What is inappropriate behaviour?

There are two main terms describing contact between two adults that could be considered inappropriate:

  • inappropriate activity
    Behaviour, often sexual in nature, that is not suitable for the particular relationship - for example between a client and a counsellor.

  • inappropriate contact
    Contact, including touching, that is not suitable for the time and place. Often used to describe physical advances made in the workplace.

    Unwanted contact can occur in several different forms:
    - electronic (email or social media)
    - written (letters or notes)
    - verbal (by telephone or skype)
    - face-to-face

If you receive unwanted attention, communication or repeated contact that makes you feel uncomfortable, you have the right to report this to protect yourself.

Behaviours considered to be inappropriate, concerning or threatening may include:

  • undue and unwanted attention, despite being asked to stop 
  • angry, aggressive or sexual communications (verbal or written)
  • sexual harassment (unwelcome sexual conduct of any kind)
  • stalking (repeated attempts to impose unwanted communication or contact)
  • any act or threat of physical violence or property damage 

Inappropriate sexual behaviour

Working as a counsellor or therapist can often expose you to intimate conversations about sex and sexuality. However, if you feel you're the subject of uninhibited or poorly controlled behaviour, particularly of a sexual nature, you have the right to raise your concerns. 

Inappropriate behaviour can include:

  • comments and jokes of a personal or sexual nature
  • inappropriate touching or grabbing
  • sexual propositions (written or verbal)
  • exposure of genitals or masturbation (face-to-face or over the phone)

Why you?

It can be important to your business to advertise your services online, through your own website, a directory or on social media. This means your contact details are available to the public.

As a counsellor or therapist, you may be contacted by someone who is seeking help or advice about a personal or sexual issue, and unfortunately they may not always respect your personal or professional boundaries.

You may feel a sense of duty to help those who contact you for support, but it's important to recognise when the contact has gone beyond a level where you feel comfortable or safe.

Remember you haven’t done anything wrong or encouraged this behaviour. You may be concerned with safeguarding the individual who has reached out to you, but it's important for your own self-care to report the behaviour appropriately.

What you can do

For existing clients

For support and guidance on managing inappropriate contact from existing clients please see:

Lone working guide – Part 3: Acting on a concern

For members of the public

Keep a record

This may help you remember incidents as they occur, so they're easier to recall if necessary at a later date:

  • keep a diary of events – note the date, time, location and details of the cause for concern
  • keep copies of letters, text messages and emails, or take screenshots of online messages sent on social media
  • try to get evidence of any events that happen at your home or practice – take pictures where appropriate or record nuisance phone calls

Seek support

You can:

  • talk to your supervisor – they're there to help and support you and may have personal experience or professional advice
  • if you're an employee  - speak to your HR team for guidance and policies
  • contact the BACP ethics team – we can offer support and guidance, talk through the ethical implications of the issues you're experiencing and point you in the right direction 

Escalate your concerns

Contact your local police for support if you feel harassed or in danger at any point. This may include (but is not limited to):

  • verbal or physical threats
  • unwanted physical or sexual advances
  • stalking (repeated attempts to impose unwanted communication or contact)
  • any threat of physical violence, property damage, or production of a weapon

To report your concerns or for specialist advice, call your local police on the non-emergency number 101.

If you feel you're in any immediate danger, do not hesitate to call 999.

Dealing with a bogus client

An individual may not be displaying inappropriate behaviour but may still be a cause for concern. Trust your instincts if something doesn’t feel right.

If you're worried that someone is trying to gain your personal or bank details, see our scams guidance for further information.

Useful resources