Trends in complaints 2022

Issues around confidentiality have been one of the highest causes of complaints for a number of years. Not so last year. In 2022, for the first time, the most common cause of complaints was unprofessional communication and/or breakdown in communication. What can we learn from this?

After each complaint that indicates a potential breach of UKCP’s Code of Ethics and Professional Practice has been considered, we analyse the behaviours or situations that led to it, reviewing the information and categorising the complaint. This classification allows us to share with members what triggers complaints so we can hopefully avoid similar issues going forward.
So, what led to the rise in communication being a high source of complaints?

One reason is that so many of us are now working online. While it is true that not all complaints regarding communication emanate from online sessions, online interactions often lack the subtlety of those conducted in person. It means that you may need to consider how your words may be interpreted with far more care (you may also want to look at our guidance for online working).

Other tips to avoid potential complaint trigger points are:

  • Explain specialised terminology very clearly.
  • Take care when commenting on a client’s appearance – something you wouldn’t think twice about in a normal conversation, such as commenting on their hair or an item of clothing, may raise issues in a therapy session.
  • Be aware that non-verbal communication can be just as powerful as what you say. Raising your voice or rolling your eyes may be interpreted as hostile gestures.


Who complains about UKCP registrants?

Most complaints continue to be made by clients. However, 2022 saw a marked increase in the number of self-declarations made by registrants themselves. Last year, 17% of cases received were by registrants contacting us themselves, compared to 11% and 9% in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

We believe this increase is due to the new online system for membership renewals that was implemented last year. All registrants who apply to renew their UKCP membership are reminded of their obligation to notify UKCP whether they have been the subject of any complaints, or police or disciplinary action. It is likely to also be why the second highest cause of complaints was decisions made by another body.

Under the Complaints and Conduct Process, UKCP may consider any adverse findings other bodies make, including the NHS or other regulators. These decisions can relate to a range of situations such as failing to maintain professional boundaries or breaching client confidentiality.

It is important for members to hold in mind their ethical obligations under paragraph 39 of the Code of Ethics (below) to declare such information to UKCP in a timely manner, rather than waiting until renewals season to do so.

39. Co-operate with any lawful investigation or inquiry relating to your psychotherapeutic practice. Inform UKCP and any relevant organisational member if you are:

a. Charged with a criminal offence;

b. convicted of a criminal offence, receive a conditional discharge for an offence, or accept a police caution;

c. disciplined by any professional body or membership organisation responsible for regulating or licensing a health or social care profession; or

d. suspended or placed under a practice restriction by an employer or similar organisation because of concerns relating to your competence, health or practice of psychotherapy.


Maintaining professional boundaries

The third highest cause of complaints in 2022 was a failure to maintain professional boundaries.

At the outset of therapy, you should set clear boundaries with clients regarding out-of-session communication. If a client needs to contact you to reschedule an appointment, for example, what is your preferred method of contact?

If you become aware that a client has developed a substantial dependency on you, and is increasing their contact with you outside of sessions you may want to consider whether you should refer them to an alternative practitioner. Is it in your client’s best interests to continue therapy with you?


Learn more

You can read more about complaints in 2022 in our newly published complaints annual report. We will use the learning from 2022’s report to inform our next Learning from Complaints event this summer – details to be released shortly.


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