Would clients themselves be imprisoned for being so perverse as to be prepared to pay for help? How would coaches explain this draconian turn to themselves and to their families, with all work gone and all those years of investment in training courses and supervisions proven utterly worthless? What if family and friends said to these beleaguered souls, ‘I told you, I told you .. I saw this coming along but you wouldn’t listen.’
Might world governments set up gulag prisons for transgressive executive coaches, where they would be required to stamp number plates rather than CPD certificates? Would these sorry souls be stopped from tapping out professional acronyms to each other on the prison pipework? Might families smuggle in the URLs of self-improvement Youtube sites, or even microchipped competency frameworks? Would we find, in the face of all this, that the culture of the prisoners association slumps from aspirations towards community actualisation to the bottom end of the hierarchy of needs in about three days flat, as they each scramble to gain purchase on the last scrap of stale crust?
Time to stop, but this sad volte-passe has exercised me mightly, not least in reminding me how fragile the whole stage-set of coaching practice is. Oh, and I met a celebrity coach who is a self-proclaimed millionaire.