The story so far…in February an Exeter-based counselling service, Palace Gate Counselling (also trading as Phoenix Counselling) took the unusual step of publishing a lengthy blog post, “The Conflict”. They stated that two other therapists have accused them of running a “therapeutic cult” (which they strongly deny) and that they were close to a disciplinary hearing against their firm. They didn’t state in “The Conflict” who the hearing was with, but it was clear from elsewhere on their blog that it was with the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Today, Palace Gate have published a follow-up post, “Our Service, the BACP and the regulation debate”. As with the original post, it’s rather lengthy, but I’ll attempt to summarise it here:
They confirm that the hearings were with the BACP. They do not yet know the outcome of the hearings, but they are deeply dissatisfied with how the BACP have handled it. They state that they also made complaints against the two therapists.
The BACP appears to have applied different (and harsher) standards and criteria to the complaints by us, than they have to the complaints against us. For example, we were required to redraft our complaints to remove some references to third party material. This seemed to us difficult to sustain as an argument, in the context of an organized group of complainants – the group element, and the process contamination/distortions this creates, are key to our response to these complaints. Moreover the complaints against us contained extensive third party material, which was not challenged by the BACP.
Their complaints against the therapists were rejected by the BACP without a hearing, but the complaints against Palace Gate progressed to a hearing.
The BACP ultimately rejected the complaints we made. This was not, as the complainants have stated, ‘on the merits’ – there was no hearing to determine the merits. The BACP gave several grounds for its decision, and we remain unclear on their basis. However, it is clear that one reason was that we as a service were never the ‘clients’ of the therapists concerned. We think this makes nonsense of any concept of ethics. It cannot possibly be an intelligible or defensible viewpoint that it does not matter how one therapist behaves to another, however unethical, so long as they are not seen to take similar attitudes and behaviours into their client work.
As they previously stated, Palace Gate resigned from the BACP in October 2013. This has prompted various commenters to my blog to ask if they will be joining another professional body and to whom they will be accountable from now on. They answer this question.
We will not be rejoining the BACP, nor do we intend to join another such body. We are instead giving focus within our service to ways in which we, as a community, can strengthen and develop our abilities to support ourselves and each other in our client work and our own evolution as therapists, and also offer/receive this beyond our service.
They do suggest that they may join the Independent Practitioners Network or form something similar. I was curious to find out whether the IPN has a formal complaints procedure to hold their members accountable. I found this on the IPN’s FAQ page.
Could I be ‘struck off’ from IPN?
In the extreme event say, of a conviction for an offence against a client, you might be entitled to remain an IPN ‘participant’ but would be very unlikely to find a group that would want you as a member or that would stand by you and your work.
If I want to make a complaint against an IPN practitioner what do I need to do?
We have recently begun to talk about ‘disputes’ rather than complaints as being more appropriate a view of the mistakes, errors, and misunderstandings that can occur in human relating. If you raise a dispute/complaint with a practitioner, his/her group would initially offer you and the practitioner support in resolving your concerns/objections. If this was insufficient or unacceptable then we would make available independent mediation.
Sounds a little woolly to me, though I’m willing to be corrected on that. Unlike the BACP, the IPN is not an Accredited Voluntary Register with the Professional Standards Authority.
Palace Gate affirm their opposition to regulation of counselling and psychotherapy. In doing so, they praise the eminent counsellor Professor Brian Thorne. As I’ve previously stated, I have strong concerns about the anti-regulation stance of Professor Thorne in the light of his notorious “Sally sessions”. In these sessions, Thorne acted on “intuitive promptings” to drink alcohol and get naked with a vulnerable client.
They also appear to have issues with an unnamed training provider.
In relation to the conflict we refer to later on in this article, it is fair to say we accepted a few trainees some years ago who were not a fit for this service – and that these placements were in retrospect unwise choices by all three parties: us, them and the training provider. These students came from a specific training provider, with whom we had noticed increasing issues. We had questions about the quality of the training based on what we were seeing in supervision and/or in the students’ client work. We were also noticing a widening gap in ethos and approach between us as a person-centred service, and this training provider as a decidedly not-person-centred organization. This created tensions and confusions for placement students coming in, which were not helpful for them or us. As a result of this, we decided in May 2012 (before the conflict began) to stop taking anyone on placement from that training provider, pre-diploma. Several of those involved in this conflict were diploma training peers with this training provider.
As I’ve previously stated, it seems clear that there are two irreconcilable accounts of events at Palace Gate. Between Palace Gate and the complainants against them, one side must be engaged in a systemic defamation of the other. But which side?
[Note: to clarify something, Palace Gate Counselling Service are based at the Palace Gate Centre in Exeter, but the two are not the same organisation. My understanding is that the relationship between the Palace Gate Centre and PGCS is one of landlord and tenant.]