Information from a university had been received by BACP, under Article 4.6 of the Memorandum & Articles of Association, which raised concerns about the suitability of Mr Walker’s continued membership of this Association. An Article 4.6 Panel had decided that Article 4.6 should be invoked in this case. Following an Appeal Hearing, the task of the Appeal Panel was to decide whether or not the decision of the Article 4.6 Panel was correct in all the circumstances. The summary of the allegations is as follows:
A complaint had been received by a university from a student on a counselling course who was receiving supervision from Mr Walker, an approved counsellor and supervisor of the university at that time. The student complained that Mr Walker acted unethically in that his actions and comments constituted harassment under the university’s Harassment Policy. The student’s complaints were, as described by Mr Walker, that he:
- used informal and sometimes inappropriate language;
- focussed too frequently on matters of a sexual nature;
- used a particular process about body image inappropriately causing her embarrassment;
- used personal disclosure;
- expressed a personal opinion of the job of the student’s new boyfriend in a derogatory fashion.
The complaints were upheld by the university which considered that Mr Walker’s behaviour towards the student was considered to be professionally inappropriate and constituted verbal harassment of a sexual nature.
The nature of the information received suggested that Mr Walker’s membership of BACP had brought, and/or could continue to bring, the Association and/or the reputations of counselling and psychotherapy into disrepute.
In response to this information, Mr Walker "owned that he was culpable in respect to some of the complaints". However, in addition to the above complaints, Mr Walker also admitted two further incidents which were of considerable concern to the Appeal Panel:
- he acknowledged that he had previously invited a participant on a course to go out with him;
- and that two other clients had discontinued working with him, expressing discomfort with his informal approach.
In considering these matters, Mr Walker identified some reasons for his behaviour and sought personal therapy on these matters for a short period. In addition, he had changed his supervisor, recognising that his relationship with his previous supervisor had become "too complacent", and had put various strategies in place in an attempt to minimise these events occurring again. Nevertheless, Mr Walker detailed a number of personal issues and, coupled with the very short period of personal therapy on these matters, the Appeal Panel was also concerned about his fitness to practice.
The Appeal Panel noted that the written responses and explanations of the Appellant were inadequate given the serious nature of the original complaint, and that they needed to test the validity of what had been written and establish the depth of learning that had taken place. In the circumstances, the Panel expressed considerable frustration and concern over the non-attendance of Mr Walker in that it was denied the opportunity to question him on these matters.
The Appeal Panel noted and considered the reasons given by Mr Walker for his non-attendance at the Hearing and decided that these were neither good nor sufficient. The Panel was further concerned at the lack of robustness on Mr Walker’s part in not making himself available; by comments made about a "wall of professional rules"; and his contentedness to self-regulate himself, whilst failing to be professionally accountable to the Association.
The Appeal Panel noted the Appellant’s protests in his correspondence. However, it needs to be stated that, as a member of BACP, Mr Walker should understand BACP procedures and processes were, and have been, duly followed. The paucity of his response made it all the more important that a Panel should have had an opportunity to question him to verify and clarify these matters. It is sad to note that he felt he would not "receive fair or balanced treatment" when that is the essence of these procedures.
Taking into account all communications forwarded and especially on reviewing the Appellant’s letter dated 20 November 2006, the task of the Appeal Panel was to decide whether or not the decision of the Article 4.6 Panel was correct in all the circumstances.
In mitigation, the Appeal Panel noted Mr Walker’s acknowledgement of his "culpability" in the acts complained about and the steps he states he has taken to reduce or minimise the risk of these acts occurring again, coupled with the fact that he has been practicing for 11 years.
Nevertheless, the Panel recognised the seriousness of the complaints made to the University and, coupled with Mr Walker’s refusal to be professionally accountable, it was unanimous in its decision that the Article 4.6 Panel’s decision was correct in all the circumstances. Accordingly, the Panel decided that Mr Walker’s appeal should be denied. As such, his membership of BACP was terminated.
Should Mr Walker wish to re-apply for membership of BACP in the future, any application will be considered under Article 4.3 of the Memorandum & Articles of Association whereupon he will be required, in person, to respond to the matters raised in this case.