A 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 and the Panel considered the alleged breaches of the Code of Ethics and Practice for Counsellors 1998 together with the BACP Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy.
The focus of the complaint, as summarised by the Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel, surrounded the situation whereby Ms Black had written a short story about the complainant, and the related therapy, allegedly without seeking her consent to do so. The article was published in a book that had psychotherapy as its subject area. Whilst Ms Black changed names in the article, the complainant alleged that anyone who knew her and read the article would be able to readily recognise her. The complainant considered the disclosure of sensitive information in the chapter to be a breach of confidentiality. It was a friend of the complainant who discovered the publication, and informed her of it. This resulted in the complainant ending the therapy prematurely in November 2008.
The complainant had been in therapy with Ms Black for a period of eight years and allegedly planned to complete therapy in January 2009.
The complainant also questioned the probity of Ms Black's practice and alleged that she had not reviewed her therapy during the eight years of the therapeutic relationship and therefore she questioned the motives for not doing so. Furthermore the complainant alleged that there was no agreed contract for therapy and that there had been no discussion of confidentiality. However, she alleged that she had assumed confidentiality would be guaranteed. The complainant further questioned Ms Black's motives with regard to the use of her material for publication.
The complainant alleged that there has been no apology from Ms Black. Whilst Ms Black did write to her to offer a final session, the complainant declined the offer, having lost all trust in Ms Black and in counselling in general.
The Pre-Hearing Assessment Panel, in accepting this complaint, was concerned with the allegations made which suggested a contravention of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy, and in particular:
- The alleged failure by Ms Black to reach agreement with the complainant about the terms on which counselling was offered at the start of counselling in 2000 and in particular with regard to confidentiality, suggesting a contravention of clause B.4.3.1 of the Code of Ethics and Practice for Counsellors 1998.
- The alleged disclosure of client material for the purposes of publication, without the complainant's knowledge or consent.
- The alleged exploitation of the complainant by Ms Black for personal advantage, in taking advantage of confidential material disclosed by the complainant during therapy.
- Ms Black's alleged failure to appropriately deal with the grievance raised by the complainant.
- Ms Black's alleged behaviour, as described by the complainant, suggesting a contravention of the ethical principles of fidelity, autonomy, and non-maleficence, and paragraphs 6, 16, 18 and 23 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy.
On balance, having fully considered the above, the panel made the following findings:
- There was a serious breach of confidentiality by Ms Black, which resulted in damage to her client, and which could, if the details of this case were made public, undermine the public's confidence in this profession.
- The trust between client and therapist, which is so fundamental to the therapeutic relationship, was broken by Ms Black the moment she submitted her story for publication, without consent from her client.
- Publication of the story meant that personally identifiable and sensitive information was put into the public domain without the client's knowledge or permission.
- Ms Black breached her duty of care to her client by failing to raise and/or address the issue of writing, and then having published, the details of her therapy without the client's consent, at any time during the remaining months of therapy.
- Ms Black only recognised that confidentiality had been breached when a friend of the client identified her as being the ‘client' in the published work.
- Once the client was made aware of the chapter by her friend some months later, Ms Black failed to acknowledge the feelings being experienced by the client and failed to address the issue with her. By failing to address these matters, Ms Black did not accept her own responsibility to be accountable to her client, which demonstrated a lack of respect and professional competence.
- The publisher's guidelines clearly stated that the identity of the client should be "fully disguised". Ms Black failed to do this, and the panel found this to be exploitative of the client.
- While Ms Black responded promptly to the grievance raised by the client, the panel was of the opinion that this was not an adequate response, in that she only offered a final session, rather than suggesting, for example, mediation or even an immediate apology for the obvious hurt caused.
- By publishing a story about the client, Ms Black seriously breached the trust placed in her by her client, and therefore contravened the ethical principles of autonomy, fidelity and non-maleficence.
- The panel found that Ms Black failed in her duty to respect the client's privacy and dignity, and that she had not paid careful attention to client consent and confidentiality.
- By failing to protect the client's personally identifiable and sensitive material from unauthorised disclosure, Ms Black failed to honour the trust placed in her by her client.
- The panel was satisfied that Ms Black did review her work in supervision. However, she did not discuss in supervision, the possible or actual implications and consequences of her writing the story, before or after publication and specifically when it had been brought to her attention that her client had been identified.
- The client disclosed information about herself to Ms Black for the purposes of receiving confidential therapy; this information was not disclosed for the purposes of publication. The panel found this change of use, without the client's knowledge or consent, to have been exploitative of the client.
- Although the panel accepted that Ms Black gained no financial advantage, she did achieve the non-pecuniary advantage of authorship status.
- When asked whether, in hindsight, she would do anything differently, Ms Black responded that she would not. The panel found this deeply concerning, particularly in the light of the client's statement that the discovery of the published story had "retrospectively contaminated" the entire eight years of therapy she had received.
Ms Black apologised to the client at the hearing, and said that she was ‘devastated' by the result of her actions.
The panel was unanimous in its decision that these findings amounted to serious professional malpractice, on the grounds that by publishing a story about her client, without seeking consent and by inadequately protecting her identity, Ms Black was negligent in her duty of care to the client. Furthermore, Ms Black was reckless in that she admitted that she had not considered, nor sought supervision on, the possible consequences of her actions. This lack of forethought, together with her failure to address the issues of breach of anonymity when it had been brought to her attention, amounted to serious incompetence.
Accordingly, the panel decided that if the public was made aware of the full facts of this case, it would bring the profession, and by implication, BACP, into disrepute and therefore, Ms Black's membership of this Association will be withdrawn with immediate effect.
Any future application for membership of BACP would be considered under Article 4.3 of the Memorandum and Articles of Association.