The complaint against the above individual member was taken to Adjudication in line with the Professional Conduct Procedure.
The focus of the complaint as summarised by the Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel is as follows:
The Complainant was a counselling student. The complaint relates to the second year of her course, starting October Year 1.
The Complainant states that in the second year, the tutor, Mandy Brewster, became ‘very aggressive and intimidating’. The Complainant says that when she and her colleagues questioned why they were spending class time supervising Year One students, Ms Brewster shouted at them and asked if they wanted ‘a fight’. The Complainant states that after this incident she was afraid that if she complained again, Ms Brewster might hit her. She says that during her two years as a counselling student, Ms Brewster has continually sworn, using in particular the word ‘c***’. The Complainant says that Ms Brewster once left a book called ‘C***; A declaration of independence’ on the Complainant’s chair, which the Complainant says left her humiliated and embarrassed.
In October Year 1, the Complainant applied for a training placement with the course provider. She says that whilst all the other students were given clients to practice with, she was not. She says that she did not feel able to enquire about this because she was ‘intimidated’ by Ms Brewster who told her to ‘pull your finger out of you’re a***’ for not having a placement.
The Panel, in considering the complaint, only put forward allegations for which it was satisfied that there was enough evidence to suggest there was a case to answer. The Panel, in accepting this complaint, was concerned with the allegations and information set out within the complaint suggesting contravention of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2016, and those in particular as follows:
1. On a day or days between 1 October Year 1 and 31 August Year 2, Ms Brewster, as a provider of training and education, failed to model high levels of good practice in her work, particularly with regard to expected levels of competence and professionalism, relationship building and the management of personal boundaries in contravention of paragraph 67 of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2016, in that she:
a. repeatedly used offensive language, including expletives, in front of her second-year students; and/orb. when asked why the second-year students were required to supervise first year students:
i. failed to provide a reason; and/or,
ii. shouted at the second-year students, asked if they wanted ‘a fight’.
c. told the Complainant to ‘pull your finger out of you’re a***’ when referring to the Complainant not having a placement; and/or
d. humiliated and embarrassed the Complainant in front of her peers by placing a book entitled ‘C***; A declaration of independence’ on the Complainant’s chair when she was in the lavatory.
In addition to breaches of paragraph 67 of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions (2016), Ms Brewster’s alleged behaviour, as experienced by the Complainant and described in the numbered allegations above, also suggests a contravention of the principles of the Ethical Frameworks for the Counselling Professions 2016 of Beneficence and Justice and showed a lack of the personal moral qualities of Care, Respect and Wisdom to which members and registrants are strongly encouraged to aspire.
In relation to the allegations, the Panel made the following findings:
1. Ms Brewster accepted in evidence that she was acting as a provider of training in relation to the Complainant at the relevant time. The Panel therefore found this fact proved.
2. Ms Brewster also accepted that she used offensive language, including expletives, in front of her 2nd year students. However, she denied encouraging swearing and explained that she only swore occasionally and only in response to the use of such language by one or more of the students as a ‘learning tool’ for managing clients that swear. Although when the Panel asked Ms Brewster to provide the academic evidential underpinning for this technique, she was unable to provide it. The Panel found this unexpected given Ms Brewster’s level of experience in the educational sector but found the explanation of use of swearing in class as a learning tool was within the range of reasonable practice, albeit the professional member did not agree with the value of such.
The Panel found the Complainant’s evidence of ongoing, repeated and frequent swearing compelling - the Complainant’s oral testimony was credible and consistent with her written submissions – and it accepted the Complainant’s evidence that it was this ongoing, repeated and frequent use that made the swearing unacceptable. The Complainant explained that she had considerable experience of swearing in other situations, which she was comfortable with, and of other tutors as a student in training. The Panel found the Complainant was not unreasonably sensitive in relation to swearing but described clear boundaries between when swearing was acceptable and appropriate and when it was not.
The Panel noted the written evidence provided by X and X1 (hearing bundle), which the Panel found supported the Complainant’s evidence that Ms Brewster encouraged swearing in class. It also observed that X1 did not provide evidence of Ms Brewster swearing, but noted Ms Brewster’s evidence of the separation of X1’s responsibilities from Ms Brewster’s. The Panel considered it likely X1 would not regularly have been present at Ms Brewster’s teaching sessions.
Having considered all the available evidence, the Panel found that Ms Brewster ‘repeatedly used offensive language, including expletives, in front of her second-year students’.
3. The Complainant gave oral testimony consistent with her written submissions. When asked to describe how the 1st year sessions were organised she gave a detailed account, explaining that X1 told them that one of them (her class) would role play a client and another role play the therapist, with 3-4 1st year students observing. The Complainant said she was told she would role play the therapists’ supervisor and they were given sheets setting out their roles. When asked, the Complainant said she had no training in supervision and none of the tutors came to assess her or her classmates.
The Panel asked if they challenged this role. The Complainant said once this had continued from October to December, they were all ‘fed up’ and had not been told why they were doing it. She said she was sitting with about 4 other students when they asked Ms Brewster and X1 together why their class were doing this and that Ms Brewster leant forward in her chair and loudly and aggressively said, ‘Wanna fight? Wanna take it outside?’ The Complainant said they were shocked: ‘we all stayed still and silent’.
The Panel put to the Complainant that X1’s statement said, ‘not at any time did I hear Mandy offer anybody out for a fight’. The Complainant explained that X1 and Ms Brewster had been friends for a long time. The Panel asked if the Complainant knew any of the students before the course; she said she did not.
Ms Brewster denied allegation 1(b). She said she did not recall any conversation with the Complainant and/or her fellow students about them, in their second year of the course, providing supervision to first year students. Ms Brewster explained the division of responsibility for aspects of the course and said she would have directed such a question to X1. The Panel asked Ms Brewster if she had ever used the phrase ‘want a fight?’, which she also denied saying she absolutely did not ‘offer the students out for fight’. When asked if she was aggressive or intimidating towards the students, Ms Brewster said ‘It didn’t happen.’
Ms Brewster was directed to the following part of X’s statement:
‘When we asked Mandy why we were supervising, she flew into an almighty rage and jumped out of her chair and shouted at us ‘do you want a fight?’. I felt totally scared. My peers, X2 and I, sat there in absolute silence.’
The Panel asked if she had any recollection of what X had described. Ms Brewster said she did not – ‘I have never done that. I value my position.’ She explained she joined her profession to develop people, not scare them.
The Panel asked Ms Brewster to describe her relationship with X1. Ms Brewster said it was ‘largely professionally based’ although they had ‘occasionally socialised’. They knew each other because they had worked for the same organisations a number of times in the past. Their contact was mainly for business and by email. Ms Brewster said they did not live near to each other.
In her closing comments, Ms Brewster accepted that it was not made clear to the 2nd year students that this role with the 1st years was part of their training but did not take responsibility for that.
The Panel found Ms Brewster’s evidence in person was vague about her oversight of the course and at times appeared to redirect responsibility, both of which were inconsistent with her position as Head of Tuition. It also found that she had a long-standing business and, to a lesser degree, personal relationship with X1.
In relation to the Complainant, the Panel found her testimony to be detailed in both her descriptions of the physical situation and what was said. It also noted that her evidence was corroborated by X.
The Panel concluded that the 2nd year students did ask X1 and Ms Brewster together about why they were supervising the 1st years and that Ms Brewster, as Head of Tuition, failed to provide a reason. It further found that Ms Brewster responded to the question by asking the 2nd years if they wanted a ‘fight’.
4. The Complainant gave evidence that she was outside with Ms Brewster and X. She said she was trying to speak to Ms Brewster about placements when Ms Brewster told her to ‘pull your finger out of you’re a***’. The Complainant said she was familiar with the phrase, used in jest, but that Ms Brewster had a ‘pan face’; there was no laughter or indication it was ‘banter’.
The Panel asked the Complainant about her relationship with X. She explained she met X for the first time on day one of the course and they supported each other through the course. She added that X has been supportive with this complaint, but they do not see each other daily. The Complainant described X as a friend, a good support person who she speaks to by phone and WhatsApp.
Ms Brewster said that she had never used the phrase ‘pull your finger out of you’re a***’ to the Complainant or any other student and denied the alleged event ever occurred. She explained that she doesn’t discuss placements with students, that was X1’s responsibility, so she would have referred any such questions to X1. The Panel asked Ms Brewster why X would say she witnessed this incident if it were not true. She said X and the Complainant ‘were both having issues’ but reinforced that ‘nothing was said to me at the time’. Ms Brewster was concerned that there was no evidence other than what X and the Complainant said and he stated that the Complainant ‘was very close to’ X.
The Panel noted the oral evidence from the Complainant regarding allegation 1(c) was clear and consistent, and included ancillary details that added to its credibility, such as her description of Ms Brewster’s demeanour when making the comment. The Complainant’s account was also supported by X’s statement, which also gave a vivid description of X and the Complainant’s reactions to the alleged incident. They noted that Ms Brewster and X1 were consistent in denying the incident occurred, but gave less persuasive evidence, lacking in detail.
The Panel found that Ms Brewster did tell the Complainant to ‘pull your finger out of you’re a***’ when referring to the Complainant not having a placement and that she was not overly sensitive to the use of the phrase. They found Ms Brewster was ‘dismissive’ of the allegation.
5. In relation to allegation 1(d), the Complainant said that there were about 5 students present including herself in a good-sized classroom. She gave a detailed description of the room and named the other students present. They had all pulled their chairs up close to the board and Ms Brewster was teaching. The Complainant recalled that she left the room to go to the toilet and on her return a book entitled ‘C***; A declaration of independence’ (the Book) was on her chair. The Complainant said, ‘everyone was sniggering except [X]’ and she felt like she was being picked on for going to the toilet. She explained she picked up the Book and put it on Ms Brewster’s desk then during the lunch break, when Ms Brewster was not in the room, she asked the other students who had put the Book on her chair. The Complainant said X told her it was Ms Brewster and other students said it was ‘out of order’ and confirmed Ms Brewster had put it on the chair. She said she was in tears and felt humiliated.
Ms Brewster told the Panel that she did not recall the alleged incident or anything similar. She confirmed that the Book is one that she uses as part of the course (session 22 of the 1st year) and that she routinely brought books in from home to show her students and allow then to browse through before deciding if they wanted to buy a copy themselves. These books, she said, were kept a pile in the classroom where anyone could access them. She said that when she introduces the Book, ‘it usually generates a lot of laughter’ and while she could not recall individual’s reaction in this group, she remembered their reaction being ‘as usual’.
The Panel found that the Book was likely available in the classroom on the date in question, having been used in session 22 of the 1st year. They found the evidence of the Complainant was detailed and consistent with her previous statements and X’s evidence. As X’s evidence has corroborated the Complainant’s plausible, credible and detailed evidence throughout, whereas Ms Brewster and X1’s evidence was superficial, the Panel accepted the Complainant’s account.
The Panel found that Ms Brewster placed a book entitled ‘C***; A declaration of independence’ on the Complainant’s chair when she was in the lavatory and that this made her feel humiliated and embarrassed in front of her peers.
6. Having considered all the available evidence, the Panel found:
a. the facts it found proved in relation to allegation 1(a) amounted to a breach of paragraph 67 of the Ethical Framework with regard to expected levels of competence and professionalism
b. the facts it found proved in relation to allegation 1(b) amounted to a breach of paragraph 67 of the Ethical Framework with regard to expected levels of competence and professionalism, and relationship building
c. the facts it found proved in relation to allegation 1(c) amounted to a breach of paragraph 67 of the Ethical Framework with regard to expected levels of competence and professionalism, and relationship building
d. the facts it found proved in relation to allegation 1(d) amounted to a breach of paragraph 67 of the Ethical Framework with regard to expected levels of competence and professionalism, and relationship building.
Accordingly, the Panel upheld allegation 1 in part – in relation to competence and professionalism, and relationship building; but not in relation to the management of personal boundaries.
In light of the above findings, the Panel was satisfied that Ms Brewster’s conduct, as experienced by the Complainant and described in the numbered allegations above, amounted to breaches of paragraph 67 of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2016 and also suggests a contravention of the principles of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions (2016) of Beneficence and Justice and showed a lack of the personal moral qualities of Care, Respect and Wisdom to which members and registrants are strongly encouraged to aspire.
The Panel was unanimous that its findings amounted to professional malpractice, in that the service for which Ms Brewster was responsible fell below the standards that would reasonably be expected of a practitioner exercising reasonable care and skill.
The Panel accepted Ms Brewster’s submissions of systemic problems within the training organisation. The Panel also observed that Ms Brewster had said in her opening comments that she was sorry that the Complainant was ‘so upset’ and disappointed that the Complainant could not be put through to qualifying. However, it also took into account the senior position she held in the training organisation and noted her substantial experience in the sector at the time she accepted the role.
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.
Having done so, the Panel decided Ms Mandy Brewster must:
1. within 3 months of the date of imposition of this sanction, which will run from the expiration of the appeal deadline, provide her immediate reflections on the issues raised by the allegations upheld by the Panel, in particular:
a. her insight into and self-awareness of the impact of her behaviour and language on students in her role as a trainer; and,
b. her insight into and self-awareness of her professional responsibilities as a leader in a training organisation.
2. No sooner than 9 and no later than 12 months from the date of imposition of this sanction, which will run from the expiration of the appeal deadline, provide:
a. evidence of having undertaken training in the roles and responsibilities of senior leaders/managers in a training environment; and,
b. her in depth reflections on what she has learnt from the training referred to above and the professional conduct process, and how she has changed/integrated or will change/integrate this into her role as a trainer.