When a breach of ethics is not misconduct: The Kafka-esque language of the UK Council for Psychotherapy

In the past few months I’ve been exploring the John Smalley case, a series of cock-ups and calamities befalling a fitness-to-practice hearing with the UK Council for Psychotherapy. The sheer scale of ineptitude has been absolutely mind-boggling, and would be hilarious if the UKCP weren’t trying to regulate a profession that works with vulnerable people. In the past couple of weeks the UKCP have deployed an impressive piece of semantic gymnastics. They now state that Mr Smalley committed several breaches of his Code of Ethics; he just didn’t commit any misconduct.

Got that? Perfectly clear and reasonable? No? Me neither.

Before elaborating, further, it’s time once again to take a quick run-through….

The story so far…The UKCP took over three years to investigate complaints about John Smalley, a Jungian analyst with the Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists. At the end of a long sequence of delays, they decided that seven allegations had been proven. These included smoking during therapy, inappropriately setting two clients up in a business relationship with each other, and making a sexual suggestion about one client to another. Despite this they decided not to sanction him. The fact that he admitted in the hearing that he destroyed his notes doesn’t seem to have prompted a sanction. The UKCP’s laughable response to this is that they didn’t sanction him for destroying his notes because there wasn’t a complaint about destroying his notes.

I last discussed this case in a post on 14th January 2013. In that post I made the following observation about the UKCP’s online complaints archive.

There’s only one entry on it! It’s for Derek Gale, a notorious abuser who was registered with the UKCP as a psychotherapist and with the Health Professions Council as an arts therapist. The UKCP stuck him off in 2009, but only after the HPC struck him off first.

Until recently there were two entries – the other being for Geoffrey Pick, suspended from the register in 2011 for an unspecified breach of boundaries. He’s now back on the UKCP register and his entry in the complaints archive removed. As for John Smalley, the UKCP don’t intend to publish the hearing outcome until Spring 2013, a year after the final ruling.

In the past day or so I looked at the complaints archive again. Since my previous post on 14th January, the page has changed, and the Smalley case is now up online.

Well, it only took them ten months to put it on their website. So, what do they have to say about the case?

Decision regarding John Smalley

Mr John Smalley [Manchester/Leeds] six allegations of breach of the Independent Group of Analytical Psychologists (IGAP) Code of Ethics found proved. No finding of any misconduct and therefore no sanction.

Please find the Decision of the Panel and the Determination of the Panel here

So….six breaches of a Code of Ethics (including smoking in therapy and making sexual suggestions about one client to another) doesn’t constitute misconduct?

Also, there were actually seven breaches found proved, not six.

In fact, from reading the Determination of the Panel that the page links to, it doesn’t even say that he didn’t commit misconduct. Quite the opposite in fact.

Take a look at page 3 of the Determination.

The Panel is of the view that your conduct in relation to the instances of wrong-doing that have been found proven against you did amount to misconduct. Your attitude and behaviour regarding smoking during treatments sessions was indicative of a failure on your part to have due regard to the dependant nature of the therapeutic relationship. Your behaviour in making remarks that were capable of being interpreted as derogatory with reference to other analysands and that were liable to be overheard represented a failure to have due regard to professional boundaries. You demonstrated a further failure to have regard to professional boundaries in the context of your promotion of a gallery at which you were an exhibitor. That failure to have regard to professional boundaries or to the dependant nature of the analytic relationship was further exemplified by your conduct in introducing one analysand to another. The Panel has concluded that the nature and extent of these failures on your part amounted to misconduct which, taken as a whole, could properly be described as serious. [Emphasis added]

So, he did commit misconduct, and serious misconduct at that. But why was there no sanction?

The following pages basically describe the Panel bending over backwards to believe that this was all some time ago (not least because they dragged out the complaint process for three and a half years), that it was probably a one-off series of lapses (if that’s not a complete contradiction in terms) and that he’s reflected on the matter and the world is now lovely and filled with Disney-style bluebirds.

Okay, I’ve started to exaggerate towards the end of that last sentence, but not by much. Anyway, they conclude,

In all the circumstances, the Panel has determined that your fitness to practise is not impaired by reason of your misconduct.

So, in fact it’s not correct for the UKCP website to declare that Mr Smalley breached the Code of Ethics, but did not commit misconduct.

It’s actually correct to say that he committed serious misconduct, but his fitness to practise was not impaired by this.



[EDIT: Since this post was published, the wording on the page has changed. It now reads, “The Panel concluded there was a finding of serious misconduct but no sanction was enforced.”]

6 thoughts on “When a breach of ethics is not misconduct: The Kafka-esque language of the UK Council for Psychotherapy

  1. Well the word has it that many people read your blog to keep themselves informed as to what is going on as it is a source of real information. We are all watching this space Z to see what happens next.

  2. Pingback: Oliver James’ condescending psychology

  3. Pingback: Who you can and can’t trust when hiring a psychotherapist

  4. Hi Z – I was going to send this privately but appear to have lost your email address due

  5. Oops, sorry – got started with my message and realised I needed to update my email addy. First, thank-you for removing any references to third parties in this case on your blog. Second, you are probably aware that despite the fact that the entire community chose to find Smalley innocent of misconduct, his name has miraculously disappeared from IGAP’s list of Members. Reports of his death are grossly exaggerated! – so either he jumped or was pushed (had he merely retired or emigrated he would be listed as a retired or overseas member). In their usual underhanded way, they must have quietly ridded themselves of an embarrassment once UKCP published its findings, but have issued no apology either to “Mr. A” privately, or publicly on their Website. This is deplorable and I think the Press might like it.


    • Hi Josefa. Just a quick correction.

      Second, you are probably aware that despite the fact that the entire community chose to find Smalley innocent of misconduct,

      Actually the hearing did find that serious misconduct was proven. It’s just that they decided not to issue a sanction for it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s