October 2018: Julie Pitman, Reference No: 821441, Lancashire WN6 9LB
Information was disclosed to BACP, which was considered under Article 12.6 of the Articles of Association.
On 22 March Year 2, the member, Julie Pitman, was notified of the allegations and supporting information as submitted to BACP.
On 22 February Year 2 Ms Pitman informed BACP that her contract of employment had been terminated following an investigation into her conduct. BACP also received a referral from her employer on 28 February Year 2 to confirm the same.
[ . . . ]The termination letter provided to BACP from Ms Pitman and Organisation X stated the reasons for the termination as follows:
1. “being in a trusted position with a vulnerable client and not performing the duties of your role
2. unauthorised or negligent disclosure or sharing of confidential information;
3. a serious breach of our policies and procedures
4. bringing Organisation X’s reputation into disrepute”.
The circumstances giving rise to the dismissal related to calls taken by Ms Pitman from a vulnerable user [ . . . ]. Ms Pitman states that she became too involved and felt that the service user was ‘[like her son]’. At the outset of the investigation Ms Pitman stated she had “not acted within boundaries” and that she “just got too close to him”. During the first call the service user had stated that he [ . . . ]. It was stated that he had said that [ . . . ]. Ms Pitman agreed to write a referral to [ . . . ]. Ms Pitman states her counselling was not ‘conventional’ but that Organisation X were not acting as counsellors but as a support line.
Ms Pitman states she told the service user that she was his “second mum” that “[his mum and dad loved him, please be careful… and just have one drink on the way home]”. Ms Pitman called the service user the following Monday evening after [ .. . ] but the service user’s dad answered and explained that the service user [ . . . ]. Ms Pitman then spoke to the service user again the following day where she says she was told [ . . . ].
Ms Pitman states she subsequently found out the service user’s contract with his employer was to be terminated [ . . . ].
[ . . . ]
During the investigatory meeting Organisation X raised concerns over a number of unprofessional and inappropriate comments she made to the service user. These had been recorded and noted as follows:[ . . . ]
During the meeting, Organisation X decided that Ms Pitman’s conduct was serious and they terminated her probation with Organisation X and informed her that they would also consider whether a referral to BACP would be appropriate. [ . . . . ]
The nature of the information raises questions about the suitability of Ms Pitman’s continuing membership of this Association and raises concerns about the following in particular:
• That she failed to notify the Association as required by the terms and conditions of membership, of her dismissal from Organisation X until February Year 2, some 6 months later;
• That in having been dismissed, Ms Pitman has brought, or may yet bring, not only this Association, but also the reputations of counselling/ psychotherapy into disrepute.
• That being dismissed is incongruent with that which is expected of a member of BACP;
• That the information further suggests that there may have been a serious breach, or breaches, of the ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy.
[ . . . ]
Article 12.6 Panel’s Decision
The Panel carefully considered all the evidence submitted by Ms Pitman and her employer and decided to implement Article 12.6 of the Articles of Association. Ms Pitman’s membership will be withdrawn subject to appeal. Ms Pitman has 28 days from the date of notification of this report to make an appeal. In the absence of an appeal, notification will be given to Ms Pitman by the Chair of the Association with regard to the withdrawal of membership.
In addressing the issues before it, the Panel gave very careful consideration to the evidence provided. It also reminded itself of the purpose of the Article 12.6 proceedings, that is whether the concerns raised suggested it was inappropriate for Ms Pitman to continue in membership of the Association.
In coming to its decision, the panel noted the following points in particular:
• Ms Pitman had failed to follow her employer’s processes and procedures with regard to her role. The Panel considered that in the way she had dealt with this vulnerable user she had gone beyond the remit of her role.
• Ms Pitman had made a number of comments in her conversations with the client that were inappropriate and unprofessional. She had told the service user she was his “second mum”, that his “mum and dad loved him” and that he should “just have one drink on the way home”. She also said she had “not acted within boundaries” and that she “had just got too close to him”.
• Ms Pitman had contacted the service user the Monday after his [ . . . ] although she had not been required or expected to do so.
• She had also breached confidentiality with regard to the client’s dismissal and, even if unintended, this had had a significant impact on the client. The Panel considered that she had failed to observe or understand the boundaries of her role or been willing to work within them.
• The Panel took into account the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings. It accepted that the issues raised in the proceedings were serious, involving as they did breaches of the employer’s policies, unauthorised or negligent disclosure of information, not dealing appropriately with a vulnerable client and bringing the employer into disrepute.
In coming to its conclusion the Panel took account of Ms Pitman’s submissions and that she believed she was acting in the client’s best interests and that she had been in a very difficult situation. While she acknowledged this was not conventional support, she had felt it was necessary “to keep him going”. It also noted her concerns about the way her employer was operating and its practices. In her view she had been put into a situation she would not usually have been in and considered this would not have occurred had she been working in her private practice. The Panel also took account of Ms Pitman’s submissions that she may have had “transference” due to her own personal circumstances although she had not realised this at the time.
However, the Panel were concerned that Ms Pitman had failed to recognise the limits of her competence and experience and the consequences that this could have for the client. In addition, the Panel considered that Ms Pitman had not recognised that [ . . . ] may have impaired her judgement in this case nor considered whether she should seek additional support. As such the panel considered that she had shown a lack of insight and judgement and it was not satisfied she had complied with her obligation to put the interests of the client first.
In addition, Ms Pitman had not set or maintained clear boundaries between herself and the client. She had acknowledged that she had allowed herself to become “too close”. The Panel were concerned that some of the comments made in this regard, for example that she was the client’s “second mum”, were highly inappropriate and potentially confusing for the client. It was the member’s responsibility to maintain clear boundaries as required by the Ethical Framework but Ms Pitman had failed to do so and had allowed herself to become emotionally involved.
The Panel were also concerned that Ms Pitman did not appear to recognise the boundaries of her role and its purpose. She had been employed for a specific purpose but had failed to comply with her employer’s procedures or processes. Instead she had breached her employer’s confidentiality in disclosing to the client that his employment was to be terminated. Even though Ms Pitman believed she was acting in the client’s best interests, this was a serious breach and showed a lack of judgement both in her attitude to her employer and to the client.
The Panel gave very careful consideration to Ms Pitman’s submissions but it was not satisfied that Ms Pitman fully understood the implications of her actions. It noted that she had said she would not “change a thing” and continued to maintain that her actions had been justified. The Panel did not consider that she had shown insight or reflection into her working practices and, in particular, whether she had been acting within her sphere of competence. On that basis it could not be satisfied that a similar situation would not occur again in the future.
In summary the Panel considered that Ms Pitman’s actions in this case were wholly inappropriate. Ms Pitman was in a responsible position in which she allowed her personal feelings to cloud her judgement with regard to a vulnerable client. The Panel found that Ms Pitman’s behaviour was therefore incongruent with that which is expected of a member of BACP and is incompatible with the ethical and behavioural standards that are expected of a member of BACP. The Panel also considered that, if the public were informed of the all the information relating to this complaint, Ms Pitman’s actions would bring the reputations of the professions of counselling and psychotherapy and BACP into disrepute. The Panel further found that there had been serious breaches of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy such that Ms Pitman’s practice was impaired.
With regard to the notification of her dismissal to BACP, the Panel noted that although she had not provided written information until February Year 2, it seemed she had had an informal telephone call with the Association the week after the dismissal. In this call she had discussed “gross misconduct” and what this entailed. Taking this into account- and that the terms and conditions did not set out any specific form of contact- the Panel concluded that it could not on balance say Ms Pitman had failed to inform BACP of her dismissal in a timely way. Accordingly, it did not find this allegation upheld.
In summary the Panel was unanimous in its decision to implement Article 12.6 and withdraw Ms Pitman’s membership subject to any appeal.
Ms Pitman did not appeal the decision and her membership was withdrawn.
Any future re-application for membership will be considered under Article 12.3 of the Articles of Association.
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