BACP Professional Conduct Hearings Findings, Decision and Sanction
Reference No: 4490
The complaint against the above individual member/registrant was taken to Adjudication in line with the Professional Conduct Procedure.
The focus of the complaint, as summarised by the Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel (PHAP), was as follows:
The Complainant sought bereavement counselling and following a search of the [ . . . ], made a telephone arrangement to meet the Member, Maureen Davies, for her first session.
The Complainant attended the first session and within 15 minutes explained a [ . . . ] bereavement and a [ . . . ] bereavement [ . . . ] years earlier. The remainder of the 45 minutes was spent answering questions on anger, anxiety and depression. At the time, the Complainant says she questioned in her head why the bereavements had not been a topic of discussion.
The second session on 24 October Year 1, included looking over the Complainant’s anger questionnaire and the Member asked questions such as ‘who do you think this is aimed at?’ ‘who else do you think has this condition?’. The Complainant questioned whether it was [ . . . ]. The Complainant challenged the Member’s theory.
During the last 20 minutes of the second session, Ms Davies started to ask about the Complainant’s partner and his personality. The Complainant did not like this and stated that she was happy with her partner and was not there for relationship counselling. The Complainant then shared information regarding her partner’s personality. After comparing the personalities, Ms Davies asked the Complainant, ‘why is he with you?’ and that she cannot see it lasting more than two years and he should, ‘jump ship now while he can!’
Ms Davies informed the Complainant that she wouldn’t last in her new job and would be going off permanent sick with anxiety and depression. Ms Davies questioned where the Complainant will be working and the size of the company before stating, ‘Good, because if I was working for a large corporation, HR would not be happy with me.’
Ms Davies asked the Complainant, ‘what do you think would be on your epitaph?’ The Complainant asked what this meant and was shocked with the response. In her naivety, the Complainant continued to answer the question with ‘happy smiling person’. Ms Davies scoffed and responded, ‘No I don’t think …I can’t see that’, and this upset the Complainant as she thought this is how everyone in her life saw her. [ . . . ]
Ms Davies told the Complainant that she was psychotic and couldn’t tell the difference between reality and fantasy, and that she couldn’t do anymore for her. Ms Davies compared the Complainant to a drug addict who wanted to carry on taking drugs.
Ms Davies asked the Complainant if her parents were worried about her, to which the Complainant replied, ‘Yes’ and Ms Davies responded, ‘yes I would be too’.
Ms Davies also informed the Complainant that she was like a five-year-old who was throwing a strop and wanted to get her own way.
Ms Davies told the Complainant that she shouldn’t have any children as her anxiety would be passed on to them and they would be in the position the Complainant was in if not worse.
1. In contravention of paragraph 7 of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions, Ms Davies failed to make the Complainant the primary focus of her attention and her work during their sessions together, in that Ms Davies did not meet the needs of the Complainant by adequately addressing the issue of bereavement, which was the reason that the Complainant had sought therapy.
2. In contravention of paragraph 21 of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions, Ms Davies failed to respect the Complainant’s privacy and dignity during the second session on 24 October Year 1, in that she made inappropriate remarks and comments to the Complainant as follows. Ms Davies:
a. informed the Complainant that she was like a five-year-old who was throwing a strop and wanted to get her own way;
b. discussed the Complainant’s partner and his personality with the Complainant. Ms Davies proceeded to make unwelcome inappropriate comments to the Complainant such as, “why is he with you” and “jump ship now, while he can” and that she could not see it lasting with her partner more than 2 years;
c. told the Complainant that she shouldn’t have any children as her anxiety would be passed on to them and they would be in the position the Complainant was in, if not worse;
d. told the Complainant that she wouldn’t last in her new job and would be going off with permanent sick due to anxiety and stress, questioning the Complainant about the workplace and size of it before saying to the Complainant, “good, because if I was working for a large corporation, HR would not be happy with me”;
e. asked the Complainant, “what do you think would be on your epitaph” and when the Complainant responded saying, “a happy smiling person”, Ms Davies said, “no I don’t think …I can’t see that”;
f. told the Complainant that she was psychotic and that she couldn’t see the difference between reality and fantasy;
g. compared the Complainant to a drug addict who, “wanted to carry on taking drugs”;
h. before finishing the session, Ms Davies asked the Complainant if her parents were worried about her, to which the Complainant replied, “yes” and Ms Davies said, “yes, I would be too…”.
3. In contravention of paragraph 31 of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions, Ms Davies did not provide the Complainant with the information that she needed to make an informed decision about the services she wanted to receive and how they would be delivered, in that following the Complainant specifically seeking bereavement counselling, Ms Davies did not provide sufficient information to the Complainant about what the bereavement counselling would entail, and how it would be delivered to the Complainant, thus depriving the Complainant of the opportunity of making an informed choice.
4. In contravention of paragraph 32 a) of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions, Ms Davies did not give careful consideration to how she reached agreement with the Complainant about the contract terms on which her services were provided, in that Ms Davies did not give attention to reaching an agreement with the Complainant that respected the Complainant’s need and choice for bereavement counselling.
5. In contravention of paragraph 46 of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions, Ms Davies failed to discuss how best to work towards a desired outcome with the Complainant and any risks involved in the work, in that, Ms Davies did not discuss how best to provide the Complainant with bereavement counselling and what were the risks involved in that work.
In addition to paragraphs 7, 21, 31, 32 a), and 46 of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions (2016), Ms Davies’ alleged behaviour, as experienced by the Complainant, also suggests a contravention of the principles of Autonomy, Beneficence and Non-Maleficence and showed a lack of the personal moral qualities of Care, Empathy, Respect and Wisdom to which members and registrants are strongly encouraged to aspire.
(i) Prior to the start of the hearing an application to submit late evidence was made by the Complainant. After hearing submissions from both parties, in accordance with the Protocol on Late Evidence, the Panel decided to allow the late evidence.
(ii) The Panel found as a matter of fact, that only two sessions took place between the Complainant and the Member, and therefore the decisions made in reference to the allegations were limited to these two sessions.
(iii) The Panel considered that both parties had been open and had demonstrated candour in their oral evidence and therefore found both parties to be credible. Before addressing the findings in respect of the allegations, the Panel, made the following findings of fact, firstly, that the Member did explain to the Complainant, that she could not begin bereavement counselling with her until she had stabilised emotionally. This was based on the Complainant's oral evidence that the Member had explained this to her and she had understood, and that she had agreed to undergo the assessment stage by completing the questionnaires given to her by the Member; and secondly that no bereavement counselling took place, as the two sessions were used to carry out an assessment of the Complainant's emotional stability.
On balance, having fully considered the above, the Panel made the following findings:
1. The Panel referred to the findings of fact in paragraph (iii) above. In her oral evidence the Member stated that the Complainant presented in an unstable state and that her duty was to stabilise her first. In order to do this, she carried out a risk assessment. The Member further stated that she was aware the Complainant wanted bereavement counselling, but in her professional judgement this could not begin until the Complainant had stabilised. The Complainant agreed that this was explained to her and agreed by her.
The Panel was mindful that bereavement counselling had not started, but nevertheless accepted that the Member's professional judgement was exercised reasonably. The Panel was, therefore, of the view that it was not unreasonable that the two sessions that did take place were primarily used to complete the risk assessments. The Panel was therefore satisfied that the Member had made the Complainant the primary focus of her attention by adequately addressing the Complainant's wish for bereavement counselling and working towards this. This allegation is therefore not upheld.
2. The Panel took account of the written evidence presented to it and questioned both parties carefully in relation to the allegations that the Member failed to respect the Complainant’s privacy and dignity by making inappropriate remarks and comments to the Complainant, as detailed below in (a) to (h). The Complainant, when questioned stated "of course I was emotional, I am a different person to how I was that day". When questioned as to whether she may have misinterpreted the comments made, she stated that it was possible that she had misconstrued some of the comments made, because of her emotional state at the time. The Panel considered each of the comments as follows and made the following findings:
(a) The Member, in both her written and oral evidence, denied making the comment that 'she [the Complainant] was like a five-year-old who was throwing a strop and wanted to get her own way'. The Complainant clarified that it was she who stated that she was like a five-year-old, and that this was in answer to a question from the Member, as to how old she felt. The Panel found, on balance, that the Member had not made this comment to the Complainant in the terms alleged.
(b) The Member denied making inappropriate comments about the Complainant's partner. The Member stated, in both her written and oral evidence, that the only circumstance in which they discussed the Complainant's partner, was in reference to a party, that the Complainant was not keen to attend. The Member explained that they had discussed a way in which to handle the situation, and that she followed this up, at the next session, by asking the Complainant about how it had gone. The Complainant however was adamant that the comments were made. The Panel noted the significant differences in the parties' accounts and given the significant contrast in the evidence, the Panel was not convinced, on the balance of probabilities, that the Member had made the comments in the terms alleged.
(c) In her evidence, the Complainant stated that she had told the Member that 'she [the Complainant] was dead set against having kids' and that the Member had responded by stating that it was a good thing as anxiety could be passed on. The Member, in her evidence, denied that she made the comment in the terms alleged, but that she had explained to the Complainant, in the context of psycho-education, what could happen generally as part of anxiety styles. The Member's evidence was that this was not directed at the Complainant personally. Whilst the Panel understood how the Complainant might have construed this as a personal comment, it did not find, on balance, that the Member had made the comment in the terms alleged.
(d) The Member, in her oral evidence, denied stating that the Complainant would not last in her new job. She further denied stating the comments in the context as alleged and explained that she had suggested that with her [the Complainant’s] level of anxiety she should take further time off. The Complainant, in her oral evidence, agreed that the Member had suggested further time off and stated that her workplace had already given her time off and so she disagreed with the Member's suggestion. In considering the evidence before it, the Panel did not find that there was sufficient evidence to support this part of the allegation.
(e) In her oral evidence, the Member admitted asking this particular question, as it was one that appeared on the questionnaire that she was completing with the Complainant, to risk assess her emotional stability. When questioned further about the appropriateness of such a question, given the Complainant's circumstances, the Member conceded, that in retrospect it was not appropriate. The Panel found on balance, that the Member had failed to respect the Complainant's privacy and dignity by asking the question in the terms alleged.
(f) In her oral evidence, the Member stated that she had used the word psychotic as a description but stated that she was trying to explain to the Complainant, that if a person remained in a regressed state they could become psychotic. The Member stated that it was not a personal comment about the Complainant, but in the context of the Complainant remaining in a five-year-old state as opposed to an adult state. The Complainant, in her evidence, stated that she did not misconstrue the comment and that the Member had also stated that she [the Complainant] could not see the difference between reality and fantasy. The Panel was of the mind, given the presenting issues of the Complainant at the time of the sessions, it was unsurprising that she had taken the comments personally, and considered that the Member should have taken more care. The Panel therefore found that the Member had failed to respect the Complainant's privacy and dignity.
(g)In both her written and oral evidence, the Member denied comparing the Complainant to a drug addict. She stated that she was aware the Complainant was taking medication and would not have said this in the circumstances. The Complainant, when questioned about the context in which this comment was allegedly made, stated "it was my refusal to accept my whole mental state...it was a closed statement". The Panel noted the differences in the parties' accounts and was not convinced, on the balance of probabilities, that the Member had made the comments in the terms alleged.
(h) The Member stated that this comment was made in a genuine and empathic context, as she was worried about the Complainant. In her evidence, the Complaint, did not disagree with this, and stated that this was not a complaint, she had made of itself. The Panel therefore made no finding on this allegation.
Allegation 2 is partially upheld in that the Panel found that the Member had
failed to respect the Complainant's privacy and dignity with reference to 2 (e)
3. The Panel referred to its finding in allegation 1. above and in the circumstances considered that the Member did provide the Complainant with the information that she needed to make an informed decision about the services she wanted to receive and how they would be delivered. This allegation is therefore not upheld.
4. The Panel referred to its finding in allegation 1. above. The Member had explained that before bereavement counselling could begin she would need to risk assess the Complainant; this, she stated, was an oral agreement. The Panel was satisfied that the Member had given attention to reaching an oral agreement with the Complainant about her need and choice for bereavement counselling. Further the Panel could not make a finding that the Member had not given careful consideration to how she reached agreement about the contract terms on which bereavement counselling would be provided, as bereavement counselling did not begin and only two sessions took place, so there was no further discussion or contracting in respect of bereavement counselling. In the circumstances, the Panel did not uphold this allegation.
5.The Panel referred to its finding in allegation 1. above and as such did not find that the Member had failed to discuss how best to work towards the desired outcome the Complainant wanted in terms of bereavement counselling and the risks involved with this. This allegation is therefore not upheld.
In light of the above findings, the Panel was satisfied that paragraph 21 of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2016 had been breached. It also found that the Member had demonstrated a lack of the personal moral qualities of Empathy, Respect and Wisdom to which all practitioners are strongly urged to aspire.
Accordingly, the Panel was unanimous in its decision that the finding upheld amounted to professional malpractice, in that the services for which the Member was responsible fell below the standards that would be reasonably expected of a practitioner exercising reasonable care and skill.
One of the aims of the Professional Conduct Procedure is to protect members of the public. The Panel, in considering what sanction may be appropriate in the circumstances of this case, has taken into account the interests of public protection.
These written submissions must be sent to the Registrar by the given deadlines and will be independently considered by a Sanction Panel.
The Panel require Ms Davies to provide:
1. within one month of the date of the imposition of this sanction which will run from the expiration of the appeal deadline, her immediate reflection on, learning from and understanding of the allegations upheld in this complaint.
2. a written report that reflects on the impact of the use of language, how words can be interpreted differently, and the counsellor’s duty to check carefully that what has been said has been understood.
This report should include evidence of new learning which can be put into practice and should be discussed in supervision. The report should be signed by the supervisor who must confirm the report had been discussed in supervision.
This report should be received by BACP in not less than three months and not more than 6 months of the date of the imposition of this sanction which will run from the expiration of the appeal deadline.
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