Shocking litany of abuse by Exeter counselling cult, 30 allegations found proved

Palace Gate Counselling Services (also known as Phoenix Counselling Services, and Taunton Counselling Service) have been no stranger to this blog recently. In February this Exeter-based firm published a lengthy online article claiming to be under attack from two other therapists who they said had accused them of running a “therapeutic cult”. In April they announced that they had been struck off by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) a decision they bitterly contest but have not appealed against.

The BACP have now published the withdrawal of membership notice – two withdrawal notices, in fact: one for each complainant – under their trading name of Phoenix Counselling Services. It is horrific. No less than 30 allegations against the firm have been found proved.

The story of Palace Gate Counselling Service, and the abusive behaviour of its directors John Clapham and Lindsey Talbott, can now be revealed. Both Mr Clapham and Ms Talbott have made legal threats against people who have criticised them. The BACP ruling, combined with a wealth of documentation that I have access to, means any such threats can be safely referred to the answer given in Arkell v Pressdram.

In 2011 two women, a counsellor and a trainee with Palace Gate, were offered bodywork sessions with the director/owner John Clapham. Some of this bodywork was supposedly of a type known as the Rosen Method. However, the methods Mr Clapham used were not in keeping with Rosen techniques. My understanding is that the authors of this method are horrified by Mr Clapham’s behaviour, and insist that this is not what they teach.

The BACP rulings describe the account from one of the two women who were offered these sessions with Clapham.

3. The Panel interpreted the allegation to other forms of therapy where sexual and emotional advantage could be taken of the complainant as relating to the alleged bodywork session that the complainant described, and not Rosen Therapy itself, as both the complainant and Phoenix Counselling Services stated that the Rosen Method was not used in their relationship.

Although Phoenix Counselling Services denied there was any bodywork therapy session with the complainant, the Panel accepted the complainant’s recollection of a single bodywork session in which she became very distressed and left the session prematurely. Her recollection was convincing and the Panel found that she experienced emotional advantage being taken of her of a sexual nature which amounted to an abuse of her trust. This was compounded by the fact, which the Panel accepted, that the complainant owned to having sexual difficulties at the time which had been discussed with the Director who was her supervisor. The complainant said that both during and following the incident “she had switched off”, which the Panel considered to be consistent with the experience of perceived abuse. The Panel accepted that the complainant’s recollection was patchy in places because of the trauma that the therapy had induced and found her evidence convincing. The complainant’s recollection, which the Panel accepted, of her being tearful going to the session demonstrated her vulnerability at the time of this single bodywork session.

This allegation is upheld.


In both sessions, the women were asked to remove all of their clothes. In one of the sessions, Mr Clapham reportedly also removed his own clothes and inappropriately touched the complainant.

After the two women complained, what followed next was a prolonged campaign of defamation, not just by Mr Clapham, but also by his co-director Lindsey Talbott, against the complainants. Indeed, Clapham and Talbott went out of their way over over the past couple of years to make their lives a misery. There are several references to this in the BACP rulings.

The Panel found that considerable evidence was given to support the allegation that Phoenix Counselling Services had failed to treat the complainant in a respectful and fair way through its electronic communications with her and had made negative comments about her and other counsellors in the organisation. The Panel was further disturbed by the harsh and caustic comments by Phoenix Counselling Services made to and about the complainant both in the emails and at the hearing…

The Panel found that in addition to failing to remedy the harm the complainant had expressed in her correspondence and in the hearing, Phoenix Counselling Services not only did not remedy that harm, Phoenix Counselling Services exacerbated that harm in the way that it responded at the time, in its written evidence and in its responses during the hearing….

The Panel found that at no time after the letter was written on 27 June 2012, did Phoenix Counselling Services seek to meet the complainant face to face to hear her concerns to be just and fair in hearing her concerns; nor to assess any harm that might have been caused to her with a view to mitigating it or preventing any repetition. Instead it responded defensively and aggressively to the complainant without due or any consideration to the possibility of conciliation. The Panel did not accept the assertion by Phoenix Counselling Services that its response was legitimate self-defence….

While the Panel looked for some evidence of regret from Phoenix Counselling Services about the distress caused to the complainant it heard nothing that amounted to concern for her…

The Panel found that Phoenix Counselling Services had failed to respect the complainant’s privacy and confidentiality in that from July 2012 onwards, it had inappropriately disclosed information in emails to counsellors and volunteers pertaining to the complainant, and further both in a blog of one of the directors and on the website of Phoenix Counselling Services there was reference to the complainant although not identifying the complainant by name. The content of the blog would have enabled the complainant to be identified by other counsellors and volunteers within the organisation. The Panel found that this abused her trust…

The Panel found that Phoenix Counselling Services made no attempt to remedy the harm caused to the Complainant.  It made no enquiry as to the allegations; it was defensive in its actions and aggressive in correspondence.  In an organisation that purports to be “person centred” Phoenix Counselling Services failed to remedy any harm and took no steps whatsoever to utilise independent dispute resolution or mediation to resolve the issues. Instead it exacerbated the situation by sending threatening emails….

For what is clearly only a brief snapshot of the malice Mr Clapham and Ms Talbott have shown to the two complainants, one has only to glance at their spectacularly libellous blog post “The Conflict”, which they have stuck on the Internet for all the world to see.

At this point I should state that although Palace Gate Counselling Service is based in the Palace Gate Centre in Exeter, the two are tenants and landlords, not the same organisation. My understanding is that the church that owns Palace Gate Centre is extremely concerned about this situation. I hope that they will now evict these Tesco Value Scientologists from their premises.

In “The Conflict” Clapham and Talbott say that the complainants have accused them of running a “therapeutic cult”. I say, case proven.  They have repeatedly insisted that they’re being singled out because people don’t appreciate their person-centred approach to counselling. There is nothing person-centred about manipulating women into compromising sexual situations and then engaging in a prolonged campaign of vilification against them.

These two women have shown incredible courage and tenacity in order to expose the sordid truth about Palace Gate Counselling Service. In doing so, they incurred significant cost both to their mental health and their finances. I applaud them.

I also applaud the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, for the very fair and thorough way in which they have investigated this matter.

To John Clapham and Lindsey Talbott I say this. For all your online posturing about humanistic values, compassion and a person-centred approach, you have shown yourselves to possess none of these qualities. On your own set of standards by which you claim to work, you fail completely. You are dangerous, manipulative individuals and you have no business in the world of counselling and psychotherapy.

Person-centred? The pair of you don’t know the meaning of it.


23 thoughts on “Shocking litany of abuse by Exeter counselling cult, 30 allegations found proved

  1. This to me proves the need for legal regulation of who can call themselves counsellors, these two should never be anywhere near vulnerable women, or any person whose trust they could abuse
    And may I say well done to the complainants, who fought for justice against such a campaign of abuse.

    • Has Geraint Davis had a second reading of his bill? Haven’t followed his website but I seem to recall it was delayed until June, please correct if I’ve got this wrong. As for Lyndsay and John there will possibly be a pattern of behaviour around their sexual activities and deceit. As the law stands they could start a new outfit with proxy directors and… vous connaissez la chanson

  2. If this isn’t the perfect case to prove that regulation is so desperately needed then I don’t know what is. The sad fact is that there is NOTHING to stop these people from continuing to work in this profession. Hats off to people like you Zarathustra, this issue needs as much attention as it can get.
    Fantastic article!
    It appears that John Clapham and Lindsay Talbot are two incredibly lost and misguided people. They should be ashamed of themselves

  3. Pingback: Rights and Protections. | Sometimes, it's just a cigar

  4. Absolutely vile, to think a Counsellor could abuse people, how damaging and disgusting…..this is not why I chose to be in this profession it was to help people overcome suffering through abuse and other life difficulties, to help them along the journey of self discovery and sometimes to learn what healthy relationships are….the implications of this type of abuse are devastating….those would stood up to them after such an abusive and spiteful reaction I applaud you…to speak up against an abuser is so difficult…Well done!

  5. This is an absolute disgrace. And to think that Clapham and Talbott can carry on practising beggars belief. What’s with all the dual name stuff too? Why are they known as Palace Gate Counselling but had BACP membership under Phoenix Counselling? I smelly a rat. Talbott bangs on (and on) about having no complaints against Palace Gate before this ‘witch hunt’ but if anyone did have a complaint they would presumably have been told by the BACP that they weren’t members. Well, they definitely aren’t now. But who outside of the readers of this blog will ever know or find out? Can anything be done about this?

  6. Congratulations for raising the prominence of what’s happened with Phoenix and the BACP findings. This scandal is another demonstration of the weakness of regulation in the UK, a point I have written about today in my blog. See “Counselling Organisation Carries On Despite Serious Misconduct Findings – another reason we need tougher UK regulation”.

  7. Clients could be at risk. When I was there Clapham encouraged counsellors at Palace Gate to refer their clients to him for bodywork. Counsellors/trainees still there continue to be supervised and trained by these unethical individuals.

  8. John Clapham was struck off by the Rosen Method Bodywork organisation. This is why he now calls it “Person-Centred Bodywork”.
    Google “John Clapham Rosen Method” and you will see.

  9. Its Shocking that they can continue after such findings

  10. John and Lindsey sound like diabolical people.

  11. Our profession needs to be regulated

  12. Can this be taken to court? It sounds like there would be a strong legal argument that abuse occurred. Obviously, that rests with the victims though who should also be applauded for their bravery and strength in facing down this horrible breach of trust.

    • I’m not a legal expert, but from looking at similar cases, the police have often been keen to prosecute, but the CPS have tended to see them as complex and difficult to build the case, so they’ve often wound up being dropped. Though that’s also true of a lot of sexual abuse cases outside of therapy settings too.

      Certainly there would be clear grounds for civil litigation, which would frequently bankrupt the defendant as a lot of indemnity insurance providers don’t cover people for proven or admitted cases of serious sexual misconduct. Though that in itself can create a barrier to litigation as there’s no point in suing someone who’s bankrupt.

  13. cagewisdom, your blog looks very interesting! Who are you?

    The police tried their best. The narrative from PG is that they just went through the motions as obliged. I’ve seen an email from the detective which strongly implies otherwise i.e. stating that they believe it was important to get the case to court. If you’d like to see it please let me know and I’ll get it sent via Z, if you’re okay with that Z.

    Ultimately there wasn’t enough evidence for CPS, as is sadly the case when it comes to these kinds of cases. I think that the perpetrator knows that and a counselling agency that takes on trainees is a perfect ruse for grooming, exploiting and abusing, in a completely unregulated industry.

    I wish there wasn’t a need for regulation and would love to live in a world where it wasn’t needed, but I am not naive or idealistic. Thanks to sociopathic and/or narcissistic therapists there is a need for protection.

  14. I hope 2015 brings new laws to prevent individuals/organisations like this from preying on vulnerable people

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