A couple of weeks ago Jo D Baker sent me a spreadsheet of what’s happened to the 53 people struck off by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy since 2005. Worryingly, 22% of them seemed to be still practising as counsellors or psychotherapists. Even more alarmingly, three of them were still registered with Britain’s other main therapy body, the UK Council for Psychotherapy.
If all that wasn’t concerning enough, one of those struck off by BACP but still with UKCP seemed to be teaching psychotherapy. Andrea Scherzer is a lecturer in the Department of Psychotherapy and Psychotherapy at Regents University London.
I decided to explore further. What happened next wasn’t in the least reassuring.
Ms Scherzer had her membership withdrawn from the BACP in November 2013 following an incident where she turned up drunk to a therapy session, leading to her dismissal for gross misconduct from an NHS trust. From her termination notice, it seems that she has had a problem with alcohol since 2002.
I don’t want to judge Ms Scherzer for having a drink problem. Her university profile page states that she specialises in therapy for self-destructive behaviours. I’m not averse to the idea that Ms Scherzer may fulfil the archetype of the wounded healer. In the past I’ve come across several people working in drug and alcohol services (not among my current colleagues) who candidly admitted to being good at their jobs due to having lived experience of addiction. There’s a lot of talk in mental health circles about lifting the taboo of professionals talking about their own mental health issues. I’d say there’s an even bigger taboo to be explored about lived experience of alcohol or drug problems.
That said, even wounded healers need to be accountable, and they certainly need to be fit to work. From the termination notice, it looks like Ms Scherzer did an effective job of striking herself off. To quote an excerpt,
The Panel gave reasons for its decisions as follows:
- Ms Scherzer demonstrated no personal responsibility for her actions by stating that the client that she saw raised no complaint about her and placing the responsibility on her employer to notify her if they had had any concerns with her when she arrived at work, rather than being self-aware and realising for herself that it was inappropriate for her to be at work when she had had little sleep and had consumed a vast amount of alcohol the previous night. Furthermore, Ms Scherzer appeared to have had no significant understanding of her actions in that she saw a client when her abilities were impaired through her use of alcohol.
- The Panel found that information had to be extracted from Ms Scherzer over a period of time and at times Ms Scherzer appeared to be economical with the truth in the following ways:
– When asked by BACP on 28 November 2011 whether she had an addiction to alcohol, Ms Scherzer responded in writing on 29 November 2011, stating that she did not have a problem with alcohol addiction. However, when asked by her then employer about her alcohol dependency, Ms Scherzer stated that she had had a problem with alcohol since 2002.
– Ms Scherzer told her former employer that she had notified [ . . . ] of her suspension from work but later admitted that this was a lie and she had not notified [ . . . ] of her suspension at that time.
– Ms Scherzer stated in a letter to BACP dated 29 November 2011, as follows; “So as of this time last year I no longer drink any alcohol”. She further stated: “I decided last year to abstain from alcohol altogether”. However, the Panel noted that, by Ms Scherzer’s own admission, on 7 November 2011 she had consumed several bottles of wine.
– Despite Ms Scherzer writing to BACP on 23 November 2011 to notify them of [ . . . ], Ms Scherzer failed to disclose the fact that on 18 November 2011 she had been suspended from her place of work.
There’s plenty more of this sort of thing in the BACP notice, suggesting that this wounded healer simply didn’t display enough insight into her wounds to keep her registration.
And then there’s this, again from the termination notice.
The disciplinary panel also noted that Ms Scherzer had continued to work as a teacher in psychotherapy at [ . . . ] despite being advised in her suspension letter dated 22 November 2011, that she was not permitted to work.
Over two years after that suspension notice, she’s still teaching at Regent’s. Just to compound the concerns, this is on her university profile page.
They’re still advertising her as a BACP-registered therapist, even though she’s struck off?
On Tuesday 25th March 2014 I e-mailed both Ms Scherzer and Regent’s University, asking them for comment on this issue and giving a media deadline of Friday (i.e. today). So far, I haven’t received a reply from either.
The words “She has been a member of the BACP since 1998” remain on her profile page, with no mention of the striking-off. However, one thing has changed. Take a look at the bottom right-hand corner of the page.
28th March 2014? That’s today! But despite updating the page today, and despite my e-mails, she’s still advertised as a BACP member.
Regent’s University don’t seem to be having much luck with their staff and the BACP. One of their other lecturers, Paul McGinley was sanctioned by BACP in March 2014. In his case though, most of the allegations against him were not proved and he has retained his registration, albeit with instructions to write a reflection about the issues.
All this doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in the psychotherapy department at Regent’s.
[Edited at 15:16 on Saturday 29th March to add] I have now received a response from Regents University, which is as follows.
The issues raised in the piece are taken seriously by the University and will be investigated by the Head of the Regent’s School of Psychotherapy & Psychology and the HR department on Monday. In the meantime I have removed the two academic profiles referenced from the University website until the investigation is completed.
You mention in your blog that you had tried to contact the school but had no reply. May I ask which email address was used to do this, as I will be looking into how incoming communications are handled.
If there is any more information I can provide now please let me know, otherwise I aim to get back to you with an update on Monday evening. Thank you.
That is shocking Z. It seems that some unscrupulous counsellors can also be quite brazen. I’ve certainly witnessed that personally in a couple of fellow so-called professionals. Arrogance is not an attractive quality in anybody. In a therapist it’s downright dangerous.
I hope that your drawing attention to this matter will help remedy this unsettling state of affairs.
Keep up the good work.
There does seem to be a question over whether the BACP complaints system is fit for purpose. At least one of those who did not renew their membership following the imposition of sanctions has published a description of what appears to be shoddy treatment of the case on the part of the BACP’s complaints department. This blog has highlighted another body with a similar view. This process might need more intelligent scrutiny before we can rely on its findings.
Anyway, Zarathustra is suffering here from the old adage that questions in headlines can always be answered with “no.” These organisations move slowly and expecting a response in three days during vacations is not very realistic.
Accepted. Not 3 days. 3 months forward. What has changed? I accept.
It’s not the vacations. Easter break at Regents is from the 14th-25th April.
I have noticed many antagonistic and caustic remarks from so called Skeptical Reader on your blog posts. My hunch is that he has an agenda which is fuelling his scorn for you. Any idea who he is or why the attempts to shoot you down?
You are right. My mistake. Even still, I would be surprised if you got an answer to anything from such an organisation in three days. I’m not saying that they are not ignoring you. Maybe they are. We don’t know yet for certain, I would say.
If it helps, I am not currently nor have I ever been a therapist. I am an interested member of the public. I have no desire to shoot Zarathustra down, quite the contrary. I gather that he is a nurse, trainee therapist, independent blogger and music fan and I hope he thrives in all of these areas.
‘Caustic’, I’ll take on the chin, but it seems to me that Zarathustra has created this public space in order to promote a robust debate on these issues and I am grateful to him for doing so. I happen, perhaps, to have a different perspective on them from both him and some others who comment here. I actually don’t have very fixed views at all other than the beliefs that abuse is abhorant and that therapy needs freedom to work well and that these obvious truths are somewhat in conflict and make structuring good oversight very difficult. I don’t think anyone has yet got good answers to these questions, but there is still time to work them out. This subject is vitally important and I think it needs a lot more listening and understanding of opposing views from all sides if both the freedom in therapy that is required to make it successful and the vulnerability of clients are both to be heeded. It worries me if the only perspective available is that of the campaigning from one side. That is absolutely not what the situation needs, in my view.
I’ve just had a reply from Regent’s University, which I’ve edited into the post.
Since removing myself from a damaging therapeutic relationship last year, I’ve been wondering how long it would take for a poem to form in my mind. The piece from Z above regarding the wounded healer, plus my own thoughts about the ‘parent’ in the therapy room, plus my dismay at hearing of senior therapists abusing their younger proteges all seem to have caused a poem to appear. It’s my take on Larkin’s ‘This Be The Verse’ and I thought I would share it.
This Be My Curse
A therapist can fuck you up.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They subtly request you heal their wounds,
Whilst carving fresh ones out on you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools mocked-up as supervisors well-read,
Who half the time were toeing the line
But half just planning whom to bed.
Therapist hands on pain to man
It deepens like the unconscious self.
Get out as early as you can
And become a therapist yourself.
Great poem, love it, because it does what art can be great for – highlighting important truths, leaving a feeling of disquiet.
Thank you. It would be good to put on a therapist abuse website. Perhaps you would consider sharing further?
Of course that’s fine, thank you.
Thank you for clarifying that you are not a therapist. I was wondering if you were actually a therapist who’d a complaint lodged against them, or close to somebody who is. Perhaps you would explain why you are so deeply interested in the nuances of this particular debate? I am interested because I am a counsellor and am pro-regulation because a) that is what the majority of the public want and b) I was on the receiving end of disgraceful treatment in therapy at the hands of my supervisor when I was a trainee at his counselling agency.
Sorry Skeptical Reader, I am not going to engage further as it seems dialogue with you is futile. I find you caustic and harsh, ignore the decent points that people make and instead highlight and criticise minor points for some, unknown to myself and perhaps even to yourself, agenda. There are also double standards (highlighted in the Palace Gate back and forth). I don’t think you are being honest about your motives for being here. I find that the best way to deal with game players is to disengage.
I am sorry you feel that way. I am not playing any games at all, other than putting my point of view, in this public forum. I have now stated that point of view about the subject of this blog at length and why I have come to hold it and I have said who I am in general terms. I have no other agenda, hidden or otherwise. Everything I have said about myself is true. I don’t know what else I could offer to convince you. Perhaps, we could communicate offline in some way.
I appreciate that my viewpoint is in the minority around here, but it is sincerely held. Primarily, my view is that there needs to be much more engagement with the viewpoints of all sides concerning regulation or harm might be done. This blog seems to put only one perspective, while holding those that hold others, some of whom I respect, in contempt, quite unfairly. I have made a number of comments that begin to set out another perspective and even linking to evidence and it seems to me important that there is a considered mature debate about those things rather than a campaign that supports only one side. I would encourage you to engage with the issues that I have raised rather than accuse me of being something I am not.
I am unsure as to what points you think I have ignored. It seems to me that where I have attempted to discuss the issues, I have been ignored up to now, or indeed had people doubt my intent, or patronise me, rather than engage with them.
In terms of Palace Gate, I don’t know them or any more about them than is outlined in their statements that have been linked to on this blog. I feel that I have been very consistent in maintaining that given we know so little about only one side, we should be scrupulous in not speaking ill of them so publicly, at least until the outcomes of the hearings are known, or until somebody makes an actual accusation. This seems like common decency to me. As public commentators we could do much unnecessary damage if we start throwing mud at people without having any evidence of any wrongdoing. I don’t see how that is a double-standard.
I hold a similar view about this Regents University post where Zarathustra prematurely used the rhetorical technique of a questioning headline to insinuate that they are rotten, quite unfairly in my view. As, it turned out, it appears to be more of an administrative oversight, hardly rottenness. Engagement rather than campaigning would be a more honest approach to such matters, in my view.
Anyway, I wish you well.
I have many personal quasi-academic interests including the way groups of people organise themselves into power structures, consciousness, politics, existential philosophy, public health and other matters that inform the position I am adopting, but I have no formal platform from which to speak other than as a concerned member of the public. I read a considerable amount about therapy following my experience of it. I believe that the psychoanalytic literature is much underestimated as a source of insight into all sorts of areas.
I happen to have met, on one occasion, a therapist who had some direct experience of a regulatory process relating to a minor technical matter, but nothing that would bring them to the attention of this blog, and I certainly would not describe them as close.
I benefited greatly at one point in my life from consulting a therapist who practised in the kind of radically ethical and free way that seems to be at risk of being completely destroyed by the regulatory regime that is being built currently. This individual had a profound, positive and deep effect on me, opening up the possibility for me of a much more authentic way of being a person.
It is my opinion that the majority of the public don’t think very deeply about such questions, and that there are increasingly vocal anti-freedom movements afoot in society which will always want to tear down things that are different or not readily understood by an average reader of the Daily Mail. Much good therapy can be done well-within society’s norms and it is not to be knocked. Many people can be put back on track without questioning fundamental beliefs or exploring parts of themselves that are deep, dangerous or unacceptable to the community. That kind of work will not be threatened by the regulatory regimes that are being created.
However, there is a second kind of therapy that has to be able to hold doubt, uncertainty, risk and aspects of the human experience that are outside societal norms and this way of working is never going to be easily accepted by those who don’t need to go to such places. I don’t believe that everybody does or should. However, if your life experience is such that you need to talk with somebody who knows that territory well and can meet you with wisdom and kindness, as I was met, then you need to know that there are people around who will do so ethically and that they can work without fear of censure over seeming to be a bit weird or doing things that go against the grain.
Obviously, finding people who can do that without letting their own selfish needs predominate is not easy and involves risk, but the regulatory regime that is developing will remove the option and make it less likely that such people are available rather than more so. I was extremely careful about who I chose to talk to, and I was treated with ethical scrupulousness. I am not entirely sure that every word would have passed the BACP complaints process scrutiny, however. The process involved some risk for both the therapist and myself. Ironically, the therapist who I saw is, I understand, very much pro-regulation, so these are my own thoughts, not theirs.
There are obviously charlatans and those who would take advantage of the space that these therapists would go to for their own gains and I am not doubting your experience.
The question, for me, is how do you create a process that permits therapists to create spaces that are risky, outside societal norms and ethically managed where they are valuable and where the therapist is able to do so? A set of rules that define acceptable and unacceptable behaviour policed by those who want to be seen to ‘protect the public’ is unlikely to be able to do this. The danger here, is that those therapists stop offering this kind of therapy altogether. People facing this kind of need in their lives would then be left to new age shamans or whatever, or potentially with less broad therapists who are unable to meet their needs. At the same time it is vital that those who practice with selfish intent are dealt with, at whatever level of therapy they work.
The vast majority of therapists presumably work in the more straightforward areas and are therefore frequently not able to understand the problem that I am setting out since they do not have experience of the kind of space I am talking about. They might lump ethical free work in the same bucket as unethical work of any kind. It is not a good idea to have such people on panels judging the kind of work I am talking about. It is quite a subtle kind of distinction after all, and even those who practice it and understand it will tell you that they mostly practice in much more conventional ways for the vast majority of the time and exclusively in those ways with the vast majority of clients.
I hope that makes my ‘agenda’ clear. I am sorry if it is not as much fun as it could have been if I had been able to reveal that I was really Derek Gale in disguise!
Perhaps you could say a little more of where you come from philosophically about this issue.
It is indeed a shame that you are not able to reveal that you’re really Derek Gale in disguise.
…and I get called caustic! 😉
I am now left with the impression that you are Derek Gale. I actually had other chagrinned therapists in mind, but it seems so strange you throwing that out there, like a red herring! I am open to all sorts of possibilities, but there is just something about your interactions with Z that leave me with a gut feeling about game playing. I apologise if this is not the case; I am merely sharing my gut feeling, as a fellow commentor on Z’s blogs. My gut detects something fishy, although I may have not interpreted correctly.
As regards to my philosophical stance, I believe that as therapists we have the power to retraumatise as well as heal those we are supposed to be helping. The dangers of retraumatising trumps the gains from unboundaried meanderings, which I regard as egotistical on the part of the therapist. Therapists are very capable of having subconscious agendas and arrogant, even narcissistic tendencies. The way you talk about your transformative therapy sounds like the sort of therapy that is all about a huge power imbalance and the therapy that self-styled gurus like to dish out. How powerful your therapist must have felt! I facilitate my clients helping themselves, which is, in my opinion, much more powerful for them, than my doing something to them. I trust my clients to take what they need out of our therapeutic relationship. I am courageous in the relationship, but I hang my interactions off a framework of utmost consideration for my clients’ needs and my accountability. “Freedom is what you do with what you’ve been given” as Sartre said. That is the backbone of my philosophy. I also believe that I am no more powerful than my clients and help them find their own power, rather than have them bestow me. Of course many clients start out believing that I have the power, and in some ways I do, because I have the power to abuse their trust. In that way, you could say there will always be a power imbalance. But if the relationship is deep enough that the client knows in their gut that I will not abuse that trust, then goes on to make changes that are transformative for them, and if I can show them clearly that it is they that do the work, then this is what is empowering and transformative for them.
I also know of many people who have suffered at the hands of sloppily boundaried therapists, not necessarily narcisstic or sociopathic therapists, some of whom have been seriously retraumatised as a result.
If I traumatised a client I would be devastated, for the client, not for myself. I would endeavour to look inside myself rather than victim blame. If the BACP told me that I had acted unethically I would cooperate with their sanctions, which usually amount to self-reflection and extra supervision. Unless they for some reason made a harsh decision based on zero evidence, about something I genuinely did not do, which seems highly unlikely. If they really believed that I had acted disgracefully enough to get struck off, I would get a different job. It would be hard but I do not ever want to cause anybody more harm than good. My agenda is about being truly beneficent and in my work, I try my utmost to leave my ego out of it. The client comes first.
Finally, I asked the public what they wanted, because as a therapist, the client is at the heart of my work and approach (If you click my name it will take you to my article on this). It is very clear that the public want accountability. I’m sorry for people like you, who believe that they need guru-style, unboundaried therapy to find themselves, but I also believe that true process can be facilitated with good enough therapists, rather than gurus.
I’ve no idea whether that “Derek Gale in disguise” comment was merely a joke or a cryptic hint, but I’ve had a number of regular commenters privately tell me that his tone makes them feel uncomfortable. For that reason I’m now adding him to the comment moderation list.
I am sorry if my joke fell flat. I was rather taken aback that HAC had suggested that I might be one of the rogues discussed on this site, and was attempting to make light of it. I can assure you that I am not Derek Gale nor any other practising therapist nor ex-therapist, chagrined or otherwise. I am exactly as I have described myself and I have no need or desire to play games.
I am, to be honest, a little offended by your observation that,
“I’m sorry for people like you, who believe that they need guru-style, unboundaried therapy to find themselves,”
The experience I described was extremely beneficial to me and occurred while I was a client of a therapist who, it seems to me, was the epitome of humility and integrity in the therapy. I thought this debate may benefit from my experience of a therapy that went well, since so often we only hear about things going wrong and it is why I feel strongly about this debate. I find it a little disturbing that my experience, and I with it, have been so easily belittled. I certainly don’t recognise it as being, as you put it,
“all about a huge power imbalance and the therapy that self-styled gurus like to dish out.” I never suggested or implied that boundaries were, as you put it, “sloppy”.
I am unsure why you would make such an observation.
I am happy to hear of the integrity of your own approach and I have not and would not question it for a moment. Indeed, your approach to courage is very much what I was trying to convey as being beneficial in my experience as a client. It is that courage that is potentially at risk, in my view, from a rush into overly-intrusive regulation. By all means, disagree with that conclusion, but I would thank you for treating my description of my own experience with a little more dignity.
Can you expalin a bit more what was Paul McGinley,s accusation
The allegations are on the BACP page. http://www.bacp.co.uk/prof_conduct/notices/hearings.php
I don’t know any more about it than what’s published there though.
This is fascinating. I’ve had a read over all the comments on this blog’s thread, and others relating to it, and I’m sorry, but the least caustic, most enlightened individual here is Skeptical Reader! Zarathustra, you’ve got a HUGE agenda! One would think you may have applied to Regent’s University to study but were rejected considering the language you have used in your headlines regarding them. ‘Horrifying’? Really?? I would only use that word in very particular instances, certainly not in reference to what you address in that article. ‘Rotten’? Really?? Because they didn’t get back to you soon enough and didn’t give you the response you wanted? ‘Hollow shell’? Wow. You seem to be over-reacting and inflammatory. But of course you maintain editorial monopoly on which posts get seen (I doubt this one will be) but considering the gentle, yet skeptical, and balanced approach of Skeptical Reader it amazes me to hear you talking about putting him on a ‘moderation list’! He’s simply raising the very valid point that ‘regulation’ has both positive and negative consequences. Since therapy is a human interaction, and therefore prone to mistake and error, regulations must be put in place to reduce any potential harm to a client. However, because it is a human interaction, and to use Buber’s terms, is an I-Thou relationship, regulations can strip such a relationship of authenticity, congruency and ‘humanity’, and as a result reduce its effectiveness. If only we were machines which could be ‘fixed’ in a manualised, regular way. If you’ve read any Yalom, who is considered one of the world’s greatest living therapists, his approach to helping others was often unconventional. And Amanda’s told everyone her own interpretation of Skeptical Reader’s therapy while espousing the dangers of a power imbalance! How hypocritical! Huge assumptions there Amanda. You talk about staying on a level with your own clients, then why not believe that Skeptical Reader’s therapy was transformative in the right way, rather than assume he’s been duped and over-powered? Considering his balanced approach to these issues, my assumption would have been the opposite and can only think therapy was effective due to the humility of the therapist as well as his unique approach to Skeptical Reader. Maybe your ‘gut-feeling’ about his responses is a reaction to his openness and willingness to try and fully understand the issues, rather than towing the line you’d like him to – could well be about your own narcissism. I felt obliged to write a response because Zarathustra in this debate seems to be Skeptical Reader, who, like Nieztche, is capable of holding opposites at the same time, rather than coming down hard on any one side. And yes, I’ve suffered at the hands of an abusive therapist, but I’m not willing to over-react when I see further abuses in the practise. Where there is humanity, there will be abuse. For me, what is key is understanding and seeking positive ways of moving forward, not condemnation and ridicule.
Zarathustra, you’ve got a HUGE agenda! One would think you may have applied to Regent’s University to study but were rejected considering the language you have used in your headlines regarding them.
Why on Earth would I apply to study at Regents? I don’t live anywhere near London and their fees are extortionate!
I’ve never applied for a Regents course in my life, but I have just passed with merit an excellent course in systemic/family therapy at South Wales University for a fraction of the cost.