A free-speech platform for therapists to voice their experiences of ethical body complaints processes
“A single complaint by a disgruntled complainant can wreck your business”
Our mission is to drive change
This website is exclusively for counsellors and psychotherapists (aka therapists) and their ethical bodies in the context of complaints. It has been created by therapists who have been hurt by the way ethical bodies process complaints
The purpose of this website is to provide:
- support to therapists; and
- insight for ethical bodies to discover the impact of their processes on therapists and their clients and how that can be changed.
We invite therapists to offer testimonies providing the evidence needed to change faulty processes. Therapists are often badly hurt in this, so we will protect their identity.
Whilst we are unable to accept testimonies from clients who wish to complain about a therapist, our drive for fair systems will help legitimate complainants too. We want the process to be fast, efficient, fair, informed and logical to reduce the stress for all parties.
Therapists could be surprised to find that an ethical body may process complaints from supervisors or colleagues, or members of the public not involved in counselling who may seek redress with a therapist, thus going well beyond the remit of therapists’ practice.
Our main concern is with the processes an ethical body uses to discern between complaints which are genuine and just in comparison to those which may be “malicious” or “vexatious”.
All ethical body members need to read this to prepare for the shock of a complaint compounded by the shock of the complaint being mismanaged.
A single complaint by a disgruntled complainant or member of the public, however unjustified or trivial, can wreck your business, your career and for some, your life. This can happen to you at any time in your career. Absolutely no-one is immune.
Many therapists depend upon ethical body membership to secure work. The way your ethical body processes complaints is crucial to you. It can involve publication of their version of your complaint and their outcome on an on-line public sanction board for anyone to look at for extended periods of time, sometimes years.
In many cases, if potential clients, insurance companies or EAP’s who offer freelance work to therapists search your name, they immediately find you are sanctioned by the ethical body and referrals stop.
It is accessible to anyone in the world who may wish to use whatever words the body has written to damage your life far beyond the realm of the profession. This exposes the body to the Defamation Act 2013, through which listed members may claim consequential losses.
Complaints can be devastating, not only in themselves, but in the way ethical bodies process them:-
- they can be unjust in their entirety or assessed out of proportion to their import;
- they can isolate and they can shame beyond words;
- they can destroy therapists’ practices and careers, particularly by publishing their adjudications and marking Members’ listings, so potential employers and clients will go elsewhere.
There have to be processes to support members whose practice is poor, or even to exclude some. This must be done carefully, sensitively, professionally and proportionately. Current processes may be none of these things.
Ethical bodies rarely make their members aware of the possible impact of their complaint processes. Members can be lulled into a feeling of confidence in a benevolent and caring body until this happens and then it can all change.
Because course tutors and centres know how onerous it can be, they can impose the same fear on trainees and those studying with them, so we are all affected from the start without actually knowing it. We need to be made aware of the possibility of vexatious or malicious complaints in our training and that an ethical body may protect the complainant, not defend it’s members due to the current procedures which do not efficiently screen such complaints.
As such, we need to consider joining a union which will support us. The creators of this site are not a formal union. However, regardless of whether you are in a union or not, it is imperative to contact your insurer when you get a complaint before you communcate with your ethical body or any other body. Your insurer may deny the insurance you have paid for otherwise
“Members can be lulled in a feeling of confidence”
Your contributions and our newsletters
“Members can be lulled in a feeling of confidence”
What we are about
Registered Counsellors and Psychotherapists are professionally trained and make a vocation of the emotional welfare of those who come for help.
The primary ethic for every professional therapist is ‘do no harm’. However, no-one is perfect all the time, and no-one is perfect in everyone else’s eyes.
This site is about the eyes and minds of those who adjudicate complaints. We are here to help harshly sanctioned therapists overcome the shame of complaints by connecting with others who have also been hurt by this and to generate interest in changing the way ethical bodies manage complaints.
We seek to offer feedback to regulatory bodies including BACP, UKCP, NCPS, ACC, NCIP, BABPC, BPC etc to enable to them to understand the impact of their processes to exercise competent complaint assessment and to ensure any sanctions are fair and proportionate.
Ethical bodies can treat complaints on face value, investigating the words of allegations without understanding the underlying issues.
This might be appropriate in a single medical intervention like an operation which went wrong for which there is provable evidence, but not for talking therapy for which the work is over a period of time and the evidence is generally hearsay from within the counselling room.
Assessors must start their work with the following premise:-
- the therapist is registered to an ethical body and has achieved significant qualifications;
- the complainant has come with emotional issues, varying from high anxiety or depression to significant mental illness which may be well hidden. That illness may manifest itself in aggression to anyone, which can include the therapist;
- a client might complain in order to set up some authoritative evidence to use in another setting, say a family court;
- the therapist may have acted professionally but clients may make any number of allegations to inflict hurt on them with no consequences to themselves. Ethical bodies may not always apply the skills to perceive this.
More often than not, it is not possible to prove what has happened. However, a body may choose to apply sanctions on the basis of their own opinion, which may be flawed. That opinion may end your career.
The body must be able to admit that no conclusion is possible.
Some bodies use an Adversarial process which treats the member and the complainant as equals when they are in fact on very different footings.
The member is in the dock in a criminal style pseudo court and the complainant unwittingly becomes the witness/accuser/prosecutor, despite the possibility that they may have some serious emotional issues. They can say anything they want with impunity to aggressively ‘convict’ the member.
Other bodies correctly use an Inquisitorial process which deals with the counsellor and complainant separately and asks important questions:-
- What is really driving the complainant to make this complaint and how can we help them in a way which is fair?
- What is the counsellor’s ability and reputation?
- Do they need some advice or even to be excluded?
The inquisitorial process is more likely to yield a balanced and timely result for complaints too.
It can incorporate a meditation process in which misunderstandings between a complainant and a member can be resolved.
This reflects the restorative justice system used in the criminal world.
Therapists are trained in a variety of modalities, but counsellor training generally excludes the concept of significant illness in either the client or any of the oppressors they may have or had in the past.
If an ethical body employs assessors from a modality which does not recognise or understand the different modalities that therapists work in (as is often the case) then it will act incompetently in almost every case.
In their inability to comprehend the the sophisticated relationship that might exist between counsellor and client, an ill-equipped assessor may let the complainant define an agenda which focuses on behaviours and fails to observe the underlying issues which could be driving the complaint.
The process can easily then miss the whole point by descending into finding correlations between the minutiae of alleged behaviours and the interpretation of specific clauses in an ethics document with a view to convicting the therapist and apply sanctions completely out of order of any perceived misdemeanour.
The ethical body can then claim to exercise control, thereby appeasing the complainant and the Professional Standards Authority whilst condemning the therapist.
Our profession is bound by confidentiality to protect the client and any other parties impacted by the therapeutic issues. However, the legal systems used support disclosure, whereby the counsellor and the complainant see the others’ submissions.
A process which adopts this legal transparency ignores the reasons for confidentiality and the consequences of its breach. This is serious incompetence in the world of therapy and principally:-
- it inhibits the therapist from providing important information;
- such disclosure can massively damage vulnerable parties.
Therapists who are trained just to listen, as in classical person centred counselling, soon realise the limits of their capacity. They extend their capabilities to become competent in the real world. However, that can put their practice outside the recognised bounds of their original training.
Providing they adhere to ethical principles, they can gain that competence safely through experience. But if they are assessed against their original training, they may be deemed at fault.
For some complainants, their emotional pain is so great they need to share it beyond the counselling room and if they cannot find anyone else, the counsellor is a vulnerable target.
If those who adjudicate do not recognise this process, then they will give unmerited credence to the complainant, and make unjust decisions about the counsellor.
Whilst most modalities decry the Medical Model thinking which emanates from physiological medicine, ethical bodies may use it in complaints processing.
Complaints in physiological medicine tend to focus on an intervention of limited duration for which physical evidence is available.
Complaints in counselling can come from someone experience their own issues who could easily fabricate, exaggerate or misinterpret what has happened, usually within sessions for which there is no physical evidence.
They may select a few specific items picked out of context over what could be a long period of therapy which may have actually been very effective. The treatment was not those few selected items the panel will focus on which may possibly be taken out of context, but rather the entire therapeutic process.
The Medical Model process fails to consider the overall quality of the counsellor or the possible issues of the complainant. If it is used, it will inevitably reach the wrong results.
This is perhaps because it takes its agenda from a complainant who may be struggling instead of employing the psychological skills necessary to properly assess both parties.
It focusses on surface level behaviour because it is unable to comprehend the deeper psychology which is the essence of the whole process.
It can be hard in any consumer service to differentiate between the content of a complaint and any unrelated aggression by the complainant, but when the service is about emotion itself as in counselling, this demands a very special skill.
Does your ethical body demonstrate such skill? If it does not apply such a skill, it simply turbocharges the complainant aggression onto the member.
“Many complaints arise not so much from therapist error, but from the complainants own issues”
How does this website work?
How does this website work?
The biggest issue members report is shame. Meeting similarly hurt members helps get that in perspective. You are welcome to contact us just to talk at email@example.com.
We also want to gather statements about the complaints process and how you feel it was mishandled or inappropriately applied. If you wanted to give us your story, we would respect your anonymity, so neither your name nor your ethical body will be identified on the site.
- your professional status;
- the name of the ethical body you are registered to;
- the text telling your story and making your point;
- any pseudonym if you wish;
We want to be able to be able to indicate the nature and depth of any mistreatment of members to build a body of evidence, but will only display what you allow us to. We are aware of the fear generated.
We are committed to professional confidentiality. We want to use information to urge ethical bodies to behave ethically, but in the context of your wishes. Entries will only be posted if you agree and after our moderation. We will do our best to be fair and to ensure language is contained such that the website keeps to its main function: to drive positive change in ethical bodies.
We want to generate enough interest to effect the changes needed.
“A single complaint by a disgruntled complaint of the public can damage your career”
We hold support meetings every second Thursday of each month at 8.00pm. Our support meetings offer a confidential forum/group process for those experiencing the impact of ethical body complaint processes who need emotional support either one-off or ongoing.
Our campaign meetings are held separately and attendance at these is restricted.
Please note that we are peer run group and are not able to offer professional legal advice.
“A single complaint by disgruntled complainant can wreck your business”
What we need from you
Your voice and your contributions will effect change!
We hope to compile evidence of ethical bodies breaching the guidelines of the Professional Standards Authority, the Charity Commission and the Information Commissioner’s Office (GDPR) to take substantive action to force change.
You are welcome to provide a full report which we will save securely. However, we would aim for a simple report which would focus on basic evidence demonstrating damaging practice by an ethical body without too much narrative. We could help you assemble that. We would expect to anonymise that unless you wish otherwise. With your permission, we could offer that to higher authorities to influence ethical body behaviour.
We invite “One Liners” to highlight ethical body misdemeanours, but would invite your information to back those up to approach higher bodies for example:-
- the ethical body has on several occasions sent a member another’s case correspondence;
- The ethical body has taken three years to process my case and it is massively stressful;
- the ethical body has published my case and I now have no work;
- a stalker used the process to terrorise the counsellor;
- the body risked a vulnerable complaint becomoning unstable by sharing case revelations;
- ill-0considered disclosure may enormously damage third parties;
- a third party was mentioned in the body’s web posts in breacdh of data protection legislation;
- a child or vulnerable adult in an abuse case can be put at risk when challenging evidence is shared;
“The biggest issues members report is shame”
Some Useful Links
We are not directly affiliated with a union, however we recommend that all members of ethical bodies should join one such as the Psychotherapy and Counselling Union http://www.psychotherapyandcounsellingunion.co.uk
David Pender’s Facebook support page for counsellors in private practice
The Professional Standards (PSA) which accredits ethical body member organisations under their banner are keen to receive feedback about your experience of ethical bodies, particular in relation to complaints management and deviations from published procedure. Therapists4Justice has their express permission to include a link to their feedback page as follows: https://www.professionalstandards.org.uk/share-your-experience/share-your-experience-of-accredited-registers
Regulation And The Search For Certainty With Clare Slaney
To know more about psychotherapist and counsellor complaints we highly recommend the book:-
The Psychotherapist and the Professional Complaint: The Shadow Side of Therapy which was recently published by authors Dr Adah Sachs and Dr Valerie Sinason
“The biggest issues members report is shame”
Get in touch with us
“What is it that is really driving the complainant to complain?”