Scene: the Health Professions Council chamber. A large completely white room. A rectangle of white tables fills most of the space. On them are half a dozen microphones plugged into a court-room style voice recorder. Nearby is a court stenographer’s keyboard. Along one wall are the dozen or so chairs of the public gallery. Narrow white venetian blinds over huge windows hide the backstreet outside. Half of the wall opposite them has a floor to ceiling window onto the corridor. High up in one corner in a tiny brown dome, is a cctv camera. Modern. Featureless. Anonymous. The sun begins to illuminate the back wall but it’s a false promise, a reflection from windows of nearby office block.

In the public gallery there are reporters from the Press Association and Central News. Several of the HPC support people sit in on the hearing. eIpnosis is in the front row. Two people who appear to be friends of the first witness but who, it occurs to me only now, might themselves be witnesses, sit behind us. They are not the only people with their backs to the wall here.

Forget for the moment about the merits of the case, In front of us is a practitioner of psycho and other dramas, ‘Mr Gale’, as the ‘hearing’ refers to him. He is on trial. Under threat of losing his working life.

Is it a trial? Is this a court? As the days unfold, it certainly becomes a psychodrama1. I served as a juror for many days in a Crown Court trying allegations of rape2, and this Health Professions Council fitness to practise ‘hearing’ mirrors that Crown Court’s adversarial style. There is counsel for the HPC, Mr Caplan QC of Kingsely Napley, who brings a practised grey expertise to the proceedings. Next to him is the youthfully elegant Hearing Officer, Salam Begum. Adjacent to her sits Mr Simon Russen the Legal Assessor, a euphemistic title ill-matched to his role which seemed comprehensively to be that of ‘Judge’. When there were points of ‘law’ or incorrect procedure, he interrupts the process and makes authoritative rulings, as judges do.

The defendant, Mr Gale, sits curiously close to the HPC’s counsel (when I first saw the setup I thought the QC was representing him). He is defending himself, next to him sits a supporter.

Facing Mr Gale across the room is the HPC hearings panel, comprised of a chair, Mr Giffiths, alert, skilful, courteous, professional. On his right is Mr Caplan, an HPC lay ‘partner’ who in familiar HPC style is a professor, though of what I haven’t been able to discover but of something that might have contributed, as being a professor these days can, to a certain shrinkage of being. To the left of the chair is Mr Holloway, a dramatherapy expert, provenance NHS and Roehampton University, who seemed often to exhibit a rosy embarrassment, as though what he was hearing was professionally intolerably shameful to him.

Of course this is an imaginal construction. These are my projections onto what little I know of the people in front of me. And onto their unseen background—their full or part-time jobs, their holiday entitlements, pensions or in the case of the experts, their £300 a day fee—or the knowledge that the HPC spends £300,000 a year on transcribing, printing and storing these hearings.

This not to sidestep the reality of what was unfolding in this hearing but to shift the focus from the concrete in the direction of the ineffable. To make a reminder that the work of the panel is crimped very tightly around the violence that all words on the page do to reality. (I came to the hearing with seven pages of allegations downloaded from the HPC’s web-site). To remind us, myself included, not to suppose that any of this will be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. The work of the panel is to come to a decision about the value of the multiple constructions of reality by the HPC, its registrant, by the only witness that I have had the chance to listen to, and of Mr Gale. In defence, as it rapidly became clear, of an active attempt to stop him working.

The first three days of the hearing were flooded with imaginal expectations such as these. Arriving at the HPC on the first morning, I was greeted by a feeding frenzy of photographers. As I approached, first one then not to be outdone, the others, raised their cameras and photographed my arrival. In the waiting room were the two news agency reporters I mentioned earlier, plus two young women from the Daily Mail and someone from the Daily Express. Later in the morning a dozen others showed up and there was even someone on the pavement outside shooting video. The text of the seven pages of accusations against Mr Gale posted on the HPC website with its mix of ‘nudity’, ‘tits’, ‘bitch’, ‘grope, ‘violence’ and ‘simulated sex’ had done its work. The tabloid editors were salivating, an appetite that seems untouched by the revolution in sexuality. When I was a child I was intrigued but deeply mystified by the appearance week after week in the News of the World of court and divorce cases in which the key element seemed to be that ‘intimacy had occurred’. As if it was a very scarce resource, intimacy still seems to be news. Whatever the virtues or limitations of Mr Gales’ working life as presented in this event, it was not lacking in intimacy.

Two paradigms meet in this hearing. Both in a heightened state of defiance.

The imaginal universe of the human condition is ubiquitous. Since the Vedic traditions, Buddha, and Freud, we know we can’t turn it off. It runs. It leaps. We may hide from it but we can’t escape. We resonate with the world, the world reverberates through us. As practitioners we know that grasping the ‘real’ is matter of navigating multiple transferences and embodied foregone conclusions, this article included. The HPC as it seems to me stands in defiance, studied intentional defiance of this. The HPC has spectacles through which it sees only categories. Health. Standards. Competence. Treatment. Note-keeping. Effectiveness. This is a ‘hearing’ and in this room, as we were repeatedly reminded, what matters are ‘particularized facts’.

Also in defiance but of another order, from another paradigm, is Mr Gale, who for almost thirty years has had a private practice of individual psychotherapy and groupwork.

His defiance, as was apparent from the first three days proceedings, has its roots in Humanistic Psychology and the Human Potential movement, personal development traditions that stand outside the HPC’s medicalised models of healthcare.

The protagonists in the hearing meet under HPC rules of reality that Mr Gale willingly signed up to as an arts therapist. It is part of this reality that the ‘fitness to practise’ conversation is framed by a requirement to achieve adversarial dominance. However it is also part of the culture in this building to help us forget that this is a local, legalistic, societal norm. The HPC did not have a virgin birth, it is a legal concoction written by Jonathan Bracken from Bircham Dysen Bell, a lawyer. This hearing is the result of a conflict resolution choice made by him and the agents of the state, presumably in the Department of Health. Other options such as mediation and continuing scrutiny by peers were evidently beneath their radar. It didn’t have to be so.

I’ll now return to events. Note that I intend process watching and I’ll try to avoid weighing the merits or otherwise of the allegations.

Day One, Tuesday March 3rd. The hearing convenes around 10am and after introductions we quickly find that it will adjourn to hear legal representations in private. Also the HPC’s QC, the prosecuting counsel, has another job to go to, so the public hearing will have to restart on the afternoon of the following day.

When we return on day two, Wednesday March 4th, the hearing begins with a reading of the charges against Mr Gale. Ripples of confusion spread through the press and visitor’s end of the room as it becomes apparent that our copy of the allegations, downloaded from the HPC’s web-site, doesn’t match the listing that is being read out. Around three out of the original seven pages of allegations are missing. Three pages that contained the most salacious material.3 Asked later how this had happened, the HPC support staff suggested that it must have been due to the legal representations that had occupied the session held that morning in private. Whatever the reasons why these charges went missing (or why there was no mention of the change in the proceedings), it had the effect of almost entirely deleting the dozen or so press in attendance. Only the two agency reporters showed up on the following day.4

Following this fracture in reality, Mr Caplan QC outlined the HPC’s much reduced case against Mr Gale. His line by line contentions ended with a review that went something like this.

That Mr Gale:

Took advantage of clients.
Had boundary management that included social contact - psychotherapeutically inappropriate dual relationships in breach of accepted client/therapist norms, that had no therapeutic benefit.
Failed to protect clients from harm.
Exploited vulnerability, used ‘bad’ language and inappropriate touch.
Failed to maintain confidentiality.
Failed to provide effective therapy.

Mr Gale’s response to this was to call for the showing of a DVD he had made. The presentation opened with him giving a cogent description of key elements of his practice and its consensual framework. This was followed by a short demonstration of his psychodrama process in which one of a group identified a personal issue and briefly but convincingly worked loudly and vigorously on it with another group participant. After this, there was a short demonstration of how Mr. Gale read ‘bed-time’ stories to the group. In a surreal shift of gear, the DVD ended with Mr Gale demonstrating that he was a competent singer; first, with accompaniment, he sang Love Me Tender, which you may recall includes, ‘Love me tender, love me long, take me to your heart, For that’s where I belong, and we’ll never part. This was followed, unaccompanied, by two verses of Some Enchanted Evening.

Love, and perhaps irony, had entered the room. And day two ended on that note.

The opening of day three, Thursday March 5th, was blessed again by the photographers on the pavement at the HPC offices. Hungry for anything remotely saleable, they photographed me again as I arrived. Due to the non-arrival of a panel member, detained by snow in Kent, the hearing began two hours late.

During this delay, the waiting room conversation mixed very long silences with intriguing conversation. Without prompting, the two remaining agency reporters acknowledged, slightly to their surprise I felt, that they weren’t regulated, that anybody could be a reporter and that if an appetising story started to run, the Press Complaints Commission codes of conduct that were supposed to regulate editors would simply be ignored. They didn’t feel that their role as reporters was at all equivalent to that of psychotherapists but editors, they were another matter.

The day three session started with the first witness, all of whom, were to be known only by their initials. Curious this. There was also an elusive document, (the panel kept losing it) that had an index of which initials referred to which person. Mr Gale is a person with a name and an address, the person attacking him, trying, as became clear during the afternoon, to destroy his working life, remained anonymous, or at least known only by his initials. When Mr IJ came in to the hearing he could be excused for looking a little like a mole unexpectedly emerging from the darkness of some witness waiting room into the bright light of anonymity.

Mr Caplan QC for the HPC opened his cross examination of Mr IJ’s witness statement. This was preceded by an elegant exchange of niceties; Mr IJ had previously been ‘sworn’ and didn’t need to be ‘sworn’ again. This deprived us of the actual form of the ‘swearing’, i.e. through what reference to higher authority? Secular? Divine? Mr Caplan drew Mr IJ’s attention to the bundles of documentation in front of him, some of which were files around three inches thick, and began line by line questioning of Mr IJ.

At this point I feel that a detailed catalogue of the cross-questioning would be in danger of over-legitimating the ‘fitness to practice’ hearing process the HPC have adopted. An adversarial approach in which, as I have said earlier, the business of the hearing is ascertaining the ‘particularity of the facts’ involved and testing them against the fixity of the HPC’s standards.

This is an iconic event in the unfolding history of psychotherapy in the UK, Mr Gale is the first psychotherapist to be subject to an HPC hearing, and I want to argue that doing justice to it means confronting the intrinsic if subterranean conflict that is running in the room—of the fixity of HPC standards—and the mutability of their ethical context. What would be a matching mode of writing that would do justice to these antipathetical notions rather than compromise them? Mindful that there are up to fourteen days more of the hearing to go, I hope what follows will do.

I’ll begin with some of what Mr IJ had to say under the spotlight of cross examination by the Counsel for the HPC:

‘Sessions with Mr Gale began in 1991 and continued for 16 years –
my entire psychotherapy experience was until recently based on the Gale Centre.
You knew of Mr Gale’s maverick reputation and were attracted to it? Yes.
He ran his therapeutic offerings in the form of generating a Family of Choice – a way of giving a positive experience of parenting.
The bad language used in some of the sessions had the virtue of freeing up expression for me rather than following social conventions.
Other psychotherapies keep strict boundaries but I knew Mr Gale worked on the edge of psychotherapeutic practice.
I gave business advice free, contributed to business plans, helped with the IT.
On a week-long residential, a personal matter concerning three members of the group was brought to the group without our agreement. Derek claimed it would have damaged the group dynamic not to deal with it.
The only way to keep anything confidential in the ‘family’ was not to tell anyone, especially Derek.
Mr Gale was the ‘father’ in the Gale Centre family; he sent birthday and other cards signed ‘daddy’.
This was a psychotherapeutic ‘family’ that went on holiday together.
He once asked for advice saying another client has raised a work issue, ‘I’ve been told this in confidence, please don’t tell her I’ve spoke to you’.
There were birthday parties, dinner parties, New Year and Xmas parties that mixed clients, group participants and Derek’s friends.
Joints were smoked after dinner and I was the odd one out, ‘how can you say no to something you have never tried’, Mr Gale asked.
Rebuilding the Gale Centre, ‘Our Centre’, was a group effort.
I didn’t support it except to help friends who were working there very intensely for many months. It felt exploitative. We were expected to give something back. Its virtues were that it helped me with issues such as ‘what is it like to be masculine?’
I felt cornered. I began to realize something was adrift.
I left therapy with Mr Gale but returned when a personal crisis emerged – I was at the end of my tether – I called Mr Gale and started again with him.’

This cross-questioning by counsel for the HPC was followed by a much longer and very much more intensive questioning of witness IJ by Mr Gale. Supported by meticulous preparation and the presence and demeanour of a skilled practitioner, Mr Gale diligently pursued the fine grain of complainant IJ’s witness statement. The focus and intensity was quite shocking. We’d moved from bureaucracy to the psychotherapeutic. Did the HPC realize that a psychodramatist might also be able play the role of expert counsel? After well over two hours of relentless questioning there were signs from some parts of the HPC cohort that this was not perhaps part of the plan. A view to be fair, that is contradicted by the assigning of 17 days, three days a week for the next five weeks, to this hearing. Exhaustion was evident but Mr Gale persisted with his questioning of the witness, and will continue next week.

Some gleanings from what we heard in Mr Gale’s cross examination of witness IJ:

DG: You used to have a pattern of throwing a bomb in the room and looking to see people squirm. Are you doing that now?
IJ: No.
DG: You have raised a ‘no win no fee’ civil action for £20,000 damages against me that will be strongly supported by a negative decision here won’t it?
IJ: I want to retrieve the costs of what I spent over 20 years and donate it to charities.
DG: You are seeking to stop me working.
IJ: I want to stop him practicing unethically.
DG: A quotation from your PhD thesis, IJ —‘the world as we know it is a creation, how we see the world is created between us, we create the reality’—you know therapy from inside and outside don’t you?
IJ: I heard from AHP or BAC – that ‘Derek Gale is bit of a maverick, you either love him or you hate him’.
DG: You’ve moved from loving me to hating me haven’t you?
DG: Is this a perspective picked up from your PhD association with the Institute of Group Analysis?
DG: Isn’t there a huge transference issue here?
IJ: Mr Gale was the ‘father’ within the cult.
IJ: Mr Gale’s interpretation of the rules is not particularly ethical.
IJ: You never knew what to expect, what was going to happen next. There was weird stuff going on, during lunch times people would role play while they were out shopping.
IJ: I fudged the issue of saying No.
IJ: When I returned to Mr Gale I just wanted someone to talk to.
DG: Why pay a psychotherapist?
IJ: They would be completely objective, someone I could trust.

After three days this ‘hearing’ window, shocking in its imaginal density, closed until the following week, leaving a string of questions hanging in the air.

- H
ow can it be that in the whole of the proceedings so far there has been no mention of ‘arts therapist’ but only references to ‘therapy’ and especially, ‘psychotherapy’.
The yellow string on my HPC visitors badge clearly indicated that I was a member of the public yet none of the press asked a single question of me.5
Why would one of the upcoming witnesses need to speak from behind a panel?
Why are the complainant’s identities hidden behind initials, when their allegations against Mr Gale have been on the HPC web-site for around two weeks?
How many practitioners who run weeklong residential psychodrama workshops keep HPC style notes of what happens, or conduct ‘risk assessments’? Both of which, it would appears, are HPC criteria for psychodrama competence?
Why after around two decades of successful independent practice, did Mr Gale sign up to the HPC as an arts therapist?

I became increasingly doubtful that an adversarial hearing process focused on what the ‘facts prove’, i.e. ‘do the facts prove misconduct or lack of competence?’ can be adequate for assessing the behaviour of psychotherapists or any practitioner such as Mr Gale whose work evokes transference—the symbioses of bodies/minds. This emphasis on ‘provable facts’ seems to insist that the qualities of intensive psychotherapy, the real tides, currents, fogs, swells and storms of the transference that psychotherapists swim in, not only must, but can be compliant with the HPC’s categorical framework of standards and competencies that are necessarily fixed and immutable. Must it not always be the case that the ‘particularised allegations’ that Mr ‘Judge’ Russen was so fond of, always live in an ethical context, a universe of feelings, that is likely to have disappeared into the recesses of history?

If this sounds unduly rhetorical then consider the framework of judgment at this hearing. I was not in doubt that Mr Russen the legal assessor was functioning as a judge, he looked and sounded as though becoming a judge could be his next career move. Alongside this, with the exception that they can ask questions, the panel function as a jury. It’s their call to say guilty or not guilty, not the ‘judge’.6

As I noted earlier, this hearing is adversarial, it is framed in terms of right and wrong, good and bad, of his word against mine, of attack and defence. A take on power that presumes winners and losers. Aren’t these the categorical imperatives that psychotherapy exists to question (and replace?). In this HPC framework for conflict resolution the very heart of the psychotherapeutic mêtis7, relationship, disappears beneath unconscious assertions of ‘might is right’.

Sadly, this will be a gift to some clients, especially ones who don’t have too secure a handle on their psychic innards. They and parasitical lawyers will be tempted to buy into such model of power and exploit its potential for acting out harm.

Lastly, might the unconscious dynamics of such clients be mirrored in the psychotherapeutic community’s response to this long awaited hearing? On all of the first three days I was the only practitioner in the public gallery. If Mr Gale has become a pariah, what would that tell us about the profession of psychotherapy? Might some therapists be hoping that one of their number sacrificed to the god of regulation, will save their souls?

I hope that this account will induce practitioners to attend this hearing, like the HPC Professional Liaison Group events it’s a window into a future for counselling and psychotherapy that will be bad news for practitioners and clients alike.

The Derek Gale hearings continue on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays throughout March and into April and usually start at 10 am but check. The public are welcome, tell Ebony.Gayle@ you intend to show up.


1 I use psychodrama and drama therapy interchangeably in this report
2 Power Weather My account of a rape trial in 2004 on which I served on the jury extends many of the observations in this report.
3 72 lines of allegations disappeared, leaving 86 lines in the current HPC web page on the case
4 The stories in the Daily Mail and Evening Standard mostly referred to the list of allegations that had disappeared from the case.
5 Perhaps the lack of questioning was because they had already decided what the story was going to be. This item in the Evening Standard came at the end of the first day when the hearing had been adjourned after ten minutes.
6 The HPC have several versions of guilty:
If the panel finds the case to be well-founded, they will return to hear from those present about what action they should take. The panel will return to hear any statements on what they should do. The panel have the following options available.

1 take no further action;
2 impose (give) a caution order. This means that the word ‘caution’ will appear against the registrant’s name on the register. Caution orders can be between one and five years long.;
3 place some sort of restriction or conditions on the registrant’s registration. This is known as a ‘conditions of practice order’. This might include demanding that the registrant works under supervision or has further training;
4 suspend registration. This may not be for longer than one year; or
5 make a ‘striking-off order’. This means the registrant’s name is removed from the register.

7 - Métis a Greek God of wisdom but more usefully, a nuanced combination of the abilities needed to respond instantly in the moment to changing priorities and conditions that for example, sailing or gliding (or psychotherapy) require.

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This iconic Health Professions Council [HPC] fitness to practise hearing is the first to feature a UK psychotherapist, Derek Hirsh Gale. Mr Gale, a practitioner with a decades long practice, is defending himself against allegations of exploitation and abuse of power.
All I have is a voice to undo the folded lie.
W.H. Auden
eIpnosis is edited, maintained and © Denis Postle 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009

The State V Mr Gale
- the first three days
An eIpnosis Report by Denis Postle