The complaint against the above individual member/registrant 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 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 between February 2008 and mid-2010, Ms Beale provided couples counselling to the Complainants. The couple saw Ms Beale both separately and together for issues they were having, both individually and in their relationship together as a couple. The counselling ended in mid-2010. The complaint is about the joint work with Ms Beale.
In February 2014, the Complainants had a holiday in [ . . . ] together with Ms Beale's former husband. It is alleged that on this holiday Ms Beale's former husband made it clear to the couple that he knew things about their personal and sexual relationship. Ms Beale's former husband allegedly revealed to the Complainants that Ms Beale had discussed with him private matters about the Complainants' relationship. The couple alleged that this was a breach of both confidentiality and trust.
The Complainants stated that they do business with Ms Beale's former husband and his business partner, A. One of the Complainants alleged that in discussions with A, it became apparent that Ms Beale had further broken client confidentiality and trust by talking to A about some of her other clients.
One of the Complainants stated that once aware, he raised concerns with Ms Beale both verbally and in writing and that, as a couple they sought a meeting with Ms Beale to address their concerns and to request the return of notes belonging to them. A meeting took place on 9 April 2014, and one of the Complainants states that their notes were returned to them.
Between April and June 2014 one of the Complainants and Ms Beale entered into an email correspondence. On 13 April 2014, Ms Beale, in an email to one of the Complainants, accepted that she broke confidentiality and broke the confidence that the couple had in her as a counsellor, by speaking about them to her then husband. In this email she also offered an apology to the couple.
One of the Complainants alleged that even after the couple raised their concerns with Ms Beale, about confidentiality, her further response indicated a further breach of confidentiality.
One of the complainants alleged particularly, that the standard of writing, punctuation, grammar and spelling in the email of 13 April 2014, and in Ms Beale's entry in the Counselling Directory, was different from her email response of 18 April 2014. One of the Complainants alleged that the email of 18 April 2014, appeared to be logical, well written, structured, grammatically correct and literate. This he alleged, indicated that Ms Beale had involved another person in the response to the details of his complaint and in so doing had further broken confidentiality.
The Panel had to consider whether the complaint fell within the deadline for receipt of a complaint. It considered the explanation submitted by the Complainants and was satisfied with the explanation provided as to why the complaint was not provided sooner and therefore accepted that it met the requirements of paragraph 1.5 of the Professional Conduct Procedure.
The Panel, in accepting this complaint noted the issues the Complainants raised as their complaint. It 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:
- Ms Beale allegedly failed to respect the Complainants' privacy and confidentiality in that she disclosed private matters about the Complainants to her then husband, without consent and, further, in that subsequent to raising their concerns with Ms Beale she involved someone else in the responses to the details of their complaint, and in so doing by making unauthorised disclosures, Ms Beale allegedly failed to honour the trust of the Complainants.
- Ms Beale allegedly failed to honour the Complainants' trust, in that she had broken confidentiality with regard to other clients by making disclosures to another person known to the Complainants, which negatively impacted upon the Complainants.
- Ms Beale's alleged behaviour as experienced by the Complainants suggests a contravention of paragraphs 11 and 20 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2010, 2013); and the ethical principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy, Beneficence and Non-Maleficence and further suggests a lack of the personal moral qualities of Empathy, Integrity, Respect, Humility, Competence and Wisdom to which all practitioners are strongly urged to aspire and suggests a contravention of paragraphs 11 and 16 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2009); and the ethical principles of Fidelity, Autonomy, Beneficence and Non-Maleficence and further suggests a lack of the personal moral qualities of Empathy, Integrity, Respect, Humility, Competence and Wisdom to which all practitioners are strongly urged to aspire.
On balance, having fully considered the above, the Panel made the following findings:
1. On questioning during the hearing, Ms Beale accepted that she had discussed the private matters of the Complainants with her then husband, admitting that she had done so on more than one occasion. She stated that she did not talk to her husband about their therapy all the time, but whenever he enquired about the Complainants, she, "spoke with him freely", regarding their personal life and information discussed in their private therapy sessions. She said that sometimes those discussions took place following counselling sessions which took place at her house and sometimes they took place while she and her husband were on holiday. The Complainants stated that at the outset, Ms Beale had assured them that she would not discuss anything regarding their therapy with her husband. In fact, all parties agreed that Ms Beale had contracted from the outset not to discuss the Complainants with her husband but had then proceeded to do so. When asked why she had disclosed information about the Complainants' very personal circumstances to other people, Ms Beale stated that she wasn't talking to other people, she was talking to her then, life-long partner, who was the closest person in her world, and who also had a relationship with the Complainants. Further, Ms Beale stated that she discussed the Complainants with her husband, because she was a human being and that because her husband knew them as friends, it just seemed a natural thing to do.
In response to questions as to how Ms Beale had been guided in supervision in taking on friends of herself and her husband as clients, Ms Beale said that her supervisor at the time had expressed the view that she had known of such cases but that they were complex and difficult to manage. Ms Beale said that other than mentioning to her supervisor that she was planning to go on holiday with the Complainants she could not remember the detail of any discussion with her supervisor.
The Panel found that Ms Beale had failed to respect the Complainants' privacy and confidentiality because she had discussed information gained from their therapy sessions with her then husband, without their consent, and accordingly upheld this part of the allegation. The Panel further found that the Complainants were entitled to rely on a practitioner's adherence to the Ethical Framework and to comply with a fundamental principle of professional practice, namely maintaining client confidentiality. Nevertheless by way of further reassurance, Ms Beale also gave assurances to the Complainants, that she would not discuss the contents of their therapy with her husband, and therefore, not only had Ms Beale failed to honour the Ethical Framework, she had failed to honour the oral undertaking she had given to the Complainants.
With regard to the second part of the allegation, Ms Beale strongly denied that she had involved someone else in writing or checking the response to the complaint, which she had sent to the Complainants on 18 April 2014. The Panel questioned Ms Beale at length on this point and concluded that the evidence was insufficient to support the complaint. Accordingly this part of the allegation was not upheld.
2. Ms Beale accepted that she had talked, on occasions, about other clients to a third party. This third party was a senior mental health nurse, who was also a friend, and known to the Complainants. Ms Beale described the exchanges as being peer to peer conversations and said that she had not disclosed individual names. However, she accepted in her written and oral evidence that even though no names were mentioned, the clients could be identified by the third party due to the close knit community in which she and the third party were working. The Complainants stated in their evidence that they had been concerned to realise from the third party, that Ms Beale had discussed the affairs of her clients without protecting their confidentiality. Ms Beale stated in her written evidence that she accepted this had added to the Complainants' distress and further accepted that it was a breach of trust. The Complainants stated in their evidence that part of the impact for them was that they did not know how far the details of their personal life had spread as a result of Ms Beale's failures to keep client information confidential. They said this uncertainty was a continuing and deep source of worry for them. They also explained that any benefit they had received from the counselling had been impaired because the counselling process had been undermined by Ms Beale's failure to maintain confidentiality in respect of themselves and other clients. In addition, the Complainants also stated that because of these events they had lost confidence in the profession as a whole and in BACP in particular, as a key professional ethic had been flouted by a practitioner member of the Association.
Accordingly, in light of Ms Beale's admission, and for the reasons stated above, the Panel found that Ms Beale had made disclosures about clients, other than the Complainants, to a third party known to the Complainants and that these breaches of confidentiality had negatively impacted on the Complainants and breached their trust. This allegation is therefore upheld.
3. In light of the above findings, the Panel was satisfied that paragraphs 11 and 20 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2010) and the ethical principles of Being Trustworthy, Autonomy, Beneficence and Non Maleficence had been breached. It also found that Ms Beale had demonstrated a lack of the personal moral qualities of Integrity, Respect, Humility, Competence and Wisdom to which all practitioners are strongly urged to aspire. The Panel did not find a lack of the personal moral quality of empathy.
The Panel was also satisfied that 11 and 16 of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2009) had been breached and the ethical principles of Fidelity, Beneficence and Non-Maleficence. It also found that Ms Beale had demonstrated a lack of the personal moral qualities of Integrity, Respect, Humility, Competence and Wisdom to which all practitioners are strongly urged to aspire. The Panel did not find a lack of the personal moral quality of Empathy.
The Panel was not satisfied that there had been a breach of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy (2013), as none of the breaches occurred in this period.
The Panel was unanimous in its decision that these findings amounted to serious professional misconduct.
Ms Beale stated that she had changed her practice in the last four years. Last year she changed her supervisor in order to get more rigorous supervision. She said that she understands herself better and had come to an appreciation that she had behaved naively and also arrogantly in believing she could safely manage working with clients who were also family friends. Ms Beale said she was sorry in her written and oral evidence.
One of the aims of the Professional Conduct Procedure is to protect members of the public. The Panel, in considering what sanction may be appropriate in the circumstances of this case, has taken into account the interests of public protection.
In looking at the evidence in this case, it was apparent that Ms Beale's failure to protect client confidentiality was not an isolated incident or the result of an oversight or error. She had spoken about the Complainants to her husband over many months and she had also spoken about other clients to a third party.
The Panel accepted that these events had happened some years ago. In her written and oral evidence Ms Beale stated that she had learned about ethical behaviour during her counselling training and she invited the Panel to infer that her training would help her to practise better and with a far better awareness of counselling ethics. The Panel noted, however, that her training had occurred during the time in which she had been working with the Complainants, and it had not changed her behaviour in relation to discussing her clients with her then husband.
Despite Ms Beale's stated assurances that she had improved as an ethical counsellor since the events in question, the Panel was concerned that one of her current practices does not illustrate an adequate appreciation of the fundamental importance of client confidentiality and how important it is to protect it. The practice in question is that Ms Beale displays "thank you" cards from clients in a therapy room, which is shared both with another counsellor and attended by clients of them both. Therefore, third parties may view information that would potentially breach client confidentiality. The Panel considered this raised questions about the effectiveness of her stated learning as when questioned about this practice, Ms Beale stated that she, "had not thought about it".
Finally, according to Ms Beale's own evidence, she had sought to manage the challenging situation of acting as professional counsellor to friends, with little or no support through supervision.
For the reasons set out above, the Panel was of the view that Ms Beale's disregard for a fundamental tenet of the counselling relationship meant that she posed a serious risk to clients. Given the BACP's remit of public protection, the Panel was unanimous that Ms Beale's membership of BACP should be withdrawn.
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