Ethics in Counselling Research

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Ethical guidelines for researching counseling

1. Trustworthiness

The distinctive ethical dimension of the counseling practice is the trust placed by clients in practitioners. This trust is not only essential to achieving the client’s aspirations but also for the practitioner to establish the quality of relationship and interaction that makes the work possible. Counseling and psychotherapy require a high level of frankness on the part the client. The client needs to feel able to tell the truth, as he or she understands it, without withholding information merely because it is personally sensitive or discredits the speaker. Trust is also required to face the uncertainties and sense of personal vulnerability that may be involved in the counseling and psychotherapeutic process. It is part of the practitioner’s responsibility to be sufficiently trustworthy to enable constructive working relationships with clients. Trust requires a quality of relationship between service user and provider that is sufficient to withstand any challenges arising from inequality, difference, uncertainty and risk in their work together. Ethical researchers not only take account of the quality of trust required to make counseling and psychotherapy possible but also seek the highest possible levels of trustworthiness and integrity for themselves with regard to :the relationship with the people being researched and all other people involved directly in the research. Those responsible must be satisfied they have taken all reasonable steps to protect the dignity and rights of participants and to manage any risks to their safety or wellbeing. ‘For example, the implications of monitoring client ‘non-attendances’ may be adequately addressed within the usual supervision of practice arrangements. Similarly, the use of externally validated instruments may be adequately considered within counseling or psychotherapy supervision, unless they are considered likely to be problematic to clients in ways that require additional consultations. An ethic of trustworthiness sets a high standard. It requires the careful consideration of ethical issues at the appropriate time. It also requires that the appropriate actions be taken in order to justify the trust placed in the researcher(s) by all participants involved in the research and those affected by its outcome. This is a particularly challenging ethic in situations where there are differences in culture or power and status. It requires an active sense of ethical responsibility that is best supported by a commitment to openness and accountability throughout the research process.

2 Managing the risks of research

All researchers in this field are expected to have given careful consideration to any risks arising from the research with regard to the people potentially affected, and the integrity of the work undertaken. A tension may exist between these two aspects of research. For example, the research design may arguably be strengthened by deliberately withholding information from participants or misleading them as to the purpose of the research. Such practices are usually incompatible with an ethic of trust and contrary to other ethical approaches to research involving human subjects. Reasonable steps should be taken to control and eliminate all adverse risks to participants. Before undertaking any kind of research, the researcher should consult someone who is independent of the research and competent to identify both any potential risks to participants and also whether these have been adequately taken into account in the research design. Consultations with user groups, sponsors or host institutions may be appropriate and can strengthen the risk assessment of the proposed research. A commitment to avoiding harm to research participants may require the provision of additional support or remedial services as an integral part of the research design. Whenever unavoidable risks are identified, the researcher should...
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