Ethics and Practice for Counsellors and Psychotherapists
TABLE OF CONTENTS (click on the item of your choice)
Status of this Code
This is the Code of Ethics of APCP and applies to all members as of 1st June 2010 (last reviewed in September, 2013).
The purpose of this code is to establish and maintain standards for members, who are members of APCP and to inform and protect members of the public seeking and using their services.
All members of this Association are required to abide by existing codes as may be appropriate to them. They thereby accept a common frame of reference within which to manage their responsibilities to clients, colleagues, members of the Association and the wider community. Whilst this code cannot resolve all ethical and practice related issues, it aims to provide a framework for addressing ethical issues and to encourage optimum levels of practice. Members will need to judge which parts of this code to apply to particular situations. They may also have to decide between conflicting responsibilities.
This Association has a Complaints Procedure that can lead to the expulsion of members for breaches of its Codes of Ethics & Conduct.
This code applies to all members and member types of APCP.
The code of Ethics outlines the fundamental values of counselling and psychotherapy and a number of general principles arising from these. This code also bears cognisance to the key ethical principles of:
- Beneficence and Nonmaleficence
- Fidelity and Responsibility
- Respect and Dignity
Although these principles may be seen as aspirational in nature, they are the guiding principles for those in the practice of counselling and psychotherapy.
The Nature of Counselling/Psychotherapy
The overall aim of both counselling and psychotherapy is to provide an opportunity for the client to work towards living in a more satisfying and resourceful way. The scope of both ‘counselling’ and ‘psychotherapy’ includes work with individuals, pairs or groups of people, often, but not always, referred to as ‘clients’. The objectives of particular therapeutic relationships will vary according to the client’s needs.
Counselling and psychotherapy may be concerned with developmental issues, addressing and resolving specific problems, making decisions, coping with crisis, developing personal insight and knowledge, working through feelings of inner conflict or improving relationships with others. The counsellor’s/psychotherapist’s role is to facilitate the client’s ways of functioning in ways, which respect the client’s values, personal resources and capacity for self-determination. APCP recognises that Counselling & Psychotherapy can take different forms including directive and non- directive approaches.
Only when both the user and the recipient explicitly agree to enter into a therapeutic relationship does it become either counselling or psychotherapy rather than the use of ‘counselling or psychotherapeutic skills’. Members who are acting in a management role should note these differences.
It is challenging to make a generally accepted distinction between counselling and psychotherapy. There are well-founded traditions, which use the terms interchangeably. Regardless of the theoretical approaches preferred by individual Counsellors and Psychotherapists, there are ethical issues, which are common to all counselling situations.
Ethical Practice & Competence
Counselling and Psychotherapy are fundamentally non-exploitative in nature. Both areas of practice are underpinned by basic values of integrity, impartiality, and respect. Counsellors and Psychotherapists should take the same degree of care to work ethically whether the work is paid, voluntary or work related.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists do not condone, engage in discrimination or refuse professional service to anyone on the basis of race, gender, religion, national origin, age, sexual orientation, disability, and socioeconomic or marital status. Counsellors and Psychotherapists make reasonable efforts to accommodate clients who have physical disabilities.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists shall take all reasonable steps to monitor and develop their own competence and to work within the limits of that competence. The Association recognises the inherent value of appropriate and on-going professional supervision/consultative support and continuing professional development for those engaged in practice.
Issues of Responsibility to the Client
The therapist-client relationship is the foremost ethical concern, but it does not exist in social isolation. For this reason, the Counsellors and Psychotherapists’ responsibilities to the client, to themselves, colleagues, and other members of the Association and members of the wider community are listed under separate headings.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should take all reasonable steps to ensure that the client suffers neither physical nor psychological harm during counselling and psychotherapy.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists do not normally give advice but this may depend on the role of the counsellor i.e. advocacy.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists are aware of their professional and clinical responsibilities to provide consistent care to clients and do not abandon or neglect clients. Counsellors and Psychotherapists therefore, maintain practices and procedures that assure undisrupted care. Such practices and procedures may include, but are not limited to, providing contact information and specified procedures in case of emergency, or therapist absence and conducting appropriate terminations.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists are responsible for working in ways, which promote the client’s control over his/her life, and respect the client’s ability to make decisions and change in the light of his/her own beliefs and values.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists do not normally act on behalf of their clients. If they do, it will be only at the express request of the client, or else in exceptional circumstances.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists are responsible for setting and monitoring boundaries between the counselling relationship and any other kind of relationship and making this explicit to the client.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists must not exploit clients financially, sexually, emotionally, or in any other way. Sexual intercourse, sexual contact or sexual intimacy with a client, or a client’s spouse or partner, during the therapeutic relationship, or during the two years following the termination of the therapeutic relationship, is unethical.
Clients should be offered privacy for counselling sessions. The client should not be observed by anyone other than his/her counsellor(s) without having given his/her informed consent. This also applies to audio/video taping of counselling sessions.
Any publicity material and all written and oral information should reflect accurately the nature of the service on offer, and the training, qualifications and relevant experience of the counsellor and psychotherapist and must show their APCP membership reference number.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should take all reasonable steps to honour undertakings offered in their pre-session details and information.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists inform clients of the extent of their availability for emergencies and for contacts between sessions.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists obtain written informed consent from their clients before videotaping, audio recording, or permitting third party observation.
When therapy occurs by electronic means, Counsellors and Psychotherapists inform clients of the potential risks and benefits, including but not limited to issues of confidentiality, clinical limitations, transmission difficulties and ability to respond to emergencies.
Clear contracting enhances and shows respect for the client’s autonomy.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists are responsible for communicating the term(s) on which counselling is being offered, including insurance provisions in place, accreditation, complaints procedures, availability, the degree of confidentiality offered, and their expectations of clients regarding fees, cancelled appointments and any other significant matters. The communication of terms and any negotiations over these should be concluded before the client incurs any financial liability.
It is the client’s choice whether or not to participate in counselling. Reasonable steps should be taken in the course of the counselling relationship to ensure that the client is given an opportunity to review the terms on which counselling is being offered and the methods counselling being used.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should avoid unnecessary conflicts of interest and are expected to make explicit to the client any relevant conflicts of interest.
If records of therapeutic sessions are kept, clients should be made aware of this. At the client’s request information should be given about access to these records, their availability to other people and the degree of security with which they are kept. The relevant data protection legislation takes precedence here.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists have a responsibility to establish with clients what other therapeutic or helping relationships are current. Counsellors and Psychotherapists should gain the client’s permission before conferring with other professional workers. Counsellors and Psychotherapists consult, associate, collaborate with, and refer to physicians, other health care professionals, and community resources in order to improve and protect the health and welfare of the client and may seek this approval when contracting with a client.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should be aware of the provisions of the freedom of information act as it applies to them and other relevant legislation.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should monitor actively the limitations of their own competence (through counselling supervision/consultative support, and by seeking the views of their clients and other Counsellors and Psychotherapists) Counsellors and Psychotherapists should work within their own known limits.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should not counsel when their functioning is impaired due to personal or emotional difficulties, illness, disability, alcohol and drug use or for any other reason.
It is an indication of the competence of Counsellors and Psychotherapists when they recognise their inability to counsel a client or clients and make appropriate referrals. Counsellors and Psychotherapists only continue a relationship so long as it is beneficial to the client in a therapeutic sense.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists assist persons in obtaining other therapeutic services If a therapist is unable or unwilling to provide professional help, then there is an expressed obligation on the therapist to refer the client, e.g. Other Therapists, Medical Doctors, Dieticians, etc.
End of Contract – Termination of Counselling
Counsellors and Psychotherapists assist patients when terminating relationships by making reasonable arrangements for continuation of necessary treatment, if it is applicable.
It is ethical to terminate a client for non payment of fees provided referrals to other agencies are provided.
Responsibilities to self and other professionals
To Self as Therapist:
Counsellors and Psychotherapists have a responsibility to themselves and their clients to maintain their own effectiveness, resilience and ability to help clients. They are expected to monitor their own personal functioning and to seek help and/or withdraw from counselling, whether temporarily or permanently, when their personal resources are sufficiently depleted to require this.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should have received degree level training before commencing counselling, and must maintain on-going professional development
Counsellors and Psychotherapists are obliged to review periodically their need for professional indemnity insurance.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should take all reasonable steps to ensure their own physical safety.
To other Counsellors and Psychotherapists:
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should not conduct themselves in their counselling-related activities in ways, which undermine public confidence in either, their role as a counsellor or psychotherapist or in the work of other Counsellors and Psychotherapists.
If a practitioner suspects misconduct by another counsellor that cannot be resolved or remedied after discussion with the counsellor concerned, they should implement the Complaints Procedure, doing so without breaches of confidentiality other than those necessary for investigating the complaint through APCP.
To Colleagues and Members of Caring Professions:
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should be accountable for their services to colleagues, employers and funding bodies as appropriate. The means of achieving this should be consistent with respecting the needs and rights of the client.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists are encouraged to increase their colleagues’ understanding of the counselling role. No colleague or significant member of the caring professions should be led to believe that a service is being offered by the counsellor which is not, as this may deprive the client of the offer of such a service from elsewhere.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should accept their part in exploring and resolving conflicts of interest between themselves and their agencies, especially where this has implications for the client.
To the Wider Community
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should work within the law. To this end where they are unsure of their obligations in regard to the law they should contact the APCP legal representative for advice and guidance.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should take all reasonable steps to be aware of current legislation affecting the work of the counsellor. A counsellor or psychotherapist’s ignorance of the law is no defence against legal liability.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists will take all reasonable steps to take account of the client’s social context.
Supervision/Consultative Support & on–going Training and Formation
Professional supervision/consultative support refers to a formal arrangement, which enables Counsellors and Psychotherapists to discuss their counselling regularly with one or more people who have an understanding of counselling and counselling supervision/consultative support. Its purpose is to ensure the efficacy of the therapist-client relationship. It is a confidential relationship.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists who have line managers owe them appropriate managerial accountability for their work. The counselling supervisor role should be independent of the line or manager role.
Where a Counsellor or Psychotherapist recognises or is in doubt that they need supervision in regard to a specific case they are obliged to seek and put in place such supervision.
Whenever possible, the discussion of the cases within supervision/consultative support should take place without revealing the personal identity of the client.
APCP will put in place a variety of topics related conference days on an annual basis. Members must attend at least two workshops in a twelve-month period to develop expertise in new areas. This is a specific requirement of membership.
Clients, Colleagues and Others
Confidentiality is a means of providing the client with safety and privacy. For this reason any limitation on the degree of confidentiality offered is likely to diminish the usefulness of counselling.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists treat with confidence personal information about clients, whether obtained directly or indirectly or by inference. Such information includes name, address, biographical details, and other descriptions of the client’s life and circumstances, which might result in identification of the client.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should within their agreed agreement with their clients abide by such confidentiality terms as have been agreed.
Exceptional circumstances may arise which give the counsellor or psychotherapist good grounds for believing that the client will cause serious physical harm to others or themselves, or have harm caused to him/her. In such circumstances the client’s consent to a change in the agreement about confidentiality should be sought whenever possible unless there are also good grounds for believing the client is no longer able to take responsibility for his/her own actions. Wherever possible, the decision to break confidentiality agreed between a counsellor or psychotherapist and client should be made only after consultation with a counselling supervisor or an experienced counsellor.
Any breach of confidentiality should be minimized both by restricting the information conveyed to that which is pertinent to the immediate situation and to those persons who can provide the help required by the client. The ethical considerations involve balancing between acting in the best interests of the client and in ways which enable clients to resume taking responsibility for their actions, a very high priority for Counsellors and Psychotherapists, and their responsibility to the wider community.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should take all responsible steps to communicate clearly the extent of the confidentiality they are offering to clients. This should normally be made clear in pre-counselling information or initial contracting.
If Counsellors and Psychotherapists include consultations with colleagues and others within the confidential relationship, this should be stated to the client at the beginning of counselling.
Care must be taken to ensure that personally identifiable information is not transmitted through overlapping networks of confidential relationships. For this reason, it is good practice to avoid identifying specific clients during counselling supervision/consultative support and other consultations, unless there are sound reasons for doing so.
Any agreement between the counsellor and client about confidentiality may be reviewed and changed by joint negotiations.
Confidentiality agreements continue after the client’s death unless there are overriding legal or ethical considerations.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists hold different views about whether or not a client expressing serious suicidal intentions forms sufficient grounds for breaking confidentiality. Counsellors and Psychotherapists should consider their own views and practice and communicate them to the client and any significant others where appropriate.
Special care is required when writing about specific counselling situations for case studies, reports or publication. It is important that the author either has the client’s informed consent, or effectively disguises the client’s identity.
Any discussion between the counsellor or psychotherapist and others should be purposeful and not trivialising.
Confidentiality in the Legal Process
Generally speaking, there is no legal duty to give information spontaneously or on request until instructed to do so by a court. Refusal to answer Gardai questions is not an offence, although lying could be. In general terms, the only circumstances in which the Gardai can require an answer about a client, and when refusal to answer would be an offence, relate to the prevention of terrorism. It is good practice to ask Garda personnel to clarify their legal right to an answer before refusing to give one.
Withholding information about a crime that one knows has been committed or is about to be committed is not an offence, save exceptionally. Anyone hearing of terrorist activities should immediately take legal advice.
There is no legal obligation to answer a solicitor’s enquiry or to make a statement for the purpose of legal proceedings, unless ordered to do so by a court.
There is no legal obligation to attend court at the request of parties involved in a case, or at the request of their lawyers, until a witness summons or subpoena is issued to require attendance to answer questions or produce documents.
Once in the witness box, there is a duty to answer questions when instructed to do so by the court. Refusal to answer could be punished as contempt of court unless there are legal grounds for not doing so. (It has been held that communications between the counsellor and client during an attempt at “reconciliation” in matrimonial cases are privileged and thus do not require disclosure unless the client waives his privilege. This does not seem to apply to other kinds of cases.)
The Gardai have powers to seize confidential files if they have obtained a warrant from a circuit judge. Obstructing the Gardai from taking them in these circumstances may be an offence.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should seek legal advice and/or contact this Association if they are in any doubt about their legal rights and obligations before acting in ways which conflict with their agreement with clients who are directly affected.
When announcing counselling services, Counsellors and Psychotherapists should limit the information to name, relevant qualifications, address, telephone number, hours available, and a brief listing of the services offered.
All such announcements should be accurate in every particular.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should distinguish between membership of this Association and accredited practitioner status in their public statements. In particular, the former should not be used to imply the latter.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists should not display an affiliation with an organisation in a manner that falsely implies the sponsorship or verification of that organization.
The use of personally identifiable material gained from clients or by the observation of counselling should be used only after the client has given consent, usually in writing, and care has been taken to ensure that consent was given freely.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists conducting research should use their data accurately and restrict their conclusions to that compatible with their methodology.
Resolving Conflicts between Ethical Priorities
Counsellors and Psychotherapists will, from time to time, find themselves caught between conflicting ethical principles. In these circumstances, they are urged to consider the particular situation in which they find themselves and to discuss the situation with their counselling supervisor and/or other experienced Counsellors and Psychotherapists. Even after conscientious consideration of the salient issues, some ethical dilemmas cannot be resolved easily or wholly satisfactorily.
Ethical issues may arise which have not yet been given full consideration. Where this arises APCP will put in place forums to examine and bring forward position papers in regard to such issues.
Complaints and disciplinary procedures
APCP has in place a comprehensive complaints and disciplinary procedure which was put in place in June 2010 and is reviewed annually.
All members of APCP will be bound by such procedures.
Counsellors and Psychotherapists who are members of APCP must inform Clients that a complaint procedure exists within the Association.
The complaints and disciplinary procedure may allow APCP to suspend or expel a member.
The complaints and disciplinary procedures will have clear rules of engagement and appeal and will be governed by legal principles and by natural justice.See our Complaints and Disciplinary Procedures page