1.1 The Member failed to maintain appropriate boundaries between himself and the Complainant by entering into a friendship and then a sexual relationship with a former client after the ending of a therapeutic relationship.
1.2 The Member thereby failed to meet professional standards, including in particular by acting in a way which was inconsistent with the following paragraphs of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy 2018: paragraph 37: We will avoid continuing or resuming any relationships with former clients that could harm the client or damage any benefits from the therapeutic work undertaken. We recognize that conflicts of interest and issues of power or dependence may continue after our working relationship with a client, supervisee or trainee has formally ended. Therefore:
a. We will exercise caution before entering into personal or business relationships with former clients
b. We will avoid sexual or intimate relationships with former clients or people close to them. Exceptionally, such a relationship will only be permissible following careful consideration in supervision and, whenever possible, following discussion with experienced colleagues or others concerned about the integrity of the counselling professions, when:
• enough time has elapsed or the circumstances of the people concerned have sufficiently changed to establish a distinction between the former and proposed new relationship
• any therapeutic dynamics from the former relationship have been sufficiently resolved to enable beginning a different type of relationship (This may not be possible with some clients or inappropriate to some therapeutic ways of working)
• an equivalent service to the one provided by the practitioner is available to the former client, should this be wanted in future
• the practitioner has taken demonstrable care in ensuring that the new relationship has integrity and is not exploitative
c. We will be professionally accountable if the relationship becomes detrimental to the former client or damages the standing of the profession
and paragraph 48: We will avoid any actions that will bring our profession into disrepute.
2.1 The Member failed to take sufficient steps to maintain his psychological health to enable him to undertake good professional practice.
2.2 The Member thereby failed to meet professional standards, including in particular by acting in a way which was inconsistent with the following paragraph of the Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy 2018:
paragraph 91(b): We will take responsibility for our own wellbeing as essential to sustaining good practice with our clients by:
b. monitoring and maintaining our own psychological and physical health, particularly that we are sufficiently resilient and resourceful to undertake our work in ways that satisfy professional standards
Allegation 1.1 and/or allegation 2.1 amount to Professional Misconduct as defined in the Professional Conduct Procedure.
Evidence before the Panel
The Panel had before it:
• The Association’s Case Papers
• The Member’s Case Papers
• The BACP Professional Conduct Procedure 2018
• The Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018
In coming to its decision the Panel carefully considered the following:
• The allegations made
• The written evidence
• The oral evidence of the BACP’s witness [ . . . ]
• What weight to attach to each piece of evidence
• Whether the allegations should be upheld
Summary of evidence
[ . . . ] (the Complainant) has complained about Jason Bennett, an individual BACP member. She includes a letter from her doctor [ . . . ]. She has also provided messages sent electronically between the Member and herself.
In summary the Complainant states:
• She was in a therapeutic relationship with the Member between January Year 2 and July Year 2. Their therapeutic relationship ended so she could retrain as a Therapist. She started courses and believed she would get a job at the company the Member worked for;
• When the therapeutic relationship ended they were friends, and this then started to change into something more. They started having a sexual relationship in January Year 3. They messaged each other using WhatsApp. The Member sent her a video of him masturbating. They would exchange sexual photos, including him asking her to send her pictures as an example. He would also send her pornographic videos. The relationship continued off and on throughout Year 3. The Complainant felt under pressure to reply to the Member and please him. The Complainant’s mental health was not good in this period of time;
• In approximately mid-Year 3, the Complainant’s [ . . . ] , [ . . . ], told her that she was being groomed by the Member. This thought took hold with the Complainant. The Complainant was told by her [ . . . ] to report the Member. The Complainant became suicidal and confused; she felt torn between both of them, and her feelings were confused;
• In November Year 3 the Complainant was [ . . . ]
• The Complainant started counselling with [ . . . ]. She realised that her relationship with the Member was damaging to her. Her [ . . . ] was also threatening to report the Member and said that if she did not report the Member [ . . . ]. Though she ‘blocked’ her [ . . . ] the Complainant became unhappier. She accused the Member of stopping her therapy so that he could get close to her. He did not answer these questions directly;
• The Complainant’s anger increased. She was depressed and confused. She developed a pattern of trusting the Member and then attacking him. She sent a letter to his place of work. There was a hearing in April Year 4 and the Member was dismissed. The Complainant then made her complaint to the BACP. The Complainant has included text messages between her and the Member although they are not in chronological order.
The Member provided a preliminary response. He states that he started working with the Complainant in Year 1 as her addiction interventionist. This went well. He only found out about the trauma in her past after their sessions ended. She mentioned she wanted to be a therapist and he helped her start this path. As they went on, they became friends and discussed the issues of [ . . . ]. He started having feelings other than friendship towards her. They started exchanging sexual texts and messages. They did this on WhatsApp. After doing this for some time they decided that they wanted to remain friends. After Christmas Year 3 the Complainant mentioned that she had got in touch with her [ . . . ] who had told her the Member was grooming her and sexually abusing her. Six months later, the Complainant started acting irrationally. She would be aggressive one day and then apologise on another day. Her messaging was irrational. She then threatened him. It resulted in him resigning from his job. He has now decided to take a year off from counselling as her complaint has caused a lot of issues and stress to him.
[ . . . ] presented the case on behalf of the BACP, relying on the Associations Case Papers. The Associations case papers consisted of [ . . . ] complaint to the BACP with supporting documentation and an unsigned witness statement of [ . . . ] consisting of 5 pages and 4 exhibits based on documents she had provided to the BACP. Most of the documentation provided by [ . . . ] consisted of screenshots of WhatsApp messages between her and the Member.
[ . . . ] gave her evidence under affirmation.
[ . . . ] adopted her witness statement and was taken by [ . . . ] to those parts of the witness statement and exhibits which [ . . . ] sought to bring to the Panel’s particular attention.
Decision and Reasons for Findings
Having fully considered all the evidence in the case the Panel made the following findings, bearing in mind throughout its deliberations that the burden was on the BACP to prove each allegation on the balance of probabilities.
Central to the Panel’s determination was its assessment of [ . . . ] credibility. The Panel found a very strong correlation between:
• [ . . . ] written complaint to the BACP and her witness statement
• [ . . . ] written evidence and her oral evidence
• assertions made by [ . . . ] in her written and oral evidence and screenshots of WhatsApp messages eg [ . . . ] evidence that the Member sent a video of himself masturbating, which is supported by a screen shot of a message from [ . . . ] ‘I sent you a picture of my face and you followed with a video of you masturbating’
Further, the Panel considered that, although she became upset at times, [ . . . ] gave her evidence in a clear and measured way and did not seek to embellish her evidence before the Panel.
The view of the Panel was that [ . . . ] was a credible and reliable witness.
The Member failed to maintain appropriate boundaries between himself and the Complainant by entering into a friendship and then a sexual relationship with a former client after the ending of a therapeutic relationship.
Found proved on the balance of probabilities.
[ . . . ] gave evidence, particularly in her oral evidence, that, after counselling sessions with him ended in July Year 2, the Member called her on her mobile about once a week, that it felt like a form of counselling, but it also felt like a friendship and that it felt like the Member was her only friend.
In his preliminary response the Member accepts there was a friendship.
[ . . . ] gave oral and written evidence of the screenshots which included:
• a large number of WhatsApp messages, a number of which included sexually explicit language from the Member [ . . . ]
• explicit pictures of herself sent by her to the Member
• links to porn websites sent to her by the Member
In his preliminary response the Member accepts there was an exchange of sexual messages on WhatsApp.
The Panel was satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that:
• [ . . . ] is the Complainant - she was the person who raised the complaint with the BACP about the Member
• the therapeutic relationship ended when counselling sessions ended at the end of July Year 2
• after July Year 2 there was a friendship between the Member and [ . . . ]
• the exchange of messages, photographs, links and videos described by [ . . . ] and the screenshots seen by the Panel support a finding that there was a sexual relationship between the Member and [ . . . ] from January Year 3
• the Member failed to maintain two separate appropriate boundaries with [ . . . ] after the end of the therapeutic relationship, firstly by forming a friendship with [ . . . ] and then forming a relationship with [ . . . ] of a sexual nature
The Panel finds this part of the allegation proved on the balance of probabilities.
[ . . . ] evidence was that she:
• felt bullied by the Member into sending images of herself to him
• was uncomfortable and felt pressure to give the Member what he wanted
• eventually she felt used
• at times she felt belittled
• when she tried to end the relationship the Member would not leave her alone
• told the Member that her mental health was poor, that she was really depressed and in a bad way
• told the Member that his actions were selfish and that he was playing the victim
• told the Member she felt betrayed and that he had exploited her sexually
• told the Member that she felt suicidal and that he took advantage of her situation
The Panel determined that by breaching the two boundaries he breached with [ . . . ] , the Member had:
• failed to exercise caution before entering into a personal relationship with his former client thereby breaching paragraph 37 a) of the Ethical Framework 2018
• the sexual relationship was not exceptional, and the Panel has seen no evidence that the Member had taken any of the steps advised in paragraph 37 b) of the Ethical Framework 2018 thereby breaching paragraph 37 b) of the Ethical Framework 2018
• the relationship had become detrimental to [ . . . ], thereby breaching paragraph 37 c) of the Ethical Framework 2018
• brought the profession into disrepute thereby breaching paragraph 48 of the Ethical Framework 2018
The Panel finds this part of the allegation proved on the balance of probabilities.
The Panel reminded itself of the definition of Professional Misconduct in the BACP Professional Conduct Procedure 2018:
professional misconduct means a failure to meet professional standards that is of sufficient seriousness that a period of suspension of membership or withdrawal of membership of the Association may be warranted.
The view of the Panel is that maintaining appropriate boundaries between himself and a former client after the ending of a therapeutic relationship is a core requirement of BACP membership.
The decision of the Panel is that the Member’s conduct in relation allegation 1.1 amounted to professional misconduct.
The Member failed to take sufficient steps to maintain his psychological health to enable him to undertake good professional practice.
Not found proved.
The sole evidence in support of this allegation comes from the Member where he states in his Preliminary Response that having resigned from his job:
‘This has had a major affect on my life my health and career.
I lost a job I loved, i (sic) lost astronomical amount of weight through stress and worry i (sic) got help from the samaritans as i (sic) couldnt (sic) cope with the pain and guilt of what I had done also the stress and fear of what [ . . . ] was doing to me. Im (sic) on antidepressants and have extreme anxiety attacks im (sic) seeking therapeutic assistance through counselling which im (sic) still waiting on Ive (sic) decided to take a year off from counselling so i (sic) can get myself back on track working through what happened and then reconsider going back to work as a therapist.’
The Panel considered this information to be very general and to have been provided as mitigation rather than disclosure of a health condition.
The Panel does not find this allegation proved.
Allegation 2.2 and Professional Misconduct
As it did not find allegation 2.1 proved, the Panel did not need to consider allegation 2.2 or professional misconduct in relation to 2.1.
The decision of the Panel was that there had been a failure by the Member to comply with the Professional Standards that amounted to Professional Misconduct as defined in the BACP Professional Conduct Procedure 2018 but only in respect of the proven Allegation 1, specifically that the Member had acted contrary to paragraphs 37 a), b) and c) and 48 of the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018.
The Panel reconvened [ . . . ] to consider what, if any, sanction is appropriate. Due to the Clerk being unavailable, the BACP Registrar appointed a replacement Clerk under paragraph 4.1 of the BACP Professional Conduct Procedure 2018.
The Panel reminded itself of its findings (above), the sanctions available under the BACP Professional Conduct Procedure 2018 and the BACP Sanction Protocol (PR14). It noted the Member had not made any submission relating to sanction, that the Investigation and Assessment Committee had made his membership subject to interim suspension [ . . . ] and that he had allowed his membership to expire [ . . . ].
The Panel considered the guidance in PR14 about factors to consider when imposing a sanction and circumstances in which a suspension or withdrawal of Membership may be appropriate. It found that the allegations proved amounted to a serious and knowing breach of the BACP Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018 and the fundamental principles, values and personal moral qualities contained therein. The misconduct was sexual in nature and in abuse of the Member’s position of trust. The Panel noted the Member had not disputed his conduct and was experiencing difficult personal circumstances at the time.
Nevertheless, the Panel agreed that an apology, training and/or demonstration of change of practice were not adequate to protect the public and the public interest.
The Panel decided that the Member’s misconduct was so serious and contradictory to the role and required behaviour of a counsellor, that only a period of suspension or withdrawal of membership would adequately address public protection and maintenance of professional standards and the public reputation of the counselling professions. It noted that after a period of suspension, the Member had still not engaged with the hearing of the complaint or this sanction decision. It therefore had no evidence that he had remediated, and the Panel therefore concluded that only withdrawal of membership, and the accompanying need for the Member to apply to re-join the BACP, was appropriate and proportionate in the circumstances.
(Where ellipses [ . . . ] are displayed, they indicate an omission of text)