Information was disclosed to BACP, which was considered under Article 12.6 of the Articles of Association.
The summary of the information, together with the allegations as notified to Jenny Heron were as follows:
The Member informed BACP that on 14 November Year 1 after a difficult session, [ . . . ].
The Member stated that the Complainant had first contacted her on the 3 May Year 1, where she mentioned that she had suffered from [ . . . ]. She also advised the Member that she had left a previous therapist [ . . . ].
Counselling sessions began as a 6-week trial period consisting of weekly sessions of 1.5 hours each. These then progressed to being two sessions per week.
1. From the text communications provided, dated between [ . . . ], it is alleged that the Member engaged in touching and hugging the Complainant, despite the Complainant questioning the appropriateness.
2. From the text communications it is also alleged that the exchange of messages was inappropriate and crossed the boundaries expected in a therapeutic relationship.
3. The Member stated that on or around 14 November Year 1 the Complainant eventually informed her that [ . . . ]. During this time there was an exchange of texts [ . . . ].
4. During the last scheduled appointment on 14 November Year 1 the Member reiterated to the Complainant what was agreed in the texts. The Complainant, however, refused to go ahead with what was agreed, but the Member took it that [ . . . ].
5. Later the same day the Complainant telephoned to say [ . . .] and that she wanted to repeat what had happened during the last scheduled appointment. The Member agreed to a further appointment that day for an hour. [ . . . ].
6a. On 20 November Year 1, the Member was contacted by [ . . . ] who informed her that the Complainant had made a complaint about the Member and that she should not contact the Complainant and should contact BACP instead.
6b. On 17 January Year 2, the Member was then invited to [ . . . ]. At this interview the Member was asked to provide email and text exchanges between her and the Complainant.
6c. On 29 January Year 2, the Complainant was informed that the incident is currently being [ . . . ].
6d. On 23rd March Year 2, [ . . . ] informed BACP that [ . . . ].
Article 12.6 Panel Decision dated 30 June Year 2
The Panel was provided with the following written materials:
• The initial self-disclosure information submitted by the Member.
• A statement provided by the Complainant
• The formal response submitted by the Member.
• Additional information provided by the Member comprising of emails and texts between the Member and the Complainant, CV, and bibliography.
The Article 12.6 Panel (‘the Panel’) carefully considered all the evidence submitted by the parties. In relation to the factual allegations above, the Panel found as follows:
The Panel noted that the Member admitted hugging and touching the Complainant and accepted that this was an error of judgement. Although it appeared that the physical contact had first been proposed by the Complainant, the Panel’s view was that it was the responsibility of the Member to ensure that contact with a vulnerable client remained professional and appropriate. The level of physical contact and in particular allowing the Complainant to touch [ . . . ] was inappropriate and unprofessional.
The Panel noted the very high number of text messages between the parties and found that this crossed the boundaries of what was accepted in a therapeutic relationship. The Panel took into account the personal nature of the text messages, the timing and frequency of the messages (often late at night), the use of emojis and kisses and the apparent continuation of the therapy outside a therapeutic setting. The Panel found that the Member had encouraged the text conversations and that this constituted a fundamental breach of her professional responsibility.
The Panel noted that the Member accepted the facts of this allegation. The Panel considered the Member’s conduct to be ethically inappropriate and unprofessional. The Panel found that the Member demonstrated a lack of understanding of the Complainant’s needs.
The Panel found that the Member failed to properly address the issue of consent and failed to consider the impact of her behaviour on a vulnerable client.
The Panel noted that there were some discrepancies in the facts provided by the parties in relation to this event. However, on the agreed facts, the Panel found that the Member’s lack of judgement and lack of experience in dealing with a client with these issues led her to allow a potentially dangerous situation to arise. The Panel found that the Member failed to respond appropriately to the Complainant’s concerns and expressed wish to go to hospital.
The Panel noted that the matters referred to in paragraphs 6 a-d above were a factual statement of the position in respect of the Police investigation. Accordingly, the Panel noted the position but did not consider it necessary to make a finding on this issue.
The Panel went on to consider the following allegations against the Member:
1. That due to the nature of the alleged conduct, as described above in paragraphs 1-6, the Member has brought, or may yet bring, not only this Association, but also the reputations of the profession into disrepute; and/or
2. The information suggests that there may have been a serious breach, or breaches, of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions.
In relation to allegation 1, the Panel found, on the balance of probabilities, that the conduct of the Member is sufficiently serious to bring the reputation of the Association and/or the Profession into disrepute. The Panel found that the Member, an experienced therapist:
• Made serious misjudgments in her handling of the Complainant’s case;
• Engaged in and encouraged persistent violation of appropriate professional boundaries;
• Failed to obtain and implement specialist professional support when it was clear that she was acting outside her area of expertise;
• Allowed her instincts to override her professional judgement; and
• Inappropriately sought consent for her actions from a vulnerable client by text outside a therapeutic setting.
In relation to allegation 2, the Panel found, on the balance of probabilities, that the Member’s conduct constituted a serious breach of the following sections of the Ethical Framework 2018:
• Para 11: We share a responsibility with all other members of our professions for the safety and wellbeing of all clients and their protection from exploitation or unsafe practice.
• Para 13: We must be competent to deliver the services being offered to at least fundamental professional standards or better.
• Para 26: We will work with our clients on the basis of their informed consent and agreement. We recognise that exceptional situations may arise where we may need to prioritise the safety of the client or others over our client’s wishes and confidentiality.
• Para 33: We will establish and maintain appropriate professional and personal boundaries in our relationships with clients by ensuring that: a. these boundaries are consistent with the aims of working together and beneficial to the client.
• Para 48: We will avoid any actions that will bring our profession into disrepute.
• Para 53: We will consider carefully in supervision how we work with clients.
• Para 72: Supervisees have a responsibility to be open and honest in supervision and to draw attention to any significant difficulties or challenges that they may be facing in their work with clients.
• Para 91: We will take responsibility for our own wellbeing as essential to sustaining good practice with our clients by: b. monitoring and maintaining our own psychological and physical health, particularly that we are sufficiently resilient and resourceful to undertake our work in ways that satisfy professional standards.
• Para 93: We will use our supervision and any other available professional resources to support and challenge how we respond to such situations. We will give careful consideration to the best approaches to ethical problem-solving.
The Panel reminded itself of its overriding objective to protect the public. It found that Ms Heron’s misconduct constituted a serious and fundamental breach of professional standards that would be regarded as reprehensible by members of the profession. The Panel noted that Ms Heron in her response had accepted her misconduct and had shown some learning, but the Panel found her insight into the seriousness of her misconduct to be insufficient. It concluded therefore that the risk of repetition remained. The Panel decided therefore, taking all the above into careful consideration during its deliberations, in the circumstances of this case it is proportionate and just and reasonable to implement Article 12.6 of the Articles of Association.
The final decision will be published in accordance with BACP’s Publication Policy.
Jenny Heron 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.
The Appeal Panel, in addition to the information considered by the Article 12.6 Panel, was provided with Ms Heron’s written Appeal against the decision to withdraw membership. All the preceding information including the oral evidence given on the day of the appeal was carefully considered by the Appeal Panel.
It was the duty of the Article 12.6 Appeal Panel to decide whether the decision of the Article 12.6 Panel to implement Article 12.6 remains just and reasonable in all the circumstances, and then to decide whether the appeal should be allowed or denied. There is a persuasive burden on the Appellant Ms Heron to convince the panel that the decision of the Panel was unjust and unreasonable.
The Appeal Panel was in no doubt that the conduct of Ms Heron, as described above in relation to allegation 1, represents a serious and fundamental breach of professional boundaries and brings the Association and the Profession into disrepute.
The Appeal Panel acknowledges that Ms Heron has reflected and developed some insight into her behaviour and has put into place some preventative steps to reduce the risk of repetition. However, the Panel was concerned that those steps were largely defensive of her own position and remains concerned with the level of insight shown by Ms Heron into the serious breach of professional boundaries. While it may be that there is a limited risk of repetition, nonetheless the Appeal Panel were not convinced that Ms Heron clearly understands the serious impact her behaviours had on the client nor why the breach of professional boundaries is so serious and why the behaviours she engaged in with the client are fundamentally wrong. The Appeal Panel remains concerned that Ms Heron, an experienced therapist, has not yet developed a true understanding of how to avoid such situations occurring from a professional point of view.
The Appeal Panel formed the view that even if the risk of repetition was low, this case raises such fundamental public interest concerns for the profession that the requirement to protect the reputation of the Association, the Association’s membership, and the collective reputation of the counselling profession outweighs Ms Heron’s interest in maintaining her ongoing membership of the Association.
The Appeal Panel was unanimous in finding that the decision of the Article 12.6 Panel in invoking Article 12.6 remains just and reasonable in all the circumstances and has denied the appeal. The Chair of BACP will formally notify the Appellant in writing of the Appeal Panel’s decision within 14 days of 4 January Year 3. This decision is final.
Any future re-application for membership will be considered under Article 12.3 of the Memorandum & Articles of the Association.
The decision is published in accordance with BACP’s Publication Policy.
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