The complaint against the above individual member/registrant 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, was that:
Complainant A and Complainant B stated they had one session with Dr Babak on 09 February year 1. They wished for advice in dealing with their adopted son’s mental health problems and how best to support him, and stated they chose Dr Babak as someone who shared their own language and nationality.
Complainant A and Complainant B stated that in the session, having heard about the son’s mental health problems, Dr Babak said that people like their son are extremely dangerous, and would be better off dead, which would also be better for the people around them. Complainant A and Complainant B stated Dr Babak said that their son would commit a big crime like murder or rape and that is why he would be better off dead. Complainant A and Complainant B stated that Dr Babak told them not to worry if their son stayed in his room for days as people like that are not normal and don’t feel hunger. Complainant A stated she became visibly upset and told Dr Babak that she was wrong. Complainant A and Complainant B stated that during the session Dr Babak suggested moving away from talking about their son’s problems and let her work on their marriage and their [ . . . ], suggesting that the couple might attend her couple therapy sessions.
Complainant A and Complainant B stated they were shocked and humiliated by what they heard. They complained that Dr Babak’s views were prejudiced and unfair. They stated they now felt more despairing and hopeless than before the session, and Complainant A has stated she becomes panicked when around her son. Whilst they did not complain within the session, Complainant A and Complainant B wrote a letter of complaint to Dr Babak but have stated she failed to respond to their complaint.
The Panel, in accepting this complaint, was concerned that the allegations made within the complaint suggested contravention of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy. In particular these are as follows:
- It is alleged that Dr Babak failed to provide a good quality of care and competently delivered services which met her clients’ needs in that, during a counselling session, instead of focussing on offering advice on how to deal with her clients’ son’s mental health issues, she made sweeping statements about her clients’ son, which were negative and unhelpful and which were based on personal views and judgements.
- It is alleged that Dr Babak failed to honour her clients’ trust in that she made comments about their son and his mental health condition which were not respectful; in particular she stated that people with her clients’ son’s condition were better off dead, and that their son was likely to commit a serious offence in the future.
- It is alleged that Dr Babak failed to honour her clients’ trust and be attentive to the quality of listening and respect in that when Complainant A became visibly upset and tearful and told Dr Babak that she was wrong about their son Dr Babak failed to acknowledge this and insisted on continuing with her negative words.
- It is alleged that Dr Babak failed to honour her clients’ trust and be attentive to the quality of listening and respect for her clients in that she dismissed the issues about her clients’ son, for which they had specifically sought counselling, and suggested that she work on her clients’ marriage problems instead.
- It is alleged that Dr Babak allowed her professional relationship with her clients to be prejudiced by her own personal views about her clients’ son’s disability in that she made uncorroborated and general comments about the particular mental illness, which her clients’ son suffered from and in doing so failed to offer any constructive advice to her clients.
- It is alleged that Dr Babak failed to respond at all to the complaint letter sent by the complainants and failed to endeavour to remedy any harm she may have caused to the complainants.
- Dr Babak’s alleged behaviour, as experienced by the complainants and as identified in the numbered paragraphs referred to above, suggests a contravention in particular of paragraphs 1, 11, 18, 41 and 42 and the Ethical Principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy, Beneficence and Non-Maleficence of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy (2013), and showed a lack of the personal moral qualities of Empathy, Respect, Competence and Wisdom to which counsellors are strongly encouraged to aspire.
Dr Babak in her written representations and/or during her oral evidence, made certain admissions, which were taken into account by the Panel. However, the Panel was aware that the burden of proof was on the Complainants.
The Panel noted that a ‘failure’, could only be proved if there was a duty to do something, which without good reason, was not done. On balance, having fully considered the above, the Panel made the following findings:
- In both their written and oral evidence, the Complainants informed the Panel that they attended the consultation with Dr Babak to obtain advice on how to support their son.
The Panel found both Complainants to be credible and reliable witnesses. They both appeared to make a conscious effort not to distort or exaggerate their evidence and they were both open and honest about certain personal and difficult aspects of their relationship. For example, they both accepted that at times they have disagreed as to how to manage their son’s mental health problems. The Panel noted that although the Complainants were largely in agreement as to the events that transpired during their consultation with Dr Babak on 9 February year 1, their recollections and interpretations were not exactly the same.
The Panel accepted their evidence that they were knowledgeable about their son’s mental health diagnosis and condition, but wanted to know how best to deal with his problems, particularly as there was a divergence of opinion between them.
The Panel had no reason to doubt that the accounts they gave were anything other than their genuine recollections of the events that took place. The Panel accepted the Complainants as witnesses of truth. As such, the Panel found that Dr Babak had a duty to listen to the Complainants concerns and address them appropriately during the consultation. The Panel found that Dr Babak did not listen to their concerns and as a consequence she did not understand their needs. Dr Babak admitted in her oral evidence that during the consultation, she made generalized statements about individuals with serious mental health conditions, based on her experience of working in the NHS.
The Panel accepted that Dr Babak did not specifically refer to the Complainant’s son, but as he shared the characteristic of that group, the Panel was satisfied that it was entirely reasonable and foreseeable that the Complainants would regard these statements as being a reference to their son. The Panel accepted the Complainants’ evidence that Dr Babak made generalized statements which were ‘sweeping statements’, in which Dr Babak referred to people like the Complainant’s son (i) being dangerous and better off dead, (ii) not feeling hunger and (iii) likely to commit serious crime such as murder or rape. The Panel found that these statements were negative and although Dr Babak may have intended them to be supportive, they were also unhelpful.
The Panel accepted that Dr Babak gave some constructive advice, which included the need for the Complainants to take care of themselves and consider couple counselling. However, the focus should have been on their son’s needs. The Panel concluded that instead Dr Babak made judgements based on the Complainants’ cultural background and her personal views that members of the [ . . . ] community ‘want a quick fix’.
The Panel was satisfied that Dr Babak’s conduct and behaviour amounted to a failure to provide the Complainants with a good quality of care and competently delivered services which met their needs.
For the reasons stated above, Allegation 1 was upheld.
- The Panel, having accepted the Complainants’ accounts of their consultation with Dr Babak, was satisfied that Dr Babak made disrespectful comments, and in so doing, failed to honour their trust. The Panel took into account its findings in relation to Allegation 1 and concluded that Dr Babak made references to people with mental health conditions, which included the Complainants’ son. The Panel concluded that Dr Babak had made comments about people, with the same condition as the Complainants’ son, being better off dead and likely to commit a serious offence in the future.
The Panel noted that Dr Babak agreed with many of the comments that were attributed to her by the Complainants and that her disagreement with their account largely centred on context and interpretation. Although Dr Babak tried to assist the Panel, at times, her responses to questions appeared guarded and she was frequently only able to see things from her own perspective. She also appeared to have an inflexible view of the type of therapy that would be well-received by individuals with a [ . . . ] cultural heritage.
The Panel noted that Dr Babak claimed during her oral evidence to have a ‘remarkable memory’, but when she was asked questions about the complaint letter she received from the Complainants her responses were vague. For these reasons, the Panel did not find Dr Babak’s evidence to be wholly reliable. When her evidence conflicted with the evidence of the Complainants’, their evidence was preferred. However, whenever there was doubt based on the wording of the allegation, this was resolved in favour of Dr Babak.
For the reasons stated above Allegation 2 was upheld.
- The Panel accepted Complainant A’s evidence that she became upset and tearful during the consultation. Dr Babak agreed that had happened and that she herself was also moved. However, the Panel noted Dr Babak did not adjust her method of communication. She went on to state that Complainant A needed to understand what could happen to her son, otherwise she would not be able to cope with it. The Panel was satisfied that these were negative words which formed part of the educative stance that Dr Babak adopted during the consultation. The Panel found that Dr Babak was trying to ‘fix’ the problem and based her method of communication on her experience of people from [ . . . ]. In adopting this inappropriate method of communication, Dr Babak failed to honour Complainant A’s trust and be attentive to the quality of listening and respect.
For the reasons stated above Allegation 3 was upheld.
- The Panel accepted the Complainants’ account that Dr Babak suggested that they work on their marriage and that she raised the issue of marriage counselling. The Panel noted that Dr Babak accepted that towards the end of the consultation such a conversation did take place. However, the Panel did not accept that in raising this issue Dr Babak ‘dismissed’ the Complainants’ issues with regard to their son. The Panel took the view that Dr Babak attempted to address the Complainant’s issues with regards to their son but her method of doing so was inappropriate, in that she gave advice on an issue that the Complainants had not raised as a concern. However, as Dr Babak made an effort to address the Complainant’s issues, the Panel concluded that she had not been dismissive. Therefore, Dr Babak’s actions in respect of this allegation, did not amount to a failure to honour her client’s trust and to be attentive to the quality of listening and respect.
For the reasons stated above Allegation 4 was not upheld.
- The Panel, having accepted the evidence of the Complainants, formed the opinion that Dr Babak allowed her personal views, based on her experience of [ . . . ] communities, and her experience of the NHS, to unduly influence her professional relationship with the Complainants. Although the Panel was satisfied that this led to Dr Babak making general comments about the same mental illness the Complainant’s son suffered from, the Panel was not satisfied that in doing so, she failed to offer any constructive advice. The Panel found Dr Babak did offer some constructive advice. The wording of the Allegation indicates that there must be a nexus between the personal views and the failure to offer any constructive advice. As the Panel concluded that Dr Babak did offer some constructive advice the entirety of this Allegation fails.
For the reasons stated above Allegation 5 was not upheld.
- Dr Babak admitted in her written response and in her oral evidence that she did not respond to the Complainants’ letter of complaint. The Panel noted that the text, sent on Dr Babak’s behalf, was not sent until 2 March year 1, some 2 weeks after the date of the letter of complaint. The Panel concluded that the brief text as well as being untimely, was also an inappropriate response to the concerns that had been raised by the Complainants. The failure to respond adequately demonstrated a failure to endeavour to remedy any harm that may have been caused.
For the reasons stated above Allegation 6 was upheld.
In light of the above findings, the Panel was satisfied that paragraphs 1, 11, 41 and 42 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2013 edition) and the ethical principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy, Beneficence and Non-Maleficence had been breached. It also found that Dr Babak demonstrated a lack of the personal moral qualities of Empathy, Respect, Competence and Wisdom to which counsellors are strongly encouraged to aspire.
The Panel did not find a breach of paragraph 18 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2013 edition).
Accordingly, the Panel was unanimous in its decision that these findings amounted to Professional Malpractice in that Dr Babak’s services fell below the standards that would reasonably be expected of a member of the profession exercising reasonable care and skill. The Panel found that Dr Babak demonstrated incompetence and provided inadequate professional services.
The Panel acknowledged that Dr Babak made partial admissions and apologized for not responding to the complaint letter. She also expressed an apology during the hearing for upsetting Complainant A.
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.
The Panel determined that the proportionate sanction is as follows:
Within one calendar month from the date of the imposition of this sanction, which will run from the expiration of the Appeal deadline, Dr Babak is required to provide a written submission, which evidences her immediate learning and reflections on the allegations upheld by the Professional Conduct Panel in this complaint.
In addition, in no less than 3 months but no more than 6 months of the date of notification of the approval of the first sanction, Dr Babak is required to submit a full and comprehensive written report on the importance of listening, assessing client’s needs in counselling contracts and understanding empathy regardless of cultural backgrounds. This report should also include references to the attendance of any relevant CPD she may have completed in relation to these areas; along with evidence of how she has integrated her learning into her practice.
Dr Babak must discuss the above report in supervision and produce signed confirmation from her supervisor that it has been discussed.
These written submissions must be sent to the Registrar by the given deadlines and will be independently considered by a Sanction Panel.
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