The complaint against the above individual member was taken to Adjudication in line with the Professional Conduct Procedure.
The complaint was heard under the BACP Professional Conduct Procedure © 2007, and considered allegations of 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, was the alleged unprofessional and incompetent practice offered by Mr Rushworth to the Complainant whilst she was in therapy with him between April 2007 and February 2008.
The Complainant alleged that when she first met Mr Rushworth, she fully appraised him of her mental and physical health. She alleges that he was confident that he could help. From April until November, the Complainant attended the 1½-hour therapy sessions, which were conducted twice a week in her home. Following a bad experience with a caretaker therapist, recommended by Mr Rushworth, during his August vacation, the Complainant suggested Mr Rushworth's supervisor attend a session. Mr Rushworth refused but offered supportive contact by text between sessions. Printouts from the texts support allegations of inappropriate expressions of affection by Mr Rushworth.
From November 2007, sessions were changed to one-to-one, lasting 3 hours on Monday evenings and 6 hours on Thursday afternoons. The Complainant alleged that she dissociated during a session on 24 January 2008 and did not recover until 7 February 2008. Mr Rushworth refused to make an emergency visit, which the Complainant alleged was against the agreed contract. Mr Rushworth texted his intention to take leave in two weeks and when confronted, the Complainant alleged he behaved in an intimidating, aggressive and rude manner that ‘really scared' her. A week later on 18 February, Mr Rushworth apologised for his behaviour and told the Complainant that his supervisor had told him to stop the therapy and deal with his own emotional needs. On 22 February 2008, the Complainant emailed Mr Rushworth confirming the termination of therapy and requesting a refund of ⅓ of the £6,000 she had paid in fees. He responded by email the next day agreeing she make a formal complaint, refusing to refund the money and requesting further communication through solicitors.
The Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel, in accepting this complaint was concerned with the allegations made within the complaint suggesting contravention of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy, and those in particular as follows:
- The alleged exploitation of a vulnerable client by Mr Rushworth, both emotionally and financially.
- The alleged lack of appropriate boundaries exhibited by Mr Rushworth to the Complainant, demonstrated by his behaviour towards her and in the numerous text messages sent to her.
- Mr Rushworth's alleged lack of fitness to practice in relation to the client and the lack of arrangements made for his client affected by this.
- The alleged inappropriate and threatening behaviour displayed by Mr Rushworth towards the Complainant on their appointment of 11 February 2008.
- The alleged lack of personal moral qualities integrity, humility, competence and respect demonstrated by Mr Rushworth in his dealings with the Complainant
- The alleged lack of professional behaviour by Mr Rushworth, towards the Complainant, especially in regard to the lack of good quality of care, failure to keep the client's trust, inadequate fitness to practise, and failure to behave appropriately when things went wrong.
On balance, having fully considered the above, the Panel made the following findings:
- Mr Rushworth exploited the Complainant emotionally and financially by engaging in 3 hourly and 6 hourly sessions a week (9 hours in total per week) and failed to recognise the emotional vulnerability of the client in these circumstances. This excessive number of hours per week led to financial exploitation of the client.
- The Panel found that Mr Rushworth exploited the client by continuing with the counselling sessions, at a level of 9 hours therapy per week, during the two week period of the client's disassociated state and this was evidenced in the records of continuing payment to Mr Rushworth during this time. The Complainant reported that she could not recall these sessions.
- Mr Rushworth exhibited a serious lack of appropriate boundary keeping, in that he sent numerous text messages to the Complainant, between sessions, including on Christmas Day and New Year's Day and on one occasion texting at 3 am. Many messages contained inappropriate expressions of affection such as "I'm here 4 u,always,deepest luv affection.paul",and "lots of love warm fuzzy's 4 u to guide threw the darkest moments. Now 4ever.paul". Numerous texts, instigated by Mr Rushworth, indicated an unnecessary intrusiveness into the Complainant's life. Mr Rushworth continued to text the Complainant despite being aware that she was in a "childlike disassociated state" and he failed to respect the Complainant's legitimate need to distance herself from his interventions.
- Mr Rushworth, in his written submission, failed to demonstrate any awareness of the limitations of his competence. Despite being fully aware of his client's medical and physical history, he increased client contact hours to a level which demonstrated a serious lack of judgement and awareness of the impact this would have on a fragile and vulnerable client.
- Both parties agreed that Mr Rushworth had arranged support from a colleague for the Complainant during his holiday absence.
- Mr Rushworth did not provide evidence that he had taken appropriate supervision or sought other support for his work with this client.
- The Panel recognised that the Complainant experienced Mr Rushworth's behaviour, during a meeting on 11 February 2008, as threatening but did not have sufficient information to conclude that the actual behaviour was threatening. However Mr Rushworth does admit, in his written statement, that he was annoyed and irritated. Both parties agreed that Mr Rushworth's behaviour had been inappropriate.
- The Panel found that the case notes, relating to this particular client, supplied by Mr Rushworth, raised doubt as to whether they were contemporaneous or written in response to this complaint. There were inconsistencies in the notes for January 2008 where Mr Rushworth stated he would write to the client's psychiatrist when, according to other evidence, submitted by him, he had already done so.
- The Panel found that Mr Rushworth had betrayed the client's trust by continuing to convince her that he was competent to deal with the complexities of her issues.
- The Panel found that Mr Rushworth failed to behave in a professional manner and failed to provide a good quality of care for the Complainant.
The Panel was very concerned that Mr Rushworth failed to attend the Hearing and that he had given only 3 working days notice of his intention not to attend, having indicated previously that he would do so. Mr Rushworth's reasons for not attending indicated that his plans had been in place for some considerable time and therefore he should have either given adequate notice or asked for the Hearing to be re-arranged to a date more convenient to him. He failed to do this. Whilst Mr Rushworth provided a written response to the complaint, in the view of the Panel, he did not demonstrate full responsibility in taking part in the professional conduct procedures, as required of all members under the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy.
In the matter of the complaint against Mr Rushworth, the Panel was deeply concerned by Mr Rushworth's behaviour and actions with this particular client. The Panel considered that it amounted to bringing the profession into disrepute in that the public's trust in the profession might reasonably be undermined if they were accurately informed of all the circumstances of this case.
Accordingly, the Panel was unanimous in its decision that Mr Rushworth's membership of BACP should be withdrawn forthwith.
The Panel considered the appropriateness of imposing an educative Sanction in the circumstances; however, given Mr Rushworth's reasons for not attending the Hearing, that he has now left the country, and that he tried to resign his membership of BACP in the period prior to the Hearing, the Panel concluded that Mr Rushworth's actions indicated that he would be unlikely to comply with any Sanction.
Any future re-application for membership will be considered under Article 4.3 of the Memorandum & Articles of Association.