Who’s responsibility is child protection? An analysis of the @mwilliamsthomas Twitterstorm

[Trigger warning: sexual assault/exploitation]

Another day, another Twitter pile-on. I love Twitter, but it has its drawbacks. Not least of these is the 140 character limit, which makes it hard to express nuances and complexities. When those complexities have to be squeezed into a tiny little box, misunderstandings happen, and those misunderstandings turn into flaming great rows, particularly on an emotive topic.

This morning the criminologist and TV presenter Mark Williams-Thomas tweeted

The story about the 12yr girl being raped in London in early hours of Sunday morning is horrific. But what was she doing out at that time?

The story he’s referring to is this one, and it does indeed look horrific. A 12 year old girl on the streets of Leyton after midnight, picked up by three older teenagers, taken to a secluded spot and gang-raped. Truly awful.

Williams-Thomas was instantly bombarded with angry tweets. I won’t list any @usernames here, but much of it was from a certain segment of Twitter that tend to have their outrage on a hair-trigger.

Disappointing victim blaming from @mwilliamsthomas…Maybe she was homeless, in care, missing?!

 

Whatever time, 12 yr old girl is out, for whatever reason, rape inexcusable. To say otherwise suggests victim culpability?

 

doesn’t really matter what she was doing out at that time – should be free to walk anytime w/o fear of attack

 

does it not matter at this stage? Questions like that deserve to be raised after any prosecution. Blinkered.

 

Infuriating that @mwilliamsthomas didn’t ask why men think its ok to rape girls & women, and instead blamed the 12yo victim.

The trouble with hair-trigger outrage though, is that sometimes the wrong targets accidentally wind up getting blasted with both barrels. Mark Williams-Thomas has an impressive CV. He’s a former police officer and child protection expert. He’s also the guy who exposed Jimmy Saville, and has presented numerous TV shows about child abuse and protection. If he’s a rape apologist and victim-blamer, the ghost of Jimmy Saville must be feeling rather let down.

Williams-Thomas quickly clarified his previous tweet.

Child was 12yr & therefore an adult had responsibility as to why she was out past midnight. My Q does not in anyway put any blame on child

This didn’t do anything to stop the piling-on.

Children are probably more at risk in their homes, you realise?

 

So you’re blaming her parents/guardians rather than the rapists. Well that’s fine then.

 

Obviously rapes only happen at night, when women/girls shouldn’t be out. Right? Oh wait…

 

but it shifts the blame AWAY from the offender.

And so it went on. 

When these sorts of arguments flame up on Twitter, sometimes its helpful to step away from the 140 character limit to a blog post, where such matters should be thought about more carefully.

So, whose responsibility is it when a child wandering the streets late at night is sexually assaulted by three individuals? And whose responsibility is it to protect children from such assaults?

To start with, and I hope this goes without saying, the first to blame and the worst to blame are the three alleged perpetrators. They have committed an awful crime and need to be subjected to the full force of the law. 

Despite the Twitter outrage, there is a legitimate question of why the child was left unprotected to wander the streets at night. The legal concept of parental responsibility makes it clear

If you have parental responsibility, your most important roles are to:

  • provide a home for the child

  • protect and maintain the child

Of course that’s assuming the child was at the parental home during the hours before the attack. It’s also possible that she could have been with relatives, or could have been a looked-after child. Whatever her circumstances, somebody had a duty of care to this poor girl, and for some reason, that duty of care has failed catastrophically.

There may be a relatively innocent explanation for this. The parents may have thought a door was locked…it wasn’t…the girl slipped out unnoticed. That’s possible. Another explanation is that she was simply being neglected. and while we don’t know the circumstances right now, it’s a question that needs to be asked.

I tried to remonstrate this point on Twitter, and got some angry replies.

A child is raped by two teenage boys, and the immediate reaction is to question the parenting of the victim.

 

suggesting that implies one caused the other. They’re separate issues.

Are neglect and sexual assault separate issues? Take a look at this list of children most vulnerable to street grooming by those well-known victim-blamers, the NSPCC. Unsurprisingly, it’s a list of the already-vulnerable. Missing or runaway children, looked-after children, kids with mental health conditions or drug problems, or who live in poverty or a marginalised community. The Rochdale trafficking case is a prime example of this, where kids from dysfunctional backgrounds were preyed on by the gang.

As a CAMHS nurse who has worked on child protection cases, this chimes neatly with my clinical experience. Sexual predators will home in on those children and young people who already have a pre-existing vulnerability. The looked-after child who keeps absconding from foster care…the boy who’s developing a drug habit and needs money…the lonely girl with low self-esteem and a row of self-harm scars on her arm…

…or the 12 year old girl who, for some reason yet unknown, has been left wandering the streets late at night.

So, when there’s a concern that a child may or may not be adequately cared for, who’s business is it? The police? Social services?

The answer to that question is very clear both in law and in policy. Child protection is everybody’s business. Schools, hospitals, police, CAMHS, churches, Scouts and Guides, military cadet forces….everybody who works with children has a responsibility to look out for signs of abuse or neglect, to ask questions and, if necessary, to make a child protection referral to social services.

Does a 12 year wandering the street after midnight sound like grounds to trigger a child protection referral? I suspect I’d be in a lot of trouble at work if I said it doesn’t.

And yes, I know all that “everybody’s business” rhetoric may sound like a Big Brother, nosey-parker Panopticon state. But the brutal truth is that if we don’t all look out for vulnerable children, then there’s other, far nastier people who will.

So, to summarise:

  • Parents and carers have a responsibility to protect their children.
  • Everybody who works with children has a responsibility to be vigilant for abuse or neglect, and to report it where necessary.
  • Twelve year old girls have a responsibility to…well, they don’t have a responsibility to anyone. They’re twelve. Adults have a responsibility to them

 

Outside of certain heated Twitter arguments, I don’t think this a particularly controversial statement.

 

 

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When therapists become gurus and cult leaders

Earlier this week I posed the question of why such a high proportion of psychotherapists either sanctioned for misconduct or awaiting fitness-to-practice hearings seem to be from the Jungian tradition. I’ve had a couple of interesting responses.

One person pointed out that when I ran through the list of cases I’d actually missed one out. Another Jungian, Stuart Macfarlane, was suspended for two years by the Guild of Analytical Psychologists. The GAP is a member organisation of the UK Council for Psychotherapy, but for some reason the complaint hearing isn’t listed in the UKCP complaints archive. The GAP’s page doesn’t state specifically what he did, but it seems to involve some sort of breach of boundaries. Also, surprisingly, the decision page is undated, though the document properties say the page was created in October 2012.

So, why Jungians? I had the following suggestion by e-mail.

Note that the bad boys are all men (and probably all of a certain age – nearing old age and children of the 60’s).

I think the “mystical and mysterious” Jungian approach appeals to the ego of a certain kind of man who wouldn’t otherwise have ever found himself working as a psychotherapist – having to listen to others talk about many and varied problems when all he wants is a stage for his ‘revere me because I’m a wise man’ act.

Children of the 1960s? That certainly would apply to the age ranges of John Smalley and Geoffrey Pick, two of the more high-profile misconduct cases of the last couple of years. Interestingly Stuart Macfarlane is married to Penelope Tree, a former fashion model who was a high-profile figure in the Swinging Sixties until her modelling career was cut short by acne.

I wonder if we’re seeing something of a hangover from the 60s era of gurus offering enlightenment, in a time when there was a seeker born every minute. This reminds me of the debates around 2009-10, when (now-shelved) plans for psychotherapy to become state-regulated were being virulently opposed by a small but noisy campaign. Many of those leading the opposition struck me as being the worst bunch of malevolent hippies since the Dharma Initiative in Lost.

The same names seem to crop up again and again. When I posed my question about Jungians, I received this feedback from Amanda Williamson, a counsellor based in Exeter.

It may interest you to know that a therapist with whom I suffered an unethical experience involving pressure to be naked (a theme common amongst many of the other complainants in this particular case) hero worships Brian Thorne, in particular for his infamous sessions with Sally, where, lo and behold, he and Sally got naked.

Ah yes, Brian Thorne, Emeritus Professor of Counselling at the University of East Anglia. He was one of those predicting that the sky would fall in if psychotherapy were to be regulated. He’d also published a book chapter  describing how he and a patient called Sally got naked together. Given how dodgy that sounds, did he obtain informed consent from Sally?

Before deciding to take off his own clothes, the professor says “there was no question of checking with Sally for it was only I who could give permission to myself”.

The professor experienced “intuitive promptings” which, he says, “enabled me to encourage Sally to undress, or on occasions to initiate a particular form of physical contact, whether it was simply holding hands or, as in the final stage, joining in a naked embrace”.

That would be a no, then.

Thorne insists that this was a unique situation and not necessarily a model for how other therapists should act. Though from these comments it sounds as though there may be at least one dodgy therapist who views it as a model.

Somebody else was also impressed by Thorne’s naked sessions: Derek Gale, struck off by the Health Professions Council as an arts therapist and by the UKCP as a psychotherapist in 2009. He has the dubious distinction of being the only psychotherapist in recent years that the UKCP has actually struck off.

Gale wasn’t a Jungian, but he fits neatly with the suggestion of throwbacks from the 1960s who view themselves as some of guru. He was also a deeply abusive individual, and the findings against him at the HPC were spectacularly damning. He was found to have called one client a “stupid cunt” and humiliated another in front of a therapy group for having self-harmed. He discussed his sexual fantasies with clients, took clients on holiday with him and got them to do unpaid work for him. At the end of the hearings, this was the impression the HPC formed of him.

Having had an opportunity to observe Mr Gale over a long period of time both as a witness and as a person conducting his case in this hearing, the Panel has come to the firm view that he has a cavalier attitude towards the needs of clients and the requirement to follow clear guidelines.  This is demonstrated by numerous instances, including his evidence in cross-examination that he had never read the HPC’s Standards of Conduct, Performance and Ethics, the fact that he failed to heed the warning and advice given to him to exercise caution over socialising with clients, and the fact that in stating that he had now modified his practice to accord with prescriptive rules he was doing so only because of the rule and without embracing the rationale for the rule.

Brian Thorne appears to have formed a different view of Gale. He appeared at the HPC hearing to sing his praises. I have a copy of the transcript (in which for some reason Thorne is referred to as “Professor Robert Thorne”) . He tells Gale,

I have come to respect your honesty and integrity as a person and as a professional, and that for me has considerable meaning; secondly, I’ve come to appreciate you as somebody who is deeply reflective about the work that he does; that he is prepared, as it were, to look at his work with new eyes, fresh perspectives and so on, if that is what is actually clearly being called for.  But to respond quite directly to your last question, I sometimes feel that it may be that it is the very fact that, for goodness knows how many years ago, I think it’s about 30 years, you have been involved in therapeutic work, which is actually rare, which is I think also extremely demanding, but also has within it quite a number of important issues I think which mainstream therapeutic approaches can probably learn from and benefit from. [page 38]

Within the transcript there’s some interesting snippets about Gale’s therapy groups. Skim to pages 56-57 and we learn that one client was allowed to cut Gale’s hair in order to give her extra status in the group from having the privilege to cut the leader’s hair. We also find out that t-shirts were printed with a blown-up picture of Gale and the words “I’m his favourite.” There’s mention in the HPC decision of Gale asking clients to call him “Daddy”.

This isn’t a therapy group. It’s a cult.

Thorne wasn’t the only eminent professor to become involved in the Gale hearings. Gale applied to have his interim suspension lifted, in exchange for having weekly supervision sessions of his practice. But who would act as supervisor?

Andrew Samuels, Professor of Analytical Psychology at the University of Essex – another Jungian, another figure formed in the 1960s, and subsequently to become chair of the UKCP – made an offer to provide supervision. The offer was promptly rejected by the HPC. The allegations against Gale were so serious that simply toddling along once a week for supervision was just not enough to protect the public.

Professor Samuels has strongly denied offering to be Gale’s supervisor, but as it happens one of the complainants obtained his letter to the HPC. Here it is. It’s pretty unambiguous.

Two eminent professors, one of them later going on to become UKCP chair, dancing to the beck and call of a cult leader.

So, what have we learned here? Quite possible the mysticism and idealism of the Flower Power generation may have given impetus to various individuals who liked to inflate their egos by playing the wise man or guru. In some instances such as Gale, the guru became the head of a therapy cult.

Needless to say, such individuals are not suited to the role of therapist.

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The Medical Model, @TimeToChange and the Importance of Picking Your Battles

The World of Mentalists

Yesterday on Twitter, I noticed various people piling onto Time To Change, the campaign to end stigma against people with mental health problems. The objection people were raising wasn’t about the need to end stigma, but about the fact that they use terms such as mental health and mental illness. Time To Change was accused of perpetuating the medical model, with all that entails in terms of depicting psychological distress in terms of illness.

Seriously, people. Pick your battles.

Let’s get something out of the way. Is the medical model “true” or “false”? A while back I heard a clinical psychologist on Twitter confidently asserting that bipolar disorder “doesn’t exist”. She was clear that she wasn’t suggesting that people don’t experience cyclical patterns of low and elevated mood, and she wasn’t suggesting that this pattern couldn’t be corrected with medication. But it’s the category of bipolar disorder that…

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Why are so many Jungians facing complaints hearings?

Since my last blog about the UK Council for Psychotherapy’s attempts to bring in a centralised complaints hearing, somebody has pointed out to me an interesting trend among therapists who’ve been hauled up on allegations of misconduct.

The first psychotherapist to go before the UKCP’s new central complaints system was John Smalley, a Jungian analyst with the Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists. Several allegations of serious misconduct were found proved.

Since then another therapist, Rob Waygood, has been suspended from the UKCP register pending investigation due to “allegations of gross professional misconduct”. His website describes him as “working in the Jungian, integrative, transpersonal and process oriented modes.”

And then there’s Geoffrey Pick, who was found to have committed a serious breach of sexual boundaries with a patient. He didn’t go through the new central complaints service. Instead he was sanctioned by his UKCP member organisation, the Arbours Association. Appallingly, they suspended him for a year and then allowed him to re-register as a psychotherapist. In any other profession it would be considered unthinkable to give any sanction other than a striking-off. He since resigned from both Arbours and UKCP, but before he did, I took a screenshot of his register entry.

PickScreenshot from 2013-04-03 18:59:30redacted

Once again, he’s a Jungian.

Other than that, there’s only two other complaints decisions in the UKCP archive for the past year. One is against a family therapist, the other for a gestalt psychotherapist. Both were found to have committed misconduct and give conditions of practice orders.

So, of the 6 known investigations into alleged misconduct by UKCP psychotherapists since March 2012, 4 of them were into the practice of Jungians.

Okay, it’s a small sample, but an interesting result.

Of course, Carl Jung himself was no stranger to misconduct. He had a sexual relationship with Sabina Spielrein, one of his patients at the Burgholzli psychiatric hospital. It was recently the subject of a movie by David Cronenberg.

File:A Dangerous Method Poster.jpg

So, does anyone reading this have any ideas why Jungians seem to be over-represented in recent fitness-for-practice investigations? I just thought I’d put the question out there to see if anything comes back from the Hivemind.

What future for the UK Council for Psychotherapy?

Back in January I warned of a potential crisis at the UK Council for Psychotherapy. Unlike doctors, nurses, teachers, social workers or, for that matter, chiropodists, there is no statutory regulator for psychotherapists. There are only self-regulating bodies like the UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) or the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). When the Coalition took office, they shelved plans for state-regulation in favour of “voluntary assured registration”, whereby organisations like the UKCP and BACP could be accredited by the Professional Standards Authority (PSA). But only if they were doing a good job of handling complaints and dealing with rogue therapists.

The BACP has already achieved PSA accreditation. The UKCP has not – and for good reason. The UKCP acts as an umbrella body for 75 psychotherapy organisations. These organisational members (“OMs”) have in the past each had their own separate complaints procedure, some of which are shockingly awful. Patients looking to make a complaint have found that they can’t find out how to make a complaint, or that an organisation might not follow its own procedures, or  they might be greeted with hostility and unhelpfulness. In some organisations, patients have even been told that if their complaint is rejected then they’ll have to pay the cost of the investigation!

The disregard for safeguarding has been absolutely appalling. For years, people raised concerns with the UK Association of Humanistic Psychology Practitioners about Derek Gale. He was running a therapy cult in which he sexually, physically, emotionally and financially abused his clients. Their complaints fell on deaf ears. The UKCP eventually struck him off, but only after he was first struck off as an arts therapist by the Health Professions Council.

Or there’s Geoffrey Pick of the Arbours Association. He was found to have committed serious sexual misconduct with an NHS patient. The NHS trust admitted liability and settled out-of-court for five-figure damages and an unreserved apology. The patient remains deeply traumatised by the experience and continues to receive therapy for this. The Arbours Association simply suspended him for a year and then allowed him to re-register with them as a psychotherapist. In any other profession, anything other than a striking-off would have been unthinkable.

Unsurprisingly, the PSA is not going to rubberstamp this. In an attempt to improve standards, the UKCP has developed a new Complaints and Conducts Process (CCP) to take over complaints-handling from the member organisations. The first time it was used for a Jungian analyst called John Smalley. It was an absolute shambles, taking over three years to decide he had committed serious misconduct (his member organisation, the Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists, had simply declared there was “no case to answer”) but they decided not to sanction him anyway. He now seems to have quit psychotherapy.

Since then two psychotherapists have been sanctioned and one suspended under the CCP. These appear to have been handled much more rigorously and professionally than the Smalley case (though Derek Gale remains the only psychotherapist ever struck off by the UKCP in recent years). The trouble is though, not all the member organisations have signed up to it. Back in December 2012, the UKCP chief executive David Pink complained,

I am disappointed that many of our member organisations seem to be reluctant to engage with the central complaints scheme…By this time next year we need everyone to be signed up to the central complaints or in the process to becoming signed up. By then, other leading reputable therapy organisations (including BPC and BACP) are likely to be fully PSA accredited. Employers, referrers, commissioners and clients will begin to expect practitioners to be on  a PSA-accredited register as a minimum requirement. We must not fall behind.

In January I wrote about what would happen if the UKCP organisations failed to sign up, and hence the UKCP couldn’t achieve PSA accreditation.

The UKCP have been failing for years to protect the public from rogue therapists. It now looks like they’re having trouble getting their member organisations to sign up to their new complaint system…No wonder they’re getting worried that rival bodies like the BACP will get the PSA accreditation and they won’t.

If that does happen, the results will be utterly predictable. All the reputable psychotherapists will promptly sign up with the BACP, leaving the UKCP to shrivel into a rump organisation housing the quacks, hucksters and chancers of the therapy world.

So, how’s that going? Again, David Pink gives the answer, in the latest UKCP bulletin.

But there is one area which has attracted [the PSA’s] particular concern – that not all our individual members are covered under UKCP’s complaints and conduct process (CCP). The indication we were given is that our application is at risk because we are unable at present to declare when, or even if, we will have all UKCP registrants covered by CCP…Only one or two organisations have expressed fundamental concerns about CCP in principle. But there are many other organisations who have said they will join, probably, sometime soon – mañana!

I think I know the “mañana” of which he speaks. Back in May 2012 when I was investigating the John Smalley case, I contacted the Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists who had dismissed the subsequently-proved claims of misconduct. I asked them if they planned to join the CCP. This was their reply.

Since the UKCP Central Complaints Process is not yet finalised, it is too early to say if IGAP will sign up to it or not, but is likely to do so if it is felt to match our professional standards and has nothing that contradicts our existing Code of Ethics.

Or, to put it another way, mañana!

Incidentally, if you go to the IGAP website, there’s no information at all about how to make a complaint. When I asked for a copy of their Code of Ethics (which also isn’t on the site) they didn’t send me one. They did however admit that they haven’t sanctioned a therapist for misconduct in years.

I’ve been harshly critical of the UKCP in the past couple of years, and I don’t apologise for that. However, to be fair to them they do now have a system in place for dealing with misconduct. and which after a dreadful start now seems to be getting results. But it can only truly work if everyone is signed up to it.

Clearly, there are now two possible futures for the UKCP. There are those who see a future in which its practitioners are accountable and where a UKCP registration is a stamp of reassurance for the public. However, there seems to be also those who may be happy for the quacks, incompetent, cultists and outright abusers of the therapy world to carry on with free rein, even if this means that the UKCP becomes officially second-rate to rival bodies like the BACP.

Of course, of these two possible futures, in only one outcome could the UKCP genuinely expect to have a future.