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, is that the Complainant stated that he was diagnosed with [ . . . ] and sought counselling help to move on with his life. He stated that Ms Rankin was recommended as someone who saw many clients from his religion [ . . . ], but that he was hesitant to work with her because he had known her since [ . . . ].
The Complainant stated that counselling began on 8 October Year 1 and continued for five sessions which it was agreed were paid for from church funds. He stated that the meetings were held in the church because that is [ . . . ]. At the first meeting the Complainant stated that he raised the question of the confidentiality of the sessions and alleged that he was assured by Ms Rankin that she would treat the sessions in confidence, reporting back to the Bishop only matters pertaining to his attendance, progress and the possible requirement for further sessions. In response to him specifically questioning Ms Rankin about whether she would divulge information to the Bishop if he spoke about any "sins", the Complainant stated that Ms Rankin assured him she would only breach confidentiality to protect his safety, in accordance with BACP guidelines, and he stated that he accepted
After five sessions with Ms Rankin, paid for by the church, the Complainant stated that he agreed to fund further sessions himself and that he met with Ms Rankin for counselling from 11 November Year 1 until 17 February Year 2. At the session on 6 January Year 2, the Complainant stated that since he had expressed a desire to leave the [ . . . ] Church, he had a concern that Ms Rankin may not be able to treat him without prejudice, because she was a committed member of the [ . . . ] Church and he alleged that Ms Rankin assured him she was professional enough to leave her own opinions out of his sessions.
The Complainant stated that when he arrived for his counselling session on 24 February Year 2, the door to the office was open and he alleged that he heard Ms Rankin, on the telephone, allegedly saying to the Bishop, "I am seeing [ . . . ] in a minute" and went on to say "He is living in a sinful state; he often says negative things about the church". Further she is alleged to have said "he is like [ . . . ]", which the Complainant explained is the Anti-Christ [ . . . ], and "I believe deep down he knows the church is true and will come back". The Complainant stated that he entered the room and informed Ms Rankin he would no longer require her services but that she is alleged to have said he could not leave under these circumstances.
Ms Rankin is alleged to have agreed with the Complainant that she did say those words, which he repeated to her as having heard, but is also alleged to have explained her feeling that he would come back to the church eventually.
The Complainant in his complaint alleged that Ms Rankin had no right to tell anyone he was receiving treatment from her, that she had no right to tell the Bishop that he was living in a state of sin according to [ . . . ], and further that she had no right to give her opinion that he is like an Anti-Christ. The Complainant stated also that he expected the same level of confidentiality in the private work as he had received in the counselling paid for by the church and alleged that Ms Rankin breached her duty of confidentiality to him.
The Complainant also states that he wishes to complain that Ms Rankin was more focussed on encouraging him back to the [ . . . ] religion than addressing his [ . . . ].
In accepting this complaint, the Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel was concerned with the following areas, and in particular these are:
1. Ms Rankin allegedly failed to provide a good quality of care and competently delivered services which met the Complainant's needs, in that Ms Rankin put the needs of the church before the needs of the Complainant in seeking to encourage the Complainant to remain in the [ . . . ] Church when he discussed wanting to leave, and to move on with his life following his diagnosis of [ . . . ].
2. Ms Rankin allegedly failed to be attentive to the quality of respect offered to the Complainant and show respect for his privacy and dignity, and pay careful attention to client consent and confidentiality, in that on 24 February Year 2 she disclosed to the Bishop that the Complainant was receiving counselling, and she discussed information concerning the Complainant with the Bishop without the Complainant's consent, and she described the Complainant as living in a sinful state and compared him to [ . . . ], the Anti- Christ.
3. Ms Rankin allegedly failed to ensure that her services were delivered on the basis of the Complainant's explicit consent, in that she disclosed information to the Bishop beyond what the Complainant had agreed Ms Rankin could disclose.
4. Ms Rankin allegedly allowed her professional relationship with the Complainant to be prejudiced by her personal views about beliefs or culture, in that she was seeking to encourage the Complainant to stay in the [ . . . ] Church when she was aware that he wanted to leave, and described the Complainant as living in a sinful state.
5. Ms Rankin allegedly failed to respect the Complainant's privacy and confidentiality and respect his autonomy, in that Ms Rankin discussed the Complainant with the Bishop in a telephone call which the Complainant overheard, without the Complainant's consent, and that Ms Rankin insisted that he remained in their session on 24 February Year 2, when he stated that he would not be requiring her services anymore and wanted to go.
6. Ms Rankin's alleged behaviour, as experienced by the Complainant and as identified in the numbered paragraphs referred to above, suggested a contravention in particular of paragraphs 1, 11, 13, 18 and 20 and the ethical principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy, Non-Maleficence and Justice of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy (2013), and showed a lack of the personal moral qualities of sincerity, integrity, respect and wisdom to which counsellors are strongly encouraged to aspire.
On balance, having fully considered the above, the Panel made the following findings:
1. There was no evidence before the Panel that Ms Rankin put the needs of the church before the Complainant's needs in seeking to encourage the Complainant to remain in the [ . . . ] church when he discussed wanting to leave and move on with his life following his diagnosis of [ . . . ].
Allegation 1 was therefore not upheld.
2. Ms Rankin accepted that on 24 February Year 2 she disclosed to the Bishop that the Complainant was attending for counselling that day. She also accepted that she described the Complainant as living in a sinful state and that she compared him to [ . . . ], which both parties agreed could be seen as the antichrist.
Ms Rankin accepted when questioned that the comments she made to the Bishop about the Complainant were hurtful to the Complainant and that in making those comments she further accepted that she had not treated him with respect and dignity nor was she attentive to the quality of respect offered to him.
The Panel questioned both parties at length as to the nature of the confidentiality agreement between them and also considered the written evidence from the Bishop. The Complainant told the Panel that when he commenced counselling with Ms Rankin, he understood that she would only disclose practical matters with the Bishop, such as whether he was attending for his sessions, whether he was making progress and whether he may benefit from spiritual guidance.
In her defence, Ms Rankin relied entirely on her "Counselling Service Application" form, which the Complainant had signed and which she said served as the counselling contract. She told the Panel that she treated this as authorisation from the Complainant to speak to [ . . . ] on a limited range of topics, such as whether the Complainant would benefit from spiritual guidance. She acknowledged however in her oral evidence that this document could have been clearer and more extensive in relation to the matters she might discuss with the Bishop. She accepted that she, the Bishop and the Complainant appeared to all have had different interpretations of the paragraph relating to the matters that could be discussed with the Bishop. Ms Rankin also agreed, when questioned, that her references to the Bishop about the Complainant receiving counselling that day and being in a sinful state were spontaneous remarks made by her which although spoken to the Bishop, were not made in order to seek spiritual guidance for the Complainant. Therefore, the Panel found that Ms Rankin discussed information about the Complainant with the Bishop without the Complainant's consent, and that this amounted to a failure by her to pay careful attention to client consent and confidentiality.
Allegation 2 was therefore upheld in its entirety.
3. As set out above in relation to allegation 2, the Complainant in his evidence stated that he believed Ms Rankin would only discuss with the Bishop issues such as payment for sessions and his attendance.
Ms Rankin stated that she told the Complainant that she would consult with the Bishop about practical matters and to seek pastoral or spiritual support for the Complainant. She accepted that she had disclosed to the Bishop that the Complainant was coming to a session and that she felt he was in a state of sin, and she accepted that in doing so she went beyond the terms which she believed she had authority to disclose. The Panel therefore found that Ms Rankin had failed to ensure that her services were delivered on the basis of the Complainant's explicit consent.
Allegation 3 was therefore upheld in its entirety.
4. The Complainant accepted when questioned that Ms Rankin had not done anything specific to encourage him to stay in the [ . . . ] Church. The Panel therefore did not find this part of the allegation proved.
Ms Rankin conceded however, that by saying the Complainant was in "a sinful state" she had made a judgement about him, to which the Panel heard the Complainant took very strong exception and which, together with other aspects of her conversation with the Bishop, led him to dispense with her services. The Panel accordingly found that she had allowed her professional relationship with the Complainant to be prejudiced by her personal views about beliefs or culture.
Allegation 4 was therefore partly upheld.
5. As previously found in allegations 2 and 3, Ms Rankin discussed the Complainant with the Bishop in a telephone call which was overheard by the Complainant and she did not have the Complainant's consent to do so. The Panel found that this amounted to a failure by Ms Rankin to respect the Complainant's privacy and confidentiality.
In the Complainant's oral evidence to the Panel, he accepted that Ms Rankin had not "insisted" that he remained in their session on 24 February Year 2. He agreed that "insisted" was too strong a word and that she had suggested he stay and vent his anger about what had occurred; he told the Panel that he had been agreeable to doing this. The Panel did not therefore find this part of the allegation proved.
Allegation 5 was therefore partly upheld.
6. In light of the above findings, the Panel was satisfied that paragraphs 11, 13, 18 and 20 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2013 edition) and the ethical principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy and Non-Maleficence had been breached. It also found that Ms Rankin demonstrated a lack of the personal moral qualities of sincerity, integrity, respect and wisdom to which all practitioners are strongly urged to aspire. The Panel did not find that paragraph 1 of the Ethical Framework had been breached nor the ethical principle of Justice.
Accordingly, the Panel was unanimous in its decision that these findings amounted to professional malpractice in that Ms Rankin was incompetent, reckless, and provided an inadequate service. She provided a service to the Complainant which fell below the standard that would reasonably be expected of a practitioner exercising reasonable care and skill.
Ms Rankin accepted that from this experience she had learnt that her written agreement was poor.
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 imposed the following sanction:
1. Within one month of the date of imposition of this sanction, which will run from the expiration of the appeal deadline, Ms Rankin is required to provide a written submission which evidences her immediate reflection on, learning from and understanding of, the issues raised in the allegations upheld in this complaint.
2. In not less than two months and no more than three months of notification of approval of the sanction set out in 1 above, Ms Rankin must:
(i) submit an updated version of her client contract, which must explicitly spell out the limits of confidentiality and the circumstances in which she will discuss client information with an [ . . . ].
(ii) submit a full and comprehensive written report outlining her reflections and learning from the circumstances that led to the complaint and how she will put her learning into practice, including whether the new contract referred to sanction 2(i) above has been put into practice.
(iii) Discuss the amended client contract listed in 2(i) above and the comprehensive written report listed in 2(ii) above, in supervision, with a supervisor outside of her current network, and provide evidence from that supervisor to confirm that Ms Rankin has discussed the matters arising in sanctions 2(i) and 2(ii) above with that supervisor in formal supervision and submit confirmation from the supervisor that the supervisor is outside Ms Rankin's current Network.
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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