The Palace Gate abuse case, the media and therapy regulation

Following on from the Palace Gate story (which I’ve covered extensively on this blog) appearing in the Mail on Sunday, it’s now also been reported in the Plymouth Evening Herald. After months of rumbling around social media, the abusive behaviour of John Clapham (and his co-director Lindsey Talbott) is now a mainstream story in both the national and local press.

So, what does this mean for the debate on psychotherapy regulation?

Before answering that question, let’s have a brief run-through of the story as reported in the Evening Herald. Much of what is described will be familiar to readers of this blog. Two women – a counsellor and trainee – were offered therapy sessions by John Clapham, director of Palace Gate Counselling Services in Exeter. These sessions turned sinister when they were asked to strip and one was inappropriately touched. When the women complained, they were subjected to a prolonged campaign of defamation – not only by Clapham but also by Lindsey Talbott, another director at Palace Gate. Clapham and Talbott were subsequently struck off by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (under their trading name of Phoenix Counselling services). However, as the regulation of counselling and psychotherapy is purely voluntary, there is no legal weight behind this ruling. Both Clapham and Talbott are free to carry on practising.

Something that comes up in the article is the variety of trading names under which Clapham and Talbott have been operating. Not only Palace Gate and Phoenix, but also Taunton Counselling Service. Although the BACP ruling is online, it only makes reference to Phoenix Counselling Service. A client of PGCS or TCS wouldn’t necessarily know from reading it that these firms are all run by the same people.

The Evening Herald also refers to Clapham as “a non-executive director of Plymouth’s Simply Counselling”. As I previously reported, not only Clapham but also Talbott were on Simply Counselling’s board of directors.

There’s no comment in response from Simply Counselling in the Evening Herald article, and they never replied when I e-mailed them for comment on the 22nd May. That said, I note that on their website they’ve put up a list of directors. Two names are now conspicuous by their absence from that list. I’m sure you can all guess which two. Good.

There’s a lengthy reply from Clapham and Talbott in the Evening Herald. Readers of this blog will have a fair idea of how much reflection or remorse they’re likely to show. None at all.

In a statement the company said:

“Phoenix Counselling Services strongly denies the allegations made against its consulting practitioner Mr John Clapham.

“The allegations stem from two former practitioners at Phoenix who are currently involved in setting up a competing service.

“They have conducted an organised campaign to discredit and undermine Mr Clapham’s and our reputation, via fabricated complaints against Mr Clapham.

The complainants had already complained to four public authorities as part of this campaign, including the police and Adult Safeguarding. These investigations ended with no findings or action against Phoenix or Mr Clapham.

“The BACP is a private body which has no statutory powers of authority or judicial processes. It is a private members’ association.

“We dispute the BACP findings. Phoenix has in fact not been a member since October 2013. In Phoenix’s eighteen years of service (run on a not-for-profit basis by volunteer practitioners) there have been no complaints from clients to the BACP or any other quasi or official regulatory authority. There are no allegations, or BACP findings, about the client work of any of our 25 therapists who see Phoenix clients, or the quality of the service we offer clients.”

Or, to put it another way:

wahmbulance

I think it’s now safe to say Clapham and Talbott’s reputations are now comprehensively trashed, and deservedly so. I hope that this sounds the death knell of their counselling businesses, as neither of them should be anywhere near vulnerable people. But what strikes me is how hard it is to do it. They were struck off by the BACP and carried on practising. The case is now in the mainstream media, but it took months of hard graft by the two women involved to do it. They took a big risk in going to journalists, given the media’s reputation for sensationalising stories (let’s not forget the awful treatment Flora McEvedy received at the hands of the Daily Mail’s Femail section) and the amount of victim-blaming that such stories can be received with. Fortunately, both the Mail on Sunday and the Evening Herald seem to have covered the issue fairly and thoroughly, at least by the standards of tabloid newspapers. The women also received the usual legal threats along the way. Once again, a quick plug for what I’ve been calling Doré’s Law. “Spurious legal threats are the first refuge of the scoundrel.”

They’ve also rallied local counsellors and psychotherapists in the Exeter area to collectively raise the alarm, issuing a joint statement to referring agencies.

The women involved have put in huge work at great personal cost, emotionally and financially, and it could easily have cost them a lot more. I commend them for it, but it shouldn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t require individuals raising their heads above the parapet in order to protect the public. Also, despite all these huge efforts, Clapham and Talbott are still legally permitted to call themselves counsellors.

If the Palace Gate story doesn’t demonstrate the clear need for state-regulation of counselling and psychotherapy, I don’t know what does.

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