The complaint against the above individual member/registrant was taken to Adjudication in line with the Professional Conduct Procedure and subsequently to Appeal.
Focus and Allegations before the Professional Conduct Panel
The focus of the complaint, as summarised by the Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel, is as follows:
The Complainant states that he was in group therapy at Organisation A, which Ms Sullivan led, from May Year 2 until July Year 3 that he had individual counselling from Ms Sullivan from April Year 3 until June Year 3 and also some couple therapy in April Year 3, again with Ms Sullivan. In August Year 2, The Complainant began training as a counsellor at Organisation A where Agnes Sullivan both led and taught on the course. The Complainant alleges that these dual relationships with Ms Sullivan were confusing and detrimental to him. On one occasion in the summer of Year 3, the Complainant alleges that Ms Sullivan invited him to a prophetic Christian ministry evening on Organisation A premises, and states that upon reflection, this felt inappropriate as he was her client at the time. Upon attending the ministry evening, the Complainant states that he felt intimidated by Ms Sullivan and that when he challenged someone at the meeting, Ms Sullivan allegedly dismissed him in front of the others and he felt threatened by her.
The Complainant alleges that there was no proper contracting for any of the therapies he had with Ms Sullivan and that he remained unclear about how payment for therapy worked, sometimes he paid, sometimes he was in receipt of a bursary from a Trust and sometimes he was still required to contribute something and he alleges too, that he did not receive regular receipts for his payments. He also alleges that he lacked information as to how the bursary operated.
The Complainant alleges that contact between sessions was not contracted clearly and that sometimes he, along with other group members would be welcomed at an end of group drink or dinner, and that although he, as a group member was told he could 'phone the office if he needed to talk and he did on occasion leave messages for Ms Sullivan, she never responded to his calls.
He alleges that Ms Sullivan did not outline her holiday schedule or make it clear that the group may be taken by another therapist. Ms Sullivan would disappear and reappear sporadically, with the excuse, he alleges, that she was busy and away in [ . . . ] and on a number of occasions Ms Sullivan would be late and then walk into the group session with no apology for her lateness.
The Complainant complains that there were no reviews in his individual therapy and the reviews of the group therapy he alleges were disruptive and lacked respect in that an individual would be called out for review whilst the group was still in session. He alleges also, that confidentiality was never discussed by Ms Sullivan in either the group or his individual sessions. When the Complainant shared his feelings in a group session following the breakup of his relationship, he alleges that Ms Sullivan laughed at him in front of the group. The Complainant alleges that information given by him in his individual sessions with Ms Sullivan was disclosed, without his consent to a third party, [ . . . ].
The Complainant states that he was in a [ . . . ] relationship from Year 1 until May Year 3 and that as a couple they began therapy with Ms Sullivan in April Year 3. He alleges that Ms Sullivan, after the couple work commenced, stated that she had no record of his file and made him complete an historical form although he had been a client of Organisation A for two and a half years.
In couple therapy, the Complainant alleges that Ms Sullivan ignored some of what he said and [ . . . ] and further, announced that "we were now on a break".
In accepting this complaint, the Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel was concerned with the following areas, and in particular these are:
1. Ms Sullivan allegedly failed to provide the Complainant with a good quality of care and competently delivered services which met his needs, in that she conducted couple counselling with the Complainant where she made comments that the Complainant was; [ . . . ] and that they were then "on a break". Further Ms Sullivan allegedly failed to provide the Complainant with a good quality of care and competently delivered services which met his needs, in that she did not explore these issues and said that there wasn’t any point to them continuing in couples counselling because the relationship "was not worth continuing".
2. Ms Sullivan allegedly failed to clarify and agree the rights and responsibilities of her as a practitioner and the Complainant as client, in not adequately contracting with the Complainant with respect to; her availability and non-availability for sessions with the Complainant; arrangements for other therapists to substitute for her in her absence; clarity around payments for counselling services; clarity around endings; confidentiality; and client practitioner contact between sessions.
3. Ms Sullivan allegedly held multiple dual relationships with the Complainant, in that she was his individual therapist, his couple therapist, his group therapist, his trainer, a co attendee at a prophetic Christian ministry evening and in that she met the Complainant socially outside of therapy, all of which were confusing and detrimental to the Complainant.
4. Ms Sullivan allegedly failed to keep appropriate records of her work with the Complainant in that inadequate records were kept with respect to her work with the Complainant.
5. Ms Sullivan allegedly failed to periodically review her work in her one to one work with the Complainant. Further Ms Sullivan failed to periodically review her work with the Complainant in relation to group work having only conducted a brief review towards the end of a group term.
6. Ms Sullivan allegedly failed to honour and keep the trust of the Complainant and be attentive to the quality of listening and respect offered to the Complainant and respect his privacy and dignity, in that Ms Sullivan spoke inappropriately about the Complainant making derogatory and inappropriate personal comments about the Complainant in his presence and in the presence of third parties, and in laughing in a group session about a situation directly related to the Complainant.
7. Ms Sullivan allegedly failed to be clear about her commitment to be available to the Complainant and honour her commitment to him in that in May/June Year 3, she substituted a new counsellor to do a one to one session with the Complainant without any explanation to him and further that she often would not appear for the group sessions, with other therapists taking her place without having made the Complainant aware.
8. Ms Sullivan allegedly failed to respect the Complainant’s privacy and confidentiality in that she disclosed information learned about the Complainant from his therapy to two third parties, A and E.
9. Ms Sullivan allegedly failed to inform the Complainant about the existence of the Professional Conduct Procedure.
10. Ms Sullivan allegedly failed to be honest, straightforward and accountable in financial matters concerning the Complainant, in that arrangements around payment for services were not clear and transparent with a lack of clarity around the use of the bursary and when contributions were required from the Complainant.
11. Ms Sullivan’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, 3, 4, 5, 6,11,19, 20, 46 and 62 and the ethical principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy, Beneficence and Non-Maleficence of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy (2010/2013), and showed a lack of the personal moral qualities of Empathy, Integrity, Respect, Competence and Wisdom to which counsellors are strongly encouraged to aspire.
Application for New Evidence
An application was made, by the Complainant, to submit late evidence under the protocol on New Evidence. In considering the reasons given by the Complainant, the Professional Conduct Panel decided to accept the new evidence on the basis that there was good and sufficient reason for the late production. The application was therefore accepted and the late evidence was included in the written materials. An application was made by the Member Complained Against, to submit late evidence under the protocol on New Evidence. In considering the reasons given by the Member, the Professional Conduct Panel decided not to accept the new evidence on the basis that there was not good and sufficient reason for the late production. The application was therefore declined.
Findings made by the Professional Conduct Panel
Prior to addressing the allegations below, the Panel first gave due consideration to three issues which were relevant and central to its decision making. The Panel therefore made the following findings in relation to the various therapeutic relationships alleged to have taken place between the Complainant and Dr Sullivan:
(a) Couples Counselling
It was agreed by all parties that a couples session took place between the Complainant and his then partner, and Dr Sullivan, on 17 April Year 3. Whilst a follow up session was offered to the couple, as evidenced by the notes of the session, the couple did not attend any further couples counselling. It was agreed by both parties that only one couples session took place.
(b) One to One Sessions
The Panel noted that there was a conflict of evidence with regard to the one to one sessions, in that the Complainant was adamant that he did have one to one sessions with Dr Sullivan. The Panel carefully questioned both parties. The Complainant stated that he had an individual session with Dr Sullivan on 16 May Year 3; he referred to his email evidence in which another counsellor, hereinafter referred to as C, had arranged the session on behalf of Dr Sullivan. The Complainant stated that he had two sessions with Dr Sullivan; the other took place on 26 May Year 3. He stated that at the session on 26 May Year 3, both Dr Sullivan and C were in attendance. He stated in his oral evidence that he did not deny that after the 26 May Year 3, he just met with C for individual sessions. When further questioned about the individual sessions, the Complainant stated that he believed that he had a one to one session on 1 May Year 3, but that he could not be sure of the date. He stated that he paid cash for the session as he did not recall a bank transfer. He stated that he did not receive a receipt for the payment nor had he asked for one. The Complainant further stated that after 26 May Year 3, he did not know who his therapist was, as he just saw C, although in his mind he considered Dr Sullivan to be his individual therapist. The Panel noted that during questioning, the Complainant was consistent in his evidence that he did have one to one sessions with Dr Sullivan.
When questioned by the Panel, Dr Sullivan was adamant that she never saw the Complainant for one to one sessions. She did, however, concede that it appeared sessions had been arranged on her behalf, by other colleagues. The Panel noted the email dated 12 May Year 3, in which Dr Sullivan's colleague, hereinafter referred to as B, wrote to the Complainant to confirm setting up sessions with Dr Sullivan. B had also advised the Complainant to contact C to firm up dates. Additionally, B advised the Complainant that C would be sitting in on sessions as she was training. It was also confirmed that Dr Sullivan would see him for a set number of sessions, which would be funded from a bursary. The Complainant, as advised, duly contacted C regarding a date to see Dr Sullivan. Further email evidence demonstrates that a session was set up for 16 May Year 3 at 4pm. The Panel also noted an email dated 22 May Year 3, in which the Complainant wrote to C to confirm that he would be happy to run a [ . . . ] group at the Organisation in return for weekly one hour sessions with Dr Sullivan. During questioning, Dr Sullivan was consistent in her evidence that she did not have one to one sessions with the Complainant. When questioned about the 2 sessions on 16 and 26 May Year 3, she stated that she could not have seen the Complainant on the 16 May Year 3, as she had a pre-booked [ . . . ] appointment on that afternoon. With respect to the session on 26 May Year 3, she referred to the notes of the session which had been submitted in evidence. Dr Sullivan states that this session was recorded and only C was present at the session. The Panel noted that this session is headed as 'Session 1'. The notes indicate that the Complainant had requested to see Dr Sullivan and C was to sit in. The notes also record that Dr Sullivan was unable to see the Complainant and that he would be allocated to C. The Panel also questioned the Member with regard to the chain of emails. She stated that she knew nothing of these arrangements and would have expected to be copied in to such emails but she was never consulted. Dr Sullivan also stated that she never took any cash from the Complainant for any sessions, and that she would not have done so as she did not deal with payment for sessions, whether group, couple or individual, as these were dealt with by another department in the Organisation. The Panel also gave regard to the financial records submitted in evidence and noted that there was no reference to any cash payment, however, it did note the reference to individual sessions between the Complainant and C from 26 May Year 3 to 23 June Year 3, as having been settled by bursary and volunteering on the [ . . . ] programme.
The Panel carefully considered the oral and written evidence presented to it by both parties with regard to the one to one sessions. The Panel found the Complainant to be consistent and credible, however it was presented with conflicting oral and written evidence. The Panel was mindful that the burden of proof lay with the Complainant and on the evidence before it the Panel concluded that there was insufficient evidence to demonstrate that individual sessions with Dr Sullivan had taken place and therefore found, on the balance of probabilities, that no individual sessions took place between the Complainant and Dr Sullivan.
(c) Group Therapy
The Panel noted from the evidence that the Complainant was part of group therapy sessions, which were facilitated by A and B. These sessions ran from 4 September Year 2 to 2 July Year 3, and were confirmed by letter to the Complainant. When questioned by the Panel as to whether Dr Sullivan was a co-facilitator, she stated that she did take over as co-facilitator of the group on 30 April Year 3, for a period of seven weeks, when B could no longer attend. However, Dr Sullivan also stated that she had stood in as co-facilitator on at least two occasions prior to 30 April Year 3, on an emergency basis. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, the Panel accepted, on the balance of probabilities, that Dr Sullivan took over co-facilitation of group therapy on 30 April Year 3, and had also attended as co-facilitator on occasions prior to this date.
1. The Panel carefully questioned both parties as to what had been said in the couples session, and noted there was a sharp conflict of evidence between them. Dr Sullivan agreed that some of the comments had been said but denied that she had made them. With reference to the comment about the couple being on a break, she stated that although she recalled this being said, it was not she who said it. Dr Sullivan further stated that she had offered a second couples session, and had she said that the relationship was not worth continuing, she would not have offered to continue. The Panel noted that this was confirmed by the session notes, which state, 'they both agreed to meet again to complete the assessment'. When questioned, the Complainant stated that whilst he wished to continue with couples counselling, they did not attend another couples session as his then partner was [ . . . ], given the issues, which he considered Dr Sullivan had brought into the session. In the circumstances, the Panel considered that there was insufficient evidence, on the balance of probabilities, to conclude that Dr Sullivan did make the comments as alleged and therefore found that she had not failed to provide the Complainant with a good quality of care and competently delivered services which met his needs. This allegation is therefore not upheld.
2. The Panel dealt with this allegation in three parts, covering each of the therapeutic sessions as follows:
i. With reference to the couples counselling, the Panel noted that Dr Sullivan stated that this session was an assessment session, whereas the Complainant believed it was a counselling session. In making its finding, the Panel considered that it was not relevant as to what the session was called. It considered that the salient point was, that a therapeutic relationship had begun, which it was anticipated would continue. In evidence, Dr Sullivan had stated that the contract would have been dealt with by the Organisation and not her personally. The Panel nevertheless considered that it was incumbent on her to have talked through the requisite elements of the contract, as detailed in the allegation. The Panel noted that session notes made no reference to any discussion about contractual issues. The Panel further noted that there was no reference to the payment made for this session annotated in the financial records submitted. Dr Sullivan was unable to explain why the payment, which the Complainant stated he made, was not recorded. She stated that she was not responsible for the financial element of any therapeutic sessions. Whilst the Panel accepted and was convinced by the documentary evidence, that financial matters were dealt with by another part of the Organisation, the Panel did not consider that Dr Sullivan could abrogate her responsibility in terms of clarifying any contractual matters. It remained that the Complainant was her client for the purpose of the couples counselling, and as such the Panel found that Dr Sullivan had failed to clarify and agree the rights and responsibilities of her as a practitioner and the Complainant as a client.
This part of the allegation is therefore upheld.
ii. The Panel referred to its preliminary finding above at (b), in which it decided that no individual counselling between Dr Sullivan and the Complainant took place, and as such, no responsibility to clarify and agree rights and responsibilities could arise.
This part of the allegation is therefore, not upheld.
iii. The Panel noted both the written and oral evidence, and in particular that the group sessions had begun in September Year 2. The Panel referred to its preliminary finding above at (c), in which it was decided that Dr Sullivan joined the group as co-facilitator on 30 April Year 3, to cover sickness of one of the co-facilitators. It was apparent that the group had been established some time prior to Dr Sullivan stepping in as co-facilitator. The Panel, therefore, accepted that Dr Sullivan was not responsible for contracting with the Complainant with regard to the group sessions and that responsibility lay elsewhere, given that the Panel considered that no obligation arose for Dr Sullivan to clarify and agree the rights and responsibilities in respect of the group sessions. This part of the allegation is therefore not upheld.
Allegation 2 is therefore upheld in part.
3. The Panel considered the oral and written evidence provided by both parties. Notwithstanding that the Panel had made a preliminary finding that no individual counselling sessions took place, it did find that a number of dual relationships had arisen. The Panel found as follows; Dr Sullivan having stepped in as a co-facilitator for group sessions, was also seeing the Complainant in couples counselling; Dr Sullivan and the Complainant had attended the same book launch on 4 June Year 3, which comprised of a small group of 8-10 people and at the time Dr Sullivan was co-facilitating the group sessions; and finally that Dr Sullivan had attended as a lecturer at a course attended by the Complainant, the course duration being 15 months from September Year 2. Dr Sullivan accepted that she had given a lecture on the course, and therefore the Panel found it reasonable that the Complainant should consider her as part of the teaching team for the duration of the course, which included his time in the group and the book launch. The Panel found however, that there was insufficient evidence that Dr Sullivan and the Complainant had socialised together. The Panel heard evidence from the Complainant, as to the confusion caused, and noted that there were no clear boundaries set by the Member. The Complainant said that the relationships were blurred. The Panel was convinced by the Complainant's evidence, both written and oral, that much confusion has arisen throughout his dealings with Dr Sullivan. The Panel found no evidence that Dr Sullivan had sought to discuss or clarify these various relationships. The Panel therefore found, on the balance of probabilities, that the dual relationships which arose did cause detriment to the Complainant. This allegation is therefore upheld.
4. The Panel dealt with the allegation that Dr Sullivan failed to keep appropriate records of her work with the Complainant in three parts, covering each of the therapeutic sessions.
i. The Panel referred to its preliminary finding in (b) above, in which it decided no individual sessions took place with the Complainant and therefore no obligation for Dr Sullivan to keep records of her work arose.
ii. With respect to the couples counselling, where only one session took place, the Panel saw documentary evidence that notes were made of the session.
iii. With respect to the group sessions, the Panel was satisfied that appropriate records of the work were made by the co-facilitator, which Dr Sullivan had stated she saw before they were signed off.
Therefore, allegation 4 was not upheld.
5. As this allegation referred to issues arising out of individual therapy and group therapy, the Panel considered this allegation in two parts as follows;
i. The Panel referred to its preliminary finding in (b) above. As no individual sessions were found to have taken place with the Complainant, no obligation for Dr Sullivan to review her work with the Complainant could arise.
ii. The Panel also noted from the evidence presented that review of the group session work was not Dr Sullivan's responsibility, particularly as she had joined as co-facilitator towards the end of the year. The Panel concluded, on balance, that the responsibility of reviewing group work was not that of Dr Sullivan and therefore no finding could be made that she had failed to periodically review her work with the Complainant.
Allegation 5 is therefore not upheld.
6. The Panel listened carefully to the evidence presented by both parties, and gave regard to the written evidence. It was established that in a group session, where Dr Sullivan was co-facilitating, the Complainant had expressed fear of [ . . . ]. When questioned, Dr Sullivan denied making derogatory comments and inappropriate personal comments about the Complainant during this session. She did however admit that she referred to the Complainant's [ . . . ] as, 'being a wee thing'. Dr Sullivan stated that this was in reference to the Complainant stating that he was [ . . . ]. She stated that she did not consider this was derogatory towards the Complainant, but a comment made to appease a situation which she considered was arising within the group. However, the Panel considered that it was an inappropriate comment and that Dr Sullivan had made the comment based on knowledge from outside the group, which she decided to bring into the session. The Panel noted that the Complainant was expressing his personal thoughts to the group in a therapeutic setting. The Panel heard evidence from the Complainant, that he felt dismissed by Dr Sullivan. The Panel considered that there was insufficient evidence that Dr Sullivan laughed at him within the group session or that she had made other derogatory and inappropriate personal comments about the Complainant. Having considered the evidence, the Panel found that the comment made and admitted to by Dr Sullivan, was dismissive of the Complainant and had the effect of undermining him in front of the group. The Panel therefore found that Dr Sullivan had failed to respect the Complainant's privacy and dignity and that she had failed to be attentive to the quality of listening and respect offered to the Complainant. This allegation is therefore upheld.
7. The Panel considered this allegation in two parts as follows:
i. The Panel noted from the evidence that when Dr Sullivan was due to join group counselling sessions as co-facilitator, this had been communicated to the Complainant by the co-facilitator and this was evidenced in the notes of the group sessions. On the occasions that Dr Sullivan had stepped in to co-facilitate, which she stated had been at the last minute on an emergency basis, it was explained to the group why she was there. The Panel therefore could not find that Dr Sullivan had failed to be clear about her commitment to be available in group sessions.
ii. The Panel referred to its preliminary finding in (b) above, in which it was noted and accepted by the Panel, that the one to one sessions were arranged without Dr Sullivan's knowledge. In the circumstances, the Panel could not make a finding that it was Dr Sullivan who failed to be clear about her availability.
Allegation 7 is therefore, not upheld.
8. The Panel noted the Complainant stated that there were a number of disclosures alleged to have been disclosed by Dr Sullivan to two third parties, A and E, and that this information came from the Complainant's therapy. The Panel carefully questioned Dr Sullivan about the confidentiality breaches which were strongly denied. The Panel also took note of the Complainant's documentary evidence, and whilst it was clear that the Complainant had contacted one of the third parties and that there was an exchange of emails, the third party had eventually declined to attest to the breaches of confidentiality. The Panel considered that, on the balance of probabilities, there was insufficient evidence to find that Dr Sullivan had breached the Complainant's confidentiality as alleged. This allegation is therefore not upheld.
9. The Panel noted from the evidence before it, that whilst the Complainant had enquired about making a complaint, he had not approached Dr Sullivan directly in this regard. Dr Sullivan stated in evidence that she was not aware the Complainant was unhappy or that he wanted to make a complaint. The Panel therefore found that as Dr Sullivan did not have knowledge of a potential complaint, she would not have considered directing him to the existence of the Professional Conduct Procedure. This allegation is therefore not upheld.
10. The Panel had heard evidence throughout that Dr Sullivan was not responsible for financial matters and indeed it had seen evidence that finances, such as payments for counselling sessions, were dealt with by another part of the Organisation. The Panel considered that the responsibility lay with the Organisation as a whole and not Dr Sullivan as an individual. It had no reason to doubt that this was not the case, and in the circumstances, it considered that this allegation was not one which Dr Sullivan could address. This allegation is therefore not upheld.
11. In light of the above findings, the Panel was satisfied that paragraphs 3, 4 and 11 and the ethical principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy and Beneficence of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy (2010/2013) had been breached. It also found that Dr Sullivan demonstrated a lack of the personal moral qualities of Empathy, Respect and Wisdom to which all practitioners are strongly encouraged to aspire.
The Panel did not find a contravention of paragraphs 1, 5, 6, 19, 20, 46, 62 of the Ethical Framework, and nor did it find that Dr Sullivan had contravened the Ethical Principle of Non-Maleficence. The Panel did not find that Dr Sullivan had shown a lack of the personal moral qualities of Integrity or Competence.
Accordingly, the Panel was unanimous in its decision that the findings amounted to professional malpractice, in that the services for which Dr Sullivan was responsible fell below the standards that would be reasonably expected of a practitioner exercising reasonable care and skill.
No mitigation was offered.
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, Dr Sullivan is required to provide a written submission, which evidences her immediate reflection on, learning from and understanding of, the allegations upheld in this complaint.
In not less than 6 months and no more than12 months from the date of approval of the first sanction, Dr Sullivan is required to submit a written submission in the form of a case-study, detailing her increased understanding of the need for clear unambiguous contracts with all clients; her increased understanding of what constitutes a dual relationship and how these may be affected by the power imbalance between counsellor and client; her increased understanding of the importance of clarifying boundaries when seeing a client in different contexts and evidence, and how she has put the above into practice in the time since this complaint.
This report should be discussed in supervision, and be signed off by the supervisor as having been discussed in supervision as a true record of their discussions.
These written submissions must be sent to the Registrar, by the given deadline, and will be independently considered by a Sanction Panel.
Appeal against Professional Conduct Panel Decision
Following the Professional Conduct Hearing, Dr Sullivan lodged an appeal under clause 6.5(a), (b), (c) and (d) of the Professional Conduct Procedure on the basis that:
a) the facts were found against the weight of evidence;
b) the sanction is disproportionate to the findings and decision of the Professional Conduct Panel and is unjust in all the circumstances;
c) there is evidence to suggest that a procedural impropriety may have had a material effect on the findings and decision of the Professional Conduct Panel;
d) there is new evidence which was not available at the time of the Professional Conduct Hearing, subject to the conditions laid down in the relevant protocol.
The grounds of appeal were independently assessed in accordance with clause 6.2 of the Professional Conduct Procedure and the appeal was accepted to go forward to an appeal hearing on ground 6.5(a) in that the facts were found against the weight of evidence in relation to allegation 3 only.
The Appeal Panel had convened to consider the appeal on ground 6.5(a) in respect of allegation 3 only, and examine all the written and oral evidence presented by both parties to decide whether the appeal should be upheld, or not, which included:
a) the Appellant’s reasons as to why the appeal should be allowed; and
b) the Complainant’s reasons as to why the appeal should be denied.
The Appeal Panel reviewed the findings of the Professional Conduct Panel, and upheld allegation 3 for the following reasons:
I. The Appeal Panel found it was agreed by the parties that the Complainant was a member of the X Group from Year 2 until June Year 3. It noted that his membership in early Year 3 was further confirmed by the email from the Member to the Complainant dated 4 January Year 3.
II. The Member told the Appeal Panel in her oral testimony that, after living in [ . . . ] for a number of years, she returned to the UK permanently in September Year 2. This was not disputed by the Complainant. The Member explained that following her return, Person X decided to stop working for Organisation A. The Appeal Panel noted that the client contact notes for the X Group meeting on 12 February Year 3, stated that the group was informed that Person X “is no longer able to be a group facilitator”; and the notes for the X Group meeting on 26 March Year 3, stated that it was announced that a “new facilitator joining in April”.
III. From the Member’s email to the X Group members dated 25 April Year 3, and her testimony, the Appeal Panel found that the “new facilitator” in question was Dr Sullivan herself. It concluded that when this email was sent, the Member would have known she would be co-facilitating the X Group from the meeting from 30 April Year 3, onwards. Further, the Panel found that it was likely that the Member would have known this no later than 26 March Year 3, when the X Group was told the new facilitator would be joining in April.
IV. The Member explained that she temporarily filled in to help Organisation A in a crisis a couple of times in January and February Year 3, and then from April to June Year 3. But the Appeal Panel was satisfied that by late April Year 3, Organisation A had known that it needed to find a new co-facilitator for the X Group for over two months and the Member had known she would take over for over a month. It found, therefore, that by the end of April this was neither a short notice requirement nor a crisis. The Appeal Panel was further satisfied that by co-facilitating the X Group, the Member was in a therapeutic relationship with its members, including the Complainant.
V. The Appeal Panel heard the Member’s testimony that she became aware that one of her individual clients (E) was in a relationship with the Complainant at the end of February Year 3, when E asked the Member for couples therapy. The Appeal Panel had found that seeing E at the same time as co-facilitating the X Group was not a dual relationship as E and the Complainant were separate clients.
VI. The Member explained that she told E she wasn’t able to carry out couples therapy with them, but would see them for an assessment and refer them to another therapist. The Member explained that this was the normal practice due to a shortage of qualified Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) therapists. She went on to explain that an EFT assessment can take up to four appointments to complete.
VII. From both parties’ evidence, the Appeal Panel accepted that the first couples session took place on 23 April Year 3, and that there was a second scheduled for 1 May Year 3 though that appointment was later cancelled.
VIII. Having considered the evidence available, the Appeal Panel was satisfied that the Member had filled in as X Group co-facilitator and knew she was taking over as co-facilitator before the first couples session. It also found that she arranged a further couples session (although it did not go ahead) for them after she became the regular X Group co-facilitator. It concluded that this constituted a dual relationship between the Member and the Complainant.
IX. The Member argued that, as the couples session she held with the Complainant and E was solely for the purpose of assessment, and the proposed second session was to complete that assessment, the couples sessions did not embody a therapeutic relationship between she and the Complainant. The Appeal Panel did not accept this and found that, in conducting a couples session, whether or not for the purpose of assessment, the Complainant was in a therapeutic relationship with the Member, and the Complainant confirmed in his evidence to the Appeal Panel that he so perceived it.
X. The Member also argued that even if she did have a dual relationship with the Complainant, the fleeting nature of it and the need for Organisation A to respond to a crisis removed the need for her to take any steps under the Ethical Framework. She said she considered a dual relationship needed to be over a longer period. The Appeal Panel did not consider that Organisation A was reacting to a crisis in April Year 3 and was not persuaded that the short duration of the dual relationship removed the Member’s professional duty under the Ethical Framework to consider the duality and take appropriate steps. It was clear from her testimony that the Member had not given proper consideration to the existence of a dual relationship.
XI. The Complainant gave evidence about the effects of the dual relationship. He explained that at the time he was in a relationship with E and feeling overwhelmed. He saw the Member as an authority figure and did not feel safe to challenge her when she made comments about his relationship with E. The Complainant said he felt he had to appease the Member. He said that he had developed trust with the Member through the X Group, but found her very different in the couples sessions, that this felt like a breach of his trust in the Member, a violation, and undermined the therapeutic relation he had with her in the X Group. The Complainant said, “this confused me”.
XII. Throughout the hearing the Appeal Panel found the Complainant to be consistent and reliable in his evidence. But it found the Member gave, at times, conflicting, evasive, confusing and inconsistent evidence. Where there was a direct contradiction between the parties, it therefore found the Complainant to be more credible.
XIII. In conclusion, the Appeal Panel found that the Member held a dual relationship with the Complainant by being co-facilitator of the X Group he attended and seeing E and the Complainant for couples sessions. It further found that the Complainant experienced different behaviour from the Member in these two roles that he found confusing and that undermined the therapeutic benefit of the X Group meetings, which was to his detriment.
The Appeal Panel did not allow the appeal and therefore the decision of the Adjudication Panel stands.
Dr Sullivan is now required to comply with the sanction as imposed by the Adjudication Panel.
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