WITHDRAWAL of MEMBERSHIP
Information was disclosed to BACP, which was considered under Article 12.6 of the Articles of Association.
The summary of the information and the allegations notified to Mrs Mills were as follows:
The Chief Executive of Organisation X contacted BACP on 22 August Year 1 to advise that Organisation X had recently dismissed Mrs Mills for gross misconduct. The Chief Executive included in their email: notes of the investigation hearing; notes of the disciplinary hearing; a statement from Mrs Mills; and a copy of the letter of dismissal.
Mrs Mills contacted BACP on 4 September Year 1 to advise that she had been summarily dismissed from her role as a counsellor at Organisation X due to gross misconduct. Mrs Mills included a statement regarding the events and copies of the documents leading to her dismissal.
Mrs Mills’ employment with Organisation X was terminated for gross misconduct on 2 August Year 1 following a disciplinary hearing. [ . . . ]
The dismissal letter stated the reasons for dismissal were:
1. Serious professional misconduct leading to a complaint of inappropriate conduct between Mrs Mills and a former Organisation X client.
2. Avoiding, without justification, consulting with a Organisation X supervisor regarding decision-making affecting professional boundaries.
3. Bringing Organisation X into serious disrepute.
Mrs Mills advised in her statement that she did not appeal the disciplinary outcome as she was overwhelmed and wanted to move forward and learn from the process both personally and professionally. Mrs Mills advised that since the dismissal she has reflected extensively and has invested time in self-care which has led to her feeling in a stronger emotional and cognitive place, which has also been supported by her family. [ . . . ].
The 12.6 Panel decided to implement Article 12.6 of the Memorandum and Articles of Association and withdraw BACP membership from Mrs Sarah Mills to take effect 28 days from the notification of the decision.
The 12.6 Panel gave reasons for its decisions as follows:
In addressing the issues before it, the 12.6 Panel gave due consideration to all evidence supplied by Mrs Mills and Organisation X, together with Mrs Mills’ responses. The 12.6 Panel considered the following points to be central in its decision making:
• The misconduct that led to Mrs Mills’ dismissal was serious and the sanction imposed by Organisation X was the most severe available to it and that Organisation X had conducted a thorough investigation and disciplinary process.
• Mrs Mills had provided a positive testimonial from her supervisor and a reflective statement. However, her evidence across her correspondence with BACP was not wholly consistent and raised concerns about her judgement. She was often vague about important details such as the specifics of her meetings with Mr A as a client and as a friend and the boundaries between the two.
• The 12.6 Panel, after close reading of Mrs Mills’ submissions, concluded that she understated the contact between her and Mr A, while conversely magnifying the period between seeing Mr A as a client and as a friend.
• Mrs Mills understated the vulnerability of Mr A: on the one hand saying that he was not vulnerable; and on the other hand, saying that she knew he suffered from [ . . . ].
• The 12.6 Panel’s assessment of the evidence together with its observations above led it to question Mrs Mills’ probity and credibility. It also concluded that she had not demonstrated that she fully accepted responsibility for her misconduct; while she accepted it was inappropriate, she did not appear to recognise the seriousness of such conduct.
• Mrs Mills failed to demonstrate that she had an appropriate level of self-awareness to ensure she would make appropriate use of supervision in the future and had provided only limited evidence of reflection.
Consequently, the 12.6 Panel unanimously agreed that Mrs Mills’ summary dismissal for conduct related directly to her therapeutic practice may bring the reputations of BACP and the counselling and psychotherapy professions into disrepute; and that her summary dismissal is incongruent with what is expected of a member of BACP. It also determined that the misconduct that led to her summary dismissal suggests that Mrs Mills may have seriously breached the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions (2016).
On 5 November Year 1, Mrs Mills appealed against the Article 12.6 Panel’s decision to invoke Article 12.6 believing that it was unjust and unreasonable in all the circumstances to implement Article 12.6.
Reasons for Decision
The Appeal Panel, in addition to the information considered by the Article 12.6 Panel was provided with Mrs Mills’ notice of appeal and took the opportunity to hear oral testimony from and ask questions of Mrs Mills and her Supervisor, X1.
The Appeal Panel was reminded by the Clerk that its task was to decide whether the decision of the Article 12.6 Panel to implement Article 12.6 was ‘just and reasonable in all the circumstances’ and to then decide whether the appeal should be allowed or denied.
The Appeal Panel agreed to approach this as a two-stage test:
1. Was the Article 12.6 Panel’s decision just and reasonable on the basis of the information before that panel?
2. Does the new information provided by Ms Mills make the Article 12.6 Panel’s decision unjust and unreasonable?
The Appeal Panel agreed that, on the face of the notice of decision, the reasoning provided by the 12.6 Panel appeared well-reasoned, coherent and logical and was within the range of reasonable decisions available to the 12.6 Panel.
It then used the six points listed as central to the 12.6 Panel’s decision-making as a framework for its deliberations in relation to the first stage of the test above. The Appeal Panel decided that, on the basis of the information before it on 17 October Year 1, the 12.6 Panel’s decision was just and reasonable for the following reasons:
• It was not in dispute that Mrs Mills’ misconduct that led to her dismissal was serious and the sanction imposed by Organisation X was the most severe available to it. The Appeal Panel noted the documentary evidence of Organisation X’s investigation and disciplinary process in relation to the complaint made against Mrs Mills. The Appeal Panel found that this was thorough and professional, and that Mrs Mills was provided with and took the opportunity to make representations on her own behalf.
• It was not disputed that Mrs Mills provided a reflective statement and testimonial from her supervisor; and the Appeal Panel agreed that Mrs Mills’ written evidence to the 12.6 Panel was at times unclear and her accounts of important facts varied.
• Mrs Mills emphasised the limited nature of her relationship with Mr A and relied heavily on the gap in time between the end of his therapy with her and the start of their friendship. This, the Appeal Panel found, indicated that Mrs Mills initially tried to justify her behaviour rather than fully accept what she had done wrong.
• The Appeal Panel agreed that Mrs Mills’ written evidence to the 12.6 Panel included contradictory evidence about Mr A’s vulnerability.
• The inconsistencies in Mrs Mills’ written evidence to the 12.6 Panel together with her initial efforts to excuse or justify her behaviour did bring her probity and credibility into question. The rationalisations Mrs Mills provided, in particular, also demonstrated that, at the time, she had not fully understood the ramifications or seriousness of her conduct, especially in relation to Organisation X and X2 and family.
• Mrs Mills’ failure to seek appropriate support through supervision when Mr A approached her to establish a friendship demonstrated that, at that time, she lacked the self-awareness and reflexivity necessary to identify some ethically challenging issues in her practice. The Appeal Panel therefore agreed that the 12.6 Panel evidence raised questions as to whether Mrs Mills would make appropriate use of supervision in the future.
The Appeal Panel then considered whether the 12.6 Panel’s decision was just and reasonable in light of Mrs Mills’ further submissions and the oral testimony from Mrs Mills and X1. It again used the six points listed as central to the 12.6 Panel’s decision as a structure for its deliberations and made the following findings:
• Mrs Mills accepted in her oral testimony that her misconduct was serious. While she did not directly question that the sanction imposed by Organisation X was the most severe available to it, or that Organisation X had conducted a thorough investigation and disciplinary process, she did say that she considered it unfair and unjust that Mr A was not given a voice in that investigation. The Panel noted that Organisation X had made no findings prejudicial to Mr A; indeed, his wellbeing was a central part of its considerations. The Panel reviewed the investigation and did not consider the lack of Mr A’s testimony made it unfair or unjust to Mrs Mills.
• Mrs Mills had submitted further highly supportive testimonials and the Appeal Panel had listened to X1’s testimony, which was extremely positive about Mrs Mills. X1 explained she had supervised Mrs Mills for 3 years but was not Mrs Mills’ supervisor for Organisation X work during the relevant period. X1 described Mrs Mills as professional, open to examining herself and her clients and said that Mrs Mills was able to reflect when challenged. However, the Panel found that Mrs Mills was vague in her oral testimony when asked for details, often using language taken from the BACP Ethical Frameworks to describe herself but not providing descriptions of examples to demonstrate these characteristics. Mrs Mills had confirmed she checked the Ethical Framework around January Year 1 before deciding to become friends with Mr A but could not explain why her evidence quoted language that did not appear in the Ethical Framework 2016, which was in force at the time. The language she referred to was from the Ethical Framework Year 1 that came into force in July Year 1 and was used by Organisation X in its investigation. The Appeal Panel concluded that Mrs Mills’ would not have seen the wording she quoted if she consulted the Ethical Framework in force in January Year 1. It found this another example of Mrs Mills’ evidence being unclear.
• Mrs Mills had provided further evidence that supported her description of the limited period and nature of the contact she had with Mr A as a friend. The Appeal Panel found this evidence persuasive and decided that, in light of this new information, the 12.6 Panel’s finding that Mrs Mills had understated her contact with Mr A as a friend was unreasonable.
• The Appeal Panel found that Mrs Mills and X1 had not provided any new information that clarified Mrs Mills’ inconsistent written evidence to the 12.6 Panel about Mr A’s vulnerability.
• Having heard from Mrs Mills in person and questioned her, the Appeal Panel did not agree that there was evidence that Mrs Mills had deliberately intended to mislead when her evidence was unclear or contradictory. It also noted the testimony of X1 who described Mrs Mills as ‘very honest’. The Appeal Panel concluded that the 12.6 Panel’s assessment that Mrs Mills’ probity was questionable was unjust and unreasonable. However, the Appeal Panel agreed that Mrs Mills’ credibility was in question due to her vagueness, lack of clarity and unintentional misstatements. The Panel welcomed the acceptance Mrs Mills showed of her misconduct and noted the aspects that she had recognised, which demonstrated the value of the work she had been doing in supervision since September Year 1. Nevertheless, it found that she had still not demonstrated a full understanding of the systemic impacts of her misconduct, in particular on Organisation X, X2 and his family. Mrs Mills gave evidence that she had adopted binary strategies going forward – to never befriend former clients and to never agree to internal supervision – that indicated to the Appeal Panel a lack of confidence in her judgement and self-awareness to identify issues if they arose. She had also been inconsistent in her description of the misconduct, saying that it was not a ‘silly mistake’, it was serious; and then describing it as an ‘oversight’. The Appeal Panel concluded that Mrs Mills had not yet identified the full breadth and severity of the impact of her misconduct and, accordingly, was not yet in a position to accept full responsibility.
• The Appeal Panel noted the extensive work in supervision that Mrs Mills had undertaken with X1. It recognised that she had undergone a great deal of learning and the Appeal Panel was confident that she was now equipped to identify this particular ethical issue and was willing and able to seek advice through supervision appropriately. However, it found no significant increase in evidence of reflection by Mrs Mills. The Panel did not consider she had demonstrated that she now has the insight, judgement and self-awareness necessary to identify the range of ethical issues that therapists encounter so that she would reliably know when to take issues to supervision.
The Appeal Panel was unanimous in finding that, while some minor aspects of the Article 12.6 Panel’s findings are unreasonable in light of the appeal submissions and evidence, the ultimate decision of the Article 12.6 Panel in invoking Article 12.6 was just and reasonable in the circumstances and denied the appeal. Consequently, Mrs Sarah Mills’ membership of BACP is withdrawn with immediate effect.
Any future re-application for membership will be considered under Article 12.3 of BACP’s Articles of Association.
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