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.

 

clapham

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?

ssbc

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.

When does sexual attraction turn into sexual misconduct?

Given that I’ve blogged about serious sexual misconduct cases in counselling and psychotherapy, @sameihuda on Twitter drew my attention to this article in BPS Research Digest. It deals with the tricky topic of when therapists develop a sense of sexual attraction to their clients.

The article refers only to when therapists have sexual feelings, not when this turns into actual sexual acts (fortunately, none of the therapists surveyed in the research cited had done this). I’ll give some thoughts on when this could happen.

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Struck-off counsellor’s ridiculous online rants

I’ve regularly covered the saga around John Clapham and Lindsey Talbott, the two Devon counsellors struck off by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy for 30 proven allegations, including serious sexual misconduct by Clapham. They’re still in the counselling business, despite being booted out of the BACP and shamed in the Mail on Sunday.

Talbott has always taken a “stand by your man” approach to Clapham, sending threatening e-mails to the complainants and making online threats to sue them under Britain’s much-misused libel laws. Since then she’s been posting online again. Naturally, her latest burblings show every bit as much insight, reflection and remorse as she’s shown all along. None at all.

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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?

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Why we told our story to The Mail on Sunday

[Guest post by Amanda Williamson and Tina Welch]

[The Palace Gate abuse case, which I’ve covered on this blog, has now been reported by the Mail on Sunday. Here, the complainants tells us why they’ve gone public with their experiences – Phil]

Note that the title says ‘told’ rather than ‘sold’. This is important as cynics may proffer that we did it to make money. We can assure you that it wasn’t done for publicity either. Both of us are very wary of the impact that sharing our story may have on our personal and professional lives. Taking Phoenix Counselling to a professional conduct hearing has already cost us both heavily, in personal, professional and financial terms.
 
We want to make it absolutely clear that our motivation consists of two clear aims:
 

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Exeter church plays Pontius Pilate over Palace Gate abuse case

In recent months I’ve covered the Palace Gate abuse case, in which the two directors of Palace Gate Counselling Service, Exeter, were struck off by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. John Clapham was found to have taken sexual advantage of two women during therapy sessions. His co-director Lindsey Talbott then aided him in a lengthy campaign of harassment and defamation against the complainants.

Palace Gate Counselling Service rents its premises in the Palace Gate Centre from South Street Baptist Church. Because counselling has only voluntary self-regulation rather than state regulation, Clapham and Talbott have been able to continue running their firm despite the striking-off order. Which is not to say their business hasn’t been impeded. Outside agencies have stopped referring clients there. Fundraisers have pulled their support. Even so, they’re still there at the Palace Gate Centre.

Which begs the question, why haven’t South Street Baptist Church evicted them from the premises? I now have a statement from the church.

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Concerned counsellors raise alarm over Palace Gate

The following statement has been issued to various agencies in the Exeter area, warning them about Palace Gate Counselling Service, who were struck off by the BACP last month. It is signed by 27 counsellors and psychotherapists, including 11 supervisors. I think it says something about the service that so many of their fellow professionals feel compelled to raise the alarm. Unfortunately it probably also says something about the lack of statutory authority behind accredited voluntary registration that it’s relying on people taking the initiative in order to raise these concerns.
CONCERNED COUNSELLORS
 
Findings by British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy May 2014:
PHOENIX COUNSELLING SERVICES: SERIOUS PROFESSIONAL MISCONDUCT
 
Phoenix Counselling Services, the company who continue to run Palace Gate Counselling in Exeter, have now been twice struck off the register of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy.(BACP) Two women made separate complaints about touch and nudity in therapy sessions in 2012 and this has been judged in hearings last month (May 2014) to be “serious professional misconduct”.

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