Expulsion of President-Elect

Expulsion of the President-Elect

Press release from BPSWatch.com

The expulsion of the President Elect, Professor Nigel MacLennan

We believe that the British Psychological Society has acted in a manner that reflects extremely badly on the profession and discipline of psychology. In its handling of the alleged bullying by the most senior elected representative of the membership it has shown itself to be heavy-handed, seemingly vindictive and acting contrary to any principles of natural justice.

Whatever the merits or demerits of the allegations against Professor MacLennan, he deserves a fair hearing, free of bias and partiality, open and transparent whilst respecting the privacy of all parties. Any punishment or sanction should reflect the severity of any proven and demonstrable misdemeanours. We have reason to believe that both the process by which the BPS reached its decision and the way this decision was promulgated were flawed and that the punishment was disproportionate. Moreover, the grounds for expulsion were made public in advance of Professor MacLennan’s right to appeal the decision.

The BPS has a confused, confusing and inadequate complaints procedure, a fact acknowledged by the Acting CEO’s statement that the whole of the complaints process requires a root and branch review. The Acting Chair of the Board of Trustees has publicly acknowledged that the governance of the Society is in need of a major update. The Vice President resigned citing problems with governance as one reason for this. The Charity Commission is currently involved in an ongoing regulatory compliance case with the Society, partly due to the sheer number of complaints by members. There is currently a police investigation into alleged fraud. How can we have any trust in a process that is overseen by an organisation with such serious problems?

The decision was made public by means of an email to all members, which was accompanied by a video by the Acting Chair of the Board of Trustees. This did not simply inform the membership (and wider public) of the decision but details about the alleged grounds for his guilt. This is in stark contradistinction to the Society’s complete lack of information about the fact of the suspension of our Chief Executive many months ago, about which the membership has been dependent on rumour, speculation and some press coverage.

It is important to note that Professor MacLennan has a 21-day window in which to launch an appeal. Apart from the fact that there is no-one in senior elected or senior management positions to hear such an appeal, the tone and style of the letter and video make it clear that such an appeal would stand little chance of success.

Expulsion from the BPS is the most serious of sanctions, especially for an elected officer (and in this case, the only remaining senior elected officer as both the current President and Vice President have resigned). This was not the only option available and, indeed, has been rarely invoked in our experience. According to the BPS, expulsion was warranted because the tone and frequency of his communications demonstrated a lack of respect towards staff and trustees. We believe that this was an inhumane, unjust and inappropriate punishment. 

We urge the BPS to act in a manner which is expected and appropriate for a learned professional society and immediately commission a senior lawyer, completely independent, conversant with employment law to review the process by which the decision to expel Professor MacLennan was made and to make the outcome of that investigation – in its entirety – available to the membership.

Dr Peter Harvey, former Chair of the Division of Clinical Psychology, British Psychological Society;

Pat Harvey, former Chair of the Division of Clinical Psychology, British Psychological Society;

Dr David Pilgrim, former Chair of the History and Philosophy Section, British Psychological Society  

Editorial Collective, BPSWatch.com

Expulsion of President-Elect

Your starter for 10….

In the far-off days when I was a student, a common exam question used to start with the words ”Compare and contrast…” and there followed any two things – they could be theories, concepts, approaches – you get the picture. I want you to to put yourself in a similar situation now and you have to compose answers to the questions below on the Ethics and Professional Standards paper. 

There follow four scenarios, all real, and all documented. Your task is to identify in what ways these cases are similar and in what way they are different (apologies to David Wechsler). As you are answering this online you are allowed to access some information provided by the examiner as hyperlinks. There is no time limit. No additional marks will be added for comments such as “You must be joking.” or “You cannot be serious.”.

Scenario 1.

A senior and widely respected professor of clinical psychology at a UK university specialised in the treatment of young women with anorexia nervosa on which his reputation was based. He was a Fellow of the BPS. His therapeutic interest turned into the sexual abuse of at least four of his clients. A BPS Disciplinary Panel found him guilty of gross professional misconduct. After resigning his UK academic post he was believed to be teaching at an overseas university.

His punishment was him giving an undertaking not to practise again. 

He was not expelled and he remained both a member and a Fellow of the BPS.

Scenario 2.

A clinical psychologist and member of the BPS in practice in Wrexham specialised in sex therapy. As part of this therapy (initially free on the NHS) he began to see a female client as a private patient and charged her £35 per session which consisted of him having sex with her, usually in a car park. He had also discussed other clients with this person as well as shredding her medical records. He was found guilty of professional misconduct in that he acted in manner likely to be detrimental to the client.

His punishment was suspension of his membership for three years and would only be allowed to rejoin the BPS if he continued to undergo professional training.

Scenario 3.

A selection of studies by a highly respected and influential psychologist and Honorary Fellow with an extensive research record was reviewed by a truly independent panel of his academic institution. They concluded that the published results of these studies were unsafe and all editors of journals in which these papers appeared should be informed of this. This particular case has been well known to the BPS for at least two years.

His punishment is still awaited.

Scenario 4.

A Chartered Psychologist and Fellow of the BPS stood for election as President and was duly elected by the membership. His manifesto was clear about the need for reform of the governance and management of the BPS. Following a small number of complaints about his persistence and attitude by a handful of staff, the BPS invoked its Member Conduct Rules and found him guilty of “persistent bullying”.  All this information was not only sent to members by email, it was accompanied a by a YouTube video. It was also given prominence of the BPS website. This despite that fact that there there is a 21-day appeal period which, should it be successful, will repudiate the allegations.

His punishment was immediate expulsion.

Please now answer the following questions:

  1. Draft a letter to the victims in Scenarios 1 and 2 explaining and justifying why more serious steps were not taken to protect others and to expel the psychologists in question.
  2. Why is sexually abusing your clients seen as a less serious matter than alleged bullying?
  3. Why is research misconduct seen as less serious matter than alleged bullying?
  4. Why do we have to wait for a proper statement from the BPS on high profile research misconduct for two years, whilst allegations of bullying can be made, investigated and dealt with in under 12 months?
  5. In Scenario 2 devise a three-year CPD programme teaching practitioners that sleeping with your clients and requiring them to pay for sex is wrong. Please also describe what outcome measures you would use to assess progress.
  6. The BPS has admitted that the complaints procedure and member conduct rules and procedures are in need of a root and branch review. Prepare a Press Release explaining how that statement squares with the statements made in the letter sent out to members in Scenario 4.
  7. The BPS Complaints FAQs includes the following statement ‘…The Society does not have a function to investigate complaints against its members…”.  In the light of this admission. write a letter for members explaining how the process described in Scenario 4 can be justified.

You may wish to consult the following references:

Scenario 1

https://www.theguardian.com/uk/1999/jun/13/theobserver.uknews1

Scenario 2

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/4350712.stm

Letter to The Psychologist (page 79) from Peter Harvey February 2006 (available on The Psychologist Archive. [https://thepsychologist.s3.eu-west-2.amazonaws.com/articles/pdfs/0206lets.pdf?X-Amz-Algorithm=AWS4-HMAC-SHA256&X-Amz-Credential=AKIA3JJOMCSRX35UA6UU%2F20210507%2Feu-west-2%2Fs3%2Faws4_request&X-Amz-Date=20210507T123834Z&X-Amz-SignedHeaders=Host&X-Amz-Expires=10&X-Amz-Signature=990b08b403a97ae7560cd425990b650a16493077bccb1ad378e76173c5066c50]

Scenario 3

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1359105318820931

https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-32/september-2019/role-auditing-hans-eysenck

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/1359105318822045

Scenario 4

https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/important-news-british-psychological-society

https://www.thirdsector.co.uk/british-psychological-society-expels-president-elect-amid-claims-persistent-bullying/governance/article/1714936

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/psychological-society-president-ousted-for-alleged-bullying-pfwdx8cm6?shareToken=35bd3b82af0348459ff4adffd99ebd8e

https://www.bps.org.uk/news-and-policy/member-conduct-rules

https://www.bps.org.uk/sites/www.bps.org.uk/files/Page%20-%20Files/Complaints%20FAQs.pdf

For more general background reading you are recommended to see

Pilgrim, D. & Guinan, P. (1999) From mitigation to culpability: rethinking the evidence about therapist sexual  abuse. The European Journal of Psychotherapy, Counselling & Health 2 (2), 153-168.

Once your incredulity has subsided you may begin.

Peter Harvey, Former Chief Examiner and Chair of the Board of Examiners for the BPS Qualification in Clinical Psychology.

Expulsion of President-Elect

The crisis deepens…

Many of you will have seen the announcement by the BPS telling you of the expulsion of the President-Elect, Dr Nigel MacLennan. This is an extremely serious matter. We have some reason to believe that the process by which this decision has been reached may be flawed. It is clearly highly damaging to him personally to have allegations about his behaviour made in public in advance of any appeal he might make. The question must also be asked about what efforts have been made to go to external mediation to attempt a resolution. Surely the Charity Commission would have been able to advise on this?

The Society is now in a situation where there are no senior elected members in any position of authority. The President and Vice President have resigned and the President-Elect removed. The CEO is “not in the office”, the CFO resigned late last year and there is no replacement listed on the BPS website – all the most senior positions in the Society are vacant. The Charity Commission is “engaged” with the BPS following a large number of complaints by members about serious concerns about governance and the behaviour of members of the Senior Management Team towards members.

Those of us who started this blog have had a long relationship with the BPS over the years as well as making significant contributions as elected officers. It is no exaggeration to say that we are thoroughly ashamed of the BPS at present. It is certainly not the organisation to which we once gave our time and energy. This is now the time for the membership to stand up and be counted. Members currently have no elected – and hence accountable – representation at senior level. The only people making decisions that affect your society, your discipline, your profession are unelected, unaccountable employees, the majority of whom have no background in psychology. 

Our organisation is in serious, perhaps terminal, decline. Will you join with us in trying to rescue it?

Peter Harvey

Blog Administrator