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, relates to a meeting between the Complainant and Mr Almy on 17 October Year 1, which the Complainant says was an assessment session.
The Complainant states that at the beginning of their meeting, she spoke about issues with which she was struggling. She reports that she then went on to discuss her relationship with [ . . . ], saying that they clashed a lot. When she explained that [ . . . ], she reports Mr Almy as saying that she was lucky as his [ . . . ]. The Complainant states that this was inappropriate as Mr Almy did not know what her situation with [ . . . ]. She reports that Mr Almy’s response of, ‘blimey at least I don’t have that problem’, felt shaming and judging.
The conversation then moved to why the Complainant had chosen counselling as a profession. They discussed how hard it is to get work after qualifying. The Complainant states that Mr Almy asked ‘intrusive and irrelevant’ questions about [ . . . ], which the Complainant says were factually incorrect.
When the Complainant talked about her upbringing, including [ . . . ], she reports that Mr Almy responded, ‘goodness’, in a tone that sounded shocked and surprised. The Complainant found this embarrassing.
The Complainant sent Mr Almy a letter of complaint via email the next day, telling him that she was unhappy with aspects of their meeting and withdrawing her ‘application to use your counselling service’. She asked Mr Almy to destroy any information he had collated on her.
On 15 November Year 1, having not heard from Mr Almy, the Complainant emailed him again. She expressed disappointment that Mr Almy had not replied to her email of 18 October Year 1, told him she felt ignored and asked him to confirm that he had destroyed her paperwork. In his reply Mr Almy explained that he had not kept any paperwork as he considered the meeting was, ‘more of an informal conversation and not an assessment or counselling session’.
The Panel, in considering the complaint, only put forward allegations for which it was satisfied that there was sufficient evidence to suggest there was a case to answer. In accepting the complaint made against Tim Almy, the Panel put forward the following allegations of breaches of the principles of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2016 (EFCP):
1. On 17 October Year 1, Mr Almy used inappropriate questions and responses with the Complainant, thereby failing to do everything he could to develop and protect the Complainant’s trust, in contravention of paragraph 12 of the EFCP, in that:
a. when the Complainant shared with him that [ . . . ], he said she was ‘lucky’ as [ . . . ] with him; and/or
b. when the Complainant shared with him that [ . . . ], he said ‘blimey, at least I don’t have that problem’ or words to that effect, which made the Complainant feel Mr Almy was shaming her and judging [ . . . ]; and/or
c. he asked the Complainant intrusive and inappropriate questions about [ . . . ].
2. On 17 October Year 1, Mr Almy used inappropriate questions and responses with the Complainant, thereby failing to respect the Complainant’s privacy and dignity in contravention of paragraph 21 of the EFCP in that:
a. when the Complainant shared with him that [ . . . ], he said she was ‘lucky’ as [ . . . ] [dignity]; and/or
b. when the Complainant shared with him that [ . . . ], he said ‘blimey, at least I don’t have that problem’ or words to that effect, which made the Complainant feel Mr Almy was shaming her and judging [ . . . ] [dignity]; and/or
c. he asked the Complainant intrusive and inappropriate questions about [ . . . ] [privacy].
3. Prior to and during the meeting on 17 October Year 1, Mr Almy did not make the nature of the meeting clear to the Complainant, thereby failing to provide her with the information she ought to know in advance in order to make an informed decision about the services she wanted to receive and how these services would be delivered. By failing to do so, Mr Almy acted in contravention of paragraph 31 of the EFCP, in that both parties confirmed that there was no agreement nor prior discussion as to the nature of the meeting, therefore depriving the Complainant of the ability to give informed consent.
4. On or after 18 October Year 1, when the Complainant expressed dissatisfaction by email with the services she had received from Mr Almy on 17 October Year 1, Mr Almy did not reply to the Complainant, thereby failing to ensure candour by promptly informing the Complainant of anything important that had gone wrong in their work together and taking immediate action to prevent or limit any harm. This is in contravention of paragraph 47(a) of the EFCP.
In addition to paragraphs 12, 21, 31 and 47(a) of the EFCP, Mr Almy’s alleged behaviour, as experienced by the Complainant, also suggests a contravention of the principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy and Beneficence 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.
On balance, having fully considered the above, the Panel made the following findings:
1. The Panel heard the evidence of the Complainant and Mr Almy regarding the nature of the meeting on 17 October Year 1, and how the Complainant had contacted Mr Almy to arrange it. It noted that each party’s testimony was consistent with their written submissions. In oral testimony, Mr Almy initially said the Complainant contacted him either by email or telephone at the start. Whereas the Complainant recalled finding Organisation X online and telephoning to arrange the meeting. After hearing the Complainant’s recollection, Mr Almy accepted that the initial contact was likely to have been by phone. He said that he did not recall the conversation in detail but felt that she was a student inquiring about a placement and, as a secondary matter, wanting therapy as part of her course. He explained that his normal practice for placement enquiries was to invite students for an informal chat. The Complainant agreed that she told Mr Almy that she was a student counsellor, but she said that she did not mention wanting a placement. She added that she was already in a placement that she was happy with. She said she had been in that placement for [ . . . ], originally as a ‘buddy’ and then seeing clients once she had started the [ . . . ]. She recalled telling Mr Almy that she was having problems with [ . . . ] and wanted to find another counsellor.
In relation to the meeting itself, the Complainant did not recall any discussion of a placement; she said it was all about counselling. She said that she was given a Core Sheet on arrival, which she completed and handed to Mr Almy who had it on his clipboard during the meeting. She said she shared with Mr Almy some issues that she wanted to bring to therapy, including that she and [ . . . ]. The Complainant said Mr Almy replied saying, ‘God you’re lucky!’ and when she mentioned that [ . . . ] Mr Almy commented, ‘at least I don’t have that problem’. She explained that she felt shocked and upset by these comments and felt Mr Almy was ‘judging’ her and [ . . . ]. The Complainant described the conversation moving onto [ . . . ]. She did not remember how the subject started, but recalled Mr Almy asking her if [ . . . ]and if she could afford to train as a counsellor. The Complainant said she told Mr Almy who [ . . . ] and Mr Almy commented, ‘they’re not doing so well’. She told the Panel that this really upset her, and she just wanted to speak to [ . . . ] to find out if this was true.
When Mr Almy gave oral testimony about the meeting itself he described how students were greeted when attending Organisation X Centre. This was consistent with the Complainant’s description, but he did not recall her being given a Core Sheet, or of receiving a completed one from her. He said that the session started as an informal chat about the Complainant’s course and potential placement but accepted that it then moved on to discuss what she might want to bring to counselling. He said, ‘the focus of the meeting changed’ and he realises now he ‘did not keep up with it’. Nevertheless, Mr Almy maintained that the meeting was not an assessment for therapy. In his response dated 10 August Year 2, Mr Almy said the Complainant, ‘did, indeed, go on to discuss her relationship with[ . . . ]. I feel it would be false to deny that I made the comments written down’. However, Mr Almy said that this was in the context of an informal conversation and that the comments were ‘mildly humorous responses’. He confirmed in his oral testimony to the Panel that he made the alleged comments about [ . . . ] and that he considered them empathetic in the context of an informal conversation. Mr Almy’s written submission ‘emphatically’ denied that he made intrusive and irrelevant comments about [ . . . ]. He accepted that their discussion touched on [ . . .], recalling that the Complainant volunteered the [ . . . ]. [ . . . ] and Mr Almy’s submission reported that he, ‘merely expressed that I hoped [ . . .] in the light of this.’ He described it as an ‘empathetic response that was not designed to embarrass or cause upset.’ In his oral testimony, Mr Almy recalled saying, ‘I hope [ . . . ]’ and asking the Complainant ‘are you comfortable?’. He explained that he worries about the cost to students of studying to become a counsellor and his comments were intended to be empathetic.
Finally, the Complainant described the end of the meeting. She recalled Mr Almy saying he would think about which counsellor would be appropriate for her and be in touch. She confirmed that she considered it to be entirely an assessment for therapy. In his written response Mr Almy described the meeting ending with him ‘offering her a further interview to firm up arrangements for a placement and personal therapy’. In his oral testimony he accepted that he had told the Complainant he would consider which counsellor would be best suited to her based on the meeting on 17 October Year 1.
Based on both parties’ written and oral evidence, the Panel made the following findings of fact:
• Mr Almy made the comments specifically referred to in allegations 1(a) and 1(b). In relation to allegation 1(c); and,
• Mr Almy asked the Complainant questions about the security of [ . . . ], whether they were financially comfortable and whether she could afford to train as a counsellor.
The Panel noted that Mr Almy and the Complainant had given different descriptions of the nature of the meeting on 17 October Year 1. It observed that if it accepted Mr Almy’s evidence, the meeting was a combination, transitioning from informal chat to a discussion of the Complainant’s counselling needs. The Panel commented that, from the parties’ descriptions of the matters discussed, if it accepted Mr Almy’s description of the nature of the meeting (which it did not), the part of the meeting when they discussed the Complainant’s counselling needs amounted to an assessment for future counselling. Thus, Mr Almy’s interaction with the Complainant during that period should have been in accordance with the high standards of the BACP Ethical Framework, not the more relaxed standards of an informal discussion about possible placements.
However, the Panel found the Complainant’s evidence of the nature of the meeting was generally more persuasive than Mr Almy’s: she was clear and consistent and provided contextual detail that added to the credibility of her recollections; Mr Almy was also consistent but was less clear, predominantly either saying that he ‘did not recall’ or describing his ‘usual practice’ rather than a recollection of what actually happened with the Complainant. Accordingly, the Panel concluded that, on the balance of probabilities, the Complainant had completed a Core Sheet after arriving for the meeting on 17 October Year 1, and this, together with both parties’ descriptions of the matters discussed during the meeting, allowed them to find that the meeting was an assessment for future counselling from the beginning.
Given these finding, the Panel discussed whether Mr Almy’s comments were appropriate in an assessment for counselling. It noted the Complainant’s evidence of the impact that the comments had on her and Mr Almy’s admission that, on reflection, he had questioned the suitability of some of his comments himself. The Panel also drew on its own professional experiences and concluded that the comments specifically referred to in allegations 1(a) and 1(b) were inappropriate to an assessment for counselling, when the Complainant was discussing what she wanted to bring to counselling. In relation to allegation 1(c), the Panel decided that the comments Mr Almy admitted to making about the Complainant’s partner’s work were ‘intrusive and inappropriate’ no matter what the nature of the meeting and therefore found they were ‘intrusive and inappropriate’ in the meeting on 17 October Year 1. The Panel also decided that in making the comments specifically referred to in allegations 1(a), 1(b) and 1(c), Mr Almy failed to develop and protect the Complainant’s trust; and indeed, had the opposite effect.
Accordingly, the Panel concluded that allegation 1 was upheld in full.
2. The Panel adopted its findings in relation to allegation 1 above. It again noted the Complainant’s evidence of the impact the comments had on her and also noted that Mr Almy had said in oral testimony that he questioned himself about whether he should have commented on the [ . . . ]. Applying its own professional experience and judgement, the Panel found that in making the comments specifically referred to in allegations 1(a), 1(b) and 1(c), Mr Almy failed to respect the Complainant’s privacy and dignity.
Accordingly, the Panel concluded that allegation 2 was upheld in full.
3. The Panel noted Mr Almy’s evidence that his usual practice was to send out information to clients after an assessment, when the first session was arranged, and that the pre-meeting phone call was perhaps only 5 minutes long, together with the Complainant’s testimony that the phone call was the only pre-meeting contact. It concluded that Mr Almy had not provided any information in writing to the Complainant ahead of the meeting on 17 October Year 1, and that the information provided during the phone call was very limited.
The Panel was satisfied from the parties’ oral testimony that each of them honestly and genuinely believed their description of the nature of the meeting and considered this incontrovertible discrepancy in genuine belief, in the context of the lack of pre-meeting information, demonstrated that Mr Almy failed to clearly explain to the Complainant what the purpose of the meeting was.
The Panel considered whether Mr Almy’s evidence that the meeting combined two functions made his interaction with the Complainant unusual. It noted Mr Almy’s testimony that it was not; that he regularly sees students wanting both a placement and therapy and deals with both issues in a single meeting. By routinely combining two different functions without ensuring clarity during meetings about what the nature of the meeting was at any stage, the Panel commented that Mr Almy risked failing to provide clients with the information they needed. In relation to this specific case, it found that Mr Almy failed to provide the Complainant with the information she ought to know in advance in order to make an informed decision about the services she wanted to receive and how these services would be delivered.
Accordingly, the Panel concluded that allegation 3 was upheld in full.
4. The Panel accepted Mr Almy’s admission that the Complainant’s letter sent by email on 18 October Year 1, was an expression of dissatisfaction; although noted that he questioned whether it was a formal complaint, referring to the phrase ‘I am not going to make a formal complaint’ in the penultimate paragraph. The Panel observed that the Ethical Framework does not require a formal complaint for a member’s responsibilities under paragraph 47 of the Ethical Framework to be triggered. It also accepted Mr Almy’s admission that he did not reply to this letter. He said he regretted not responding and explaining there had been a misunderstanding. He explained he did not realise the impact of not replying and had deleted the email in a ‘rush of blood’.
The Panel found that Mr Almy had known that the Complainant’s letter indicated something had gone wrong in his work with her and that by not replying he had failed to take immediate action to prevent or limit any harm.
Accordingly, the Panel concluded that allegation 4 was upheld in full.
In light of the above findings, the Panel found that paragraphs 12, 21, 31 and 47(a) of the EFCP had been breached, and that these findings amounted to a contravention of the principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy and Beneficence. Mr Almy’s behaviour in relation to this case also showed a lack of the personal moral qualities of Care, Empathy, Respect and Wisdom to which members and registrants are strongly encouraged to aspire.
The Panel was unanimous that its findings amounted to professional misconduct, in that Mr Almy contravened the ethical and behavioural standards that should reasonably be expected of a member of this profession.
The Panel noted that Mr Almy had not offered an unequivocal apology to the Complainant. However, there was no evidence of previous misconduct by Mr Almy and it accepted his evidence that he had a hitherto unblemished career. It considered Mr Almy to have shown some insight and gave him credit for cooperating fully with the BACP investigation and this hearing. He had expressed regret and said that ‘if there are ways that Organisation X or I can learn from this then I will expedite them.’ Mr Almy had also shown sensitivity towards the Complainant in his conduct during the hearing.
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:
1. Within one month from the date of imposition of this sanction, which will run from the expiration of the appeal deadline, Mr Almy must submit a reflective written statement detailing his learning, reflection and understanding of the matters addressed and upheld in this complaint.
2. In not less than 6 months and no more than 9 months from the date of approval of the first submission, Mr Almy must submit a further reflective written statement detailing his learning from the Panel’s findings, and in particular:
a. The importance of ensuring boundaries between placement discussions, assessments and counselling sessions are clear; and
b. How he has implemented this learning in practice.
This second report is required to be signed off by Mr Almy’s supervisor as having been discussed in supervision and as a true record of their discussions.
This written submission must be sent to the Registrar, by the respective deadline, and will be independently considered by a Sanction Panel.
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