Raising concerns about a Counsellor

Procedures for Ethical Concerns and Complaints

Information for people wishing to express a concern or to make a complaint about an NZAC member.

A.  Counsellors who are Members or Provisional Members of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors are required to abide by the Association’s Code of Ethics. A copy of the Code can be obtained by writing to the NZAC or can be found on the Association’s website: https://www.nzac.org.nz/ethics/code-of-ethics/

B.   You may have a concern about how a counsellor has behaved in terms of that Code. This might arise because you are:

1. the client of the counsellor
2. the person with legal responsibility for the client of the counsellor
eg., parent/guardian/ person with enduring power of attorney
3. in a support role or professional role with the client of the
counsellor. (In this case you would need the permission of the client to act).
4. a professional colleague, supervisor or manager of the counsellor. (In this case you are encouraged to consult your supervisor or fellow professional before acting.)
5. a supervisee of the counsellor (In this case you are encouraged to consult an experienced counsellor before acting.)
6. affected by the actions of the counsellor in some other role you play.

C. The Association encourages you to express your concern directly to the counsellor, providing the matter is not of a very serious nature. This is often the most effective and timely way to clear misunderstanding or to remedy a problem. Furthermore, NZAC counsellors are themselves expected to encourage open expression of any difficulties that may arise in the course of their work.

You may choose to approach the counsellor with your own supporter/s. If you would like help or guidance in making an approach you may write to the Ethics Secretary, Ethics Office, PO Box 25287, Wellington, 6140 or ethicssecretary@nzac.org.nz

D. If a direct approach does not resolve the issue for you, or if the behaviour of the counsellor is very serious, you may wish the Association to address it. This might involve either assistance in resolving the issue, or investigating the matter in a formal way, depending on the severity of the alleged behaviour. You are invited to communicate with us by writing to the Ethics Secretary.

E. The Association’s Criteria for receiving complaints:
The Ethics Committee will receive written concerns or complaints from any person about a named member or members relating to:

• Behaviour potentially prejudicial to the interests of the Association


• Professional misconduct

• Behaviour which is unbecoming a member

F. Guideline for making a complaint in writing (See at the end of this document)

G. Procedure

i. On receiving your letter, the Ethics Secretary will check that the counsellor is a current Member of, or Provisional Member of NZAC and will establish whether the concern meets the criteria (see above) for receiving concerns and complaints. If it does not, you will be offered information about what other avenues might be available to you.

ii. If NZAC can respond to your concern or complaint, you will be sent a copy of the procedures and a form to sign seeking your agreement for us to proceed with the matter. You will be asked to give consent for NZAC to send a copy of your original letter to the member. Be aware when you give consent you are agreeing that your entire complaint to NZAC will be provided to our member for their response.

iii. NZAC may decide at this point that there is no action to take, and therefore not ask you to sign the informed consent form. Your material is then returned.

iv. If your concern or complaint relates to more than that one member, you may be asked to lodge your concerns about each of them separately. It is an aspect of natural justice that each person’s behaviour is enquired into separately.

v. On receipt of your consent and any other information that you may have added to your initial letter, the Ethics Convenor and the Ethics Secretary, or their substitutes if necessary, read and carefully consider your concerns.

vi. Please note that any member undertaking Ethics work on behalf of the NZAC is required to exclude themselves if they have a conflict of interest with any of the parties involved in a complaint.

vii. You are then notified of which of the following steps will be taken:

  1. Assistance to you to seek private resolution

  2. No further action

  3. Request for a written response from the member (Box 7 of the flowchart).

 

Further Elaboration


Assistance to seek private resolution
The Ethics Secretary will offer suggestions about how you might go about approaching the counsellor, and how you might access support for this step.

No further action
If the Secretary and Convenor, or their substitutes agree that the behaviour complained about does not meet the threshold for potentially professional misconduct or behaviour that adversely reflects on NZAC or on the profession of counselling, then no further action is taken. In this case you are informed and advised about any other courses of action you might choose to take. A copy of your original letter is sent to the member for their information.

Request for a written response from the Member or Provisional Member

The member is given 20 working days in which to reply to the complaint.

Further correspondence may occur. This could extend the time taken before a meeting of the Initial Assessment Group (IAG), which decides on whether further steps should be taken, and if so, what steps. The IAG consists of the Convenor, Secretary (or their substitutes) and one further Committee Member.

Options available to the IAG after viewing both the complaint and response are:

  1. No further action

  2. Seek further information

  3. Refer to another professional or regulatory body for consideration

  4. Resolve through Convenor communication

  5. Send to the relevant Regional Ethics Team for handling

  6. Institute a formal Hearing.

Further Elaboration of Steps Available to the IAG

1. No further action

Both parties are informed that there is no further action that NZAC will take, but other avenues may be suggested. The case is closed and may be considered for reopening only on receipt of new information.

2. Seek further information

This may be either from you, as Complainant, or from the member, as Respondent. Also, for example, it may be that other parties have been referred to in the material and the IAG deems it necessary to hear from those parties.

3. Refer to another professional or regulatory body for consideration

If the matter does not meet NZAC criteria for accepting the complaint, or is potentially outside of NZAC’s ability to manage the complaint, and if the issue warrants further investigation, the case may be referred to another body, such as another professional body to which the counsellor belongs, or the Health and Disability Commission.

4. Resolve through Convenor Communication

Options available to the Convenor include: Written correspondence between all parties; phone conversation with both or either party; or meeting in person with the member, with attendance of their supervisor a possible expectation.

5. Referral to Regional Ethics Team (RET)
This process has been designed to enable NZAC to:

  1. Formulate an understanding of the circumstances that led to the complaint;

  2. Identify any ways in which the counsellor may have contributed to the situation, and if this is found to be the case;

  3. Propose educational and/or restorative actions to minimise the likelihood of such events recurring.

The time frame for a complaint to go through a RET process from the time it is received with informed consent, is on average 6-12 months.

The RET process.

This process is led by a Regional Coordinator (RC). Once the RC receives a copy of the correspondence, they choose two members of the Regional Ethics Team (RET) to handle the complaint. If there is a conflict of interest for both the Coordinator and, if there is one, the Deputy Coordinator in that region, the matter is referred to the Coordinator in another region.

The two RET members arrange to meet with the Complainant, who may choose to bring a support person to that meeting. There is no electronic recording of the discussion. The meeting provides an opportunity for the RET to hear the Complainant’s account of what happened, to learn more about the circumstances that led to the complaint, and to discuss expectations and possible outcomes.

After this, the RET members meet separately with the member (Respondent), who is accompanied by their supervisor, to discuss the concerns raised by the complaint. The meeting provides an opportunity for the RET to hear the Respondent’s account of what happened, to learn more about the circumstances that led to the complaint, and where appropriate, to engage in reflection and review.

The RET then determines what steps are to be taken.

Possible Outcomes of a Regional Ethics Team intervention

  1. Deciding that no further action is necessary.

  2. Identifying relevant educational and/or restorative steps to instigate, for example this could include, undertaking further education or training, specialist consultation or additional supervision, or making an acknowledgment.

  3. Referring the matter back to the Initial Assessment Group (IAG) to consider alternative courses of action, for example, Communication with the Convenor, further investigation, or a formal Hearing.

Complainants are informed of the outcome, or of progress towards an outcome, by the RET manager within 4 - 6 weeks of the meeting. They are told if the Respondent has been given tasks to do but not the details of these.

The Ethics Secretary informs the Complainant once the RET is satisfied that the identified needed outcomes have been achieved to their satisfaction and the complaint is closed. This may take some months, depending on the extent of any tasks set.

6. A formal Hearing.

This procedure is adopted when the behaviour complained about warrants an inquiry to establish the facts, and is of such a nature that if the complaint is upheld sanctions will be imposed by the Association. Potential sanctions can be viewed in NZAC’s Constitution, on the NZAC website.

It usually takes 12 to 18 months from receiving a complaint with informed consent, to the time of a Hearing. If the member has charges upheld and sanctions are applied, this could extend the time a further 12-18 months while the member completes required tasks to the satisfaction of the Committee.

  1. At this point, the complaint is taken up by the Association against the member (Respondent). The Respondent is required to answer to NZAC. The Complainant is invited to become a witness for the Association’s case and can be assisted and advised by one of NZAC’s Procedural Advisors.

  2. A formal Hearing must follow the principles of natural justice, involving the Respondent’s right to reply, and may involve seeking advocacy and legal advice. This can take some months.

  3. A Hearing Panel is appointed by the Convenor of the National Ethics Committee (or substitute). It consists of at least two members of the National Ethics Committee and a lay-person, who together prepare for the Hearing, with the assistance of one of the legal advisors to NZAC.

  4. An NZAC Ethics Committee Hearing follows an ‘inquisitorial’ court procedure. The Hearing Panel gathers information to determine whether the behaviour complained about did occur, and whether it is found to be professional misconduct, or behaviour that adversely reflects on the NZAC or on the profession of counselling.

  5. The Complainant is invited to attend as a witness for NZAC and to give their account of the events. The Complainant may be asked questions by: Panel members; the Respondent; and/or their legal representative. This communication occurs through the Panel Chair.

  6. If the behaviour described is confirmed by the Panel and is found to be professional misconduct, or behaviour that adversely reflects on NZAC, or on the profession of counselling, the Panel then determines any sanctions to be imposed.

  7. Sanctions that involve a change to membership status, and/or publication of the member’s name, are recommended to the National Executive of NZAC. The Executive vote to receive the outcome and endorse publication, as relevant. Other Hearing outcomes are also formally received by the National Executive without the member being named. The Complainant will be provided a summary of the outcome. 

Guidelines for making a complaint

The terms “counsellor” and “counselling” apply to all professional roles undertaken by Members and provisional members. This Code applies to all NZAC Members and Applicants in the full range of their professional practices. Professional practice may include work in the roles of: counsellor, supervisor, therapist, trainer, educator, researcher, advocate, mediator, consultant, manager, coach, community worker, group facilitator, mentor and spiritual advisor. The generic terms “counsellor” and “counselling” apply to all professional roles undertaken by Members. The term “client” refers to those receiving the “counselling” services.


To assist the Association in processing your concerns, it would help if you included the following information:

1. Your names, address, telephone numbers (home and work, if possible), email address.
Choose contacts where you can be contacted safely.


2. Name, address and telephone number of the work place of the member whom you have
concerns about (whom we then call ‘the respondent’).


3. If your concern relates to the member’s counselling work, tell us what your understanding of
the counselling relationship was. Also tell us what the context of the counselling or other
service was, e.g. ACC, Family Court, community agency, voluntary counselling service,
health service, private practice, school, training organisation etc.


4. List the time period of the counselling or other contact with the counsellor, relevant to your
complaint. This can be with specific starting and finishing dates, or if this is not possible,
then give more general times i.e. month and year of starting and finishing. This is so we can
check that the person was a member of NZAC at the time and which version of the Code of
Ethics applies, since there have been small changes over time.


5. Indicate what kind of counselling this was, e.g. group, consultation, supervision, training or
other service from the counsellor.


6. Was the counselling service or contact you are concerned about with you or someone else?
If with someone else, who is that person and what is their relationship to you?


7. If the behaviour you are concerned about was not in relation to the member’s counselling
work with you or someone known to you, specify the behaviour of concern, where and
when it occurred, and who else witnessed it.


8. Whether the behaviour was part of a counselling relationship or to do with conduct outside
the counselling room, what did the member do or say that caused you concern? Describe
this as clearly as possible. If there is more than one thing, please list all of these.


9. If you are receiving this information by email or post, we have enclosed a copy of our Code
of Ethics for your information, otherwise see the website address above. You may like to
read this to help you consolidate your ideas on how the member you are concerned about
may have breached the Code.


10. Outline any other action you have already taken in addressing your concerns e.g. talking to
the member, contacting the member’s supervisor or employer, contacting another
professional association, etc.


11. Have you taken a complaint about this matter to any other complaints process? If so, tell us
about what stage of their process your complaint is at and, if there has been an outcome,
what this is.


12. In the event that your concern becomes a formal complaint with NZAC and a Regional
Team process or a Hearing is organised, please indicate whether you would be available to
participate, i.e. can you get time off work or are there any other restrictions that would
prevent you attending, or cause delays in having the case addressed?

 

Please contact us if you would like to raise a concern about one of our members.

Address: PO Box 25287, Wellington 6140

Email: ethicssecretary@nzac.org.nz

Phone: 04 473 3486