Another therapist carries on practising after being struck off for sexual misconduct

There seems to be a running theme on this blog of psychotherapists on accredited registers who are struck off by their professional body, and simply carry on practising regardless.

Here’s another one. Charles Davison, a Norfolk-based therapist was recently struck off by the UK Council for Psychotherapy. The UKCP decision posted online isn’t very detailed. However, it does state that he was removed from their register for sexual misconduct. They also state that he had “an unclear and inadequately understood sense of professionalism and especially clinical boundaries.” They determined that he “lacks insight into his conduct and is not satisfied that he recognizes the seriousness of the failings in his actions,” and that it was “not a one-off situation, but rather a course of conduct that should have been identified well in advance.” They were also “concerned about his own lack of honesty in not disclosing his behaviour to his own supervisor.”

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Are some accredited counsellors more accredited than others?

There’s been a lively debate on the comments thread to a blog post I did back in September 2014. I’d written about Chrysalis Courses, a counselling training provider which had been struck off by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Chrysalis continues to be registered with the National Counselling Society, which has become an Accredited Register with the Professional Standards Authority. Some of those leaving comments seem to be former students, unhappy with the quality of training they received. Others have raised criticisms what they perceively to be an excessively-close relationship between Chrysalis and the National Counselling Society.

Both the National Counselling Society and British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy have routes to become accredited counsellors. But what does the word “accredited” actually mean, and does it necessarily mean the same thing between different registers? Continue reading

High Court upgrades McCarron case to a striking-off

In June 2014 I was alarmed to hear that the Health and Care Professions Council had declined to strike off a clinical psychologist who had committed serious sexual misconduct with someone who had recently been in therapy with him. Despite John McCarron not even turning up to the hearing, he was issued with a one-year suspension instead.

The Professional Standards Authority subsequently appealed the decision to the High Court. Today I’m pleased to hear that the High Court has upheld the appeal (see page 6) and ordered that McCarron be struck off. Continue reading

What kind of regulation for counselling and psychotherapy?

On this blog, I’ve highlighted the need for statutory regulation for counselling and psychotherapy. This is demonstrated by cases such as Palace Gate, where a counselling firm was struck off by the BACP due to 30 proven allegations, but has no legal impediment to stay in business. And indeed, still is in business.

What I haven’t talked about so much is what kind of regulation might work. Time to muster some thoughts.

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Strange goings-on at counselling training provider

In August 2014 the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy withdrew the membership of Chrysalis Courses Ltd, which provided training in counselling and hypnotherapy. Allegations were upheld over failure to provide appropriate feedback to coursework, and the company was heavily criticised for failing to respond to the allegations or to engage with the complaints process. According to the BACP the company was dissolved in May 2014.

However, there’s still a website up and running for Chrysalis Courses, advertising training in counselling and hypnotherapy. So what’s going on here?

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UKCP fails to strike off yet another therapist who committed sexual misconduct

A few months ago I noticed that a Jungian psychotherapist called Rob Waygood had been suspended from the UK Council for Psychotherapy. His suspension noticed briefly disappeared and then reappeared from the UKCP complaints page, and his website also reappeared then disappeared. I took this to mean there had been a ruling and then an appeal.

The ruling has now been published, and it turns out that Waygood had a sexual relationship with a client, which caused the client harm. Concerningly, he hasn’t been struck off but instead has been given a 6 month suspension.

As it happens there was indeed an appeal, though it was the UKCP who appealed rather than Waygood, on the grounds that the original sanction was unduly lenient. Incredibly, the panel simply ordered a warning letter.

The details in the online ruling are fairly scant, but they state that Waygood started a sexual relationship with his client a short time after the therapy ended. It sounds like there were some precursors happening during the therapy, such as Waygood commenting on the client’s femininity during a session.

This isn’t the first time that a UKCP psychotherapist has committed the worst possible breach of boundaries and not been struck off. In May 2011 Geoffrey Pick was suspended for a year after sexually abusing a client. He was then put back on the UKCP register, and later resigned when the media started taking an interest. Stuart Macfarlane is currently serving a two year suspension from the Guild of Analytical Psychologists and UKCP, again for sexually abusing a client. He could be practising again after September. In both the the Pick and Macfarlane cases, their victims suffered massive psychological trauma.

The UKCP seems to have extremely poor timing in making this decision. They’re an “assured voluntary register” with the Professional Standards Authority, and their complaints procedure is due to be audited soon by the PSA to ensure quality control. Meanwhile, Geraint Davies MP has a private members bill before Parliament, calling for statutory rather than voluntary regulation for counsellors and psychotherapists. The second reading is later this month.

The Waygood decision states that, “The Panel determined that the Registrant’s behaviour was so serious that the reputation of both the profession and that of the regulators was at enormous risk.” Those reputations certainly are at risk, not only by his behaviour but by this lenient decision.

How much therapy abuse is out there?

I recently had a question posted in the comments thread to one of my blog posts, by ‘Reading Enquirer’.

Is there actual evidence that a community of statutorily regulated health professionals commit fewer abuses on average than the unregulated? Does this cure depend only on supposition and faith or is there an actual peer-reviewed evidence base? Is there evidence that statutorily regulated health professionals have greater efficacy in the relief of human suffering than the unregulated?

This is an important question, and one which raises a further question – how can we know how much abuse by psychotherapists is out there?

Abuse, by its very nature, is something that happens behind closed doors, without records being kept. No practitioner – regulated or unregulated, is likely to be auditing how much people they’ve abused. Not everyone who has been abused reports it. Still less of those who report it have their allegations proven in a fitness-to-practise hearing and/or a court of law.

If we’re talking about unregulated professionals, then that does beg the question of who they can report it to. Historically, even being a member of a professional body has not necessarily been a guarantee that a complaint will be heard properly. Until recently, complaints-handling at the UK Council for Psychotherapy was dominated by “crony-ism and amateurism” (not my words, but the words of the then UKCP chair). To give an idea what this “crony-ism and amateurism” looks like, one can read the decision letter for the UKCP’s application to be accredited by the Professional Standards Authority.

The Panel considered a summary of the main themes identified in the Call for Information, and the UKCP’s response to these submissions. It observed that many were related to UKCP’s previous complaints processes, involving the handling of complaints by itself and its OMs. It was felt that the former complaints system was characterised by lengthy times from initial complaint to completion, poor communication from the UKCP and OMs and a lack of support for complainants. There were suggestions of conflicts of interest and procedural failures that appeared not to consider public protection.

The UKCP has now instituted a series of reforms to address these issues, with the result that they’ve now achieved PSA accreditation, though the PSA is insisting on auditing their complaints-handling after 6 months. To be fair to the UKCP, they’re now publishing a growing number of complaints decisions, which appear to have been handled in a considerably improved way.

But…what psychotherapy has at the moment is only regulation-lite, not full statutory regulation. “Psychotherapist” and “counsellor” are not protected titles and you don’t have to belong to a professional body to call yourself one. Indeed, the UKCP recently struck off a psychotherapist called Julia Eastwood. She’s still advertising herself for coaching and counselling.

And then there’s all those people who use other titles similar to psychotherapists and counsellors. Even if those professions became protected titles, there’d still be all the Jungian analysts, life coaches, shamanic therapists…did I mention Ms Eastwood also advertises herself as a “conscious channel of the Archangel Gabriel”? Good luck finding someone to complain to if your conscious channel engages in misconduct.

Still, even if you can’t find anyone to complain to, you could always sue them, though that can be hugely expensive, and you’ll only get no-win no-fee if you have a strong case. So presumably we could find out how much misconduct is out there by looking at the number of lawsuits?

I spoke to somebody who sued their psychotherapist. According to them, their solicitor knew of about 30 ongoing cases, which sounds like a worryingly high number. However, we don’t get to hear about many of these cases, for the reason that most of them end in a civil settlement. These settlements tend to include a confidentiality clause, effectively stuffing the complainant’s mouth with gold.

If it’s a serious form of abuse, say, if someone was sexually exploited, there’s also the police route. But conviction rates for sexual assault are shockingly low. No guarantee there’ll even be a prosecution, never mind a conviction.

One could simply try to publicise one’s case. But that carries the risk of being clobbered by our notoriously draconian libel laws, which have a well-documented “chilling effect” on free speech in the UK. Even with the recent reforms to defamation law, the risk of being hit by a lawsuit would make a lot of people think twice.

So, to answer Enquiring Reader’s question as to whether there’s evidence that unregulated professionals commit more abuse than regulated ones – the simple answer is we don’t know. The reason for that is that without regulation we can’t know the extent of the problem, because there’s nobody to complain to.

On a more pragmatic level, I think it’s important that people have the confidence that if something goes wrong, they have access to a robust complaints procedure. For that reason, my advice to anyone seeking a therapist is to ensure that they use someone either in a state-regulated profession (e.g. clinical psychologists or arts therapists, which are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council), or belong to a PSA-accredited body (e.g. the BACP, the UKCP or the National Counselling Society). If they don’t fulfil those basic criteria, don’t use them.