Professional and Ethical Issues in Person-Centred Counselling

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Professional and Ethical Issues

Introduction

In order for counselling to be effective and purposeful it must be conducted in an ethical way. The very act of seeking counselling predisposes that the seeker is vulnerable/troubled and needs assurance that the main focus of counselling will be their well-being and promote for them a greater sense of autonomy, and not to serve any other purpose. Therefore the foundation of good counselling must be an ethical relationship, hence the need for an ethical framework. As Tim Bond (2010) states:

An ethical framework creates a basic conceptual structure within which we can all feel safe and supported to move around freely and make choices. There is enough of a structure to define the available choices and give a sense of distinguishing what is ethically acceptable from the unacceptable or unwise............the framework creates sufficient spaces.....where counsellors can position themselves in ways that fit a sense of personal and professional integrity and take into account the needs of clients (pg. 56).

In counselling there are five national organizations within Britain whose ethical requirements have been adopted as the minimum ethical standards for the profession. These organizations are:

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
Counselling Psychology Division of the British Psychological Society (BPS) Confederation of Scottish Counselling Agencies (COSCA)
Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (IACP)

The major professional organizations all stress these ethical concerns:

Client Safety – Professional Competence and Fitness to Practice – Respect for Differences in Lifestyles and Beliefs between Clients – Respect for Client Self-Determination – Prohibitions on Exploitation of Clients – Contracting – Confidentiality – Duty to Maintain the Profession’s Reputation.

The linchpin to all these concerns is the client. A lot of the content of ethical guidelines relates to the behaviour of the counsellor making it easy to lose sight of the client. However here the emphasis is how counsellor’s behaviour promotes respect for the client and shields them from harm.

In the counselling relationship boundaries are very pertinent when it comes to working ethically. They protect both counsellor and client. An example is the issue of touch. As Jane Tolan (2009) states:

Potentially, touching a client crosses an important boundary and muddies the clear waters between counsellor and other relationships such as friendship. Some counsellors hug their clients regularly. What are they wishing to communicate? What are they actually communicating? Is it possible for a client to reject the hug? Is it possible for a counsellor not to hug a client once it has become part of the ritual of the session? (pg. 152)

Hugging a client can complicate the counsellor/client relationship. A lot can be misconstrued or even assumed. Because the counsellor is in a position of power a client may feel unable to express their feelings on physical contact, resulting in their being frightened, their space being invaded or even feeling abused. Touching, while offering comfort, blocks the ability of a client to work through feeling of pain, isolation, distress etc., thus disturbing their process. As Jane Tolan (2009) concludes:

Appropriate counsellor decisions arise always from the therapeutic conditions. From the very first moments with a client, the counsellor’s full awareness of her own part in the relationship is important. She has considerable power in those moments: she knows the rules because she has introduced them. She knows what counselling is about because she is the one with the training. If she is not aware of her power, she will not be able to share it or give it away appropriately.......the person centred counsellor tries to hear the uncertainties and questions implicit in the...
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