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 four sessions of therapy from Ms Tamsett beginning on 1 May Year 1 and ending on 7 June Year 1.
During the third session, Ms Tamsett reportedly told the Complainant that she would prepare some exercises for their next session. The Complainant said that these exercises did not appear, and that this session was “worthless”.
The Complainant stated that a fifth session, arranged for 18 June Year 1 never took place. He said he received an e-mail and a text from Ms Tamsett on 17 June Year 1, cancelling the session and all further sessions due to “unforeseen circumstances”. He has since sent two e-mails and a text but has had no response from Ms Tamsett. He complained that this was not an acceptable way to end sessions.
In accepting the complaint, the Panel put forward the following allegations of breaches of the principles of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2016 (EFCP):
- On 17 June Year 1, Ms Tamsett sent an email to the Complainant terminating their therapeutic relationship without notice, explanation or warning and without referring to other services, thereby failing to be competent to deliver the services being offered to at least fundamental professional standards or better in contravention of paragraph 13 of the EFCP.
- On a day or days between 25-30 June Year 1, Ms Tamsett, knowing that something important had gone wrong in her work with the Complainant, did not reply to the Complainant’s email sent on Monday 25 June Year 1, thereby failing to ensure candour by repairing any harm caused, so far as possible, in contravention of paragraph 47 b) of the EFCP.
In addition to paragraphs 13 and 47 b) of the EFCP, Ms Tamsett’s alleged behaviour, as experienced by the Complainant and described in the numbered allegations above, also suggests a contravention of the principles of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions (2016) of Being Trustworthy and Beneficence and showed a lack of the personal moral qualities of Care, Diligence, and Wisdom to which members and registrants are strongly encouraged to aspire.
Limited availability of Complainant
The Complainant emailed BACP at 08.48 on the day of the hearing, 6 February Year 1, stating that he would only be available to participate in the hearing that day until 11.30.
The Panel carefully considered the potential impact that this could have on the fairness of the hearing for each of the parties and discussed options to minimize the effect of this time constraint. Given that the limitation was at the Complainant’s request and at short notice, the Panel agreed that it should have particular regard to ensuring fairness to Ms Tamsett. In particular, it should minimize the impact of the Complainant’s limited availability on Ms Tamsett’s opportunity to challenge the allegations against her and properly present her defense.
The Panel took advice from the Clerk, who explained that the Chair has a discretion to vary the normal procedure for the hearing in the interests of justice. Exercising that discretion, and in consultation with the Panel members, the Chair decided that the hearing would follow the procedure set out at paragraph 3 of the BACP protocol Format of the Professional Conduct Hearing until the end of the parties’ short verbal summaries, after which it would follow the following procedure:
- The Member will have up to 60 minutes to put questions through the Chair to the Complainant. The Chair has the discretion to extend the period of questioning, should it be necessary.
- The Panel will put questions to and seek clarification from the Complainant.
- The Complainant will have up to 60 minutes to put questions through the Chair to the Member. The Chair has the discretion to extend the period of questioning, should it be necessary.
- The Panel will put questions to and seek clarification from the Member.
- The Chair will offer the Complainant up to 10 minutes to summarize his complaint.
- The Chair will offer the Member up to 10 minutes to summarize her position.
- The parties will be released to allow the Panel to deliberate. The decision will be sent to both parties within 28 days of today’s hearing.
The Clerk informed both parties of the Chair’s decision before the hearing was opened and, in particular, ensured the Complainant was aware that by choosing to limit his involvement in the hearing, he may deny himself:
- the opportunity to put questions to the Member.
- the opportunity to be present when the Panel puts questions to the Member.
- the opportunity of up to 10 minutes to summarize his complaint after the conclusion of the Panel’s questions.
The Complainant confirmed his limited availability in full knowledge of the impact it may have on his ability to present his complaint. Neither party raised any objections to the amended procedure set out above.
Continuing hearing in absence of Complainant
The Complainant withdrew from the hearing at 11.34 and was unavailable thereafter. Article 4.9 of the BACP Professional Conduct Procedure 2010 (as amended) provides for circumstances where a Complainant fails or refuses to attend a Professional Conduct Hearing. It empowers the Registrar to decide to either:
- a) proceed with the Hearing in the absence of one or both 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.
Having given due consideration to all the circumstances of the case, the Registrar decided that the hearing should continue in the absence of the Complainant.
The Panel took advice from the Clerk regarding proceeding in the absence of the Complainant. The Clerk reminded the Panel that the fact the Complainant was not present did not affect their task, which is set out in the Professional Conduct Procedure 2010 (as amended) at paragraph 4.4:
‘to examine all the written and oral evidence presented by both parties and decide whether the complaint is proved or not. If proved, the Panel will decide whether or not any sanction should be imposed.’
The Panel was advised that it should not draw any conclusions from the Complainant’s early departure: It was not for the Panel to speculate as to why the Complainant was not able to remain; his absence was not evidence against him and so must not affect their judgement. However, because the Complainant is not present or represented, the only evidence the Panel would have from him would be his written submissions and opening statement. The Complainant would not have the opportunity to ask Ms Tamsett questions and Ms Tamsett and the Panel would not be able to question the Complainant.
On balance, having fully considered the above, the Panel made the following findings:
- Ms Tamsett gave oral testimony in response to the Panel’s questions. She admitted that at their fourth therapy session together, she booked the Complainant to see her on 18 June Year 1. She explained that she did this because she was frightened and did not want to antagonise the Complainant by terminating the relationship there and then. She said she was very conscious she was seeing him in her own home and that there was nobody else in the house. The Panel asked Ms Tamsett why she felt unsafe with the Complainant. She explained that from near the beginning of the session, she perceived a change in the Complainant’s body language and tone of voice: His body language was aggressive; he was very agitated and visibly flushed. She said it was a ‘gut feeling’ and she ‘just wanted him out of the house.’
Ms Tamsett also said she wanted to speak to her Supervisor but accepted she had decided not to see the Complainant again before the end of their fourth session.
Ms Tamsett confirmed that she emailed the Complainant on 17 June Year 1, the day before the scheduled session and cancelled that and all future sessions without warning or notice. When questioned, she accepted that this did not meet the professional standards required by the BACP Ethical Framework and that ‘unforeseen circumstances’ was not a clear or adequate explanation. Ms Tamsett described to the Panel the way she would usually end a therapeutic relationship. She said she accepted what she had done but felt that on that occasion she was entitled to do so for her own safety. She said she would do the same in the session if a similar situation happened again but would deal with the client differently afterwards, providing a proper explanation and referring them to appropriate alternative professionals.
The Panel concluded that Ms Tamsett was genuinely frightened during the fourth session with the Complainant (although it had no evidence to enable it to determine whether her apprehension was in fact justified, and made no finding to that effect). However, it did not consider this excused her cancelling the therapeutic relationship abruptly the day before their next scheduled session and without adequate explanation. They found the facts alleged in allegation 1 were proven by Ms Tamsett’s admissions and the Complainant’s written evidence. They also found that this conduct by Ms Tamsett amounted to a breach of paragraph 13 of the EFCP and noted that she had admitted that it fell below fundamental professional standards.
Accordingly, the Panel upheld Allegation 1 in full.
- Again, in her oral testimony when questioned by the Panel, Ms Tamsett admitted that she did not reply to the Complainant’s emails after she had ended the relationship. Ms Tamsett explained that she sought advice from her Supervisor, who recommended that she not reply to the Complainant. She recognised that in one email the Complainant was asking for referral to another professional and that failing to respond to that request, in particular, was wrong. Ms Tamsett said she would act differently now. When questioned, Ms Tamsett accepted by not giving the Complainant an adequate explanation of why she abruptly ended the relationship, she failed to exercise candour and did not openly inform him of what had gone wrong. She also accepted that by not responding to the Complainant’s emails, she failed to repair any harm caused by this lack of candour. She again said she would act differently as a result of her learning and reflection from this case; she would respond to emails such as those the Complainant sent, provide a clear explanation and refer the client to another professional.
The Panel found that the facts of allegation 2 were proved by Ms Tamsett’s admissions and the Complainant’s written evidence. It also found that Ms Tamsett was not frank and open with the Complainant about a significant and important matter that had gone wrong in their work together in her email of 17 June Year 1; and by not responding to the Complainant’s subsequent emails, she failed to take the opportunity to reduce the detrimental impact of the ending on him, in breach of paragraph 47(b) of the EFCP.
The Panel, therefore, upheld Allegation 2 in full.
In light of the above findings, the Panel was satisfied that paragraphs 13 and 47(b) of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2016 and the ethical principles of Being Trustworthy and Beneficence had been breached. It also found that Ms Tamsett had demonstrated a lack of the personal moral qualities of Care, Diligence, and Wisdom to which members are strongly encouraged to aspire.
The Panel was unanimous in its decision that these findings amounted to professional malpractice, in that the service for which Ms Tamsett was responsible had fallen below the standards that would reasonably be expected of a practitioner exercising reasonable care and skill.
The Panel accepted that Ms Tamsett was genuinely afraid for her safety in her final session with the Complainant. It recognised that she had fully admitted the facts alleged and had engaged with BACP throughout the professional conduct procedure. It took into account the reflective statements Ms Tamsett had provided and the statements of her representative in closing. It found that, after post-event reflection, Ms Tamsett had recognised the impact of her conduct on the Complainant and had made changes to her practice, including her contract. Finally, the Panel credited Ms Tamsett for demonstrating she recognised that her conduct amounted a unprofessional conduct and that she was open to learning in order to improve her future practice.
The Panel noted her representative’s submission that Ms Tamsett has shown reflection, learning and remediation such that there is no risk of a repetition of similar misconduct and therefore that no sanction is necessary for public protection or in the public interest.
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.
Having done so, the Panel decided that, no later than 3 months from the date of imposition of this sanction, which would have run from the expiration of the appeal deadline, Ms Tamsett must:
- Submit a detailed written reflective statement evidencing:
- her awareness of the impact of unplanned endings on clients; and,
- her learning in relation to dealing with agitated and/or aggressive clients, including the resilience needed by the therapist and the impact of the therapist’s own fear on their ability to work with clients.
- Discuss this statement in supervision and obtain her supervisor’s signature confirming it having been discussed and as a true record of the discussion.
These written submissions must be sent to the Registrar by the given deadlines and will be independently considered by a Sanction Panel.