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Discuss the requirements and responsibilities

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This essay will discuss the requirements and responsibilities placed upon counsellors by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) ethical framework (BACP, 2009), a document which all practicing members must agree to abide by. The framework will be covered systematically, alongside an assessment of how it may function to protect the interests of both clients and counsellors. The framework is split into three sections:

1) The ethics themselves, divided into; Values, Principles and Personal Moral Qualities.
2) Guidance on good practice in counselling and psychotherapy 3) The professional conduct procedure.

Values
This section consists of several statements which represent commitments a counsellor is expected to make to ensure ethical practice (e.g. increasing personal effectiveness). These statements are clearly unenforceable due to their abstract nature, but provide a useful starting point for ethical practice. They consist of overarching aims which all practitioners are expected to hold as values. These fundamental values reflect the basic tenets of most, if not all, forms of counselling and psychotherapy. In particular, some of the basic elements of person centred counselling (PCC) are shown here, such as the core conditions (Rogers, 1957). Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR) can be seen in points one, eight and nine, congruence in point two and the role of empathy in fostering a sense of self can be seen in point six (BACP, 2009).

However, the framework provides ethical guidance for many forms of counselling and psychotherapy; as such these values provide counsellors with the ability to act more freely with regards to individual clients, whilst maintaining good practice and ethical thinking across disciplines- a necessary step in avoiding an ineffectual code (Beauchamp & Childress, 1994). Personally, these values represent my, and I suspect many others’ reasons for entering counselling. The alleviating of distress and fostering of a real sense of self, coupled with a deep respect for the variety of human life are driving forces for me, which help me to act in an ethical manner, but do not prescribe the actions I take to ensure such ethical practice. As such, the framework also contains ethical principles which are informed by these values.

Principles
Principles act as the link between general values and actual practice. It is the practitioner’s responsibility to hold these principles in mind when ethically challenging situations arise in order to deal with them simply and ethically. However, situations may arise which require a practitioner to select one principle over another. This allows ethical diversity and avoids an “ethical straightjacket” which a single principle would produce (Sutherland et al., 2003). There are six principles which inform general practice. Those which I feel are of the most importance to successful ethical practice will be considered here: Fidelity- This principle requires that the practitioner act appropriately in terms of client confidentiality. As proposed by Thompson (1990), this principle protects the client’s identity and personal issues from being shared. However, it is this principle which is most often undermined by the others, in situations where the safety of the client or other people may be threatened.

The setting of boundaries early on in a relationship during contracting can help to alleviate the need to breach confidentiality by informing the client of possible reasons to do so. Autonomy- Opposed to the manipulation of client choice, this principle encourages the view that clients can make decisions for themselves, reflecting person centred thinking (Rogers, 1951). This is achieved practically by informing the client of methods of working and contracting. Beyond the protection this offers the client, it also serves an important role in protecting the counsellor; by ensuring a client is aware of any future conflict which may arise as soon as possible, the counsellor is able to avoid potential complaints. For me, this is one of the most important principles in ethically challenging situations such as suicide. In instances such as this, the importance that the therapist places on client autonomy could well determine the client’s actions.

Whilst some may act to prevent suicide, others who hold autonomy to be important will work with the client’s feelings with acceptance, exploring them, rather than attempting to change them. It is worthy of note that the reference to contracting in this section is the only use of the word in the entire framework, which I feel represents a fundamental error on the part of BACP, especially given the findings of BACP’s own advisory board (2003 cited in Hill & Jones, 2003) which showed a largely disproportional number of counsellor dilemmas were in reference to contracting.

Non-Maleficence- Similar to beneficence, this involves the avoidance of any practice which may lead to harm coming to a client. An example of this being sexual exploitation, which can begin with little awareness from the counsellor (Russell, 1993) and as such, is important for the framework to acknowledge. Interestingly however, there is no set ruling in the current framework with regards to sexual interaction with former clients, which many would consider to be a form of abuse. I believe that leaving such a contentious issue as a grey area constitutes a serious risk to client welfare in cases where potentially damaging relationships begin. Non-maleficence also requires that a counsellor be able to act appropriately when client harm is unavoidable, in order to mitigate the damage, and to challenge incompetence from other sources which may also cause client harm. In this manner, a united front can be held by counsellors against client harm, which protects not only the client and counsellor but also the discipline of counselling as a whole.

Self-Respect- As intended by Thompson (1990) the principle of self-respect (or self-interest) is the application of the above principles to the self. This entails the attendance of supervision, and willingness to attend personal counselling to aid with outstanding issues. By encouraging both the professional side of personal growth (supervision, insurance etc.) and the personal side (engagement in “life-enhancing activities” outside of counselling) this principle helps to ensure that counsellors are healthy and protected, so that their clients can benefit most from therapy. Given the importance that supervision plays in the profession, I believe this principle to be one of the most important aspects in ensuring that therapists are fit to practice. By applying all six principles together, the values which underlie counselling and psychotherapy can directly guide how practitioners work. They also allow for the various forms of counselling to be united with a common purpose, as stated by Tim Bond, “Principles act as a metaphorical bridgehead between the different disciplines of moral philosophy and counselling” (2000, pg. 48).

Personal Moral Qualities
Thirdly in this section of the code are the personal moral qualities. They represent the qualities which a counsellor will ideally have if they are practicing with clients (e.g. sincerity, empathy). Whilst the code itself states that; “It is inappropriate to prescribe that all practitioners possess these qualities” (BACP, 2009), they are nonetheless important factors for a counsellor to aspire to. The previous two sections discussed the responsibilities a counsellor has with regards to clients, but this section notes that these qualities cannot be requirements of an external authority and must be rooted within the counsellor if they are to be of any use. To me, this section represents one of the major difficulties present in ensuring ethical practice. The moral qualities which a counsellor holds will guide how they act, and are therefore one of the most important factors in protecting a client’s interests. This demonstrates a personal approach to ethics where “virtues” are touted as most important whereas the principles seem to take a more teleological or outcome-based approach. Although this allows for a joining of ethical perspectives it could cause confusion by suggesting different approaches to ethical decision making in the same situation.

Guidance on good practice

This section comes closest to defining “rules” for practitioners to follow, as it states examples of how to act in particular situations. It is this section which places more defined requirements upon practitioners rather than remaining in the abstract, although many of the examples are rewordings of the values and principles already mentioned, given more concrete form.

This section takes into account the myriad forms of counselling and psychotherapy which conform to these ethical standards. As such, the guidelines cover working alone and in an organization, working as a teacher within the profession and working with other practitioners. These guidelines are designed to aid practitioners in providing and maintaining the best service they can for clients. This ensures that the interests of both parties are considered throughout. The first element of this section is entitled “providing a good standard of practice and care” and covers record keeping by the practitioner, awareness of one’s limitations and the appropriate action to take, the importance of being accountable for any dual relationships with clients and general responsibilities the practitioner has for maintaining client wellbeing and trust. The focus of this element is on keeping the practitioner’s knowledge and skills up to date, and ensuring that the client is fully informed of all important decisions made regarding them.

Also covered are examples of ethical dilemmas such as risk of client harm vs. Client confidentiality. Whilst specific answers to these dilemmas are not given, advice pertaining to appropriate action is. For example, in the aforementioned case, seeking out supervision or other experienced practitioners as quickly as possible in order to best serve the client’s interests. This raises an interesting point with regards to accountability for client welfare, as it is the counsellor who has the burden of care, yet in many cases it is their supervisor who is responsible for informing relevant action.

However, this ethical responsibility for client wellbeing is not reinforced by legal requirements (Jenkins, 2001) which could potentially jeopardise client and counsellor well-being. The second element of this section is entitled “working with colleagues” and provides advice with regards to working in teams and making/receiving referrals. The importance of this element can be seen when practitioner limitations arise, as the swift provision of a more suitable practitioner is vital for vulnerable clients. This places even more importance upon supervision, as limitations are not necessarily noticed by the counsellor if self-awareness itself is lacking (Jones et al., 2000).

Formal professional conduct procedure
This section of the ethical framework informs the client and counsellor of how to proceed with a complaint in terms of the procedures it entails. This allows a client to air any misgivings they may have with an ineffectual or abusive counsellor, fulfilling a vital role in client protection. For many counsellors who are involved in professional complaints, this is their first interaction with the ethical framework and as such it has been noted that contact with the framework has often been distressing for counsellors (Mearns & Thorne, 2000). This criticism is understandable given the lack of enforcement present for the framework, leading to a situation in which counsellors are expected to conform to the framework in order to avoid a sword of Damocles in the form of this procedure rather than being encouraged to perform at their best; a distinctly behaviourist notion.

Conclusion
The ethical framework informs counsellors’ good practice, and outlines those qualities which they should aspire to hold. This protects the counsellor’s interests by informing underlying ethical thinking and providing admittedly abstract guidance in ethically challenging situations. Clients are also protected by this framework as it helps to provide them with the best service possible through its instruction of counsellor ethics. It also enables them to safely and confidently make a complaint when they feel it is necessary, thus maintaining some equality in the therapeutic relationship. Whilst the framework itself does not place any stringent requirements or responsibilities upon a therapist in terms of set “rules,” the agreement by practitioners to follow the framework fulfils the purpose of protecting both client and counsellor, allowing the counsellor freedom to interpret the framework themselves, whilst keeping them aware of the consequences that poor practice entails.

Although this lack of direct rules may seem to be an optimistic method of encouraging ethical practice (a criticism of PCC itself (May, 1982)), it allows therapists to practice as intended by their discipline as opposed to the institutionalised “drones” which are often warned against in published research (Hill & Jones, 2003). It also serves to avoid the pitfalls of previous frameworks which were “authoritative, prescriptive and narrow (in their) focus on responsibilities to the client” (Sutherland et al., 2003, pg. 110) by allowing some freedom to counsellors. Given the long-standing criticism of professionalization in counselling literature (e.g. Murgatroyd, 1985) and the more recent claims of “moving towards the darker side of the current zeitgeist” (Mearns & Thorne, 2000, pg 52), the move towards regulation via the HPC may seem to be a dangerous or even counterproductive step.

However, in order to properly protect all clients the profession must provide a service which can be monitored and enforced. Whilst the reliance upon supervision for ethical dilemmas and the use of a complaint procedure for enforcement are not ideal, they are currently the only widely accepted methods of monitoring a profession which is entering a period of potential upheaval. It remains to be seen what will become of the framework when regulation occurs.

References
BACP (2003) EPN Newsletter 2002/3. Rugby: British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Cited in Hill, Derek and Jones, Caroline (2003). Forms of Ethical Thinking in Therapeutic Practice. Berkshire: Open University Press. BACP (2009). Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy. Rugby: BACP. Beauchamp, T. L. and Childress, J. F. (1994). Principles of Biomedical Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press. Bell, D. (2002). Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth. London: Bloomsbury. Bond, T. (2000). Standards and Ethics for Counselling in Action. (2nd Ed.) London: Sage. Buber, M. (1958). I and Thou. Translated by R. G. Smith. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. Confederation of Scottish Counselling Agencies (COSCA). (1996). Statement of Ethics and Code of Practice. Confederation of Scottish Counselling Agencies: Stirling. Hill, D. and Jones, C. (2003). Forms of Ethical Thinking in Therapeutic Practice. Berkshire: Open University Press. Jenkins, P. (2001). Supervisory responsibility and the Law. In: S. Wheeler and D. King (eds) Supervising Counsellors: Issues of Responsibility. London: Sage. Ch. 2 Jones, C., Shillito-Clarke, C., Syme, G., Hill, D., Casemore, R. and Murdin, L. (2000). Questions of Ethics in Counselling and Therapy. Buckingham: Open University Press. Lawton, B. and Feltham, C. (2000). Taking Supervision Forward: Enquiries and Trends in Counselling and Psychotherapy. London: Sage. May, R. (1982). “The Problem of Evil: An Open Letter to Carl Rogers.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology. Vol. 22 (3). Pg. 10-21. Mearns, D. and Thorne, B. (2000). Person-Centred Therapy Today: New Frontiers in Theory and Practice. London: Sage. Murgatroyd, S. (1985). Counselling and Helping. Leicester: British Psychological Society. Rogers, C. R. (1951). Client-Centered Therapy. London: Constable. Rogers, C. R. (1957). “The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change.” Journal of Consulting Psychology. Vol. 21. Pg. 95-103. Russell, J. (1993). Out of
Bounds: Sexual Exploitation in Counselling and Therapy. London: Sage. Sutherland, R., Claxton, G. and Pollard, A. (2003). Teaching and Learning Where Worldviews Meet. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books. Thompson A. (1990). Guide to ethical practice in psychotherapy. New York; John Wiley.

Bibliography
BACP (2003) EPN Newsletter 2002/3. Rugby: British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. Cited in Hill, Derek and Jones, Caroline (2003). Forms of Ethical Thinking in Therapeutic Practice. Berkshire: Open University Press. BACP (2009). Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy. Rugby: BACP. Beauchamp, T. L. and Childress, J. F. (1994). Principles of Biomedical Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press. Bell, D. (2002). Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth. London: Bloomsbury. Bond, T. (2000). Standards and Ethics for Counselling in Action. (2nd Ed.) London: Sage. Buber, M. (1958). I and Thou. Translated by R. G. Smith. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark. Confederation of Scottish Counselling Agencies (COSCA). (1996). Statement of Ethics and Code of Practice. Confederation of Scottish Counselling Agencies: Stirling. Cooper, M. (2008). Essential Research Findings in Counselling and Psychotherapy: The Facts are Friendly. London: Sage. Hill, D. and Jones, C. (2003). Forms of Ethical Thinking in Therapeutic Practice. Berkshire: Open University Press. Jenkins, P. (2001). Supervisory responsibility and the Law. In: S. Wheeler and D. King (eds) Supervising Counsellors: Issues of Responsibility. London: Sage. Ch. 2 Jones, C., Shillito-Clarke, C., Syme, G., Hill, D., Casemore, R. and Murdin, L. (2000). Questions of Ethics in Counselling and Therapy. Buckingham: Open University Press. Lawton, B. and Feltham, C. (2000). Taking Supervision Forward: Enquiries and Trends in Counselling and Psychotherapy. London: Sage. May, R. (1982). “The Problem of Evil: An Open Letter to Carl Rogers.” Journal of Humanistic Psychology. Vol. 22 (3). Pg. 10-21. Mearns, D. and Cooper, M. (2005). Working at Relational Depth in Counselling and Psychotherapy. London: Sage. Mearns, D. and Thorne, B. (1999). Person-Centred Counselling in Action. (2nd ed). London: Sage. Mearns, D. and Thorne, B. (2000). Person-Centred Therapy Today: New Frontiers in Theory and Practice. London: Sage. Murgatroyd, S. (1985). Counselling and Helping. Leicester: British Psychological Society. Rogers,
C. R. (1951). Client-Centered Therapy. London: Constable. Rogers, C. R. (1957). “The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change.” Journal of Consulting Psychology. Vol. 21. Pg. 95-103. Rogers, C. R. (1967). On Becoming a Person. London: Constable and Company. Russell, J. (1993). Out of Bounds: Sexual Exploitation in Counselling and Therapy. London: Sage. Sutherland, R., Claxton, G. and Pollard, A. (2003). Teaching and Learning Where Worldviews Meet. Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books. Thompson A. (1990). Guide to ethical practice in psychotherapy. New York; John Wiley.

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