Exeter church apparently ignoring safeguarding concerns about struck-off counsellors

In May 2016 we published the Unsafe Spaces report, which highlighted how under-regulation of counselling and psychotherapy allows people to practice in these fields even after being struck off for very serious misconduct. In July the report was discussed in Parliament.

A key case study in the report was Exeter-based Palace Gate Counselling Service. In 2014 this firm was struck off by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, after the owner/director was found to have made unwanted sexual advances towards two women during therapy sessions. The company simply ignored the striking-off and carried on as if nothing had happened. This caused alarm among local agencies and controversy in the media.



Palace Gate Counselling Service lease their premises from the Palace Gate Centre, which is owned by South Street Baptist Church, a member church of the South West Baptist Association and the Baptist Union of Great Britain. After the BACP struck the firm off, the church was approached, and the safeguarding issues raised by this ruling were highlighted.

In July 2014, the chaplain of the Palace Gate Centre gave this response,

Regarding safeguarding, South St Baptist Church takes this extremely seriously and has its own regularly updated safeguarding policy. In terms of the Palace Gate Centre, though, we are not responsible for safeguarding within the activities run by other groups/organisations who rent space in our building. We do ensure that any group working with children, young people or vulnerable adults in a Regulated Activity in our Centre is aware of their need for their own safeguarding policy and of their responsibility to implement it.

As the Palace Gate Counselling Service is not operated or controlled by the church, any issues to do with safeguarding lie with PGCS and not with us.

To a degree, fair enough, though expecting PGCS to address a safeguarding concern is pretty meaningless when the concerns are about the owner of the company. It’s also debatable that the church can say that a safeguarding issue is not their responsibility. As anyone who’s ever attended child protection or protection of vulnerable adults training will know, “nothing to do with me” is simply a statement you can’t say. Safeguarding issues are regarded as everybody’s business.

The chaplain’s response continues,

The legal advice we have been given tells us that the findings of the BACP do not provide any lawful grounds upon which the church could terminate its lease with Palace Gate Counselling. Indeed, if we did pursue such action it is possible that the church itself could be taken to court for acting prejudicially.

Okay, so their hands are tied. However concerning the BACP findings about Palace Gate may be, the church can’t evict them or they’d get sued.

So, South Street Baptist Church are simply reluctant landlords, stuck with a tenant they can’t get rid of.

But if that’s the case, why does the church continue to endorse this firm on their website?


Incidentally, the claim that “almost every other agency in the area recommend us” is contradicted by reports we hear from the Exeter area. Multiple agencies in Exeter have blacklisted PGCS due to the safeguarding concerns. I have no information as to whether they’re still getting referrals from GPs, but I sincerely hope not.

What shocks me is that this church knows that people have been harmed while attending this so-called counselling service. A finding of fact was made by a professional body, the BACP. The case has been in the national media. Their chaplain confirmed they know about it, but simply insisted they can’t do anything about it.

As it turns out, they are indeed doing something about it. They’re actively promoting this very same company. That’s utterly unbelievable.

Neither South Street Baptist Church nor the South West Baptist Association have responded to requests for comment.

Are some Accredited Registers better than others at handling complaints?

Here’s a question I want to think about. If you want a counsellor or a psychotherapist, the Professional Standards Authority accredits 11 different registers for you to choose from. Suppose something goes wrong and you need to make a complaint. Do any of those registers handle complaints better than others?

The Professional Standards Authority does ask people to share their experiences of Accredited  Registers, which comes with quite a big caveat.

Please note that this is NOT a complaints process. We do not investigate individuals’ complaints about regulators or registers and cannot resolve them for you, but you can help others by sharing your experience.

So, if you don’t  agree with the decision of an Accredited Register, who do you appeal the decision to? Basically, you can’t appeal it to anyone, which is hardly reassuring. The most the PSA can do is take your concerns into account when it’s time to revalidate the register. By comparison with the statutory regulators (the General Medical Council, Nursing and Midwifery Council etc) the PSA can appeal decisions to the High Court. Possibly this may be a distinction between accredited registers and regulators that hasn’t been discussed enough in debates over whether psychotherapy should be regulated.

I decided to find out whether any of the registers are getting more concerns raised than others. So, I sent the PSA a Freedom of Information Act request asking them to provide a list of how many concerns have been received for each Accredited Register over the last two years. I got this response.

To help interpret the data, I created a table of just those registers that are for counsellors and psychotherapists. These registers vary wildly in size, so I added a column listing the number of registrants each has on their books. If they were all doing equally well, one would expect them to have a number of concerns raised that’s roughly equal when adjusted for the size of the register.


The Association of Christian Counsellors, the National Associaton of Play Therapists, COSCA and the Human Givens Institute all had no concerns sent to the PSA about their complaints handling.

Looking at these numbers, you’d expect the highest number of concerns to be for the BACP, simply because it’s by far the biggest register. But it’s not. The UKCP is only a quarter of the size of the BACP, but they had more concerns raised about them.

From November 2015 to January 2016 the UKCP had its accreditation suspended by the PSA, in part due to apparent mishandling of a sexual misconduct case. I emailed the PSA back to ask how many of these concerns were received before, during or after the suspension. They informed me that 8 of them were before, one of them during, and 2 of them afterwards. I hope this reduction in concerns means their complaint handling has improved since then. However, a quick glance at their complaints decisions page raises an eyebrow or two.


They haven’t sanctioned anyone since last November.

The result for the British Psychoanalytic Council also seems rather striking. They have less than a twentieth of the size of register compared to the BACP, but get almost as many concerns to the PSA. If we restrict it to only those concerns sent by complainants, the numbers are exactly the same.

Arguably the numbers for the Association of Child Psychotherapists could also be considered disproportionate to their size, but it’s only 3 concerns so we’re getting into pretty small numbers there.

Obviously this is a pretty rough-and-ready way to gauge the relative effectiveness of the different registers, but it does raise questions about whether or not they’re doing an equally good job.





Therapist who sexually abused clients returns to practice

A Jungian psychotherapist who was found to have sexually abused a mentally ill client in his care has put up a new website advertising his services.

Stuart Macfarlane was previously registered with the Guild of Analytical Psychologists, a member organisation of the UK Council for Psychotherapy. In 2012 the Guild of Analytical Psychoanalysts found allegations proved that he had committed serious breaches of boundaries with a vulnerable client. Unsafe Spaces learned that these breaches were of a sexual nature, and the client experienced severe trauma as a result of his behaviour.

The case was controversial, because the Guild of Analytical Psychologists chose not to strike him off, but instead gave him a suspension. However, Macfarlane resigned from the GAP during his suspension period. UKCP member organisations are now no longer allowed to handle complaints in-house, which instead go through the UKCP complaints process.

In 2014 a second ex-client came forward to the Daily Mail, accusing him of abusing her in a very similar way to the first.

Macfarlane has now put up a blog, describing himself as a “seasoned and well-respected therapist with over 30 years of experience”. It also states that he “still resides in London and continues to delve into the world of psychology, helping many people along the way.”

This sort of behaviour is sadly not unusual. Our Unsafe Spaces report found that one in four counsellors or psychotherapists struck off by professional bodies continue to practice. This is legal because neither “counsellor” nor “psychotherapist” are protected titles, and anybody can use these titles.

Unsafe Spaces has also issued guidance on keeping safe from abuse when accessing counselling or psychotherapy. We strongly recommend that clients check their therapist’s registration before beginning therapy.



Keeping safe from abuse during therapy – Unsafe Spaces publishes free resource

Today we publish our free guide, Keeping Safe During Counselling or Psychotherapy. It highlights some of the warning signs that a therapeutic relationship may be turning abusive. It also gives suggestions on how you can take action if you’ve experienced misconduct or abuse.

The guide is based on some of the misconduct cases that have been highlighted by this website, as well as from consultation and feedback kindly provided by a number of professionals and service users.

The guide is free to download, and comes in two versions – full and easy read. The full version is for people who want a detailed explanation for the thinking behind the advice. The easy read version is for those who just want the main points, given with as little jargon as possible.

Go here to download either version.

Unsafe Spaces report discussed in Parliament

Today the Health Select Committee of the House of Commons met with the Professional Standards Authority to discuss their role in professional regulation. Sarah Wollaston MP and Ben Bradshaw MP both raised the issues described in our Unsafe Spaces report, which describes how one in four counsellors and psychotherapists struck off for misconduct simply carry on practising.

The meeting can be viewed online here. It’s quite a lengthy video, but all the discussion of counselling and psychotherapy is finished by 15:16 (there’s a break in the video due to a vote being called, with the meeting resuming at 15:07:15).


Something that’s of interest is that the PSA is working on a risk assessment model for which professions should be on a regulator and which should be on accredited registers. This model is described as based on three factors – the risk of the intervention, the context in which it takes place, and the vulnerability of the patient or service user. They would then go back to ministers with a recommendation as to whether or not a profession should be regulated.

Counselling and psychotherapy are mentioned as professions that the government may wish to look at as ones that could move from accredited registration to regulation. They also seem to be suggesting that arts therapists could move the other way, from regulation to accredited registration. The rationale given for this latter move (by Harry Cayton, Chief Executive of the PSA, at 15: 15:39) is that, “I’m only aware of one ever fitness to practise case involving an arts therapist, and that was for theft, or dishonesty rather than competence.” This seems to miss out the incredibly nasty case of Derek Gale, who was struck off by the HPC in 2009 for running a cult disguised as a therapy centre. Admittedly that was some years ago, but even so that leaves me concerned about the idea of arts therapists no longer being regulated.

That said, I’m pleased to hear that regulation of counselling and psychotherapy is not necessarily off the agenda, and I’ll look forward with interest to hearing about the PSA’s proposed risk assessment model.

Unsafe Spaces report highlighted in Therapy Today

Last month we published our report, Unsafe Spaces: Why the lack of regulation in counselling and psychotherapy is endangering vulnerable people. The report is highlighted in this month’s edition of the BACP’s magazine Therapy Today (click here and go to page 5).

As a slight correction to the Therapy Today article, although it correctly states that the report calls for “counsellor” and “psychotherapist” to be made protected titles, we didn’t call for the title “coach” to be protected (though we did recommend consideration be given to protecting other titles, such as “psychoanalyst”).

The Unsafe Spaces report was also previously mentioned in the Mail on Sunday.

Our report found that one in four counsellors or psychotherapists struck off by the BACP or UKCP for misconduct continued to practice after being removed from the register. These included individuals struck off for very serious misconduct, including sexual abuse of clients. We believe this evidence shows the pressing need for regulation of these professions in the UK rather than the voluntary registration systems we have now.

Unsafe Spaces report mentioned in Mail on Sunday article

Last week the report, Unsafe Spaces: Why the lack of regulation in counselling and psychotherapy is endangering vulnerable people was published on this site. Authored by Amanda Williamson and I, the report found that one in four therapists struck off by the BACP or UKCP continue to practice.

Today, the report gets a mention in this Mail on Sunday article about a therapist and spiritual healer who has been accused of psychological manipulation. Check out the blue box at the bottom, which has a few names that will be familiar to people who read this blog. The article also states that Geraint Davies MP is hoping to re-present his previous Private Members Bill on psychotherapy regulation.