How not to do trauma therapy 2: Mere negligence, or a therapy cult?

I’ve had some eye-opening responses to my blog post about a trauma therapy session that went horribly wrong. Two therapists had allegations proven against them by the UKCP and BACP after a post-abuse survivor was left “crying daily and not sleeping” due to being physically held at a workshop.

Some comments were left on the blog post. While the hearing outcomes reeked of clinical negligence, these replies gave a whiff of something rather more sinister.

To recap, Sue Clancy, who is registered with the UK Council for Psychotherapy and Linda Bretherton, formerly registered with the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, invited a client with history of abuse trauma to a shamanic workshop, where she was held and subjected to loud breathing noises (in an email from Clancy, she states that this was part of a mindfulness exercise). This seems to have triggered a reaction in the client that was re-traumatising rather than therapeutic.

Both therapists had misconduct findings published against them by their respective organisations. Criticisms were made about inappropriate dual relationships between therapists, failure to take a history, undue pressure on the client to attend the workshop and the physical holding of the client. Both therapists have gotten off relatively light, with the UKCP declining to sanction Clancy despite the misconduct findings, whereas Bretherton was instructed to write a reflection on the incident. However, Bretherton states that she does not intend to remain with the BACP, and her name is no longer on their register.

Since then, Steve Crowe (who is Bretherton’s husband) and Carmen Goulden have appeared in the comments thread to the original repeating various allegations against the complainant. I’m a little uncomfortable about repeating them here, as they don’t provide any evidence that these allegations are true. Suffice it to say that in repeating the allegations, I’m not endorsing them, which I hope will become clear.

Steve Crowe writes,

I have no doubt that the complainant has suffered as a result of this case, but not in my opinion as a result of the therapy! After her second session she was bristling with excitement and wanting to do more – something changed. There was another critical incident involving the complainant and her therapist that I believe was the catalyst for this whole sorry affair. This occurred about 3 weeks after the complainant’s second session, when she alleged the physical effects began, coincidence, I think not! There are many things sat behind this case and I appreciate that usually you only have the shadowy details that eventually get published with which to make your judgements, but in this instance you were offered the opportunity to find out more. It would appear that you have chosen not to bother. In Linda’s email to you she quite clearly states that there are “far more complicated background issues that are not seen or understood” – you have chosen not to follow this up. Too easy I think to make sweeping simplistic summary statements and move on.

However, I note that you have attempted to be balanced in your comments recognising that some of the allegations made against Linda were not upheld. These were in fact the ones relating to actions or words used by Linda, you refer to them as one person’s word against another’s – I think they were so wide of reality to be untrue and hence the reason the BACP didn’t uphold them. She also recognises and accepts that in hindsight she could have done better over some boundary issues.

When I was writing the blog post, there was something I noticed on Linda Bretherton’s Facebook page. There was a post (now deleted) which seemed to be about her disciplinary hearing. In a long discussion thread underneath the post, there was a comment by Bretherton which contained a piece of information that shocked me.

The complainant’s name.

On 30th January Bretherton had written.


They presented 30 pages of pictures from my FB pages showing me banging a drum, dancing around a fire, singing with students, talking about spirit and energy and turned this into something sordid and saying it was a cult! I can stop posting and God knows I want to give up on all this work. I have always felt that FB gives us an opportunity to speak our truth and show what we do. I know that it can also be abused, but this happens everywhere, in our schools, communities, families. FB is not responsible for what people say and do. [Name redacted] who is doing this sent me an email, thanking me for the TWO sessions I had done with her and asked me to do more. Because I refused and did not respond back to her, she has spend [sic] hours/weeks/months putting together a case against me to ruin who I am.

I didn’t blog about it at thetime, though I did take a screenshot of Bretherton’s comment. As a nurse, I know what would happen to me if I repeated the name of a patient on Facebook, because my employers and the Nursing and Midwifery Council have spelled it out for me. I’d be swiftly ejected from the nursing profession. If I’d done so in the context of a fitness-to-practice hearing involving this patient, my exit may well have been via the nearest convenient window.

I challenged Crowe about this. He didn’t reply, but Carmen Goulden did,

How on earth did you find that on facebook when Linda’s name has only just been published and the complainant’s name was removed a while ago on facebook??

The comment with her name was online at the time I wrote the blog post, though it’s not there now. If Bretherton had been removing references to the complainant on Facebook, she must have gotten sloppy and left one.

Goulden left another accusation.

Can I just ask one vital questions here? Why would the complainant return for a second session if these things had happened? If your not comfortable with someone and it made you feel ill, why put yourself through another session? Clearly these accusations have been made for financial gain. Shocking behaviour is all I can say.

Personally, I don’t think the complainant going back for a second session disproves anything at all. It’s really not unusual for people to take time to withdraw from a damaging relationship. Just ask anyone who works with domestic violence cases.

As for the suggestion that it’s all for financial gain, I’m not buying that one either. Bretherton has told me that not only did the complainant report her to the BACP, but is also suing for damages. The BACP doesn’t award any compensation, just issues findings and sanctions. As for suing, I’m no lawyer but my limited knowledge of litigation suggests it’s far from the get-rich-quick scheme some people seem to think it is.  It’s stressful, time-consuming and (unless you can secure a no-win-no-fee deal,  for which you’d need a cast-iron case) ridiculously expensive. If you lose, not only has your money been wasted, but you’re also likely to be liable for the other side’s costs. Hence why a lot of litigation ends in settlements that leave both sides feeling like they’ve been shafted. I’d rather sink my money into Eurovision spread betting than a vexatious lawsuit. I’d probably be more likely to see my money again that way.

In my previous blog post, I made the following observation.

The complainant reports feeling emotionally blackmailed into attending a shamanic workshop due to expressions of love from Bretherton. If you’re love-bombing people into joining something with mystical features and a lax approach to boundaries, you have to consider whether what you’re running is a therapy group or a cult.

Given the way supporters of Bretherton are turning up to accuse people complaining of having vague nefarious motives, that really isn’t dispelling the suggestion that this is a cult.



6 thoughts on “How not to do trauma therapy 2: Mere negligence, or a therapy cult?

  1. Breatherton website: Christ on a bike, I’ve just been taking a look and she seems more cuckoo than a Swiss clock factory. Fucking hell, didn’t the BACP and UKCP see the writing on the wall before they have her a badge?

    • She’s not registered with UKCP, though she was with BACP.

      That article at the top of the blog looks like the one that was previously on Facebook, which had the complainants name in the comments thread.

    • Just re-reading her post. This bit leapt out at me.

      I finally attended a panel which felt punishing and cruel, but to be fair the whole thing was farcical and made hugely complex with, 6 inches of ‘evidence’ and the 40 or so damming testimonials from people who had never even met me, many suggesting that I be ‘struck off’, because I have ‘ruined’ her life.

      Six inches? 40 testimonials? Sometimes numbers tell their own story.

  2. Does the BACP have a policy on ‘unconventional’ approaches to therapy? What is the status of workshops of this kind? This kind of thing might be bonkers but it’s not illegal and obviously some find it helpful. Indeed, this sort of work is central to some traditions such as the humanistic and transpersonal movementswhile clearly being utterly at odds with others. There is certainly the probability that it will stir stuff up that might be very deeply challenging, in fact some would argue that that is the point. Some apporaches to therapy want to strengthen a weak ego to heal the wounds, some want to encourage people to have awareness of their wounds and learn to live with them, perhaps.

    I guess the question for me is whether the workshop itself was wrong and not a valid way to work in the view of the BACP or whether it is the support, boundaries and the expectation of the work that were handled badly which is what the case seems to be about.

    Perhaps some greater clarity is needed on this as a whole. Perhaps there are certain people with whom this is appropriate and some with whom it is not. It doesn’t seem wise to have it in a limbo land of half legitimacy.

    • That is indeed a valid point. Where does one draw the line between “this is a valid form of therapy” and “this is a load of hippy cobblers”?

      On that issue it may be worth mentioning that the Society of Homeopaths and the British Acupuncture Council are both now accredited registers with the PSA. I guess from that it means that the PSA would say it’s about “support, boundaries and expectation”, as you say, rather than whether a form of therapy has an evidence base.

      • The PSA’s position is that the register is there to ensure that professionals are safe and competent, they stay neutral on the question of effectiveness of any given therapy. Their standards document says:

        “The Professional Standards Authority recognises that not all disciplines are underpinned by evidence of proven therapeutic value. Some disciplines are subject to controlled randomized trials, others are based on qualitative evidence. Some rely on anecdotes. Nevertheless, these disciplines are legal and the public choose to use them. The Authority requires organisations to make the knowledge base/its development clear to the public so that they may make informed decisions.”

        To put it another way, you shouldn’t be denied the protection of their scheme just because you believe in questionable treatments.

Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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