1.1 The Member failed to demonstrate respect for the Complainant in that he:
a. Supported her partner’s view that it was acceptable to mock people with South Asian accents; and/or
b. Suggested that she was being sensitive in her objection, as mocking accents is part of British culture.
1.2 The Member thereby failed to meet professional standards, including in particular by acting in a way which was inconsistent with the following paragraph of ‘Good Practice’ in the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018:
21 (We will respect our clients’ privacy and dignity) and/or
22 (a) endeavour to demonstrate equality, value diversity and ensure inclusion for all clients; b) avoid unfairly discriminating against clients or colleagues).
Allegations 1.1 (a) and/or (b) amount to professional misconduct as defined in the Professional Conduct Procedure.
2.1 The Member stated in a therapy session that the Complainant’s partner displayed traits of autism, when he was not qualified to make that judgement.
2.2 The Member thereby failed to meet professional standards, including in particular by acting in a way which was inconsistent with the following paragraph of ‘Good Practice’ in the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018:
12 (We will do everything we can to develop and protect our clients’ trust) and/or
7 (We will make each client the primary focus of our attention and our work during our sessions together).
3.1 The Member failed to appropriately manage the end of the therapeutic relationship in that he:
a) Failed to discuss the ending in advance; and/or
b) Failed to contact the clients following the last session to establish whether they wished to continue.
3.2 The Member thereby failed to meet professional standards, including in particular by acting in a way which was inconsistent with the following paragraph of ‘Good Practice’ in the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018:
39 (We will endeavour to inform clients well in advance of approaching endings and be sensitive to our client’s expectations and concerns when we are approaching the end of our work together).
On […], the Member contacted the BACP and resigned his membership.
On […], in response to the BACP notification that this complaint was proceeding to a hearing, the Member emailed stating that he would ‘not be attending the sham of any hearing’ and that he felt ‘no reason at all to engage further on any level’. The Member stated he understood the matter will continue in his absence.
The Panel previously convened on […] to consider whether, under clause 5.9 of the BACP Professional Conduct Procedure 2018, the complaint should proceed to a hearing in the Member’s absence, be adjourned or be dismissed. For the reasons set out in its notice of decision dated […], the Panel decided that the matter should proceed to a hearing in the Member’s absence.
The Member was absent. He has made some factual admissions but no admissions of failing to maintain professional standards.
Evidence before Panel
In coming to its decision the Panel carefully considered all the evidence including:
• The Association’s bundle of evidence and exhibits.
• The witness statement and oral evidence of the Complainant, […].
• The Member’s bundle of evidence and exhibits.
• The BACP Professional Conduct Procedure 2018.
• The BACP Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018.
Summary of Evidence
The complaint, as summarised by the Investigation and Assessment Committee, stated:
1. The Complainant is from […] and from an […] ethnic background. She moved to the UK about […] years ago. She met her ex-partner in […]. He is from a […] Caucasian background. They got […]in […]. In […] he told her he had […]. He had also […]to her;
2. The Member never addressed the […] despite her raising the issue. He stated they needed to draw a line under it, which was not appropriate given the level […] that she suffered;
3. The Member stated that her partner had traits of autism. He was not qualified to make this diagnosis. This changed the dynamic of the counselling against her;
4. The Member discriminated against her in their sessions due to her ethnicity. In particular, he stated it was fine for her partner to laugh at people with […] accents and explained that it was normal. He stated that people see this as comic. The Complainant’s ex-partner then used this against her in […] and said she should not be sensitive. Her partner’s […] after this session and […];
5. When she expressed concerns about the effect of his comments, the Member did not give them enough time in the sessions to work through issues. The Member ended the session abruptly and did not deal with the Complainant’s ex-partner’s […] in those sessions. He then failed to contact the Couple again to enquire whether they wanted further sessions.
The Panel also considered the witness statement dated […] from the Complainant and her oral testimony.
Decision and Reasons for Findings
On balance, having fully considered the above, the Panel made the following findings:
Allegation 1 - UPHELD IN FULL
Allegation 1.1(a) and (b) – PROVED
The Panel found the Complainant had given clear and consistent evidence of the three sessions with the Member. This included that the Member had supported her partner’s position that she was being oversensitive in feeling offended by her partner mocking […] accents, including her own. The Panel found this was consistent with the Member’s account that, whilst not intending to be culturally insensitive, he did challenge the Complainant’s sensitivity by ‘normalising the reality that in British culture, rightly or wrongly, fun is sometimes made of accents in the media’. The Panel agreed that the Member’s account demonstrated a concerning lack of insight into the inappropriateness of his behaviour.
The Panel agreed that in doing so, the Member failed to demonstrate respect for the Complainant. Accordingly, it found Allegations 1.1(a) and 1.1(b) proved.
Allegation 1.2 - PROVED
The Panel then applied the facts found proved to paragraphs 21, 22(a) and 22(b) of ‘Good Practice’ in the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018.
The Panel found that the Member’s conduct disrespected the Complainant’s dignity and undermined the value of diversity and made the Complainant feel excluded. The Panel also considered the Member had treated her less favourably due to her ethnicity and therefore unfairly discriminated against her.
The Panel found the Member’s conduct amounted to breach of paragraphs 21, 22(a) and 22(b) of ‘Good Practice’ in the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018.
The Panel went on to consider whether the Member's actions that it had found proved in relation to Allegation 1 amounted to Professional Misconduct (as defined by the BACP Professional Conduct Procedure 2018). In doing so, the Panel considered the following criteria set out in BACP Protocol 14 for when suspension or withdrawal of membership may be an appropriate sanction:
• The Member has knowingly and deliberately behaved in a way to cause harm to the Complainant or other members of the public;
• The Member has been dishonest or lacked integrity;
• The complaint involves sexual misconduct;
• The Member has shown a blatant disregard for professional standards;
• The Member has abused their position or another’s trust;
• The harm to the Complainant is particularly severe;
• The Member has shown a complete lack of insight into, or remorse for, their behaviour; and
• Any other factors the Decision Maker considers warrant withdrawal of membership.
The Panel agreed that the first six criteria above did not apply to the Member’s conduct. However, it found that the Member’s account and lack of engagement with the BACP proceedings demonstrated a serious lack of insight into and remorse for his behaviour. It also noted that respect for dignity and appreciating the variety of human experience and culture are ‘fundamental values’ within the BACP Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018. As such, it found these breaches were ‘other factors’ that may warrant withdrawal of membership.
The Panel concluded that Allegation 1 amounted to Professional Misconduct.
Allegation 2 – NOT UPHELD
Allegation 2.1 – NOT PROVED
The Panel accepted the Complainant’s evidence that the Member made a comment that her partner displayed traits of autism. The Complainant, when questioned, told the Panel that this happened during the second session when they were discussing the fact that her partner took things very literally. The Member had made an observation that taking things literally was a trait of autism. The Complainant confirmed the Member had not said her partner was autistic.
The Panel concluded that the Member made a comment of the nature alleged, but such an observation did not require any particular level of qualification. It was not capable in the circumstances the Complainant described of amounting to a breach of the BACP Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018.
The Panel found Allegation 2.1 not proved and accordingly did not go on to consider Allegation 2.2
Allegation 3 - UPHELD IN PART
Allegation 3.1(a) – NOT PROVED
The Panel noted the Member’s account that, because the Complainant and her partner were likely separating he ‘thought that they would contact [him] to arrange another session if that was what they wanted’. The Member did not state that he agreed this with the clients and his session notes made no mention.
The Panel questioned the Complainant about the way the session appointments had been made prior to the final session. It accepted her evidence that at the end of session one and two the Member took out his diary and agreed a date and time for the next session. At the third session he simply stood up and let them out with no discussion of the next session and no discussion of ending therapy.
The Panel found that the Member had established an appropriate way of arranging sessions by diarising the next at the end of a session. He had deviated from this at the third session based on an assumption and without agreeing a different methodology with the Complainant and her partner.
The Panel found that the Member had not discussed ending therapy with the Complainant and her partner in advance, but that this did not amount to a failure to appropriately manage the end of the therapeutic relationship because, prior to the third and final session there was no evidence that ending was in the Member’s mind.
Accordingly, the Panel found Allegation 3.1(a) not proved.
Allegations 3.1(b) – PROVED
The Panel found it was not in dispute that the Member had not contacted the clients following the last session to establish whether they wished to continue. It found that, having established one system of agreeing appointment times and not discussed and agreed a change of that system, the Member was under a duty to contact the clients to clarify the situation. It therefore found he had failed to fulfil this duty and that amounted to a failure to appropriately manage the end of the therapeutic relationship as it left the Complainant uncertain about her situation regarding therapy.
Allegation 3.2 - PROVED
The Panel then applied the facts found proved to paragraph 39 of ‘Good Practice’ in the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018.
The Panel concluded the Member had not failed to inform the Complainant well in advance of approaching endings as one was not planned. However, he had failed to be sensitive to the Complainant’s expectations and concerns in not clearly communicating how the next session should be arranged.
The Panel was unanimous in its decision that the Member had failed to comply with the Professional Standards, specifically that the Member had acted contrary to paragraphs 21, 22.a, 22.b and 39 of Good Practice in the BACP Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018. It also decided that the Member’s conduct as proved under Allegation 1.1 amounted to Professional Misconduct as defined in the BACP Professional Conduct Procedure 2018.
The Panel reconvened on […] to consider what, if any, sanction was appropriate in this case. It reminded itself of its findings above. It also considered the guidance within BACP Protocol on Sanctions (PR14) and reminded itself of its powers of sanction under Article 5.12 of the BACP Professional Conduct Procedure 2018.
The Panel noted that the Member had resigned from the BACP in […] and had not engaged with the BACP’s proceedings either at hearing or in relation to consideration of sanction. Further, the Panel was of the view that the Member had demonstrated disdain for the BACP, his chosen professional regulator, and its professional conduct proceedings, describing them as a sham.
The misconduct was serious and racially aggravated. The Member had demonstrated no insight into his misconduct and the impact on the Complainant and the reputation of the counselling professions.
In the circumstances, the Panel agreed that there was no evidence that the Member had learnt from the complaint or changed his practise to prevent repetition. The Panel was also concerned that he had displayed an unwillingness to practise within standards set out in the BACP Ethical Framework. As the Member was not engaging, a requirement to undertake training and demonstrate learning and change would be inappropriate.
The Panel therefore agreed that only a period of suspension or withdrawal of membership was adequate in this case given the serious nature of the misconduct.
After discussion, it agreed that, if the Member were still a BACP member it would have suspended his membership for 12 months.
The Panel wished to remind the Member that, should he decide to apply for membership of the BACP in the future, he would be likely to be subject to an Article 12.3 panel, which would need evidence of learning and changes to his practice before agreeing to allow his application for membership to proceed.
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