Therapists and Counsellors - The Dos and Dont's of dealing with a patient complaint

20 August 2015

More and more therapists and counsellors are registered with voluntary regulators: Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council (CNHC), Association of Child Psychotherapists (ACP) and the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) to name a few. Whilst undoubtedly positive for your reputation to be a member, part of the role of the regulators is to receive complaints and act upon them – these could range from an allegation of not adequately advising on all treatment options, to the alleged sexual assault of a patient.

If you are found to have broken the rules of your regulatory organisation, sanctions can be imposed and are often made publically available – this can have serious career-limiting and reputational implications: removal from the register is a very real likelihood in serious cases.

Would you know what to do if a patient complained about you?

Do

  1. Gather the evidence: go back to the patient file and read the notes you made (assuming you did); look at dates of appointments and keep a copy of all of this material – it could be invaluable later
  2. Speak to witnesses: did anyone else witness the incident or see the patient? Can they write down what they saw / heard / observed and give that to you?
  3. Prepare your account: write down your best recollection of events; put this in chronological order and include as much detail as possible. Do not leave anything out
  4. Get early advice: think about speaking with a specialist professional discipline lawyer – time and money can be saved by approaching a complaint correctly from the start; taking proper advice could alter the outcome in your favour
  5. Engage with the regulator: rarely is it in your interests to put your head in the sand
  6. Think about who you need to tell: do you have professional liability insurance; do you need to tell them about a possible claim; does your supervisor need to know?

Don’t

  1. Respond immediately: take note of the deadline provided by the regulator and do your best to provide a considered response in that time. If you cannot get the advice or gather the evidence you need before then, ask for more time, most regulators have a provision allowing for this
  2. Try and speak with the complainant: complaints are not usually retracted once made and to try and persuade a patient to do so would be a very serious matter. Do not attempt to speak with them and reason the matter out (unless directed by the regulator – known as mediation) as it is unlikely to be in your interests
  3. Ignore the complaint: regulators can make a decision about a complaint without you actually being involved in the process. In these circumstances, they only have one account and it is harder for a fair decision to be reached
  4. Panic: although this seems obvious, it is a reaction that will mean that you stop thinking straight and become unable to make sensible decisions.

This blog first appeared as an article in Holisitc Therapy Magazine in August 2015.

Further information

If a patient has complained about you, or you would like further information about our services, please contact Julie Norris, or visit our Regulatory page.

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We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

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