Last week I wrote about Palace Gate Counselling Service (also known as Phoenix Counselling Service), a firm in Exeter which recently made an online announcement that they are facing complaints from two therapists who accuse them of running a “therapeutic cult”. They state that these complainants have (unsuccessfully) reported them to a number of agencies, including the police, Adult Safeguarding, the Employment Tribunal Service and the Advertising Standards Authority.
Palace Gate strongly deny any wrongdoing, and accuse the complainants of acting out of commercial motivations. They state that there is a misconduct hearing pending, but decline to say who with. However, it appears to be with the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
The dispute seems to have triggered a decision by Palace Gate not to renew their membership of the BACP.
Since then I’ve had a couple of responses from Palace Gate via the comments threads to various blog posts, so I’ll collate them here.
Before I do so, I’ve been asked to clarify something: Palace Gate Counselling Service is based at the Palace Gate Centre in Exeter, but the two aren’t the same organisation. The Palace Gate Centre is a church-owned venue that lets out its space to various organisations, not just PGCS but also other organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Cruse etc. For the avoidance of doubt, when I say “Palace Gate”, I’m talking about the counselling service rather than the centre.
In response to one of my blog posts, I received the following comment by Lindsey Talbot, one of the directors of PGCS.
You have acknowledged you are in communication with one of the complainants. I personally do not see your stance in this as objective or open-minded. Seems to me you have a hostile agenda. There are likely to be severe limits to how much I or any of us choose to engage with you.
However, I want to make a couple of points on your post.
You state, with more accent on broad-brush sensationalism than accuracy:-
‘According to their director Lindsey Talbott, Palace Gate have been reported to a slew of agencies, including the police, Adult Safeguarding, the Employment Tribunal Service and the Advertising Standards Authority.’
Our own original post, ‘The Conflict’ http://palacegatecounsellingservice.wordpress.com/the-conflict/ sets out accurate accounts of these four processes.
You do not say that:-
– All four processes have concluded, with no finding in any of them against us, or any of our staff;
– There was no finding in any of them in favour of the complainants.
Do you think a responsible commentator would do well to make this clear?
You may say you have only my word for this. However, you are in contact with one of the complainants. You could ask them about the police email, DCC Adult Safeguarding letter, and ASA email they have in their possession. These prove our statements here (and in ‘The Conflict’) are accurate.
The complainant has possession of these documents in the context of a formal process. So they will presumably not provide you with copies, and will want to be sure their behaviour accords with relevant confidentiality requirements.
However, we ourselves have no objection to that person giving you sight of these documents (solely for the purpose of verifying what we have said).
The Employment Tribunal Written Reasons are also in the possession of that complainant. Obviously this is a public document. It would, I think, be fair to say that the language the judge uses does not support the complainants’ Tribunal claims. He finds for us on the merits.
Your choices to post on this matter have the potential to harm our service and our clients. As a nurse therapist, you may not wish to cause distress or harm to the 160 or so clients each week choosing to come here.
I suggest you amend this post to achieve a higher level of accuracy and fairness, and that you exercise a little more care in future.
Lindsey Talbott, Therapist & Supervisor
Palace Gate Counselling Service
Have I spoken with one of the complainants? Yes. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I have a right to speak to her and she has a right to speak to me. However, I have not placed any new information about this dispute into the public domain. I have only made reference to those public announcements that Palace Gate have themselves made online. Nothing more.
Regarding the decisions by various other bodies, it’s true that I haven’t used the wording that they suggest. However, I did state that these complaints were unsuccessful, and I think that’s clear. Personally, I don’t see the point Ms Talbott is making here, but I’ve re-published her clarification in this blog post, which she has also stated in the comments thread to the original post.
Regarding the written reasons by the Employment Tribunal, I haven’t seen them. However, if that’s what Ms Talbott says they say, then I’m happy to take her word for it.
In the various responses to my original blog post, one aspect has received more comment than any other – the decision by Palace Gate not to renew their BACP registration. About this, Ms Talbott says the following:
Commentators here have raised two points. I have a brief response.
Why did we post ‘The Conflict’?
We took the unorthodox choice to post ‘The Conflict’ for the reasons stated in it. Obviously there are ethical and confidentiality implications. If the complainants had confined themselves to an appropriate, confidential process, we would not have posted it. Instead they made widespread allegations over 18 months to all kinds of inappropriate third parties. Much of this takes the form of gossip between therapists. Complainant A has also made wide public comment – without names, but with enough context to identify us in the small Exeter therapeutic world (especially given the gossip etc). This has caused considerable reputational damage. It disregards fundamental principles of human rights/justice. In these circumstances – and with further defamatory accounts of this conflict by the complainants this year (in private and public contexts) – we decided to say something. It’s a question of balance, and fairness.
Leaving the BACP
We have already commented on our decision to leave the BACP in our service blog. We have published client and therapist facing ethos statements to inform clients and incoming therapists about how we work. We will in due course comment further on the regulation debate, and our current service stance/choices. I am not going to pre-empt that here. I do want to say that making a simple equation between regulation and ethical practice suggests to me a limited understanding of a complex subject, and mixes two distinct issues. The regulation debate is one issue, what constitutes ethical practice and most serves/enhances this is another. As a person-centred therapist working for a person-centred service, I find this article a useful contribution to the regulation debate: http://palacegatecounsellingservice.wordpress.com/2013/12/10/a-collision-of-worlds-by-brian-thorne/
Lindsey Talbott, Therapist & Supervisor
Palace Gate Counselling Service
I’ve had a look at the article by Professor Brian Thorne that Ms Talbott links to. I must confess I wasn’t very impressed by it. In his argument against regulation of counselling and psychotherapy, he makes reference to organisational pressures for “symptom reduction, treatment plans, empirically validated procedures, best practice, and NICE guidelines”, and a preference for CBT above other therapeutic modalities. However, such pressures tend to come from the Department of Health, NICE and the NHS rather than from statutory regulators such as the Health and Care Professions Council. In their previous bids to regulate counselling and psychotherapy, to the best of my knowledge the HCPC have not said therapists should restrict themselves to CBT.
I have a deeper concern though, with regard to Professor Thorne.
In 2010 the Times Higher Education Supplement reported that Thorne had published a book describing therapy sessions with a client, ‘Sally’. In these sessions he and Sally got naked and drank alcohol together.
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”.
Needless to say, “intuitive promptings” could not be considered informed consent for such a spectacularly dodgy-sounding approach to therapy.
I’d suggest that it’s this sort of thing that regulators such as the HCPC would be worried about, rather than whether or not Professor Thorne uses a CBT approach.
Since Ms Talbott has praised Thorne’s stance on regulation, I’d be interested to hear what they think of his behaviour with Sally. Would Palace Gate consider it to be misconduct?
I would also be keen to hear from Palace Gate on a question that I and other commenters have queried. Now that Palace Gate are no longer registered with the BACP, to whom are they accountable? If (hypothetically speaking) a client wanted to make a complaint against Palace Gate in future, who would they be able to complain to?