Roebuck director defends fee structure

Irish Times/October 24, 2007

The director of Roebuck Consulting Ltd, formerly the Roebuck Counselling Centre, in Rathgar, Dublin, has defended its services after complaints by people unhappy about being asked for large sums of money upfront for counselling and life mentoring.

Speaking on RTÉ's Liveline programme yesterday, Bernie Purcell said it was a policy of the centre that fees were paid in advance. "We asked for a commitment of a year if people were going to come in and use the service," she said, adding that the annual fee was €3,300.

If someone wanted to come in for an hour, Roebuck was probably not the right service, she said. "We have designed a different way to do this work, and I would say a very successful way to do this work. We've been in business for 17 years. There are many, many people who have used our service and used it very successfully."

Ms Purcell accepted allegations that people had been asked for more than €3,000. She denied that one woman, Suzanne Campbell, was asked for €50,000 during an initial phone call with one of the centre's counsellors, Claire Hoban, who last week resigned from the centre's "life mentoring" programme following an investigation by The Irish Times.

Ms Purcell accepted that former client Des Martin paid close to €250,000 over a year, which was eventually refunded, but stressed he was availing of a life mentoring programme, not a counselling service.

Life mentoring programmes were for "high-asset individuals" and Mr Martin was in that category, she said.

Ms Purcell said clients would pay a specific amount and there would be an agreement regarding the return they expected. If the target return was not achieved, the money would be refunded.

Mr Martin had got his money back as soon as he requested it, she said. The practice was to hold the money in the Roebuck current account. "We give it back if they haven't made a sum agreed between the facilitator and the individual."

Ms Purcell said there were a number of people who had made "significant payments" who had been satisfied with the service they received at the centre.

Ms Purcell was contacted for further response by this newspaper yesterday but declined to comment, saying she would be doing interviews later in the week.

A spokesman for the National Association of Pastoral Counselling and Psychotherapy (NAPCP) which is the accrediting body for courses run at Roebuck Consulting Ltd, said yesterday the body was launching a "full-scale investigation" into activities at the centre.

NAPCP board member John Farrelly said they were encouraging anybody with a negative experience to write to them.

He is reopening the file on a case concerning a woman who complained to the NAPCP about the centre two years ago.

"If after this investigation we find our code of ethics has been breached, the instititution and the individuals involved will be struck off our register as soon as we can expedite the matter," he said.

Section 1.09(b) of the NAPCP's code of ethics states: "members do not engage in business or other financial affairs with clients."

In a statement yesterday the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP) said they wished to clarify that Roebuck Consulting Ltd was not part of their membership.

"As the largest professional body of counsellors and pyschotherapists in Ireland, we would like to remind the public of our commitment to highest standards of practice and protection of the public.

As our profession has not yet been regulated by the Government, there is no requirement to stop any individual practising as a counsellor or psychotherapist."

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