Exeter counselling “cult” condemns British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy

The story so far…in February an Exeter-based counselling service, Palace Gate Counselling (also trading as Phoenix Counselling) took the unusual step of publishing a lengthy blog post, “The Conflict”. They stated that two other therapists have accused them of running a “therapeutic cult” (which they strongly deny) and that they were close to a disciplinary hearing against their firm. They didn’t state in “The Conflict” who the hearing was with, but it was clear from elsewhere on their blog that it was with the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy.

Today, Palace Gate have published a follow-up post, “Our Service, the BACP and the regulation debate”. As with the original post, it’s rather lengthy, but I’ll attempt to summarise it here:

They confirm that the hearings were with the BACP. They do not yet know the outcome of the hearings, but they are deeply dissatisfied with how the BACP have handled it. They state that they also made complaints against the two therapists.

The BACP appears to have applied different (and harsher) standards and criteria to the complaints by us, than they have to the complaints against us. For example, we were required to redraft our complaints to remove some references to third party material. This seemed to us difficult to sustain as an argument, in the context of an organized group of complainants – the group element, and the process contamination/distortions this creates, are key to our response to these complaints. Moreover the complaints against us contained extensive third party material, which was not challenged by the BACP.

Their complaints against the therapists were rejected by the BACP without a hearing, but the complaints against Palace Gate progressed to a hearing.

The BACP ultimately rejected the complaints we made. This was not, as the complainants have stated, ‘on the merits’ – there was no hearing to determine the merits. The BACP gave several grounds for its decision, and we remain unclear on their basis. However, it is clear that one reason was that we as a service were never the ‘clients’ of the therapists concerned. We think this makes nonsense of any concept of ethics. It cannot possibly be an intelligible or defensible viewpoint that it does not matter how one therapist behaves to another, however unethical, so long as they are not seen to take similar attitudes and behaviours into their client work.

As they previously stated, Palace Gate resigned from the BACP in October 2013. This has prompted various commenters to my blog to ask if they will be joining another professional body and to whom they will be accountable from now on. They answer this question.

We will not be rejoining the BACP, nor do we intend to join another such body. We are instead giving focus within our service to ways in which we, as a community, can strengthen and develop our abilities to support ourselves and each other in our client work and our own evolution as therapists, and also offer/receive this beyond our service.

They do suggest that they may join the Independent Practitioners Network or form something similar. I was curious to find out whether the IPN has a formal complaints procedure to hold their members accountable. I found this on the IPN’s FAQ page.

Could I be ‘struck off’ from IPN?
In the extreme event say, of a conviction for an offence against a client, you might be entitled to remain an IPN ‘participant’ but would be very unlikely to find a group that would want you as a member or that would stand by you and your work.

If I want to make a complaint against an IPN practitioner what do I need to do?
We have recently begun to talk about ‘disputes’ rather than complaints as being more appropriate a view of the mistakes, errors, and misunderstandings that can occur in human relating. If you raise a dispute/complaint with a practitioner, his/her group would initially offer you and the practitioner support in resolving your concerns/objections. If this was insufficient or unacceptable then we would make available independent mediation.

Sounds a little woolly to me, though I’m willing to be corrected on that. Unlike the BACP, the IPN is not an Accredited Voluntary Register with the Professional Standards Authority.

Palace Gate affirm their opposition to regulation of counselling and psychotherapy. In doing so, they praise the eminent counsellor Professor Brian Thorne. As I’ve previously stated, I have strong concerns about the anti-regulation stance of Professor Thorne in the light of his notorious “Sally sessions”. In these sessions, Thorne acted on “intuitive promptings” to drink alcohol and get naked with a vulnerable client.

They also appear to have issues with an unnamed training provider.

In relation to the conflict we refer to later on in this article, it is fair to say we accepted a few trainees some years ago who were not a fit for this service – and that these placements were in retrospect unwise choices by all three parties: us, them and the training provider. These students came from a specific training provider, with whom we had noticed increasing issues. We had questions about the quality of the training based on what we were seeing in supervision and/or in the students’ client work. We were also noticing a widening gap in ethos and approach between us as a person-centred service, and this training provider as a decidedly not-person-centred organization. This created tensions and confusions for placement students coming in, which were not helpful for them or us. As a result of this, we decided in May 2012 (before the conflict began) to stop taking anyone on placement from that training provider, pre-diploma. Several of those involved in this conflict were diploma training peers with this training provider.


As I’ve previously stated, it seems clear that there are two irreconcilable accounts of events at Palace Gate. Between Palace Gate and the complainants against them, one side must be engaged in a systemic defamation of the other. But which side?

[Note: to clarify something, Palace Gate Counselling Service are based at the Palace Gate Centre in Exeter, but the two are not the same organisation. My understanding is that the relationship between the Palace Gate Centre and PGCS is one of landlord and tenant.]

19 thoughts on “Exeter counselling “cult” condemns British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy

  1. Their objections to the complaints procedure reminds me hugely of those who argue that the names of those accused of rape should be kept secret. (bear with me) To some equality of treatment equals equity, whilst they on the surface say all the right things about believing victims, there is a refusal to understand the system, is constructed in an inequitable way and therefore we need to actively address such imbalances.
    So we have things such as video evidence, screens and anonymity.
    So it must be for an employee who has a grievance against an employer. There is a power imbalance and in order for this to be addressed so both parties are equal there has to be what may on the surface appear to be unequal treatment.
    Am slightly confused by the ending though, if they failed to take on the right students surely that is their mistake? Its unfortunate but for therapists to be so unwilling to take responsibility for their choices is a very worrying attitude to have.

  2. I wonder, Zarathustra, whether you have actually read the Brian Thorns article in question from start-to-finish or whether you are repeating summaries and extreacts that come from unsympathetic sources.

    • Of course I’ve read his article. Didn’t you see me hunched over my laptop, alternately laughing and sobbing?

      • Confused as to what the sympathetic accounts of getting naked with a client could possibly be like!

      • Well, actually, I meant “unsympathetic to Brian Thorne’s view of regulation” rather than “unsympathetic to Brian Thorne’s work with this particular client”.

      • It’s true that the THES article was triggered by revelations from people unsympathetic to Thorne’s view of regulation.

        I draw your attention to this snippet of the THES piece.

        Now, passages from his chapter in Key Cases in Psychotherapy, an edited collection published in 1987, have been posted online on the Mental Nurse blog.

        Let me put it this way. Mental Nurse was my old blog.

    • I’ve got hold of a copy of the book with Brian Thorne’s chapter describing the process in question [Dryden, W. ed. (1987) Key Cases in Psychotherapy London: Croom Helm] and it makes very interesting reading. Many of the cases described are very interesting. The Brian Thorne chapter seems to be a perfect text on which to base a discussion of the things about regulation that need more thought than they are currently getting.

      Firstly, it’s not useful here to talk of boundaries since they only started to appear in the literature from the nineties onwards. There are many ways to think about ethics, but two of them seem relevant here are deeply embedded in the philosophy of our culture. The first is that ethics can be expressed as a clear set of rules about what behaviours are universally acceptable and unacceptable in all circumstances and can be policed by an external authority who is given the power of censure. The second is that ethics is a moment-by-moment effort to treat others with love, selflessness, wisdom and in the case of psychotherapy also with healing intent. A list of behaviours is not the measure, rather the wisdom, intent and delivery of each moment. I’m not a Christian but Thorne is so, for the purposes of this comment, I’ll call the former, ‘old testament ethics and the latter, ‘new testament ethics’. New testament ethics are riskier, require greater awareness and ultimately arise from a deeper and more authentic place. They allow greater intimacy between people and are profoundly free and politically radical.They are much ore demanding to practice but ultimately may enable therapy to take place at a deep level of healing, since they depend on wise judgement and not judgementalism. In this chapter, Thorne describes a successful therapy which more than meets the standard of new testament ethics, indeed it is a very fine example of their application. It is, however, very much open to challenge from an old testament ethics point of view. I would suggest that it is this openness, freedom and authenticity which allows Thorne to deliver success in this case and that this could not have been achieved by work that is answerable to a set of behavioural codes.

      It seems to me that the challenge of the debate on psychotherapy regulation is that we must find a way to respect the work of those who practice with new testament ethics. It is not possible to apply old testament ethics alone to those practising in this way, or when regulating those who do.

      Indeed from a new testament ethics point of view, applying the rule book to Thorne’s work and finding him wanting and preventing him from subsequently acting in an authentic way with other clients would be to put the power and false authority of scribes and Pharisees over that of the client and would be deeply unethical.

      I would love to see a debate on this issue that examines how psychotherapy regulation can be devised such that honours work at this level, while recognising that lower work needs to be governed by rules and punishments, or at least a sensible and respectful conversation between the two different factions, which involved a genuine attempt to grow a community of practice that could contain and appreciate these different levels of work in a sensible way.

  3. I don’t know if anyone has taken a look at the Palace Gate blog. I left a comment on there asking them what all the fuss was about and they have frankly refused to answer. See for yourself:


    I am really shocked to bits by their attitude, you can’t expect to be taken seriously if you put something out and then step back from a discussion and refuse to participate.

    I find the whole thing really frustrating, it’s as thought they’re giving everyone the finger!

    • I also left a comment which (so far, anyway) they haven’t published, asking if they’re actually supposed to putting this sort of information in the public domain. I can’t imagine they’re doing themselves any favours with the BACP with these statements.

    • Why is it your business, Jo?

      • You have asked a question. Why not change track? Not personalised but able to address some of the very hot issues on this blog?

      • Sorry, I don’t follow your meaning.

      • Why ask questions? Why not answer them? Why has MacFarlane emptied his sack inside so many mixed up women? Without consequence until it was escalated? Why focus in me? I don’t fuck dispossessed unhappy women at a moment in their. biography

      • The Palace Gate case has nothing to with the other case you mention, about which I am afraid, I am as ignorant as everyone else since I only know what is on the internet.

        I feel it is best to avoid commenting on the content of individual cases about which I know little, especially in the terms you use, and that it is best to stick with examining process. I am not sure that I always succeed in that, and it rather hampers good debate but it is the only ethical way to proceed in my view.

        I ask questions because this is a subject which I care about, which is complex and which seems to have a low level of thoughtful conversation around it. Therapeutic abuse is abhorrent and yet freedom for therapist and client to explore whatever is necessary is vital. Human relationships are messy and frequently go wrong in small and large ways, sometimes harmfully, sometimes, ironically, beneficially. Therapy has numerous differing and frequently contradictory models of practice, aims, techniques and philosophies. It also seems to be difficult for the field to create an adequate professional politics and there are people I respect on all sides of the argument. I don’t have a clear view on all these issues but I feel that a wise approach is going to be found in honouring the complexity of the problem rather than campaigning with one of the opposing sides.

        I am genuinely interested in understanding all of this better, which is why I ask questions. The key thing that seems important to me initially is that, since there are so many entrenched and opposing positions and many relate to live situations with real people’s lives are that it is important to treat people in these situations with professionalism and care and to keep reminding ourselves that those with differing views are worthy of audience and respect.

  4. Typo. “though”…bloody keyboard

  5. Every time I read someone attempting to try to understand why Palace Gate may be attacking the BACP try as I might I cant get ‘getting naked with their clients’ out if my head, and into the realms of treatment for any kind of mental trauma or disorder.

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