The complaint against the above individual member was taken to Adjudication in line with the Professional Conduct Procedure.
The complaint was heard under BACP Professional Conduct Procedure 2010 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 on 11 August 2010, following the death of her father, the complainant allegedly asked Mr Black if he would be prepared to be her counsellor, whilst she worked through difficult feelings. Mr Black allegedly agreed to take her request to supervision, although later allegedly said he had not done this, but had instead consulted a colleague. At the time Mr Black was employed as a supervisor for volunteer counsellors at A, an organisation managed by the complainant.
The next day, Mr Black and the complainant met again. Mr Black allegedly told the complainant that he would counsel her, but that sessions should be informal. He also allegedly said that if the boundaries of their therapeutic relationship caused difficulties then he would refer the complainant on to a colleague. The complainant allegedly agreed to this, and offered to pay Mr Black for his time, an offer that Mr Black allegedly refused. Over the next two hours the complainant discussed her feelings regarding the deaths of her father and her son (in 2003), and also her suicidal ideation.
The second appointment took place on 17 August 2010, in a café. Mr Black explained aspects of Freud's theories saying it was important for the complainant to understand the concepts. At this meeting, as allegedly requested by Mr Black, the complainant brought a photograph of her dead son.
The third meeting was on 26 August 2010 in the complainant's office, as Mr Black had allegedly not been able to find an alternative venue. The complainant agreed to this, reluctantly, having allegedly said earlier that she would prefer to meet elsewhere.
In a telephone call, the complainant said that she was confused about her growing feelings for Mr Black, and was consequently stressed and struggling. Mr Black allegedly responded by saying that he was not looking for a relationship as he already had a partner, but that the complainant "ticked all the right boxes". During the next session, which was also held in the complainant's office, Mr Black allegedly told her how flattered he was by what she had said, and allegedly spoke in depth about his unhappy marriage.
There were allegedly another nine sessions between August and October 2010. The complainant alleges that her feelings of attachment were increasing and she was trying to explore these within the therapeutic relationship. Allegedly, Mr Black agreed that she could ring his mobile anytime in order to discuss her suicidal thoughts. The numbers of weekly meeting were increased to two, at the complainant's request, with one session in a café and one in her office. The content of these sessions was allegedly around childhood abuse suffered by the complainant. In retrospect, the complainant alleges that whilst one of these meetings was counselling, the other was seductive flattery as well as supervision for work issues.
After one session they hugged, and Mr Black allegedly said that the hug was "payment enough". After another session, they allegedly kissed, and whilst the complainant told Mr Black she was ok with this, she now says that she was not. Allegedly another couple of incidents of a sexual nature took place. Mr Black allegedly told the complainant that this should stay between the two of them.
The complainant became very confused, and allegedly no longer understood the nature of the relationship between her and Mr Black.
Mr Black then allegedly stopped the therapeutic relationship, saying that "it was turning into psychotherapy", whilst requesting that they remained friends. On 16 October and 7 November 2010 there were allegedly two sexual episodes between them. The complainant wanted to break off contact, but Mr Black allegedly refused to do so, to the alleged detriment of the complainant's health.
The complainant sought medical help and counselling, whilst still in contact with Mr Black. Through talking to a professional colleague, she alleges that she realised that Mr Black had behaved inappropriately.
During this entire period Mr Black continued to work at the organisation. On 23 March 2011 the complainant contacted Mr Black to discuss the ending of his contract, which was due to run out. Mr Black allegedly requested a meeting, over lunch which the complainant agreed to. After lunch they discussed the incidents between them, and Mr Black allegedly first denied these had happened, and then later allegedly accepted that they had. The complainant subsequently contacted Mr Black's supervisor (for his NHS work) to explain what had happened.
The complainant alleges that Mr Black's behaviour was inappropriate, deceitful and manipulative.
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:
- Mr Black allegedly failed to consider the implications of entering into a dual relationship by agreeing to counsel someone with whom he already had a professional relationship, without formal supervisory consultation.
- Mr Black allegedly failed to clarify and agree the rights and responsibilities of both practitioner and client by saying that sessions should be "informal" without making clear what that meant.
- Mr Black allegedly failed to offer the complainant a competent service by not offering periodic reviews.
- Mr Black allegedly did not demonstrate a good standard of care by failing to refer the complainant when she expressed suicidal ideation, and in abruptly stopping the counselling without an onward referral.
- Mr Black allegedly failed to respect the complainant's privacy and confidentiality by holding a counselling session in a café.
- Mr Black allegedly did not demonstrate a good quality of care by telling the complainant that she could ring him anytime, therefore increasing the complainant's dependency on him.
- Mr Black allegedly failed to clarify the terms on which he was offering his services by not being clear about the terms of payment, and in saying that a hug was payment enough.
- Mr Black allegedly abused the trust placed in him by the complainant in order to gain sexual advantage by kissing the complainant and having other sexual contact with her.
- Mr Black allegedly failed to exercise caution and also failed to be willing to be professionally accountable by continuing to have sexual and personal contact with the complainant after he had finished the counselling relationship, and in saying that it should stay between the two of them.
- Mr Black's alleged actions and behaviour, as experienced by the complainant, suggest a contravention in particular of paragraphs 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 11, 14, 17, 20, 59 and 62 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy 2010, as well as the ethical principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy, Beneficence, and Non-maleficence, and the personal qualities of integrity, humility, competence and wisdom to which counsellors and psychotherapists are strongly encouraged to aspire.
On balance, having fully considered the above, the Panel made the following findings:
I. The Panel first considered whether there was a counselling relationship at all between the complainant and Mr Black. On the evidence provided the Panel concluded that there was a counselling relationship, albeit one that was formulated solely on the basis of a poorly articulated verbal contract. It took into account the complainant's evidence that she was in no doubt that counselling had been agreed with Mr Black, and noted the regularity of meetings between the parties on Mondays and Thursdays each week between 17 August 2010 and the beginning of November 2010. It did not, on balance, find as credible Mr Black's explanation that these meetings were all to discuss a funding bid, and his possible appointment as a trustee of the organisation where the complainant worked. The Panel found that the number and regularity of the meetings were wholly disproportionate to such discussions. The Panel therefore, found that there was a counselling contract between Mr Black and the complainant.
II. The Panel found on the evidence provided by both Mr Black and the complainant that there was an already existing professional/work relationship between them, and that in addition, there developed a social relationship as well. Given the Panel's finding above, that there was also a counselling relationship between the parties, the Panel found that there was a clear responsibility on Mr Black to consider the implications of entering into such dual relationships and that on the evidence before it he had failed to do so to the detriment of the complainant. This part of this allegation is therefore upheld. On the evidence presented to it the Panel was not satisfied that Mr Black had failed in his duty to take this matter to formal supervision and this part of the allegation is not upheld.
III. The Panel, in finding that a counselling relationship did exist between Mr Black and the complainant, accepted the evidence of the complainant that the terms of the contract were "woolly" and that Mr Black had told her that the relationship should be "informal". The Panel found on the evidence that such "informality" was not clarified from the outset by Mr Black and that he had failed in his obligation to clarify and agree the rights and responsibilities of both himself as practitioner and of the complainant as client. The allegation is therefore upheld.
IV. The Panel similarly found that, in his failure to clarify and agree the rights and responsibilities of both parties to this counselling relationship, Mr Black had also failed to offer periodic reviews of that relationship with the complainant. The allegation is upheld.
V. The Panel accepted the complainant's evidence that she expressed suicidal ideation to Mr Black early on in the counselling relationship. The Panel found that such early mention of suicide did not automatically require referral but rather a risk assessment. The Panel accepted the evidence of the complainant that she was not at risk after the early counselling and that she had not mentioned it again to Mr Black. This allegation is accordingly not upheld.
VI. The Panel accepted Mr Black's own evidence that it was not appropriate to hold a counselling session in a café other than in the most exceptional circumstances and accordingly found that he had failed to respect the complainant's privacy and confidentiality in doing exactly that with her without good reason. The allegation is upheld.
VII. The Panel found that there was no evidence to suggest that Mr Black had told the complainant that she could ring him at any time on his mobile, and that by giving his mobile number to the complainant the Panel found that he did not, by doing that, increase her dependency on him. The allegation is not upheld.
VIII. The Panel found on the evidence that, in denying the very existence of a counselling contract, Mr Black had failed to clarify the question of payment for the counselling sessions. This part of the allegation is upheld. While the Panel also accepted that both parties agreed that there had been a hug between them, it found that there was insufficient evidence to conclude that Mr Black had said that the hug "was payment enough". This part of the allegation is therefore not upheld.
IX. The Panel found, on the basis of the evidence presented by the complainant, that Mr Black had kissed her, and that on 16 October and 7 November 2010, there had been sexual contact between the complainant and Mr Black. The complainant's evidence was found by the Panel to be consistent, detailed and focussed and found that the distress caused to her in giving this evidence was genuine. Mr Black's evidence, in denying these specific allegations was, by contrast, found by the Panel to be unfocussed in that questions put to him were rarely answered directly. Similarly, the Panel found his evidence to be sometimes inconsistent in important respects, for example concerning his evidence that throughout all this time the complainant never expressed any sign of stress or that she was in a difficult place, which was found by the Panel to be plainly contradicted by other parts of his evidence. His verbal admission at the hearing that he had been in a sexual relationship with another colleague with whom he had a professional relationship suggested to the Panel that there was a pattern of behaviour at work, and this was found by the Panel to be at odds with his presentation of himself as a settled and happy family man. Given these findings of fact, the Panel found that Mr Black had abused the trust placed in him by the complainant in order to gain sexual advantage. The allegation is upheld.
X. The Panel accordingly found that through these incidents of inappropriate sexual contact, Mr Black had failed to exercise caution, and the Panel found that he had also failed to be willing to be professionally accountable for his behaviour through his attempt to persuade the complainant that "it should stay between the two of them". The allegation is upheld.
XI. In light of these findings, the Panel was satisfied that paragraphs 1, 3, 4, 6, 11, 17, 20 and 59 and the ethical principles of being trustworthy, autonomy, beneficence and non-maleficence of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy 2010, had been breached. The Panel also found that Mr Black had showed a lack of the personal moral qualities of integrity, humility, competence, and wisdom, to which all counsellors are encouraged to aspire. The Panel was not satisfied that paragraphs 2, 14 and 62 had been breached.
The Panel noted that these findings involved the exploitation of a vulnerable client and that compliance with paragraph 17 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy is mandatory ("Practitioners must not abuse their client's trust in order to gain sexual advantage"). Accordingly the Panel was unanimous in its decision that these findings amounted to Serious Professional Misconduct and contravened the ethical and behavioural standards that should reasonably be expected from a member of the profession.
The Panel was unanimous that Mr Black's membership of BACP should be withdrawn and took the view that, on the findings reached, any lesser sanction would be wholly disproportionate.