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, is that the Complainant received counselling from Mr Huxley from October Year 1.
The Complainant stated that the initial session was agreed by phone and text, but that Mr Huxley did not forward her his address as agreed and she had to ring him on the morning of the appointment to find this out. At this session, Mr Huxley explained verbally that the Complainant would be expected to pay for all booked sessions whether they were cancelled or re-scheduled. No written contract was given. The Complainant agreed to this and they met several times prior to Christmas Year 1. The Complainant reported that at the second of these appointments Mr Huxley disclosed he had recently been [ . . . ].
When the Complainant arrived for the first session of the year in January Year 2, she stated that the door buzzer was not answered. She contacted Mr Huxley who explained that he had been unwell and had slept through his alarm. The Complainant reported that despite these events leading to misgivings about continuing therapy, she agreed to a session on 18 January Year 2, in which they explored her ambivalence regarding continuing therapy and her concern regarding [ . . . ]. It was agreed that the Complainant would pause her therapy and Mr Huxley would make contact with her in a months’ time. Having not heard from him five weeks later, the Complainant emailed, then texted, expressing concern that Mr Huxley had not contacted her as promised, nor responded promptly to her email. She rejected Mr Huxley’s suggestion that they talk on the phone, explaining that she would rather he replied via email, which he did a few days later.
The Complainant complained that this email neither acknowledged her earlier correspondence nor responded to her distress. Only one session was offered in their normal meeting place, with Mr Huxley writing that future sessions would be held in a different town, some 20 miles away. The Complainant wrote expressing distress at Mr Huxley’s failure to attend the 11 January Year 2 appointment; his failure to contact her as they had agreed; his texting her at inappropriate times and her general concerns about his fitness to practise.
She reported that at the time of making this complaint she had not had a response.
The Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel considered the complaint together with the further information that it had received from the Complainant.
While the Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel considered the whole of the complaint, in accepting this complaint it 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. In contravention of paragraph 13 of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions, Mr Huxley, in providing services to the Complainant, allegedly was not competent to deliver the services he was offering to at least fundamental professional standards or better, in that he:
a. in or around October Year 1, failed to provide the Complainant with information about how to access his premises prior to their first appointment as he had agreed to do with the Complainant;
b. on 11 January Year 2, failed to attend his scheduled appointment with the Complainant;
c. on 11 January Year 2, failed to contact the Complainant in a timely manner about his failure to attend their appointment;
d. inappropriately disclosed to the Complainant that he [ . . . ] knowing that this would cause her anxiety;
e. failed to contact the Complainant on or around 15 February Year 2, as agreed in their meeting on 18 January Year 2;
f. failed to respond in a timely manner to the Complainant’s email sent at 07:56 hours on 23 February year 2;
g. changed the location for therapy without providing the Complainant reasonable notice;
h. made inappropriate out of session contact with the Complainant by responding to her by text at 22:09 hours on 1 March Year 2.
2. In contravention of paragraph 32d) of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions, Mr Huxley, in agreeing and contracting with the Complainant, allegedly failed to provide her with a record or easy access to a record of what had been agreed in that he did not provide the Complainant with access to a record of the terms on which his services would be provided.
3. In contravention of paragraph 47a) of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions, Mr Huxley, in his work with the Complainant, allegedly failed to take immediate action to prevent or limit harm to the Complainant in that he:
a. did not acknowledge and/or respond to the distress the Complainant expressed in her email dated 23 February Year 2;
b. did not respond in a timely manner or at all to the Complainant’s email dated 3 March Year 2.
4. In contravention of paragraph 47c) of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions, Mr Huxley, in his work with the Complainant, allegedly failed to offer an apology to the Complainant when one was appropriate, in that he:
a. did not respond to the distress the Complainant expressed in her email dated 23 February Year 2;
b. did not respond in a timely manner or at all to the Complainant’s email dated 3 March Year 2.
The Member’s alleged behaviour, as experienced by the Complainant and as identified in the numbered paragraphs referred to above, suggested a contravention in particular of paragraphs 13, 32d), 47a) and 47c) and the ethical principles of Being Trustworthy, Beneficence and Non-Maleficence of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2016, and showed a lack of the personal moral qualities of Care, Diligence, Respect, Sincerity and Wisdom to which all counsellors are strongly encouraged to aspire.
On balance, having fully considered the above, the Panel made the following findings:
1. Having heard the Complainant’s oral testimony and response to its questioning, the Panel noted the Complainant’s evidence was detailed and consistent with her written submissions, and that she gave it in a reflective and considered way. It found her evidence to be plausible and credible.
The Complainant provided a clear and detailed description of what happened prior to and when she arrived at the first session on 19 October Year 1. She said she phoned Mr Huxley and agreed the first appointment for 28 September year 1. She then called him to cancel and rearrange the appointment and after an exchange of text messages, they agreed on 19 October Year 1. The Panel noted that this was supported by the copy text messages of 22 and 24 September Year 1 and the text confirming the appointment dated 17 October Year 1. The Complainant confirmed, when questioned, that she had provided copies of all her correspondence with Mr Huxley.
The Complainant explained that Mr Huxley had told her the address to go to for the session and said he’d send her details about how to access the building later. The Panel noted the correspondence provided in the bundle did not show Mr Huxley had done this and accepted the Complainant’s testimony that he did not. The Complainant continued, that on arrival at the address, she buzzed to get in the building, but the door then opened for someone to leave. She entered but was still unable to identify where in the building to go. So she called Mr Huxley and told him she was there.
The Panel concluded that Mr Huxley had agreed to provide the Complainant with information about how to access his premises prior to their first appointment and failed to do so. Accordingly, it found the facts alleged at allegation 1(a) proved.
The Complainant said that Mr Huxley agreed an appointment with her to take place on 11 January Year 2. However, when she attended his counselling room at 09.30 that day he was not there. She explained that she called him but there was no reply, so she left a voicemail. Later that day she sent him an email and after that he replied by text apologising.
The Panel noted this testimony was supported by the copy email dated 11 January Year 2, at 14:08:47, from the Complainant to Mr Huxley and the copy texts between the parties on the same day.
It concluded that: the Complainant had attended for a scheduled therapy appointment at 09.30, 11 January Year 2; she called Mr Huxley around 09.30 when there was no reply to the door buzzer; Mr Huxley did not attend the appointment and did not answer the phone call from the Complainant. Accordingly, it found the facts alleged at allegation 1(b) proved.
The Panel further determined that: Mr Huxley did not respond promptly to the Complainant’s voicemail or contact her on ‘waking at 12.30’; he responded at 14.16, after the Complainant’s email, almost five hours after the missed appointment and Complainant’s voicemail, and almost two hours after he woke. The Panel agreed that in the context of missing a scheduled appointment, this did not amount to contacting the Complainant in a timely manner. Accordingly, it found the facts alleged at allegation 1(c) proved.
The Complainant gave a detailed description of how she had explained to Mr Huxley in their second session that [ . . . ] and caused the Complainant a great deal of distress and concern about her own [ . . . ]. The Complainant described Mr Huxley’s response: he said he [ . . . ]. He shared with her that [ . . . ]. The Complainant told the Panel she explained to Mr Huxley that this made her very concerned and unsettled; she was worried he [ . . .] what she shared with him, to which she said he replied, it was not his job to be his clients’ [ . . . ].
The Panel accepted the Complainant’s evidence of these events and considered Mr Huxley’s disclosure was inappropriate in the context of the matters the Complainant was bringing to therapy. Accordingly, it found the facts alleged at allegation 1(d) proved.
The Complainant went on to describe her session with Mr Huxley on 18 January Year 2. She said that she talked to him about her concerns about his [ . . . ], that she felt he was approaching the end of his career and [. . . ]. She explained that she had intended to end therapy at this session but mutually agreed with Mr Huxley to take a pause for a few weeks and that Mr Huxley agreed to reinitiate contact ‘in a month’s time’. She recalled him saying that this would allow him to prove to her he was reliable and invested in the process and in supporting her. When the Complainant expressed concern to him that he [ . . . ], she said it was clarified that he would contact her ‘in four weeks.’
The Panel noted the copy email dated 16 January Year 2, from the Complainant to Mr Huxley. In it, the Complainant referred to [ . . . ] and previous failure to do what he had agreed to do, and said ‘I feel unsafe and unwilling to move forwards with you… I therefore do not currently wish to make a further appointment.’ Mr Huxley’s reply the same day encouraged the Complainant to attend their appointment on 18 January to talk through her concerns. The Panel found this supported the Complainant’s description of the session on 18 January Year 2. It therefore accepted the Complainant’s description of that session and that Mr Huxley undertook to contact her four weeks later, which would have been 15 February Year 2.
The Panel then considered the copy emails exchanged between the Complainant and Mr Huxley dated 23 and 27 February. They found that the Complainant had been the one to initiate contact by email at 07.56 on 23 February Year 2, feeling ‘very sad and disappointed’ having heard nothing from Mr Huxley for over five weeks. Accordingly, the Panel found the facts alleged at allegation 1(e) proved.
The Panel determined that Mr Huxley did not respond to the Complainant’s email of 23 February Year 2, noting the copy text from the Complainant to him at 16.11 on 27 February Year 2, that said, ‘I sent you an email last Thursday and am wondering why you haven’t responded?’ and his reply ‘I have been away for several days.’ The Panel agreed that in the context of the Complainant’s concerns about Mr Huxley’s reliability and [ . . . ], this did not amount to responding the Complainant in a timely manner. Accordingly, it found the facts alleged at allegation 1(f) proved.
The Panel accepted the Complainant’s testimony, supported by a copy of Mr Huxley’s email dated 2 March year 2, which demonstrated that he had notified her of a change of location of her therapy from Location A to Location B. The Complainant told the Panel this email made her ‘raging’, ‘sad’ and ‘very got rid of’. She explained she felt he was trying to get rid of her as a client because she had told him when she started seeing him she could not travel to Location B for therapy. Accordingly, it found the facts alleged at allegation 1(g) proved.
The Panel reviewed the copy texts from 27 February and 1 March Year 2 and listened to the Complainant’s testimony. It determined that Mr Huxley texted her at 22.09 on 1 March Year 2. The Complainant said she and Mr Huxley had not discussed what might be appropriate or inappropriate out of session contact but that this felt ‘unbounded and intrusive…unprofessional’ and was another example to her of his poor practice. She explained she was about to go to bed when she got the text message and it brought back to her how upset she felt by Mr Huxley’s failings. The Panel found that with or without agreed terms for out of session contact, this was inappropriate in the context of their worsening relationship. Accordingly, it found the alleged allegation 1(h) proved.
Having found the facts of allegations 1(a)-(h) proved, the Panel considered if these amounted to evidence that Mr Huxley was not competent to deliver the services he was offering to at least fundamental professional standards or better. The Panel applied its professional experience and judgement and concluded that Mr Huxley was not competent to deliver the services he was offering to at least fundamental professional standards or better. It therefore unanimously agreed that allegation 1 was upheld in full.
2. The Complainant’s testimony about the first session with Mr Huxley described him confirming his fee and asking her to agree that she would pay for sessions even if they did not go ahead. She recalled asking if there was a cancellation notice period, to which he replied ‘no’, that once a session was booked it had to be paid for if it was cancelled. The Complainant said there was nothing on paper about this or about other terms or confidentiality. She explained that ‘alarm bells did ring, but I put it down to him being “old school”.
The Panel noted that Mr Huxley had not provided any evidence of a record or easy access to a record of what had been agreed with the Complainant about the terms on which his services would be provided. It also noted there was no mention of such in the emails and texts between them. Given the credibility of the Complainant’s evidence, the Panel concluded that Mr Huxley had contravened paragraph 32d) of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions. It therefore upheld allegation 2.
3. The Complainant described to the Panel how she had created her email sent to Mr Huxley on 23 February Year 2. She explained that she had drafted it the night before but not wanted to send it there and then. Instead, she left it overnight and sent it the next morning. She said she went into some detail in the email because [ . . . ]. She said she felt his behaviour was unfair and wanted an apology or explanation from him.
The Panel noted the contents of the email and found that it was considered and made it clear that the Complainant was distressed. It considered the responses from Mr Huxley: a text on 27 February Year 2 in response to a chasing text from the Complainant; a holding text on 29 February Year 2; and an email dated 2 March Year 2. It found that in none of these did Mr Huxley express any degree of recognition, acknowledgement or respond to the Complainant’s clear distress.
The Panel also reviewed the copy email from the Complainant on 3 March Year 2. It accepted the Complainant’s evidence, when questioned, that she had never had a problem with Mr Huxley receiving her emails. It also observed that the copy correspondence showed that text and email was the parties’ routine method of out of session contact. It concluded there was no evidence that Mr Huxley had replied at all to the Complainant’s email dated 3 March Year 2.
The Panel concluded that the facts alleged in allegations 3(a) and (b) were proved. It then considered if these amounted to a contravention of paragraph 47a) of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions. The Panel was satisfied that through this conduct, Mr Huxley failed to take immediate action to prevent or limit harm to the Complainant.
Allegation 3 was upheld in full.
4. The Panel accepted the Complainant’s evidence that she had never received an apology from Mr Huxley, noting that he had a number of opportunities in text and email communications and had not taken them. The Complainant explained to the Panel that when she emailed him on 3 March Year 2, she wasn’t expecting him to reply because he had failed to previously. But even up to the day of this hearing she had hoped that he might acknowledge her concerns. She said Mr Huxley’s lack of engagement with the professional conduct process ‘made it worse’.
The Panel reminded itself of and applied its findings of facts in relation to allegation 3. It considered if this amounted to a contravention of paragraph 47c) of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions. The Panel found that it was appropriate in this case for Mr Huxley to have offered the Complainant an apology and that he had not done so. Accordingly, allegation 4 was upheld in full.
In light of the above findings, the Panel found that paragraphs 13, 32d), 47a) and 47c) of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions (2016) had been breached and that these findings amounted to a contravention of the principles of Being Trustworthy, Beneficence and Non-Maleficence and showed a lack of the personal moral qualities of Care, Diligence, Respect, Sincerity and Wisdom to which all counsellors are strongly encouraged to aspire.
The Panel was unanimous that its findings amounted to serious professional malpractice, in that:
• the service for which Mr Huxley was responsible had fallen below the standards that would reasonably be expected of a practitioner exercising reasonable care and skill; and,
• Mr Huxley’s malpractice was of sufficient seriousness to merit a period of suspension of rights of membership/registration and/or the withdrawal of membership/registration of the Association.
The Panel commented that its ability to identify mitigation before considering sanction was severely affected by Mr Huxley’s absence and lack of engagement with the professional conduct procedure. It was unable to identify mitigating circumstances from the complaint papers. It did, however, note that Mr Huxley was a BACP member at the time of the complaint, and he had a responsibility to cooperate with the BACP professional conduct procedure. Accordingly, the Panel considered his lack of cooperation and engagement an aggravating factor.
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.
In considering the sanction the Panel took in to full account the context in which this complaint was set. As such, the Panel was convinced that in seeking counselling from Mr Huxley the Complainant had made explicit her reasons for so doing, and that he had been made fully aware of the depth of her anxiety and concern and the importance for her of a constant and reliable counsellor with a good memory. The Panel’s findings affirmed that the Complainant was let down from the very first session and on further occasions as the counselling continued. The Complainant suffered significant distress as a result, which was further exacerbated by Mr Huxley’s absence on the day of the Hearing and by his complete lack of engagement in the complaints process.
The Panel, having heard the Complainant’s consistent, cogent and compelling testimony in relation to her written submissions, considered the gravity of Mr Huxley’s behaviour and the impact of this on the Complainant to be so serious that, if Mr Huxley were still a member of BACP, then it would have unanimously agreed to withdraw his membership.
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