Information was disclosed to BACP, which was considered under Article 12.6 of the Articles of Association.
The summary of the information, together with the allegations as notified to Ms Symons was as follows:
Ms Symons contacted BACP, by email on 2 April 2014, to disclose that she had been suspended by her then employer [ . . . ], where she worked as a counsellor, pending an investigation into her conduct.
An investigation was carried out in relation to Ms Symons, after she disclosed some matters relating to her conduct with a client. The concerns were that she had allowed an attraction towards her client to escalate over a period of 13 weeks, during the course of her working relationship, culminating in her expressing her feelings towards this client and engaging in physical contact with him outside of work.
Ms Symons was interviewed and admitted during interview that she had felt an initial attraction towards her client and had told him that she loved him. She also admitted meeting with the client outside of work and having personal contact with him, which included kissing him and holding hands.
The investigation held that Ms Symons failed to notify her line manager of her growing attraction towards her client, continued to work with the client for 13 weeks, despite a suggestion made by her supervisor that she refer the client to another counsellor, and arranged to meet with her client outside of work, where she engaged in physical contact. The investigation found that Ms Symons' actions amounted to gross misconduct and she was dismissed.
Ms Symons subsequently notified BACP, on 22 June 2015, that following her dismissal from [ . . . ], she was given a letter with the client's contact details along with a request for her to contact him. She stated that she subsequently contacted the client by telephone and realised that she still had strong feelings for him and expressed this to him. Ms Symons stated that following this, there was intermittent telephone contact between her and the client for a period of one month and she subsequently met up and spent the day with him. She stated that whilst she and her client would like to have a relationship, she was aware that such a relationship would be fraught with difficulties. She stated that at present she was not engaged in an intimate relationship with her client.
The nature of the information raised questions about the suitability of Ms Symons continuing membership of this Association and it raised concerns about the following in particular:
- Ms Symons' alleged actions have brought, or may yet bring, not only this Association, but also the reputations of counselling/psychotherapy into disrepute.
- Ms Symons' alleged behaviour is incongruent with that which is expected of a member of BACP.
- The information further suggests that there may have been a serious breach, or breaches, of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy.
- Ms Symons' alleged actions suggests that her fitness to practise may have been impaired.
Ms Symons was invited to make a formal response to the allegations and which she provided.
The Panel carefully considered all the evidence disclosed
The Article 12.6 Panel decided to implement Article 12.6 of the Articles of Association. Claire Symons' membership would be withdrawn subject to appeal. Ms Symons had 28 days from the date of notification of its report to make an appeal. In the absence of an appeal, notification would be given to Ms Symons by the Chair of the Association with regard to the withdrawal of membership.
The reasons for the Panel's decision were as follows:
The Panel noted that Ms Symons, in her self-disclosure to BACP, explained that following a work place investigation she had been dismissed from her employment for gross misconduct, after disclosing that she had allowed an attraction towards a male client to escalate over a period of 13 weeks, during the course of her working relationship with him. Within her disclosure she had stated that she had expressed her feelings to her client; engaged in physical contact with him outside of work and had told him that she loved him. Ms Symons also admitted having personal contact with her client, which included kissing him and holding hands.
In addressing the information provided, the Panel noted that within the documentation, namely ‘Claire Symons Investigation' report, the summary stated that both supervisors, internal and external, had confirmed that Ms Symons had revealed her attraction towards the client, but they were unaware of how those feelings developed further, as Ms Symons had not elected, by her own admission, to share this with them. The Panel further noted that during the investigation interview, Ms Symons had stated ‘....I cannot stress how excellent my internal and external supervision has been. I just want to make it clear that this is no one else's responsibility but mine....' However, the Panel noted the contradictory statement made in Ms Symons' formal response, where she stated: ‘I was not advised adequately by my supervisors who knew the extent of my feelings. I was entrusted to manage the situation myself. In light of my experience and vulnerability within my role guidance was essential.'
The Panel, in considering the evidence before it, noted the following:
- The agency which Ms Symons worked for was a place for men with substance misuse issues, where clients would reside at the agency for a period of between 3 and 6 months.
- Ms Symons had stated that ‘When I arrived at ........ I had worked for fifteen years in the care industry, the majority of my work being with vulnerable adults' However, Ms Symons later stated that ‘When I started I had recently finished my counselling diploma having undertaken 100 hours of practice at a voluntary agency. I was well aware I was well qualified for the post, but inexperienced.'
- The agency had a staff ‘Code of Conduct' policy in which it was clearly stated that individuals must not engage in any sexual contact with a client. This included making suggestions, hints, or encouragement to the possibility of such contact; should not seek to initiate physical contact with a client outside of a professional handshake or form any relationship outside working hours.
- Ms Symons stated in the narrative headed ‘Context and Subjective Perspective' that her internal supervisor, was happy for her to take the issue of her attraction to her client to her external supervisor, but that what her internal supervisor could have done was to introduce the agency's 'Code of Conduct' or the BACP code of ethics, which may have changed the course of events.
In coming to its conclusion the Panel took account of Ms Symons' submissions, relating to the stress she stated she had experienced within her working environment; that she felt unsupported and that she believed the agency had owed her a duty of care.
However, it also considered that Ms Symons had been contradictory in her submissions at various stages and therefore found her to be inconsistent in addressing her responsibilities. On one hand she sought to take full responsibility for her actions and on another she sought to blame the organisation and her supervisors, for not adequately supporting her. The Panel considered that Ms Symons had not demonstrated sufficient insight or learning.
In considering Ms Symons' submissions regarding her inexperience, the Panel noted the presentation of Ms Symons' resume of her work history over fifteen years, which the Panel considered indicated a breadth of experience in working with vulnerable people, including a degree in Social Work and working within other counselling organisations.
It was poignant to note that Ms Symons was introduced to the Code of Conduct, at her employment, during her induction in June 2014 but she declared that until March 2015 she had never before seen or heard of a "staff code of conduct". Ms Symons had also confirmed that she was familiar with the BACP Ethical Framework. The Panel concluded that it was Ms Symons' responsibility, not only to make herself aware of the organisations' Code of Conduct, but as a member of the BACP, to be familiar with the Ethical Framework and to work within those safely and ethically.
Finally, the Panel noted and expressed concern that subsequent to her dismissal Ms Symons, who stated she had been given a letter from the client requesting she contact him, did so by telephone the next day, and had subsequently met up with him. The Panel noted that at this point the client was still a vulnerable adult in recovery. Ms Symons also expressed her wish to have a relationship with this client but was aware that such a relationship would be fraught with difficulties. She confirmed that at present she was not engaged in an intimate relationship with her client.
In making its decision the Panel took account of Ms Symons' submissions that she intended to have at least a two year break from practice; that she was in personal therapy; that she had undertaken and had enrolled on relevant courses and undertaken self-learning. It also noted that Ms Symons had apologised for her behaviours and acknowledged the serious consequences of her actions.
The Panel considered that Ms Symons' behaviour was wholly inappropriate, particularly as the client was vulnerable, and that Ms Symons was in a responsible position in which she allowed her personal feelings to cloud her judgement. The Panel found that Ms Symons' behaviour was incongruent with that which is expected of a member of BACP and is incompatible with the ethical and behavioural standards that are expected of a member of BACP. The Panel also considered that Claire Symons' actions would result in the reputations of counselling and psychotherapy and BACP being brought into disrepute, if the public were accurately informed of all of the information. The Panel further found that there had been a serious breach of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy such that Ms Symons' fitness to practise was impaired.
The Panel was therefore unanimous in its decision to implement Article 12.6 and withdraw Claire Symons' membership, subject to any appeal.
Ms Symons appealed against the decision of the Article 12.6 Panel and subsequently indicated her withdrawal of the appeal. This had to be considered by the Article 12.6 Appeal Panel and it made its decision as follows:
Article 12.6 Appeal Panel's Decision
The Article 12.6 Appeal Panel [ . . . ] considered whether to continue with the 01 June 2016 Appeal Hearing, in the absence of Claire Symons. In doing so it noted the aims of the Appeal Panel, as per the guidelines for an Appeal Hearing, contained within the Article 12.6 Procedure, which states:
‘The aim of the Appeal Panel is 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 to then decide whether the appeal should be allowed or denied. The Appeal Panel's decision will be final.'
The Article 12.6 Appeal Panel considered that if the Appeal Hearing on 01 June 2016 was to go ahead in the absence of Ms Symons, the Panel would not hear any oral submissions from Ms Symons, nor did it have any written submissions from Ms Symons, as to why the decision of the Article 12.6 Panel, to withdraw membership, was unjust and unreasonable in all the circumstances. For these reasons, the Article 12.6 Appeal Panel did not consider it could proceed in Ms Symons' absence.
The Article 12.6 Appeal Panel noted Ms Symons had notified BACP of not only her non-attendance, but of her decision to withdraw her request for an Appeal. Therefore, the Article. 12.6 Appeal Panel decided not to defer the Appeal Hearing to another date but to terminate the Appeal proceedings, in accordance with Paragraph 18 of the Article 12.6 Procedure.
In light of the Appeal being withdrawn by Ms Symons, and the decision of the Article 12.6 Appeal Panel to terminate the Appeal Proceedings, the decision of the Article 12.6 Panel, which convened on 28 October 2015, to withdraw Ms Symons' membership stands. Ms Symons' membership therefore remains withdrawn.
Ms Symons' membership was withdrawn and any future re-application for membership will be considered under Article 12.3 of the Articles of Association.
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