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 Mr Herron was a volunteer worker at Organisation A from 06 February year 1 until 29 June year 1. Mr Herron provided support for Ms X from 08 May year 1 to 29 June year 1.
Both Ms X and Organisation A have complained about the conduct of Mr Herron.
On 20 November year 1, Ms X disclosed to her support worker at Organisation A details of a situation she was experiencing with Mr Herron. Ms X allegedly informed her Support Worker that she had recently received an email from Mr Herron which had upset her, particularly that Mr Herron had told her that he would soon be setting up premises "over this side" and that should she wish to come and work with him, he would be happy to do so. Ms X allegedly told her support worker she felt that this compromised her as Mr Herron was allegedly suggesting that she change counsellors in order to work with him again, despite his having terminated their counselling very suddenly.
In her next session, on 07 December year 1, Ms X allegedly spoke to her support worker again about Mr Herron, stating that the matter had been really upsetting her. She asked to forward, by email, the messages she had both received from Mr Herron and had sent to him, and indicated that she would like Organisation A to take the complaint to BACP. She gave her signed consent for this to happen.
The email correspondence between Ms X and Mr Herron dates from the beginning of July year 1 to 19 November year 1. Organisation A alleged Mr Herron signed off his email correspondence to Ms X with ‘all my love xxx', and alleged that Mr Herron offered to see Ms X as a private client.
Organisation A alleged that Mr Herron ended all involvement with them on 29 June year 2 and no proper cross over could be provided to his clients, including Ms X.
Preliminary Issues (considered by the Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel)
The Panel noted that within the complaint it referred to issues pertaining to employment/contract for services, which fell outside of the Panel's jurisdiction. The Panel was mindful in
considering the complaint that its jurisdiction lay with regard to the Ethical Framework. The Panel observed that there was general reference to unidentified third parties within the complaint. The Panel could not consider allegations in relation to third parties which did not satisfy the requirements of the Procedure. The Panel was however satisfied that the Third Party procedure had been met in respect of Ms X.
The Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel, in accepting this complaint, was concerned with the allegations made within the complaint suggesting contravention of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy, and those in particular as follows:
1. Mr Herron allegedly failed to provide a good quality of care and competently delivered service that met the needs of Ms X, in that he abruptly ended his sessions with her which was to her detriment.
2. In entering into correspondence with Ms X as an ex-client in which he signed off with terms of affection such as "all my love" and kisses and offering to see her as a private client, Mr Herron did not think carefully and exercise considerable caution before entering into a personal relationship with the ex-client which was to her detriment.
3. Mr Herron allegedly did not conduct his professional relationships in a spirit of mutual respect and endeavour to attain good working relationships and systems of communication that enhanced the service to clients at all times in that he offered counselling to an ex-client whom he knew to be a client of the agency for whom he had once provided services.
4. Mr Herron's alleged behaviour, as described by the Complainant, and as identified in the numbered paragraphs referred to above, suggests a contravention in particular of paragraphs 1, 17 and 51 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 Integrity, Respect, Competence and Wisdom to which counsellors are strongly encouraged to aspire.
Mr Herron did not attend the Hearing and had notified BACP in advance that he would not be in attendance. The matter was therefore referred for consideration under Paragraph 4.9 of the Professional Conduct Procedure, where the following options are available:
‘Where a Complainant or Member/Registrant 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 a decision was made by the Registrar to proceed with the hearing in Mr Herron's absence. This decision was communicated to the parties.
The Panel would have welcomed the opportunity to have questioned Mr Herron in relation to the allegations but in his absence, relied on the verbal evidence provided on behalf of Organisation A and the written evidence provided by both Mr Herron and Organisation A.
On balance, having fully considered the above, the Panel made the following findings:
1. In reaching a determination in relation to this allegation, the Panel had regard to [ . . . ].
Ms Z explained that Mr Herron initially came to Organisation A as a volunteer, who was seeking to gain 100 hours of practical experience to enable him to qualify as a counsellor. Ms Z explained that once Mr Herron had achieved his hours, he was offered a paid position. However, a dispute arose between Mr Herron and Organisation A over the rate of pay being offered to him. Ms Z explained that on 28 June year 1 she spoke to Mr Herron on the telephone to discuss his dissatisfaction with the amount that he had been offered and he indicated that if payment was not increased, he did not see himself being able to remain at Organisation A, and a discussion took place about the need to transition his clients.
Ms Z explained that she then invited Mr Herron to a meeting on Monday 29 June year 1, to discuss the matter further with both herself and the Chief Executive. Ms Z stated that during this meeting Organisation A made it clear that they could not increase the rate of pay offered to Mr Herron. Ms Z stated that during this meeting a joint decision was made by both Mr Herron and Organisation A that they would part ways, and described Mr Herron as being tearful and angry during this meeting. Ms Z stated that the issue of transitioning Mr Herron's clients was again discussed and Mr Herron agreed to call Ms Z the following day to discuss this further. Ms Z stated that when she spoke to Mr Herron the following day, he stated that he would not come back to Organisation A and make himself available to transition his clients.
In answer to the Panel's questions, Ms Z stated that she would either have expected Mr Herron to be available to help transition his clients or at least make himself available to have a meeting with her, where they could discuss his clients. Ms Z however stated that she accepted that this was a big ask.
The Panel noted that Mr Herron in his written evidence stated that he was aware of the need to have an ethical ending and explained that he wished to do this, however he was told by the Chief Executive to leave Organisation A immediately.
The Panel had regard to the written evidence submitted by Organisation A, and in particular to the statement from the Chief Executive in which he stated that he recommended that they end their relationship with Mr Herron and withdraw the offer of employment, as they did not want a disgruntled employee on their hands. The Panel questioned Ms Z as to whether there would have been any other role available to Mr Herron at Organisation A, and she confirmed that there was not.
The Panel was satisfied from the written evidence that that Mr Herron was aware of the need to have ethical endings with his clients and accepted that it was Mr Herron himself who raised this issue with Organisation A. The Panel noted that Mr Herron was upset and angry during this meeting and stated during his conversation with Ms Z the following day that he was in shock about the way things ended. On questioning, Ms Z accepted that Organisation A made no further attempts to contact Mr Herron, once his shock wore off to see if he would make himself available either to transition his clients or to discuss his client's with Ms Z.
Having heard the verbal evidence presented by Ms Z and the written evidence submitted by both parties, the Panel was not satisfied that Mr Herron himself abruptly ended his sessions with Ms X. It was clear to the Panel that Organisation A had already decided to withdraw its offer of employment to Mr Herron and there was no other capacity in which he could have worked at Organisation A. As such Mr Herron had no choice but to leave Organisation A. In view of this and Ms Z's acceptance that it was a big ask to expect Mr Herron to make himself available to transition his clients, the Panel was not satisfied that Mr Herron failed to provide a good quality of care and competently delivered services that meet the needs of Ms X in abruptly ending his sessions with her.
Ms Z stated that she informed all of Mr Herron's clients that he had left because he had found a new job, because it would not have been appropriate for her to tell them the real reason he no longer worked at Organisation A.
In relation to whether or not the ending of the sessions was detrimental to Ms X, the Panel noted that Ms Z in her verbal evidence explained that she herself was able to take over from Mr Herron and take on Ms X as her client/survivor when she attended for her next scheduled appointment at Organisation A. The Panel therefore noted that there was no gap in the service being provided to Ms X. Further, the Panel had regard to the email that Ms X had sent to Mr Herron when she discovered that he no longer worked at Organisation A. In particular the Panel noted Ms X's words which were: "...If I'm honest part of me is gutted for selfish reasons and the other part of me is happy that you have a new job". The Panel was not satisfied that this demonstrated that any detriment had been caused to Ms X. Therefore, given that there was no gap in the service being provided to Ms X and there was no evidence of any detriment having been caused to her, the Panel was not satisfied that the ending of Ms X's sessions were to her detriment.
In the circumstances, the Panel was not satisfied that this allegation was proven. This allegation is therefore not upheld.
2. Ms Z in her evidence stated that all employees and volunteers had access to a work mobile and email address which they could use to contact clients. Ms Z stated that it was made clear that employees/volunteers were not permitted to use their own personal email or mobile numbers to communication with clients, and Mr Herron should have been aware of this.
The Panel noted that the written evidence supported that Mr Herron did enter into correspondence with Ms X, an ex-client, from his own personal email address. The emails clearly demonstrated to the Panel that Mr Herron signed off his emails to Ms X with terms of affection such as "all my love" and kisses and offered to see her as a private client. The Panel noted that Mr Herron's communications with Ms X took place when he no longer worked for Organisation A and therefore there was no longer any professional relationship between Mr Herron and Ms X. As there was no professional relationship between Ms Herron and Ms X, the Panel was satisfied that Mr Herron had entered into a personal relationship with Ms X, and there was no evidence that he thought carefully about and exercised considerable caution before entering into a personal relationship with an ex-client. The Panel also had regard to the written response provided Mr Herron in which he accepted that he may have lessons to learn with regard to this allegation.
The Panel then considered whether Mr Herron's actions caused any detriment to Ms X. The Panel was satisfied that the fact that Ms X brought the emails to the attention of Organisation A demonstrated that detriment had been caused to her. Further, the Panel heard verbal evidence from Ms Z that Ms X had told her that she found the emails from Mr Herron upsetting. The Panel was therefore satisfied that there was evidence of detriment to Ms X.
For the reasons stated above, this allegation is upheld.
3. The Panel already found in relation to allegation 2 above that Mr Herron offered counselling to an ex-client. The Panel was satisfied that Mr Herron offered counselling to an ex-client, whom he knew to be a client of the agency for whom he once provided services. Mr Herron in his written response stated that he had thought that in requesting his help in her email correspondence, Ms X was no longer engaged with Organisation A. However, the Panel noted that Mr Herron in his email communications with Ms X stated "...rely on the project, they do know what they are doing". This therefore suggested to the Panel that Mr Herron was aware that Ms X was still a client of the agency for whom he previously worked. The Panel agreed that in doing this, Mr Herron did not conduct his professional relationships in a spirit of mutual respect and endeavour to attain good working relationships and systems of communication. However, the Panel noted that the allegation referred specifically to enhancing services to clients. Whilst the Panel accepted that Ms X was a client of Organisation A, it was not satisfied that Ms X was a client of Mr Herron's. The Panel considered the definition of client as set out within the Ethical Framework and noted that the word client was used to describe anyone in receipt of a service from a practitioner. A practitioner is defined as: ".....anyone with responsibility for the provision of counselling or psychotherapy-related services. ‘Practitioner' includes anyone undertaking the role(s) of counsellor, psychotherapist, trainers and educators for these roles, providers of coaching and mentoring in association with counselling and psychotherapy, supervisors, and practitioner researchers. Members of this Association who are providers of services using counselling skills, embedded counsellors, managers and researchers of therapeutic services, are required to be accountable in accordance with the Ethical Framework in ways appropriate to their role and to communicate appropriately the basis of their ethical accountability and expectation. The Panel considered that during Mr Herron's interactions with Ms X, she was no longer his client, she was an ex-client and therefore not in receipt of any service from Mr Herron and as such, Mr Herron could not be said to have failed to enhance a service to her. As Ms X did not fall within the definition of client, the Panel agreed that it could not uphold this allegation. This allegation is therefore not upheld.
4. In light of the above findings, the Panel was satisfied that paragraph 17 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2013 edition) and the ethical principle of Non-Maleficence had been breached. It also found that Mr Herron demonstrated a lack of the personal moral qualities of Competence and Wisdom to which all practitioners are strongly urged to aspire.
The Panel was not satisfied that paragraphs 1 and 51 of the Ethical Framework had been breached nor the ethical principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy and Beneficence or the personal moral qualities of Integrity and Respect.
Accordingly, the Panel was unanimous in its decision that these findings amounted to a finding of professional misconduct in that Mr Herron had contravened the ethical and behavioural standards that should reasonably be expected of a member/registrant of this profession.
As Mr Herron was not in attendance at the hearing, there was no opportunity for Mr Herron to address the Panel in regard to mitigation. The Panel therefore had regard to the written evidence submitted by Mr Herron, in which he stated that he recognised that he did have lessons to learn.
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 three months from the imposition of this sanction, which will run from the expiration of the appeal deadline, Mr Herron is required to provide his detailed written reflections and learning from the allegation which had been upheld by the Panel, which in particular should detail Mr Herron's management of boundaries and communications with ex-clients.
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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