Information was received by BACP, which was considered under Article 12.6 of the Memorandum & Articles of Association.
The summary of the information, together with the allegations as notified to Ms Wildsmith was as follows:
Ms Wildsmith was employed as a counsellor by the [ . . . ] NHS Foundation Trust. Following a disciplinary meeting, the Panel found against Ms Wildsmith on the grounds of gross misconduct. The allegations made against Ms Wildsmith by her employer related to soliciting private work from an NHS client in her care, breaching confidentiality and inappropriate contact with a client. The NHS also raised issues around alleged poor record keeping, alleged failure to seek supervision, alleged lack of fitness to practice due to feeling unwell and alleged lack of empathy for clients affected.
The nature of the information raised questions about the suitability of Ms Wildsmith's continuing membership of this Association and suggested that her actions have brought, or may yet bring, not only this Association, but also the reputations of counselling/psychotherapy into disrepute. The information further suggested that there may have been a serious breach, or breaches, of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy and it raised concerns about the following in particular:
Allegedly, Ms Wildsmith inappropriately provided private counselling to a client she had previously seen as part of her work with her employer without informing her employer.
- Allegedly, Ms Wildsmith inappropriately breached client confidentiality.
- Allegedly, Ms Wildsmith failed to keep appropriate records of the alleged breach of confidentiality.
- Allegedly, Ms Wildsmith failed to make adequate use of supervision or other consultative support in managing her work with the client.
- Allegedly, Ms Wildsmith had inappropriate and unprofessional contact with a client outside of the counselling relationship.
- Allegedly, Ms Wildsmith inappropriately disclosed highly personal information to a client.
- Ms Wildsmith's alleged behaviour suggested a contravention of the Ethical Principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy, Beneficence and Non-maleficence and paragraphs 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 17, 20, 24, 40, 63 and 64 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy (2010) and of the Ethical Principles of Fidelity, Autonomy, Beneficence and Non-maleficence and paragraphs 1, 4, 5, 6, 7, 11, 16, 18, 32, 55 and 56 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy (2009) together with the personal moral qualities of Empathy, Competence, Wisdom and Courage to which counsellors and psychotherapists are strongly encouraged to aspire.
The member was invited to send in a written response and made a response.
The Article 12.6 Panel decided to implement Article 12.6 of the Memorandum & Articles of Association and withdraw BACP membership from Ms Wildsmith, to take effect 28 days from notification of this decision. The reasons for its decision were as follows:
- Ms Wildsmith herself (with the single exception of the allegation that she failed to keep adequate records) admitted multiple breaches of the BACP Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy;
- The Panel found those breaches to be serious and were evidence of a failure to practise safely;
- The Panel found in particular that there was an absence of appropriate boundaries around Ms Wildsmith in her practice and that she had failed to make adequate use of supervision;
- While the alleged failings of her then employer, as described by Ms Wildsmith, offered some mitigating circumstances, the Panel found that these did not outweigh her own serious failings;
- The Panel found that as a consequence of these breaches of professional conduct, the member had brought the reputation of both BACP and Counselling and Psychotherapy into disrepute and the public's trust in the profession might reasonably be undermined if it were accurately informed about all the circumstances of the case.
Ms Wildsmith appealed against the Article 12.6 Panel's decision to invoke Article 12.6 believing that it was unjust and unreasonable in all of the circumstances to implement Article 12.6.
The Appeal Panel, in addition to the information considered by the Article 12.6 Panel, was provided with Ms Wildsmith's appeal against the decision to withdraw membership, as well as further supporting information from Ms Wildsmith and the [ . . . ] NHS Partnership Trust. All of the preceding information, including the oral evidence given on the day, was carefully considered by the Appeal Panel.
It was the duty of the Article 12.6 Appeal Panel to decide whether the decision of the Article 12.6 Panel to implement Article 12.6 was just and reasonable in all the circumstances and then to decide whether an appeal should be allowed or denied.
The Appeal Panel came to the unanimous decision that the Appellant's appeal should be denied. The reasons for its decision are as follows:
- Ms Wildsmith showed a serious lack of in-depth understanding of the professional standards, which are inherent in the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy, which, as a member, Ms Wildsmith has agreed to abide by and, those expected of an accredited member of the BACP. Further, she failed to recognise the gravity and nature of the professional responsibilities expected of a practitioner when working in a professional and organisational setting, in that the Panel heard from the [ . . . ] Partnership NHS Foundation, that the policies and procedures of the organisation were available on the intranet and to which all staff had access. Ms Wildsmith denied that she did have access to a computer where she could review these policies and procedures but, the Panel decided that Ms Wildsmith was under a duty to make herself aware of the policies and procedures, and that in failing to do so she did not act responsibly. As a result of this, Ms Wildsmith failed to ensure that she provided her client's with a good quality of care by providing competently delivered services as a practitioner who was appropriately supported and accountable. The Panel was also not satisfied that Ms Wildsmith demonstrated an ability to take personal responsibility for her actions and it was clear that she often assigned her own personal responsibility to others, such as her supervisor.
- The Panel was not satisfied that Ms Wildsmith had sufficiently considered the implications to the client of changing from counselling a client in the NHS to taking on that client privately. The Panel was not satisfied that she had considered adequately when and if there would have been an appropriate time to take on an NHS client on a private basis. Whilst Ms Wildsmith had indicated that she had sought the guidance of her first supervisor on this particular issue, there was no evidence that she had infact done so, nor had the investigator appointed by [ . . . ] Partnership found any evidence within the counselling notes of the client to suggest that this issue had indeed been taken to supervision and discussed. Furthermore, the Panel heard evidence that Ms Wildsmith had not accessed the policies and procedures available to all staff within the [ . . . ] Partnership, which specified that staff were precluded from taking on privately any NHS client's without permission. In addition, the Panel was not satisfied that Ms Wildsmith had sought out further guidance from her line manager regarding this issue.
- Ms Wildsmith admitted a breach of confidentiality in that a letter, which related to one client, had been incorrectly addressed to another client. Ms Wildsmith stated that she was "sure" that she had recorded this breach within the counselling notes of these client's but, the Panel heard evidence that the investigator appointed by [ . . . ] Partnership, who had access to the client's notes, found no mention of this breach within the notes. The Panel preferred the evidence from [ . . . ] Partnership and was not satisfied that Ms Wildsmith had kept appropriate records of her work which were accurate.
- The Panel heard evidence of how Ms Wildsmith used supervision for her counselling work both within the NHS and privately. In her private work she used peer supervision, which in hindsight she accepted was insufficient given the complexity of this particular client and the amount of time that could be allocated to her work with her clients. The Panel found that this lack of sufficient supervision was not adequate to have met the needs of this particular client given that Ms Wildsmith accepted that this was a complex client, whom she agreed she was out of her depth with. Furthermore, Ms Wildsmith accepted in evidence that the purpose of her seeing this client on a private basis was merely to "hold him" by listening to him, until the commencement of the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that he was waiting to receive.
- Ms Wildsmith admitted that her boundaries were poor in relation to this client, commenting that "they went away". She admitted that following the ending of their counselling relationship, she had met with the client during her lunchtime where she made him coffee. Ms Wildsmith advised the Panel that the purpose of meeting him was to stop him contacting her, as she believed he wished to have a social relationship with her. The Panel was concerned about the impact that this would have had on the client who could reasonably have believed that the meeting with her was for the purpose of a social relationship. The Panel was also satisfied on the evidence that the meeting was more for her benefit than that of the client and that Ms Wildsmith was unwise in meeting with the client under those circumstances. The Panel further heard evidence from Ms Wildsmith that the counselling sessions with this client took place in his home. On questioning from the Panel, Ms Wildsmith conceded that meeting in a client's home was not the best forum for a counselling session to take place, and further heard that she had done so as she was unable to obtain a counselling room at a more appropriate location. The Panel was satisfied, given the dynamics of their relationship, that it was inappropriate to have counselled this client in his home as it displayed further evidence of the lack of boundaries in place.
- Ms Wildsmith admitted that part of her approach, when counselling clients is to disclose personal information, if it felt appropriate. On questioning by the Panel, she admitted that she had disclosed information of a highly sensitive and personal nature to a client. Ms Wildsmith was unable to provide an explanation as to why it was appropriate to make this disclosure to the client, save to say that this disclosure occurred at the end of a busy day by which time her health had deteriorated and she was no longer fit to work. Ms Wildsmith informed the Panel that although in hindsight she should have cancelled her remaining clients, she did not at the time consider it in the best interests of her clients to do so.
- Despite the mitigation provided by Ms Wildsmith that she now has a new supervisor for her private work, and her apology, the Panel was deeply concerned about the serious nature of her professional malpractice. The Panel was further concerned that as a result of the serious nature of her actions, the public's trust in the profession and the Association might be reasonably undermined if they were accurately informed of all of the circumstances of this case. In addition, the Panel found that the actions of Ms Wildsmith had brought the reputation of counselling/psychotherapy into disrepute and, her actions amounted to Professional Misconduct in that Ms Wildsmith contravened the ethical and behavioural standards that should reasonably be expected of a member of this profession.
The Appeal Panel was unanimous in its finding that the decision of the Article 12.6 Panel in invoking Article 12.6 was just and reasonable in the circumstances and denied the appeal.
Consequently, Ms Wildsmith's membership of BACP is withdrawn with immediate effect.
Any future re-application for membership will be considered under Article 12.3 of the Memorandum & Articles of Association.
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