The complaint against the above individual member was taken to Adjudication in line with the Professional Conduct Procedure.
The complaint was heard under the BACP Professional Conduct Procedure and the Panel considered the alleged breaches of the BACP Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy.
The focus of the complaint, as summarised by the Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel, is that the Complainant joined Karen Grant's College, KGA, in September 2011. She successfully completed levels two and three of the Counselling and Psychotherapy Central Awarding Body (CPCAB). In September 2012, she enrolled on Level Four (the first year of the Diploma Course). The course collapsed in July 2013, due to Ms Grant's health issues.
The course consisted of a weekend a month held at Ms Grant's house. Whilst Ms Grant was the course leader, there was a second tutor who taught on Sunday afternoons, plus associates who taught various different theories.
In January 2013, Ms Grant emailed her students to tell them that she was having financial difficulties. She explained that this was due to her having broken her foot the previous year, which led to a loss of financial resources and because of non-payment of student fees. The Complainant alleged that having discussed the matter with her fellow students, she realised that half of them had fully paid their fees and the remaining students were making monthly payments towards their fees. Ms Grant stated that because of these financial difficulties, she would no longer be able to employ other tutors. The Complainant stated that by March 2013, there were new tutors on the course.
The Complainant alleged that during the training weekend in February 2013, Ms Grant allegedly appeared agitated, complaining that the students were too demanding of her. In May 2013, Ms Grant disclosed to the group that she had been suicidal and was suffering from PTSD. At the June weekend, the Complainant alleged that Ms Grant wrongly praised a student for her counselling skills.
On the evening before the July weekend, the Complainant received a phone-call from a colleague, warning her that Ms Grant had been behaving erratically, in that she had allegedly thrown some students off a course and had been found on the floor in tears.
When the Complainant and some of her colleagues saw Ms Grant the next day, they realised that Ms Grant was ill, and suggested that she cancel the weekend course. The Complainant allegedly told her she needed support but Ms Grant responded that she was being supported by her supervisor and that was enough. Between them, the group members contacted [ . . . ] and a person whom they refer to as [ . . . ]. The Complainant stated that both [ . . . ] and [ . . . ] agreed that Ms Grant was not fit to practise and [ . . . ] allegedly talked about the unacceptable level of Ms Grant's drinking.
The Complainant alleged that on the course weekends, she witnessed Ms Grant sharing confidential information with a trainee who had also been her client in counselling, and that Ms Grant shared other confidential information inappropriately. As an example, Ms Grant allegedly recruited a student to help with marketing which caused a distance between this student and her peers. The same student was allegedly called on to support [ . . . ] and also witnessed the suicide attempt.
KGA went into liquidation, but arrangements were made for the students to transfer to another course, if they wished, for their second year. Ms Grant insisted that in order to pass their first year and thus be able to enter the second year with the different providers, the students would have to pay the full fee despite having missed the last two weekends of the course. Ms Grant also told the students in an email dated 27 August 2014, that their reaction to her disclosure that she was struggling had made things worse for her.
The Complainant has raised complaints with both Ms Grant and with CPCAB.
In accepting this complaint, the Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel was concerned with the following areas, and in particular these are:
1. Ms Grant allegedly failed to provide the Complainant with a good quality of care and competently delivered services which met her needs, in that Ms Grant disclosed details of her personal problems with the student group, of which the Complainant was a member.
2. Ms Grant allegedly failed to provide the Complainant with a good quality of care and competently delivered services that met her needs, in that she recruited a member of the student group to do her marketing, which was to the Complainant's detriment.
3. Ms Grant allegedly failed to provide the Complainant with a good quality of care and competently delivered services which met her needs, in that when the Complainant was left feeling frustrated and embarrassed following a group exercise, Ms Grant failed to recognise this, and therefore deal with it appropriately.
4. Ms Grant allegedly failed to provide the Complainant with a good quality of care and competently delivered services which met her needs, in that one evening Ms Grant attended the course when she was unfit to do so, resulting in the Complainant and other students having to intervene to assist Ms Grant.
5. Ms Grant allegedly failed to respond constructively to feedback received from the Complainant and her fellow students, in that in response to the feedback given by the students, including the Complainant, Ms Grant stated that the feedback made things worse for her.
6. Ms Grant allegedly failed to be attentive to the quality of listening and respect offered to the Complainant, in that she failed to respond adequately to the Complainant's query regarding the overpayment she had made to Ms Grant in respect of her course fees.
7. Ms Grant allegedly failed to ensure that all training in counselling and psychotherapy modelled standards and practice consistent with that expected of practitioners, in that Ms Grant continued to practise when she was unfit to do so.
8. Ms Grant allegedly failed in her responsibility to protect the standards of the profession, in that she cancelled two weekends of training without putting any alternative arrangements in place for the students.
9. Ms Grant allegedly failed in her responsibility to protect the standards of the profession in that it was necessary for students, including the Complainant, to take action to assist Ms Grant when she attended the course whilst she was unfit to do so.
10. Ms Grant allegedly failed in her responsibility to protect the standards of the profession, in that Ms Grant demanded full fees from her students, including the Complainant, to mark their course work, when KGA had gone or was going into administration.
11. Ms Grant allegedly failed to ensure that she monitored and maintained her fitness to practise at a level which enabled her to provide an effective service, in that after she had allegedly attempted to commit suicide, Ms Grant did not withdraw from practice and cancel her teaching engagements until her fitness to practise returned.
12. Ms Grant allegedly failed to ensure that she maintained her fitness to practise at an appropriate level, in that she interpreted the feedback that had been given by the students to be demanding and in receiving such feedback, did not seek appropriate support.
13. Ms Grant allegedly failed to ensure that she had suitable arrangements in place for the Complainant and the students who were adversely affected by her failure to monitor and maintain her fitness to practise.
14. Ms Grant allegedly failed to respond promptly and appropriately to the Complainant's complaint regarding the overpayment of her fees.
15. Ms Grant allegedly failed to be honest and straightforward and accountable in all financial matters concerning the Complainant, in that Ms Grant requested full payment of the student fees when she had cancelled the last two weekends of the course.
16. Ms Grant allegedly failed to be honest, straightforward and accountable to the Complainant in relation to financial matters, in that she failed to notice that the Complainant had overpaid her student fees and issue a refund in respect of this overpayment.
17. Ms Grant allegedly failed to ensure that her work did not become detrimental to her health and well-being by ensuring that the way in which she undertook her work was as safe as possible and that she sought appropriate professional support, in that she continued to teach whilst she was unfit to do so.
18. Ms Grant's alleged behaviour, as experienced by the Complainant and as identified in the numbered paragraphs referred to above, suggests a contravention in particular of paragraphs 1, 8, 11, 29, 30, 40, 41, 62 & 64 and the ethical principles of Being trustworthy, Non Maleficence and Beneficence & Self Respect of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy 2013 and showed a lack of the personal moral qualities of Integrity, Resilience and Wisdom, Competence, Empathy, Sincerity, Respect & Humility to which counsellors are strongly encouraged to aspire.
The Member Complained Against notified BACP that she would not be attending the scheduled hearing. The matter was therefore referred under paragraph 4.9 of the Professional Conduct Procedure, which states:
Where a Complainant or Member Complained Against fails or refuses to attend a Professional Conduct Hearing, the Registrar has the power to decide to either:
a) Proceed with the Hearing in the absence of one or both of the parties; or
b) Adjourn the Hearing to a date not less than 28 days in advance; or
c) Terminate the proceedings; or
d) Refer the matter for consideration under Article 12.6 of the Memorandum & Articles of Association.
The options were carefully considered, and in light of the circumstances, a decision was made to proceed with the hearing in the absence of the Member Complained Against.
On balance, having fully considered the above, the Panel made the following findings:
1. The Panel found that Ms Grant had, orally and by email, disclosed details of personal problems to the student group of which the Complainant was a member over the period of the course and this amounted to failing to provide the Complainant with a good quality of care and competently delivered services which met her needs. The information shared related to Ms Grant's and her company's financial difficulties and related to Ms Grant's serious health problems including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In her written evidence, Ms Grant confirmed that she had disclosed some details of her personal problems and stated that this was in the spirit of openness and honesty. In an email to members of the student group, Ms Grant wrote that "I was completely honest with you that I was struggling". Whilst the Panel accepted that trainers draw on personal experiences, the Panel explored with the Complainant at some length if in fact the disclosures had been appropriate. The Complainant said that she had no sense at the time or subsequently that the sharing was designed to contribute to the learning experience. In her oral evidence the Complainant stated that she had variously been left shocked and worried by the information. The Panel considered that some emails from Ms Grant, by their tone and content, demonstrated that personal information Ms Grant had shared was not for the benefit of the Complainant and other students and the emails were inappropriate and unprofessional. For the reasons given above this allegation is upheld.
2. It was undisputed that a member of the student group to which the Complainant belonged (X) had been employed or remunerated by Ms Grant to assist with the
marketing of KGA courses, such as improving the website, and that this was common knowledge. The Complainant stated that this had been detrimental to her because the relationship between her and X had been adversely affected. The Panel did not accept that the evidence, written and oral, showed that the arrangements between Ms Grant and X caused a detriment to the Complainant or affected the climate of the learning experience. Accordingly this allegation is not upheld.
3. In oral evidence the Complainant confirmed that the exercise in question was a "goldfish bowl" exercise which took place in June 2013. In that exercise, the Complainant had played the role of the client and another group member (X1) had role played the counsellor. The Panel considered in detail the group exercise as experienced by the Complainant. The Complainant clarified that she had not objected to Ms Grant's spontaneous interruption but did object to Ms Grant's analysis of the role play which she considered poor and inaccurate and left her feeling unheard. It could not be clearly established whether Ms Grant had acknowledged the Complainant's embarrassment and frustration. Firstly, at the point when the Complainant had, in her own words had to stop Ms Grant and "put her straight" rather bluntly, Ms Grant had only given feedback to the "counsellor" at that stage. Secondly, none of the written submissions from the other group members referred to the session and so did not corroborate the Complainant's version. Moreover, in oral evidence the Complainant stated that she could not remember what feedback (X1) got from the others. Finally, the Complainant maintained that Ms Grant's written evidence in response apparently to this point related to a different incident. The Panel found that the evidence was inconclusive and accordingly this allegation is not upheld.
4. The Panel established through oral questioning of the Complainant that this allegation related to the early evening training session on Saturday, 9 February 2013, when the Complainant had alleged that Ms Grant was unfit to practise due to drink. The Panel explored in detail with the Complainant the final session of the evening in question. The Complainant reported that she and some other group members wished to finish early but that Ms Grant insisted on their completing the final exercise. The Complainant described Ms Grant as becoming aggressive towards her and another student. The Complainant accepted under questioning that she was at some distance from Ms Grant and neither saw nor smelt any physical symptoms which would support her suspicion of alcohol abuse. The Complainant said she had not recorded her concern in her journal because Ms Grant might see it. The Panel concluded that the evidence was insufficient to support a finding and this allegation is not upheld.
5. This allegation related to feedback and had been raised having regard to paragraph 8 of the Ethical Framework. However, the Panel concluded that paragraph 8 did not apply to this scenario as it was restricted to "feedback from colleagues, appraisals and assessments". The Complainant was not a colleague, nor did the matters relate to appraisal or assessments. Accordingly the allegation is not upheld.
6. The Panel carefully considered the email trail in relation to an overpayment of fees by the Complainant. It noted a query about fees had been raised initially by KGA's bookkeeper on 11 March 2013 to which the Complainant responded the same day pointing out an overpayment of £200. The bookkeeper replied promptly the following day saying that she would look into it. No action appeared to have been taken and so the Complainant chased matters on 6 June and sent an email to Ms Grant on 12 June repeating the details, which Ms Grant then acknowledged on 17 June. The Complainant emailed again on 5 July, to which Ms Grant promptly replied stating she had not yet had chance to check the figures. The issue had also been raised in person at a tutorial with Ms Grant in May. The matter remained unresolved. The Panel noted that in her written submission Ms Grant stated that the overpayment had been "rectified in a short time" but the evidence did not support either that it had been rectified or that it had been dealt with in a short time. The Panel found that Ms Grant had taken a casual and unprofessional approach and had failed to deal adequately with the matter. Accordingly this allegation is upheld.
7. The Complainant presented written and oral evidence that on a number of occasions in 2013, Ms Grant appeared to show signs that she was not well and her fitness to practise was impaired. Ms Grant denied that she had practised whilst unfit, however did not deny that she had heath issues. In addition to her own statements, the Complainant had submitted written statements from other members of the student group. Although those statements did not always specify dates or always identify clearly a particular training session, the Panel was satisfied that the weight of evidence served to corroborate that there were grounds for concern. Matters culminated on the morning of 13 July 2013, when Ms Grant was too ill to run the training weekend and had to be assisted by students who had attended. After that date the course in effect collapsed. The Panel was satisfied from the Complainant's oral evidence and from Ms Grant's reference to her training plan for the July weekend that Ms Grant intended to teach that weekend despite not being fit to do so. The Panel upheld the allegation that Ms Grant had failed to ensure that all training modelled standards and practice consistent with that expected of practitioners.
8. The Panel found that the final two weekends of the course had not been cancelled by Ms Grant. The Panel noted that the July weekend had not run due to her illness and the Complainant and others withdrew because of concerns about her fitness to practise and the August weekend had not run because of the company going into liquidation. The Panel therefore found that on a literal reading of the allegation it could not be upheld.
9. The Panel found that Ms Grant had failed in her responsibility to protect the standards of the profession because there was conclusive evidence that on the morning of 13 July 2013, it was necessary for her students, including the Complainant, to take action to assist Ms Grant when she was unfit to run the training course. This assistance included but was not confined to helping Ms Grant lie down, offering her nourishment, calling in a family member and an associate tutor. The evidence on this point included Ms Grant's email of the same date in which she apologised for the morning's events and referred to her ill health; an exchange of emails between Ms Grant and another student dated 14 July 2013, and the oral and written evidence of the Complainant in which she detailed the events and which were corroborated by statements from other students. Accordingly this allegation is upheld.
10. The allegation relates to emails from Ms Grant dated 6 and 15 August 2013, in which the Complainant alleges that Ms Grant demanded full fees from the students, including the Complainant, to mark their course work when KGA had gone or was going into liquidation and as such Ms Grant failed to protect the standards of the profession. The Panel noted and the Complainant confirmed in her oral evidence that she had paid her fees in full and therefore the demand, if it could be construed as such, did not relate to the Complainant personally. She had received the emails because they had been sent to all the students because they addressed a number of administrative matters. The Panel therefore found this allegation is not upheld.
11. The Panel found that Ms Grant had failed to ensure that she maintained her fitness to practise at a level which enabled her to provide an effective service because she had attempted to commit suicide and did not withdraw from practice and cease teaching until she was fit to do so. The Panel was not able to fix with certainty the date of the attempt but was satisfied on the evidence that it was at some point during the course attended by the Complainant in 2013. The Panel paid careful regard to Ms Grant's written submission that she was "stunned by the allegation" and that she "could not understand how someone would suggest that I would try to commit suicide and teach at the same time", however in the Panel's view this did not amount to a clear denial. For her part the Complainant stated that she believed Ms Grant had attempted to commit suicide in February 2013, and Ms Grant disclosed this to the student group in May. The Panel considered the written evidence of four other students, three of whom said they had witnessed Ms Grant saying she had attempted suicide. The remaining student, referred to as (X) had written that she had been called to Ms Grant's home by a family member shortly after the attempt and had witnessed the aftermath. There was also evidence in relation to a psychiatric nurse attending at Ms Grant's home in February, although the reason for the visit was not stated. On balance, the Panel found that the evidence supported the allegation and therefore this allegation is upheld.
12. The Panel considered there were two aspects to this allegation in that Ms Grant had interpreted student feedback to be demanding and despite it being demanding did not seek appropriate support and therefore failed to ensure that she maintained her fitness to practise at an appropriate level. In her oral evidence, the Complainant accepted that Ms Grant had responded appropriately to her request for a sofa and had addressed her concerns about the state of the garden (which was used by the student group). The Panel, not being able to question Ms Grant, could not determine whether she had sought support in respect of student demands. The Panel did, however, note that Ms Grant had a supervisor in 2013, and was also seeing a counsellor as evidenced by supporting statements both had sent in. The Panel found that the evidence was not conclusive and this allegation is not upheld.
13. As recorded above, the Panel found that Ms Grant had failed to monitor and maintain her fitness to practise and for the reasons recorded here the Panel found that Ms Grant had failed to ensure she had suitable arrangements in place for the Complainant and other students to mitigate adverse effects. The Panel considered it not simply good practice but essential that a practitioner have contingency arrangements for all aspects of practice and administration in the event of illness, accidents, emergencies and absences. According to Ms Grant's written submission her only contingency was to be able to call upon another tutor (no name or details of the tutor were given). In the event, Ms Grant was unable to call upon that tutor because they had had a family bereavement (date unspecified). There was no evidence from Ms Grant of any risk assessment or practical plans. This was despite a number of troubling issues running in parallel to her practice including her physical and mental health issues, the strain of the death of a student during the course, and financial problems. In July 2013, Ms Grant was undisputedly unable to teach. She emailed at the time: "This has all got too personal and not professional enough and is effecting (sic) the teaching...". She had continued to the point where she had a breakdown and it was too late to make alternative arrangements for the July training weekend. Accordingly this allegation is upheld.
14. Although the Panel found above (at 6) that Ms Grant had dealt inadequately with the issue of overpayment of fees, it found that the Complainant had not made a complaint as such about the fees, this was confirmed by the Complainant in oral evidence, and accordingly it could not be said that Ms Grant had failed to respond appropriately to a complaint. Therefore this allegation is not upheld.
15. The Panel found, firstly, that the Complainant had paid her fees in advance and so was not the subject of any demand for payment in July 2013, or subsequently and secondly, that Ms Grant had not in fact cancelled the final two weekends of the course (although the weekend training did not take place in July or August). This allegation is not upheld.
16. Although the Panel found above (at 6) that Ms Grant had dealt inadequately with the issue of overpayment of fees, the Panel did not consider her actions in this respect amounted to failure to be honest, straightforward and accountable to the Complainant. Therefore this allegation is not upheld.
17. The Panel noted that Ms Grant was counselling, training, running a business and employing staff all of which is demanding and imposes a responsibility on her for her clients, students, staff and associates. Ms Grant also had health issues. In emails there was reference to her acknowledging that she found it difficult to cope. The Panel noted that in her written submission Ms Grant said that she had measures such as yoga, CPCAB monitoring, a suggestion box for students and there was clear evidence by way of supporting statements that she had a clinical supervisor and a personal counsellor. Nevertheless the Panel found that Ms Grant had limited awareness of her impact on the Complainant and in addition her responses reflected a low level of accountability. This, together with the findings above, indicated to the Panel that Ms Grant had failed to reflect adequately on her situation and consider if her support system was effective. The Panel found that Ms Grant had failed to ensure that her work was not detrimental to her health and well-being. Accordingly this allegation is upheld.
18. In light of the above findings, the Panel was satisfied that paragraphs 1, 11, 29, 30, 40 and 64 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2013 edition) and the Ethical Principles of Being Trustworthy, Non-Maleficence, Beneficence and Self Respect had been breached. The Panel also found that Ms Grant demonstrated a lack of the personal moral qualities of Resilience, Wisdom, Competence, Sincerity and Humility to which all counsellors are strongly encouraged to aspire.
The Panel was satisfied that paragraphs 8, 41 and 62 of the Ethical Framework had not been breached. Nor did it find a lack of the personal moral
qualities of Integrity, Empathy or Respect.
Accordingly, the Panel was unanimous in its decision that these findings amounted to Professional Malpractice on the grounds of incompetence and the provision of inadequate professional services, in that the service for which Ms Grant was responsible fell below the standards that would reasonably be expected of a practitioner exercising reasonable care and skill.
Ms Grant had offered no mitigation in her written responses and had not attended to offer mitigation in person.
The Panel was informed that Ms Grant's membership had been withdrawn under a separate disciplinary matter. Had Ms Grant's membership not been previously withdrawn, the Panel having considered the most appropriate sanction to be imposed, agreed that the following sanction would have been as follows:
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.
Within one month from the date of imposition of this sanction, which will run from the expiration of the Appeal deadline, Ms Grant is required to provide a written submission, which evidences her immediate reflection on, learning from and understanding of, the issues raised in this complaint.
In addition, in not less than 6 months and no more than 18 months from the date of imposition of this sanction, Ms Grant is required to provide an in-depth case study which evidences the following:
1. Managing her professional responsibility to monitor and maintain her fitness, particular reference should be made to the circumstances relating to the issues arising in this complaint and,
2. Managing and running a counselling business effectively, including effective contingency planning.
3. Ms Grant should present evidence that the issues detailed in paragraphs 1 and 2 above have been discussed in supervision and the reports should be counter-signed by her supervisor.
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