16 December 2015

Is this training organisation looking after their counselling trainees?

I have written to a training organisation* expressing my concerns that they allow their counselling trainees to attain their counselling experience at an organisation that had their BACP membership withdrawn for serious malpractice involving their treatment of trainee counsellors. My concerns are that trainee counsellors are being managed and supervised by individuals who acted disgracefully and not only got struck off the BACP but gave a very strong message that anybody that complains about them will be harassed and bullied.

Please bear in mind that the training organisation was sent a letter of concern to raise awareness in Summer 2014 from a couple of dozen counsellors regarding the issues described.

Here is the message I sent to the organisation's website on 10th November 2015:

I have concerns around (your organisation) allowing students to attain their experience at *redacted* despite extremely disturbing allegations been proven under two separate BACP hearings. I see that you are an organisational member of the BACP so presumably you subscribe to their ethical code. Please would you kindly let me know if you are still allowing your students to gain their experience there and if so I would appreciate your reasoning as I amstruggling to comprehend how this can be deemed safe or ethical. It is my understanding that no other training organisation deems the place suitable for trainee placements in light of the nature of the complaints and the *redacted* response to them.

Thank you Amanda (Williamson)

To which I received (after chasing up two weeks later) the following response on 24th November:

From *redacted* and  *redacted* 
Directors *redacted*
Further to your communication of November 10th
We are not aware of any infringement of BACP ethical guidelines or of acting in disregard to any of BACP findings of misconduct.  If you have any specific concerns please feel  free to take these up with BACP.  We are happy to respond to them if they have any concerns.
It has come to our notice that you have contacted counsellors stating your views concerning our organisation.   To make unfounded allegations on the basis of misinformation is likely to bring your own professional  standards into disrepute – this we would not like to see.  We respectfully request this behaviour ceases.  Once again  please refer  to BACP any concerns about our organisation our associates or volunteers.

I perceived this as being hostile and threatening as well as potentially defamatory. They also had not addressed the clear question being asked. I responded thus:

Dear *redacted* and *redacted*

Many thanks for replying to my enquiry. 

Firstly, I am not quite sure what you mean by stating that I have contacted your counsellors with unfounded allegations. I have not approached any of your counsellors, nor have I made any unfounded allegations. Maybe you are referring to an ex trainee of *redacted* I met at a workshop earlier this year. He approached me and raised the issue of *redacted* knowing that I was a complainant in the *redacted* case. He then told me all the things he thought was wrong with *redacted* as an organisation then told me he chose to sit on the fence in terms of the complaints made against them. I found this to be a bizarre and muddled conversation from him which was certainly not solicited by me. Nor was your organisation mentioned.

If there is anybody else I have allegedly contacted please tell me what this is all about then I can respond to it.

Secondly, I may not have understood your response to my message fully but you don’t seem to have answered the question I asked which is whether you are recommending to your trainee counsellors that they attain their counselling experience at *redacted*. It is of possible concern that a training establishment might be ignoring the findings of a professional body by sending trainee counsellors to be managed and supervised by individuals who have had BACP membership removed twice under two separate hearings. In the process of having their membership removed, the directors of *redacted* had plenty of opportunity to present their case. The BACP gave multiple opportunities for *redacted* to defend themselves and provide mitigation. *redacted* chose to resign membership before the hearing. What a strange thing for someone to do before they have even presented their case.

As I have mentioned above, I have not made any allegations against your organisation and am not sure what you are getting at. I am simply trying to find out what is going on. I would be grateful if you would just answer the questions regarding your trainees and whether they are still being sent to *redacted*.

If this is not the case then I thank you for your kind response and there is nothing further to be raised. If you feel unable to answer then I do have a point of view that I should be able to express. 

My approach to you is to find out the facts so that I do not make any unfounded comments about you. 

In respect of your last comment regarding bringing my professional standards into disrepute I am somewhat confused. I hardly see how asking a simple question to you directly could have this effect. 

In conclusion I would be grateful if you would respond in the spirit of my original question which is one of openness and respect.  I was hoping to find that the concerns that have been expressed to me about you sending trainee to *redacted* were unfounded and did not want to go by hearsay.

This message was sent on the 25th November. I received the following reply on 3rd December:

Dear Amanda

We are aware to a certain extent of your very real difficulties with *redacted*  We feel that how ever awful this was for you we reiterate our view that if you have any ethical  concerns about our organisation, ourselves, our volunteers or associates and evidence to support such concerns the only ethical course of action is to proceed through BACP.  

We hope this is the end of the matter and do not wish to hear or read any  further rumours or inuendos that contradict our 25 years of impeccable ethical practice.

Rumours? Inuendos? Why am I being accused of things I have not done and why are they still refusing to answer the valid question? I have been in consultation with the BACP Ethics Team about this issue and one of the first ports of call in deciding whether to complain about the member is to try and resolve the issue with the member. This is what I am trying to do.

As a member of the BACP I have an ethical duty to report malpractice where I see it. I do not want to go through another complaints process. It was costly in a financial sense as well as a professionally and personally. I have gained nothing other than the knowledge that I have integrity and have contributed towards raising awareness of abusive practice. Believe me I have spent enough time doubting whether the price was worth paying, especially when other professionals, other BACP members, choose to ignore the BACP findings.

The BACP Ethics team were very helpful and put me onto a document entitled "Guidance for trainee placements" a document I very much hope a training organisation who has membership of the BACP would be familiar with. There are a few parts which I think are directly relevant here:

"Two fundamental ethical principles govern the gaining of counselling experience. The first is the safety of both clients and trainees..."

"Trainees will, therefore, normally need a placement in a reputable agency.."

I was also sent part of the Ethical Framework to consider (I have highlighted potentially relevant parts):

The Ethical Framework confirms:

Non-maleficence: a commitment to avoiding harm to the client
Non-maleficence involves: avoiding sexual, financial, emotional or any other form of client exploitation; avoiding incompetence or malpractice; not providing services when unfit to do so due to illness, personal circumstances or intoxication. The practitioner has an ethical responsibility to strive to mitigate any harm caused to a client even when the harm is unavoidable or unintended. Holding appropriate insurance may assist in restitution. 
Practitioners have personal and professional responsibility to challenge, where appropriate, the incompetence or malpractice of others; and to contribute to any investigation and/or adjudication concerning professional practice which falls below that of a reasonably competentpractitioner and/or risks bringing discredit upon the profession.

The challenge of working ethically means that practitioners will inevitably encounter situations where there are competing obligations. In such situations it is tempting to retreat from all ethical analysis in order to escape a sense of what may appear to be unresolvable ethical tension. These ethics are intended to be of assistance in such circumstances by directing attention to the variety of ethical factors that may need to be taken into consideration and to alternative ways of approaching ethics that may prove more useful. No statement of ethics can totally alleviate the difficulty of making professional judgements in circumstances that may be constantly changing and full of uncertainties. By accepting this statement of ethics, members of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy are committing themselves to engaging with the challenge of striving to be ethical, even when doing so involves making difficult decisions or acting courageously.

Teaching and training
25. All practitioners are encouraged to share their professional knowledge and practice for the benefit of their clients and to promote awareness of counselling and psychotherapy in the public through providing information and education.
26. Practitioners who provide formal education and training should acquire the skills, attitudes and knowledge required to be competent teachers and facilitators of learning in their subject.
27. Practitioners are required to be fair, accurate and honest in their assessments of their students.
28. Prior consent is required from clients if they are to be observed, recorded or if their personally
identifiable disclosures are to be used for training purposes.
29. All training in counselling and psychotherapy should model standards and practice consistent with those expected of practitioners in the role for which the training is being provided.
30. All trainers and educators in counselling and psychotherapy have a responsibility to protect the standards of the profession. Trainers are responsible for taking reasonable steps to prevent clients being exposed to risk or harm by trainees.
31. Where information is held by more than one person involved in the assessment of a trainee, it
should normally be shared to produce the fairest possible evaluation of the person concerned.
Any confidentiality agreements between trainers and trainees ought to be established in ways that permit the appropriate sharing of information for assessment and the protection of clients.

I have since found out that one of the directors of this training establishment is a friend and colleague of the owner of the struck off agency. One might say that there is a clear conflict of interest here.

I sent my final response on 8th December:

Dear *redacted* and *redacted*

Thank you for taking the time to reply. However, you still haven't answered my question. You have told me that you hope that I will not say anything incorrect regarding your organisation, however, because you haven't answered the question I can only assume that you are still allowing your trainees to attain their counselling experience at *redacted*. As a question of fairness, if I do mention your organisation, I will state that you have refused to answer the question.

As to my professionalism, I have spent a considerable amount of time discussing this particular situation with the BACP ethics team and am very aware of the implications. It is clearly written in the Ethical Framework that we are asked to attempt to resolve any issues directly with the member before raising the issue with the Professional Conduct Department and, as I have learned experientially, making a complaint is a very stressful and expensive process. 

It may be that your apparent hesitation in accepting the decision of the BACP is due to the fact that you have never had sight of the large amount of evidence and supporting statements that were presented to the BACP. If you wish to have sight of these I would be willing to meet with you and show you them (with certain details appropriately redacted). My intentions in doing so are as a matter of safeguarding. There were several counsellors affected by the same pattern of behaviour within the supervisory relationship at *redacted*

Let's see what happens next...

*(Please note that I have redacted the names for now as this blog post is more about the concept of bystanding, colluding and the ethics of ignoring BACP findings.) UPDATE 25th April 2016 - The organisation is the Dartmoor Centre for Counselling and Psychotherapy. I have named them because it would be unfair if this article led to speculation that other organisations were involved in this practice when as far as I am aware, the other local training institutions respect the findings of the BACP.

NB I have been fortunate enough to have had the solid and ongoing support of Catalyst Counselling who have access to legal expertise in the area of defamation law and a lot of experience with dealing with toxic organisations/abusive relationships.

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