Recent BACP process

This is a slightly expanded version of a statement we have prepared about the BACP process that has just ended. We have some additional comments on this process, and those appear at the end of this post, under the heading ‘Supplemental comments on the BACP process’.

We have previously blogged about our conflict with another group of therapists(1). There have been developments. This conflict has already caused harm and distress on both sides, and we do not want to increase that. Two groups of therapists in open conflict can only harm the profession, and potentially discourage people from accessing therapy. However this conflict has a public dimension, so we think it’s important to say something about the situation as we see it. We will not name anyone here or include identifying details. In the interests of our clients and all those involved, we would much prefer to keep it at this level of detail.

Background

We are a diverse group of therapists who choose to work collaboratively through a not-for-profit company, providing an ‘according to means’ service in person-centred talking therapy to alleviate social distress. We see about 160 clients/week, and offer an important alternative in Exeter to NHS-style CBT. We volunteer here because we feel comfortable with a person-centred ethos, and have a commitment to providing long term, high quality therapy that’s available to everyone, regardless of income.

80% of our therapists are qualified to diploma &/or M.A. level. 20% are final year diploma students (i.e. qualified to certificate level). They have varied trainings, e.g. person-centred, integrative & core process psychotherapy, & diverse day jobs, e.g. in education & the NHS.

Conflict

We have been in conflict with a group of therapists, centred on 2 therapists who worked for our service until 2012. We asked one to leave for what we considered unethical behaviour, together with two other therapists. We asked them to leave not because of the content of their allegations, but because of how they went about raising their issues. That was unacceptable to us, regardless of content. The second therapist left voluntarily. This is unprecedented in our 18 year history. It’s not how we wish to deal with conflict or generally deal with it. In these exceptional circumstances, our crisis team saw a profound and irretrievable breakdown of trust.

The complainants have taken part in an organized group campaign of complaints and allegations. Those involved are all therapists. Before and after leaving, they made allegations to inappropriate third parties, & began a number of concurrent complaints processes with different bodies. They took actions outside the confines of any confidential process which caused serious harm, before raising any issues with the practitioner concerned or with us – the administering of a self-determined sentence before/instead of the trial. We believe this group was conducting a classic witch-hunt. We felt justice and ethics required us to support the practitioner concerned.

Allegations

Some important points about the allegations:-

• We have 26 therapists doing client work, each volunteering at least 4 hours/week (we have no employees). There are no allegations about the client work any of them are doing, or the quality of the supervision offered by those on the supervision team(2).
• Allegations related initially solely to one practitioner, who does no client work for us, but does do supervision(3).
• Allegations are about the complaining therapists’ own alleged experiences in peer-peer therapy they chose to do with that practitioner in private practice (outside this service).
• Our crisis team of 3 senior therapists/supervisors considered the facts & evidence carefully. The allegations are thin, interpretative and inaccurate.
• Contemporaneous evidence is inconsistent with the complainants’ retrospective claims about their experiences. Some allegations are distortions of an actual event/conversation. Some of the allegations are fabrications, and we have evidence of this.
• There are no client complaints against either that practitioner(4) or this service. We were BACP organisational members for most of our 18 year history. No client has ever made a complaint.

Complaints processes

The complainants approached a number of unrelated different bodies with their allegations. We have question marks about why anyone would make so many simultaneous complaints. They also made anonymous approaches, which we consider unethical behaviour by therapists.

Four of the concurrent complaints processes begun by the complainants ended in 2013/early 2014:-

• The Advertising Standards Authority (against this service): no finding against us;
• The Employment Tribunal (3 claims against this service): no finding against us. One hearing in June 2013. The judge called the claims ‘vexatious’ in his written reasons and said the claimants had an ‘improper motive’;
• The police (against the practitioner, not our service): The complainants were initially told there was no crime. They persisted, finally achieving an investigation. The practitioner had one brief voluntary interview about a year ago at constable level, & was notified there would be no charges. The police didn’t contact this service in the course of their investigation;
• Devon County Council Adult Safeguarding (against the practitioner, not our service): This investigation has also closed, again with no finding against this practitioner or our service.

BACP

Although their initial allegations were all about a single practitioner, the two complainants/their group widened their focus when the crisis team challenged them – beginning to make allegations about this service, and about other therapists in the crisis team.

Both complainants made a complaint to the BACP against our service. These complaints concerned their own alleged experiences, not our client work.

In contrast to their initial allegations, their BACP complaints criticize many aspects of our service. The BACP has rejected these elements – there are no findings against us based on the complainants’ criticisms of the general running of our service. One complainant told us in January 2013 that she had also made fresh BACP complaints against two other supervisors on the crisis team (one does client work here, the other doesn’t). It appears from their silence on the subject that the BACP rejected both.

In our view, the complainants’ behaviour in refocusing from a single practitioner to our service, in order to support BACP complaints, raises questions about credibility. We believe they complained against our service, only because the practitioner concerned is not a BACP member. The complaints include substantial material – not challenged by the BACP – relating to that practitioner’s private practice, and other matters outside this service. We think the BACP has assumed a jurisdiction it does not have, validating what are in effect backdoor complaints against a non-member.

Our decision to leave the BACP

We raised challenges to the BACP’s handling of this conflict, about its (1) disregard for principles of justice/due process, (2) apparent bias, (3) own lack of accountability/a complaints/challenge process for members with a complaint against it. The BACP did not engage with the issues we raised. We are by no means alone in the therapeutic community in these kinds of concern. We cover some of the issues, and our own experience, in the supplemental section at the end of this post.

Because of this, & our sense of growing incompatibility in ethos between us as a person-centred service & the BACP, we decided not to renew our membership. We left the BACP in October 2013. Following our resignation, we published our own ethos statements for clients & therapists(5).

Many of our individual therapists are members of BACP, UKCP, UKAHPP or another professional body. We do not require such membership. We do not define good therapy in these terms. However we support our therapists in choices that work for them, and in working within those parameters in their client work with us. We will continue to do so.

BACP hearings

The BACP hearings were in February/March. The BACP upheld some of the heads of complaint:-

• We think the decisions are unjust & incompatible with the evidence or an ethical approach to the facts/issues.
• The BACP has 3 possible categories of finding: (1) professional misconduct; (2) professional malpractice; (3) bringing the profession into disrepute. It makes no finding against us under headings (2) or (3), but has made a finding of serious professional misconduct.
• This finding appears to relate to 2 main viewpoints by the BACP: (1) we were responsible for preventing our therapists doing peer work in private practice & continuing to work together in supervision with us (from a person-centred place, we think this is a matter for the individuals concerned); (2) they dislike how we responded to this conflict.
• The panel makes no adverse findings about our client work, and the BACP has not questioned the quality of our client work or our supervision arrangements. The panel chair said he didn’t doubt we do good work with clients. The findings state: ‘The Panel was satisfied that good arrangements existed…for group supervision and one to one supervision’.
• Many of the findings against us are based on assertions by the complainants, unsupported by evidence. In some cases, we were able to bring evidence showing those assertions were untrue, and the BACP made no findings against us. In our view, this demonstrates that the complainants’ assertions are unreliable – yet in other instances, the panel accepted them at face value, without supporting evidence.
• We disagree with their findings & reasoning.
• Although we have not been members for 5 months, the BACP states it is withdrawing our membership. The decisions are so unreasonable, & the process so flawed, we have decided it would be a waste of energies to appeal. We & our advisors think we/others have a basis for challenging the BACP via judicial review. However, as we have commented, there are significant legal & economic obstacles(6).

Conclusion

Our focus is on the high quality, according to means service our therapists offer clients. We feel concern at the potential for this decision to have an impact on people’s confidence. We want to reiterate that the BACP made no adverse findings about our client work, or our supervision arrangements – and indeed made positive comment. One of the complainants is on record commenting on the ‘marvellous service’ we offer – after her decision to leave.

It remains ‘service as usual’ here, as it has done since this conflict began in 2012. If you want more information, please speak to your therapist if you are a client, or Lindsey Talbott on our administrative team.

Palace Gate Counselling Service
22 April 2014

Supplemental comments on the BACP process

As we previously described, we had issues with the BACP handling of this conflict from the outset(7).

This continued throughout the hearing process:-

Redactions: The BACP produces its own summary and restatement of accepted complaints. However, it also reserves the right to refer to the original complaint letter, supporting material and anything else it chooses. That creates a lack of clarity about ‘case to answer’, which is incompatible with principles of justice. It was exacerbated in our case by inaccuracies and BACP-introduced elements in both redactions (elements which did not appear in the original complaints, but were added by the BACP – and in some cases adopted by the complainants).
Panel orientation: We are a person-centred service, in our offering to clients, and in how we work with each other. Our ethos is relevant to how we see this conflict, how we responded, our expectations of our therapists, the commitments we do (and don’t) make to them, and how we operate. The BACP panel (of three) included no-one person-centred – despite the BACP stating it seeks to ensure at least one panel member works within the same model. We saw no evidence that the panel had any real understanding of our model, or respectfulness of our ethos (despite the Ethical Framework’s emphasis on diversity/differing ethical systems).
Last minute changes: There were several examples of this, which we think represent abuse of process, and materially disadvantaged us:-
o We told the BACP in early December we intended to bring 2 representatives to the hearings: the relevant practitioner (for obvious reasons) and a member of our supervision/crisis teams, as well as our advisor. The BACP raised no objection. It has no protocol prohibiting this. Our advisor (with extensive experience of BACP process) saw no issue. A week before the first hearing, the BACP told us we could have only 2 people in the room. Our insurers insisted on our advisor. We had prepared the member of our supervision/crisis teams to lead. We could not in the time prepare the practitioner concerned to take her place. That practitioner was therefore effectively excluded from their own trial. That contravenes basic human rights, around facing your accusers, having a voice and self-defence.
o While we were deciding what to do, the BACP called this practitioner as a witness, on 3 days notice. Witnesses are present in the room only whilst giving evidence. The witness role differs from the representative role. The BACP gave us no time to prepare.
o A week before the first hearing, the BACP wrote to us excluding substantial amounts of evidence submitted months before in October 2013. They had implied they might not accept all this evidence, so we had asked for clarification, and chased in January (having had no response). The BACP responded in writing, stating all October material would be included. When the document bundles arrived 14 days before the hearing, it appeared the items WERE included. On closer inspection, we discovered parts of key witness statements missing. The BACP did not mention this in the cover letter. We initially thought it was an error. The BACP’s stated reasons were unclear. There was serious inconsistency – e.g. evidence about the operation of our service was excluded in one hearing, but not the other.
o In the second hearing, the BACP sought to exclude a witness statement that one of the complainant’s most damaging allegations was false. The BACP subsequently upheld the relevant allegations, based solely on the complainant’s assertions – despite the fact that 2 senior therapists both gave evidence that the allegations are untrue. In its decision, the BACP does not even refer to the fact it has disregarded independent witness evidence. It is not unusual in judicial or quasi-judicial proceedings for evidence to be accepted by statement. However, the convention – for obvious human rights reasons – is that witnesses will be called if their evidence is challenged or disputed. So it is extraordinary that the BACP panel did not call this witness, despite the critical nature of their evidence – and then disregarded it without comment. This behaviour contravenes basic human rights and judicial principles.
o The BACP’s last minute changes created huge extra work, in a process we were already experiencing as pressured and punitive.
Written evidence: The panel did not seem to have grasped the significant volume of written evidence. We saw many examples of this over the four days. For example, the panel lawyer began questioning the complainant about a statement by another person, under the impression it was a statement by the complainant about her own experience. We are concerned at this failure to engage with the material or understand the (complex) facts.
Abusive process: The practitioner concerned was questioned as a witness for nearly four hours on the first day, beginning mid-afternoon. It was clear long before the end that they were exhausted, and no longer understood the questions. The panel repeatedly read out large sections of evidential material, and then asked questions on it, without allowing the witness to see/refer to it – visibly causing stress, confusion and answers based on misunderstanding. This caused concern to our representative and our advisor. The panel finally stopped the proceedings, acknowledging continuing was unacceptable. The word we would use is abusive. That practitioner had previously been waiting all day, exacerbating the needless stresses caused by the BACP outlined above. The BACP would not allow them to occupy the room provided for our representative and advisor, nor would it provide an additional room – expecting the practitioner to wait hours in the common areas. This was not acceptable. We paid for another room to allow that person some privacy in difficult circumstances – a significant burden for a not-for-profit company.

Bias

From the beginning of this conflict, one of the complainants referred to repeated conversations with the BACP. She suggested she had their support (based on her side of the story, without our having had any input). At the time, we were sceptical about this.
It was clear from various remarks that the panel liked neither our challenges to their process, nor our decision to leave the BACP, nor our public comment about this (obviously we needed to communicate our resignation to clients, and the panel chair challenged us about the section at the end of our client ethos statement that gives the context ). This seems to us to be the legitimate expression of a legitimate viewpoint. Many in the therapeutic community have expressed concerns about how the BACP operates, and about the professional conduct process.

We also had concerns about the BACP’s apparent failure to make any distinction between these complaints from practising therapists, and a complaint by a ‘client off the street’. Clearly there are significant distinctions.

In our view, the BACP’s behaviour throughout does indeed indicate bias, and a punitive agenda which is not about justice or fairness.

BACP lack of accountability

The BACP sets itself up to hold therapists ‘accountable’, without itself accepting accountability. We repeatedly challenged aspects of its process, without this being adequately addressed. The BACP has a complaints policy – extremely limited in scope. A therapist might use it, for example, if they bought a BACP publication and it arrived missing some pages. The BACP has no complaints policy/process for the more fundamental issues we raised.

Our advisors tell us there are 2 ways to challenge the BACP via the courts: a contractual claim, or judicial review. They advised a litigant would be unlikely to succeed in a contractual claim, because the BACP’s constitutional/contractual documentation allows it free rein. Judicial review is available against public bodies. While the BACP has assumed roles similar to a public body, it is in reality a private company running a members’ association. Our lawyers think it is questionable if it is subject to judicial review. Our understanding is people have looked at taking the BACP to judicial review, and been deterred by the expense/uncertain outcome.

We and our advisors believe there are substantial grounds for judicial review, if a court accepted jurisdiction. One example: the BACP has no process for hearing/examining evidence from the person complained against, except through the full hearing process. So a client could complain a therapist said/did something to them on a specific date, and the therapist could have alibi evidence they were in Australia. Such a case would proceed to a full hearing, involving the therapist in expense, stress, reputational damage and hours of work – because the BACP has no other/prior mechanism for looking at evidence from the person complained against. That contravenes fundamental principles/processes of justice. There are many other examples – both in general terms and relating to our own experience.

We have an ethical issue (and disconnect) with all of this: how can an organization purporting to bring accountability to the profession justify setting itself up so that it is, effectively, unaccountable? The BACP appears to consider accountability is for others.

Footnotes

(1) https://palacegatecounsellingservice.wordpress.com/the-conflict/

(2) There are no allegations at all about 25 of those 26 therapists. The 26th therapist is a member of our supervision & crisis teams. The complainants have made allegations about how she responded to the conflict. There are no allegations by anyone about her client work, or to the quality of her supervision work.

(3) Most of our therapists have 2 supervisors internally. Many also have independent external supervision in other contexts.

(4) Other than by therapists in respect of the peer-peer work mentioned.

(5) Current versions are at: https://palacegatecounsellingservice.wordpress.com/our-ethos/

(6)/(7)  https://palacegatecounsellingservice.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/our-service-the-bacp-the-regulation-debate/

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