The Exeter counselling service denying “cult” allegations – Palace Gate responds

Last week I wrote about Palace Gate Counselling Service (also known as Phoenix Counselling Service), a firm in Exeter which recently made an online announcement that they are facing complaints from two therapists who accuse them of running a “therapeutic cult”. They state that these complainants have (unsuccessfully) reported them to a number of agencies, including the police, Adult Safeguarding, the Employment Tribunal Service and the Advertising Standards Authority.

Palace Gate strongly deny any wrongdoing, and accuse the complainants of acting out of commercial motivations. They state that there is a misconduct hearing pending, but decline to say who with. However, it appears to be with the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

The dispute seems to have triggered a decision by Palace Gate not to renew their membership of the BACP.

Since then I’ve had a couple of responses from Palace Gate via the comments threads to various blog posts, so I’ll collate them here.

Before I do so, I’ve been asked to clarify something: Palace Gate Counselling Service is based at the Palace Gate Centre in Exeter, but the two aren’t the same organisation. The Palace Gate Centre is a church-owned venue that lets out its space to various organisations, not just PGCS but also other organisations such as Alcoholics Anonymous, Cruse etc. For the avoidance of doubt, when I say “Palace Gate”, I’m talking about the counselling service rather than the centre.

In response to one of my blog posts, I received the following comment by Lindsey Talbot, one of the directors of PGCS.


You have acknowledged you are in communication with one of the complainants. I personally do not see your stance in this as objective or open-minded. Seems to me you have a hostile agenda. There are likely to be severe limits to how much I or any of us choose to engage with you.

However, I want to make a couple of points on your post.

You state, with more accent on broad-brush sensationalism than accuracy:-

‘According to their director Lindsey Talbott, Palace Gate have been reported to a slew of agencies, including the police, Adult Safeguarding, the Employment Tribunal Service and the Advertising Standards Authority.’

Our own original post, ‘The Conflict’ sets out accurate accounts of these four processes.

You do not say that:-

– All four processes have concluded, with no finding in any of them against us, or any of our staff;
– There was no finding in any of them in favour of the complainants.

Do you think a responsible commentator would do well to make this clear?

You may say you have only my word for this. However, you are in contact with one of the complainants. You could ask them about the police email, DCC Adult Safeguarding letter, and ASA email they have in their possession. These prove our statements here (and in ‘The Conflict’) are accurate.

The complainant has possession of these documents in the context of a formal process. So they will presumably not provide you with copies, and will want to be sure their behaviour accords with relevant confidentiality requirements.

However, we ourselves have no objection to that person giving you sight of these documents (solely for the purpose of verifying what we have said).

The Employment Tribunal Written Reasons are also in the possession of that complainant. Obviously this is a public document. It would, I think, be fair to say that the language the judge uses does not support the complainants’ Tribunal claims. He finds for us on the merits.

Your choices to post on this matter have the potential to harm our service and our clients. As a nurse therapist, you may not wish to cause distress or harm to the 160 or so clients each week choosing to come here.

I suggest you amend this post to achieve a higher level of accuracy and fairness, and that you exercise a little more care in future.

Lindsey Talbott, Therapist & Supervisor
Palace Gate Counselling Service

Have I spoken with one of the complainants? Yes. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I have a right to speak to her and she has a right to speak to me. However, I have not placed any new information about this dispute into the public domain. I have only made reference to those public announcements that Palace Gate have themselves made online. Nothing more.

Regarding the decisions by various other bodies, it’s true that I haven’t used the wording that they suggest. However, I did state that these complaints were unsuccessful, and I think that’s clear. Personally, I don’t see the point Ms Talbott is making here, but I’ve re-published her clarification in this blog post, which she has also stated in the comments thread to the original post.

Regarding the written reasons by the Employment Tribunal, I haven’t seen them. However, if that’s what Ms Talbott says they say, then I’m happy to take her word for it.

In the various responses to my original blog post, one aspect has received more comment than any other – the decision by Palace Gate not to renew their BACP registration. About this, Ms Talbott says the following:

Commentators here have raised two points. I have a brief response.

Why did we post ‘The Conflict’?

We took the unorthodox choice to post ‘The Conflict’ for the reasons stated in it. Obviously there are ethical and confidentiality implications. If the complainants had confined themselves to an appropriate, confidential process, we would not have posted it. Instead they made widespread allegations over 18 months to all kinds of inappropriate third parties. Much of this takes the form of gossip between therapists. Complainant A has also made wide public comment – without names, but with enough context to identify us in the small Exeter therapeutic world (especially given the gossip etc). This has caused considerable reputational damage. It disregards fundamental principles of human rights/justice. In these circumstances – and with further defamatory accounts of this conflict by the complainants this year (in private and public contexts) – we decided to say something. It’s a question of balance, and fairness.

Leaving the BACP

We have already commented on our decision to leave the BACP in our service blog. We have published client and therapist facing ethos statements to inform clients and incoming therapists about how we work. We will in due course comment further on the regulation debate, and our current service stance/choices. I am not going to pre-empt that here. I do want to say that making a simple equation between regulation and ethical practice suggests to me a limited understanding of a complex subject, and mixes two distinct issues. The regulation debate is one issue, what constitutes ethical practice and most serves/enhances this is another. As a person-centred therapist working for a person-centred service, I find this article a useful contribution to the regulation debate:

Lindsey Talbott, Therapist & Supervisor
Palace Gate Counselling Service

I’ve had a look at the article by Professor Brian Thorne that Ms Talbott links to. I must confess I wasn’t very impressed by it. In his argument against regulation of counselling and psychotherapy, he makes reference to organisational pressures for “symptom reduction, treatment plans, empirically validated procedures, best practice, and NICE guidelines”, and a preference for CBT above other therapeutic modalities. However, such pressures tend to come from the Department of Health, NICE and the NHS rather than from statutory regulators such as the Health and Care Professions Council. In their previous bids to regulate counselling and psychotherapy, to the best of my knowledge the HCPC have not said therapists should restrict themselves to CBT.

I have a deeper concern though, with regard to Professor Thorne.

In 2010 the Times Higher Education Supplement reported that Thorne had published a book describing therapy sessions with a client, ‘Sally’. In these sessions he and Sally got naked and drank alcohol together.

Before deciding to take off his own clothes, the professor says “there was no question of checking with Sally for it was only I who could give permission to myself”.

The professor experienced “intuitive promptings” which, he says, “enabled me to encourage Sally to undress, or on occasions to initiate a particular form of physical contact, whether it was simply holding hands or, as in the final stage, joining in a naked embrace”.

Needless to say, “intuitive promptings” could not be considered informed consent for such a spectacularly dodgy-sounding approach to therapy.

I’d suggest that it’s this sort of thing that regulators such as the HCPC would be worried about, rather than whether or not Professor Thorne uses a CBT approach.

Since Ms Talbott has praised Thorne’s stance on regulation, I’d be interested to hear what they think of his behaviour with Sally. Would Palace Gate consider it to be misconduct?

I would also be keen to hear from Palace Gate on a question that I and other commenters have queried. Now that Palace Gate are no longer registered with the BACP, to whom are they accountable? If (hypothetically speaking) a client wanted to make a complaint against Palace Gate in future, who would they be able to complain to?

23 thoughts on “The Exeter counselling service denying “cult” allegations – Palace Gate responds

  1. Yes, who can an aggrieved client complain to if they’re not accredited by any professional association?

  2. To use Thorne here seems disingenuous at the very least, his opposition to regulation is no less suspect than anyone else;s. Therapists are not Gods and refusing to accept regulation is not a sign of being person centered, but rather a very unperson centered belief in your own omnipotence.

    • In my view Thorne is discredited not only by the Sally sessions but also his defence of the notorious abuser Derek Gale, struck off by the Health Professions Council in 2007.

      • The Thorne article is very interesting. I am open to the possibility that his motives may have been entirely benign but of course his actions were utterly foolish. I think that it is a well established basic of therapy that there should be boundaries and certainly no kind of physical, intimate contact. Thorne left himself wide open to accusations of abuse and of course we only have his word for it that “Sally” was helped.

      • I’ve had a look through these posts and I can’t find any details of who PGCS is accountable to if it’s not the BACP. Any news, folks?

    • It seems to me that it is disingenuous to dismiss the objections that many therapists have to the various approaches to regulation with a catch-all insult rather than looking at the merits or otherwise of the arguments. I know some of those who have such objections and I can assure you that they do not have

      “a very unperson centered belief in [their] own omnipotence.”

  3. waitinggirl – absolutely. Also very non person centred is that they apparently sacked 3 counsellors who raised concerns and 1 who they overheard saying some words that they believed made him part of conspiracy. They obviously keep slurring those that tried to raise concerns and send letters to the staff telling them how bad these people are, as well as that
    blog from them. Bit like a downmarket Scientology.

    • Sorry if I have overlooked something but just can’t find an answer to that question.

    • “they apparently sacked 3 counsellors who raised concerns and 1 who they overheard saying some words”

      More gossip or do you have evidence?

      • If that is not the case, perhaps Palace Gate would be willing to provide the counter-evidence?

      • More of your no-smoke-without-fire guilt-before-proof approach, Zarathustra?

        There is no evidence to counter, as far as we know. It’s not on the centre to prove a negative.

        You know, the main problem with pushing this kind of gossip-led journalism is that you can’t expect to be granted any credibility on topics that matter.

      • Fair point about proving a negative. Allow me to rephrase it. Perhaps Palace Gate might wish to tell us that it is not true?

      • That’s the point. There is no reason for them to do so until somebody says that it is true, especially on a blog where so many commenters are ready to shout about smoke and fire. They would be wiser ignoring you. You are still in the realm of gossip. Make a clear accusation or keep your counsel.

        It seems to me that the oversight of therapy in this country must be working exceptionally well if a campaigning blog like this can’t find anything better to discuss.

      • Yes I have evidence

      • I do wonder what Skeptical Reader thinks of all this now.

        If he’s reading, I have an open invitation. Post your thoughts and I will approve them in full and unedited.

  4. Jo D. Baker – they don’t need accountability because they are so person-centred they don’t need it

  5. It might be worth drawing people who read this blog’s attention to your latest posts on this Z, eg the one regarding the damning BACP hearings results
    (two strikings off!)

    I also wrote about it here in the interest of protecting potential clients and supervisees of these people:

  6. I am saddened to learn that even when these people have been found to have committed serious wrongdoings, that they seem unable to apologise and face up to their behaviour. What is particularly worrying is that continuing to be in denial, as appears to be the case here, means that no lessons can be learned and therefore others are potentially at risk in the future.

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