Information was disclosed to BACP, which was considered under Article 12.6 of the Articles of Association.
The summary of the information received is as follows:
The Complainants submitted a complaint form to BACP regarding Ms Orsman’s provision of counselling to X, who was [ . . . ].
The Complainants stated that Ms Orsman initiated a sexual relationship with X in May Year 3 during a counselling session and sexual activity continued both during counselling sessions and outside for several weeks. The Complainants stated that X continued to pay for counselling sessions when time was taken up with sexual activity.
The Complainants advised that X is not able to bring the complaint herself, so they have stepped in to raise this. They stated that X has, however, provided her consent and submitted a detailed statement. The Complainants did not satisfy the criteria to submit a third-party complaint in X’s stead. Accordingly, the matter was referred to an Article 12.6 Panel.
X provided a statement in which she advised that she saw Ms Orsman for counselling between November Year 1 and February Year 3 and as the counselling progressed, she felt Ms Orsman flirted at the end of sessions. In March Year 3, X stated that she suddenly thought she was falling in love with Ms Orsman and whilst aware of the concept of erotic transference she felt confused and frightened by her feelings. X stated she informed Ms Orsman of her feelings and Ms Orsman was sensitive and understanding and encouraged X to talk about all aspects of what she was feeling. X stated these discussions continued to happen for the next few months and Ms Orsman disclosed to her that Ms Orsman was struggling with her feelings too. From May Year 3, X doubled her session to see Ms Orsman twice a week. X stated Ms Orsman first kissed her in a session towards the end of May Year 3 and in the following ten sessions; counselling only took place on one occasion whilst the others were spent kissing and touching each other intimately.
X advised that in sessions Ms Orsman undressed her but most often kept Ms Orsman’s own clothes on, which X felt was drawing attention to the power imbalance. X advised that instead of the 50 minutes sessions she booked, Ms Orsman stayed in the room for up to an hour and a half each time.
X advises that during this time she was finding it increasingly difficult to focus on [ . . . ].
X stated that on 22nd June Year 3 she met with Ms Orsman in a hotel room and they had sex for the first time. X advises she continued to meet Ms Orsman for sessions twice a week, but no counselling took place. They also met at Ms Orsman’s friend’s house for sex. X advises that Ms Orsman dictated the dates and times this would happen, and X always said yes, cancelling her professional work at short notice.
X states that she continued to pay Ms Orsman for sessions by bank transfer; X stated she felt confused about why she was doing this but thought Ms Orsman might be upset if she stopped paying.
X advised that on 9th July Year 3 Ms Orsman informed her that [ . . . ] and on 11th July Year 3 advised X that she (Ms Orsman) needed to work on [ . . . ], so could only see X as her counsellor moving forwards.
The Complainants also provided copies of text messages exchanges purported between X and Ms Orsman.
BACP contacted Ms Orsman and requested her initial comments, which she provided on 7th February and was received by BACP on 18th February Year 4. Ms Orsman refuted the version of events portrayed in X’s statement, which she says are, ‘in part skewed, in part distorted, in part utterly fictitious and in part slanderous.’
The nature of the information raised questions about Ms Orsman’s continued suitability for BACP membership and concerns about the following in particular:
• It is alleged that in engaging in a sexual relationship with a client Ms Orsman has brought, or may yet bring, not only the BACP, but also the reputations of counselling/psychotherapy into disrepute.
• It is alleged that in engaging in a sexual relationship with a client is incongruent with what 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 the Counselling Professions.
The Panel was cognisant that the only options available to an Article 12.6 Panel were to close the case with no action or to withdraw the Member’s membership. The severity of that sanction was such that, while the civil standard of proof still applied, the Panel should have mind to the source, strength and credibility of any evidence it relied on. The greater the sanction and the more serious the allegation, the more cogent the evidence needed to satisfy the civil standard.
ARTICLE 12.6 PANEL’S DECISION
The Panel carefully considered all the evidence submitted by the Complainants and Ms Orsman’s responses. Having done so, the Panel decided to implement Article 12.6 of the Articles of Association.
Ms Orsman’s membership will be withdrawn subject to appeal. Ms Orsman had 28 days from the date of notification of this report to make an appeal. In the absence of an appeal, notification would be given to Ms Orsman by the Chair of the Association regarding the withdrawal of membership.
In addressing the issues before it the Panel gave due consideration to all evidence available. The Panel considered the following points to be central in its decision making:
• In Ms Orsman’s responses she placed heavy reliance on her professional reputation, experience and background. She said she strongly refuted the ‘version of events’ and described X’s statement as a ‘gross distortion of the facts.’ The Panel noted Ms Orsman said the allegations were, ‘in part skewed, in part distorted, in part utterly fictitious and in part slanderous.’
• The Panel observed that while Ms Orsman made overarching denials, she did not explicitly deny the majority of facts alleged in X’s statement or provide an alternative narrative. In particular, Ms Orsman did not deny the most serious allegation, that she engaged in a sexual relationship with X at the same time as Ms Orsman was X’s therapist.
• Ms Orsman advised that she had resigned from her work with Organisation X in the Summer of Year 3, applied to resign her BACP membership, closed her website and would cease her business as a therapist with effect from 23 May Year 4. She explained that this was to protect her ‘extremely vulnerable clients’ from the consequences of ‘this highly misconstrued account’ becoming public.
• X’s statement was detailed and coherent. It contained collateral detail about Ms Orsman’s private life that, in the Panel’s opinion, were unlikely to be disclosed during the course of therapy, and for which Ms Orsman had not provided an explanation or said were false.
• The text messages provided with by the Complainants were not challenged by Ms Orsman. The Panel therefore found that they were likely to be authentic
o Ms Orsman sent a message stating, ‘There is no justification for the massive error of judgement that did not have an awareness of the terrible consequences of not holding boundaries…’.This, the Panel found, indicated that there had been a serious breach of boundaries between Ms Orsman and X.
o Ms Orsman sent a message stating, ‘There doesn’t seem to be a way for you to feel that I know what I’ve done. We tried to work together to work through it…’. The Panel found this was consistent with X’s statement that Ms Orsman ended the personal relationship but wanted to continue to be X’s therapist.
• The Panel concluded that the allegation was credible and plausible and had not been weakened by Ms Orsman’s responses, which to some extent corroborated X’s statement.
Ms Orsman did not appeal the decision and her membership was withdrawn.
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