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 and his girlfriend sought couples counselling to explore the issues surrounding the breakdown of their relationship and that they met with David Holden on 8 October Year 1. The Complainant stated that the aim of the counselling appeared to have been achieved in this initial session and that the joint sessions ended at that point, but that in an effort to explore any possible issues on his part that could lead to further relationship difficulties, he decided to see David Holden on his own and he met with him twice more.
The Complainant states that, after his second individual session, he discovered that his ex-girlfriend was also seeing Mr Holden for one to one counselling and he alleged that Mr Holden breached the confidentiality of his own sessions in that he divulged to the Complainant's ex-girlfriend information obtained in his individual session, which caused him distress. The Complainant stated that he addressed this with Mr Holden but found his explanation lacking and alleged that Mr Holden attacked his character; called his behaviour inappropriate; intimated that he did not respect his girlfriend and had gossiped about her. The Complainant stated that Mr Holden suggested they meet again and resume counselling in an effort to repair any damage but the Complainant states this was not an option for him.
The Complainant stated that in February Year 2 he re-contacted Mr Holden informing him again of his sense of betrayal of trust when his confidentiality was breached and asking Mr Holden to consider how his actions had affected him both financially and emotionally.
In accepting this complaint, the Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel was concerned with the following areas, and in particular these are:
1. Mr Holden allegedly failed to clarify and agree the rights and responsibilities of himself as a practitioner and the Complainant as client, in that: he did not adequately contract with the Complainant in relation to the purpose of the 1:1 counselling with the Complainant; and he did not clarify and agree the parameters of confidentiality with the Complainant.
2. Mr Holden 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 communicate in an appropriate and courteous manner, in that: Mr Holden made critical and inappropriate comments about the Complainant contained in the exchange of emails between Mr Holden and the Complainant; Mr Holden intimated that the Complainant did not respect his ex-girlfriend and had gossiped about her; and Mr Holden inappropriately accused the Complainant of being threatening, unfair and malicious.
3. Mr Holden allegedly failed to ensure that his service to the Complainant was delivered on the basis of the Complainant's explicit consent in that: whilst the Complainant made clear to Mr Holden what he wanted from the joint session and subsequent 1:1 counselling, Mr Holden overrode the Complainant's wishes in following an approach with the Complainant, suggesting a restoration of a relationship with his ex-girlfriend.
4. Mr Holden allegedly failed to respect the Complainant's privacy and confidentiality in that he disclosed information from his 1:1 counselling with the Complainant to a third party without the Complainant's permission.
5. Mr Holden'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 3, 11,13 and 20 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 Sincerity, Integrity, Respect, Competence and Wisdom to which counsellors are strongly encouraged to aspire.
Application for new evidence
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 Counsel on behalf of the Member, 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.
1. The Panel considered allegation 1 in two parts. Firstly, (i) the allegation relating to Mr Holden's failure to adequately contract with the Complainant with respect to the 1 to 1
sessions; and secondly, (ii) Mr Holden's failure to clarify and agree the parameters of confidentiality with the Complainant. The Panel made the following findings:
(i) The Panel questioned both parties extensively with respect to the contract. The Member explained that at the first session he explained to both the Complainant and his now former partner (X) how couples counselling would work, in that he would see both of them together, then proceed to have 1 to 1 sessions with each of them, and then bring them together for another joint session. The Member stated that he gave a copy of the contract to X for them to take away and read. He stated that he also ensured that they understood what he explained to them about the sessions that would take place. The Member stated that neither had asked any questions. The Complainant stated in his evidence that he considered that the 1 to 1 sessions were not part of joint counselling but were individual sessions. The Complainant stated that when he and X attended the first session together, they had already split up and the purpose of attending was to 'let her down gently'. When questioned further, the Complainant conceded that he did not communicate this to the Member in the first session, but stated that he told the Member at the end of the first session that 1 to 1 session would be on the basis that the relationship had ended. The Member denied that this was communicated to him at the end of the first session and that he was due to see X the following week, and the Complainant thereafter, and that this was part of the joint counselling contract that he had communicated within that first session. The Panel noted that the Complainant appeared to be aware that the Member had seen X in a 1 to 1 session and had not disputed this as an issue. Having considered all the evidence before it, the Panel considered that the Member's evidence was clear and consistent whereas the Complainant's recollection appeared unclear. The Panel having weighed up the evidence, on the balance of probabilities, found that the Member had contracted clearly with the Complainant regarding the purpose of the 1 to 1 sessions. The Panel therefore did not uphold this part of the allegation.
(ii) The Panel carefully questioned both parties as to whether the Member had explained clearly the parameters of confidentiality with regard to sessions. The Member was clear in his evidence that he had explained the bounds of confidentiality to both parties in the first session. The Complainant stated that whilst he could not recall the exact words, he did agree that a discussion about confidentiality had taken place at the joint session. The Panel therefore found that the Member had addressed confidentiality with the Complainant and this part of the allegation was not upheld.
Allegation 1 is not upheld in totality.
2. The Panel accepted the Member's admission that he 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 communicate in an appropriate and courteous manner, in that he had made critical and inappropriate comments about the Complainant; he had intimated that the
Complainant did not respect X and had gossiped about her and that he inappropriately accused the Complainant of being threatening, unfair and malicious. The Panel therefore upheld this allegation.
3. The Panel firstly established what the parties understood by the reference to the 'approach'. The parties agreed that the 'approach' was in reference to the Member suggesting that the Complainant and X, start again by being friends and dating again in order to restore the relationship. The Panel heard evidence from the Complainant that he had made it clear to the Member, in his 1 to 1 session, that he did not want to talk about restoring the relationship nor did he want such an approach to be shared with X. The Complainant stated that despite having stated this to the Member, he nevertheless continued to explore the approach. The Complainant further stated that whilst he may have not made it clear in the joint session, he did make it clear in the 1 to 1 session that he did not want to restore the relationship with X. The Panel also noted the email, dated 3 November Year 1, which the Complainant had sent to the Member, in which he expressed his concern that the Member had subsequently discussed the approach with X despite the Complainant having made clear in his session that he did not see a future relationship between himself and X. When questioned, the Member stated that he explored the approach with the Complainant and whilst the Complainant did not give explicit consent to share the approach with X, neither did he say 'no'. The Member stated that he gauged from the Complainant's body language and responses in the discussion and the humour which sometimes occurred between them during sessions, that he could disclose the approach to X in her 1 to 1 session which followed the Complainant's. Having carefully considered both the written and oral evidence presented to it, the Panel found, on balance, that the Member had continued to explore the restoration of a relationship between the Complainant and X, despite the Complainant being clear that this was not want he wanted. The Panel therefore found that the Member had overridden the Complainant's known wishes in the session. The Panel therefore upheld this allegation.
4. In his oral evidence, the Complainant stated that the Member had asked him if he could share the approach (as referred to in finding 3 above) with X and that he had specifically refused. The Panel referred to its finding in 3 above, where it had accepted the Complainant's evidence that he had been clear about not sharing the 'approach'. When questioned as to whether the Member had asked the Complainant for his consent, the Member stated that he had but that the Complainant did not give explicit consent. The Member had nevertheless, disclosed information, from the Complainant's 1 to 1 session, to X without his permission. The Member stated that he had based consent on the Complainant's body language and responses to the discussion with regard to the restoration of the relationship between him and X. Whilst the Panel had already established, in its finding at allegation 1(ii) above, that it was satisfied that the parameters of confidentiality had been explained to the Complainant, it considered that in the circumstances of this particular issue, the Member had not respected the Complainant's privacy and confidentiality in that he had disclosed information to a third party without the Complainant's permission and had done so despite being requested not to do so . This allegation is therefore upheld.
5. Mr Holden'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 11,13 and 20 and the ethical principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy, 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 Respect, Competence and Wisdom to which counsellors are strongly encouraged to aspire.
The Panel did not find that there had been a contravention of paragraph 3 of the Ethical Framework nor did it find that Mr Holden had contravened the Ethical Principle of Beneficence. The Panel did not find that Mr Holden had shown a lack of the personal moral qualities of Sincerity or Integrity.
Accordingly, the Panel was unanimous in its decision that the findings amounted to professional malpractice, in that the services for which Mr Holden was responsible had fallen below the standards that would be reasonably expected of a practitioner exercising reasonable care and skill.
The Panel listened carefully to the mitigation that had been presented by Counsel on behalf of Mr Holden. The Panel noted that Mr Holden had: apologised and had demonstrated remorse; acknowledged the impact that his actions have had on the Complainant; increased and enhanced the use of Supervision and had undertaken significant self- reflection and learning in relation to various issues raised within the allegations upheld. The Panel took note of the completion of CPD following the complaint and that he planned further CPD to enhance his knowledge and skills development in relevant areas.
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:
In no less than 6 months and no more than 8 months from the imposition of the sanction, which will run from the expiration of the appeal deadline, Mr Holden is required to submit a written submission detailing: the integration of his learning from the planned CPD and ongoing Supervision, into his practice. This should highlight the differences he has made both to his professional practice and his skills as a practitioner, in relation to the issues raised in the allegations upheld, which is to include: keeping trust, contracting in relation to confidentiality, complaints handling and ensuring understanding of a client's expectations and wishes from the counselling relationship.
These written submissions must be sent to the Registrar of BACP Register by the given deadline and will be independently considered by a Sanction Panel.
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