What is ethical practice in counseling? How is this reflected in the skills, competencies and qualities of an effective counselor?
Ethical practice within counselling is practice that adheres to a strict set of guidelines created for the purpose of ensuring patient and client safety as well as maximizing the overall outcome of the therapy sessions.
These guidelines are essential whether the counselling taking place is under a professional derestriction or between friends and acquaintances.
This essay aims to outline the importance of these ethical guidelines and the boundaries they create. It will also take a look at the skills and practices that counsellor’s use and develop to maintain theses boundaries safely and fairly.
The ethical framework s aim and purpose is to shape the practice of counselling into a safe, monitored and effective treatment. Due to the trust in place between client and practitioner, as well as the vulnerability of those seeking therapy, extra care has to be taken to protect their mental and physically well-being. The framework is also used to help with the clients understand of the treatment involved and allow the counselor to discuss session times and costs with ease.
‘Ownership and responsibility to practice ethically is an individual process’ British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (2013). Meaning that, although the ethical framework is essential to all counselling and therapy, the practices and skills used by the professionals within these sessions are put in place and used at their own discretion depending on the individual clients needs.
The first part of this essay will focus on some of the main points within the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy’s ethical framework and how they are maintained using particular practices and qualities.
One of the main ways that ethical counseling can be maintained is through the correct use of client counsellor boundaries. This practice can be relevant in professional and friendly counselling sessions. It is very important that the counsellor makes clear the boundaries between themselves and their client and also exactly what they entail. This can be session times and costs as well as their aims for the healing experience. This is essential to avoid confusion and upset later on in therapy. McLeod, J (2008) These boundaries are generally discussed and outlined during the first counseling session, although they may need to be discussed and adjusted at a later date. It is important to note that these boundaries are and can be different for every client. For example some may benefit from having the additional support of knowing they can contact their therapist outside of counselling sessions, whereas in some situations this may promote the individual in becoming far too reliant on the therapist and therefore prohibit them from making positive steps.
Another important boundary to made clear is that of what is being offered. This could be especially important when the counseling is happening between friends and nothing more than a listening ear is being offered. It is therefore necessary and common for a verbal agreement to take place to protect those concerned and to form a base for a trusting relationship to begin. McLeod, J (2008) Throughout time these boundaries will be pushed and stretched as the client relies and connects more with their therapist. It is therefore important that the therapist is not only kind and reassuring, but is self aware at both a personal and professional level as they will be required to recognise when boundaries are being overstepped and ensure that relationships do not occur or change because of personal interests.
In line with boundaries, at the end of each session a counsellor may request a statement of clarification from the client. This as well as summarizing can help confirm the end of session boundary and also ensure the client that the counsellor is trying to understand the situation as best they can.
As with boundaries, being trustworthy and therefore confidentiality is essential to create and maintain the client counsellor relationship regardless of whether it is occurring professionally or as friends.
Without the trust associated with confidentiality, successful therapy cannot occur, as a client will not talk freely about personal issues without that reassurance.
According to the framework laid out by British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (2013), all information shared in a counselling situation, should be kept strictly confidential at all times, except when the counsellor has evidence to make them believe that the clients or someone else’s safety is at risk. The acting therapist must however discuss the information with the individual to try and solve the issue without breaking trust. The sharing of information is therefore a last call motive to prevent harm when all other attempts at reason have been unsuccessful. It is important to note that the client/patient must be informed beforehand that their information is being/will be disclosed to the relevant persons.
Confidentiality is essential for creating integrity between the client and counsellor and in order for trust to develop at its maximum potential, it is important that the counsellor appears to be trust worthy and treats the client with the upmost respect. One way that a counsellor might encourage their patient to trust in them and feel at ease is through the common verbal communication called paraphrasing. Paraphrasing is a method used commonly amongst therapists that require the counsellor to briefly repeat the clients issue to get confirmation, reaffirm trust and also to allow the therapist to confirm tot the client that they are listening and trying to understand completely.
To maximize the results from therapy, counsellors are deterred from giving their clients advice. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (2013) framework states that it is rarely appropriate or advisable as a counsellor to give advice during therapeutic sessions and that it is much more advisable to encourage patients to develop their own advise or plans. This links in with another ethical principle within counselling that states that the clients should be encouraged to develop and use their own initiative and instincts. By encouraging this behavior, over time, the counsellor will find that the client’s confidence and rationality will rise.
Counsellors may use a variety of verbal and non-verbal communication skills to help their client/patient build upon their initiative and progress with their treatment.
One way that a therapist might encourage their patient to create their own advice and come to their own confusion is through the asking of open questions. Although it is important to remember that questions should be kept to a minimum throughout sessions, open questions may be necessary to nudge a client into exploring worries and certain activities further. McLeod, J (2008).
To be successful with asking the correct open questions, the counsellor would have to be very strong willed and honest to prevent them from asking questions to satisfy their own personal curiosity.
Non-maleficence/ Emotional and Mental Safety.
All of the ethical guides mentioned combined ensure the safety of the client and counsellor whilst maintaining their dignity. Client safety is paramount and it is essential that the client feel they can full express their emotional needs and feelings without fear of judgment, betrayal or ridicule. Two practices have been mentioned that can help build the relationship and trust between the client and counsellor. It is important during counselling sessions that the counsellor has some kind of input, whether verbal (Paraphrasing) or non-verbal aspects of listening such as eye contact or head movements. However, counsellors must take great care to adapt these practices and skills to suit each clients individuality as every person’s needs are different, for example a blind client would require more verbal s acknowledgements, whereas some people avoid direct eye contact. Therefore the counsellor should act with and encourage sincerity.
To see how important all of these ethical principles and practices are it is necessary to view the detrimental effect that bad unethical counselling may have on an individual. From the D171 Developing Counselling Skills DVD it is obvious to see the harm that the counsellors bad practice is having. From showing a lack of empathy, interest and sincerity, the counsellor is destroying patients’ confidence and self-esteem whilst abusing all trust. The effect on the patient is immediate and shows how even just the common courtesy of acknowledgement or reassurance can really make a difference to the mental stability of someone struggling. D171 Developing Counselling DVD (2008)
In conclusion, by being aware of the negative impact that counselling can so easily have upon a patient through negligence, it is necessary for ethics to be reflected and maintained within procedure to allow the effective treatment and practice of therapy. It is also important that counsellors skills and qualities reflect these ethics and are used in according with the guides to maximize the treatment standards.
British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (2013). Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy, http://www.bacp.co.uk/admin/structure/files/pdf/9479_ethical%20framework%20jan2013.pdf (Accessed 14/01/14).
McLeod, J (2008) Introduction to Counselling [Ed. D. Langdridge], Maidenhead/Milton Keynes, Open University Press/The Open University
The Open University (2008) D171 Developing Counselling Skills DVD, Milton
Keynes, The Open University.
Briefly set out how your own ethical beliefs, behaviours and values have developed and why they are important.
I think my behavior towards boundaries may have changed. It had never occurred to me how important boundaries are within counselling and psychotherapy and realistically I often find myself being ‘friends’ with people who have sought my help, when I may not have necessarily wanted to.
I will definitely aim to make my boundaries more clear in the future to minimize the risk of mixed signals. I think this is definitely important, as it is unfair to allow someone to believe they have closeness with an individual when they may in fact not. It is difficult however to maintain that distance when comforting someone who is clearly distressed and upset and in need of affection and comfort.
1) I definitely feel like I got to grips with the use of some of the counsellors practices, ie paraphrasing and open questions and I feel I can easily recognise when these are being used and when it would be suitable to use them. 2) I very much struggled with the main textbook. I am an avid reader and although I am used to reading very complex material, I found that the way the textbook was written did not agree with me in the slightest. I found it very difficult to absorb and extract the content and found that it made me enjoy this module much less than I thought I would.