This week we were exploring the features of safe practise, using the BACP’s Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions.

The BACP’s Ethical framework is necessary to maintain the integrity of the counselling and psychotherapy professions. Everything in the framework protects the entirety of both the client and practitioner, and allows the provision of a safe working environment in which the client can explore themselves, come to understand who they are, and ultimately, hopefully, heal. Also, because counselling and psychotherapy involve such challenging ethical situations and difficult moral dilemmas; the BACP’s Ethical framework is an invaluable tool which can be used as a reference point for providing the solutions to these problems.

From studying the BACP’s Ethical framework for the Counselling Professions, this is what I have learned about the four terms we were asked to define:

Ethical – The BACP’s Ethical Framework is made up of three parts. The Ethics part is comprised of the values, principles and personal moral qualities that underpin and inform the interpretation of the other two parts, which are “Our commitment to clients” and “Good practise”. There is also a conclusion in “Ethics” which states that the Ethical Framework is designed to help practitioners by directing attention to the numerous ethical factors that may need to be taken into consideration when making difficult decisions or acting with courage, and it also identifies alternate ways of approaching ethics that could prove more fruitful.

Values are a useful way of expressing general ethical commitments that underpin the reasons why we want to help people. Principles are important responsibilities that we can use to resolve ethical decisions. As I wrote in my reflective diary entry for this lesson, I feel that ethics are mostly shades of grey, and this is reflected in the Conclusion, in that it states “No statement of ethics can eliminate the difficulty of making professional judgements in circumstances that may be constantly changing and full of uncertainties”.

Moral – The Ethics section outlines 11 Personal moral qualities that are important in creating strong relationships with clients, and they contribute towards a feeling of congruence in the counsellor, as well as acting as a strong scaffold for the occasional difficulties of counselling. They are internalised virtues that shape how we relate to other people and our environment. While these mostly operate in the background of our minds, it is possible to consciously examine them from time to time, and this can indeed be very beneficial to our personal ethical development.

All of the numbered points in the Ethical framework are specific derivations of those 11 Personal moral qualities. For example, the section titled Integrity states we should maintain standards of honesty and be open and communicative with clients and colleagues, and that we should answer requests directed towards our qualifications, professional experiences and working methods promptly and honestly. As such, our moral requirement as counsellors is to uphold the BACP’s Ethical framework without fail as none of the moral directives that are listed are intended to be maleficent.

Legal – There are a lot of legalities in the Ethical framework. One aspect of working legally means that if you wish to be recognised as a member of the BACP then you must ensure your BACP membership is up to date and valid. As a member and registrant of the BACP, you commit yourself to the principles and values set out in the Ethical framework, and you recognise that your membership or registration may be at risk if you fail to fulfil those commitments.

Working legally encapsulates safeguarding of clients or others from serious harm, and this can take priority over our commitment to putting our client’s wishes and confidentiality first. The BACP directs us to take conscientious consideration of the law and any legal requirements concerning our work, and for us to take responsibility for how these requirements are implemented. The BACP also directs us to take laws concerning equality very seriously, in that it strives for a higher standard of inclusion and diversity than is a legal requirement. In regards to supervision, it is stated that supervisors should conscientiously consider the application of the law concerning supervision to their role and responsibilities.

Safe – Another aspect that the Ethical framework is used for is to keep people safe, both clients and practitioners. It is important to work ethically to keep clients safe, both physically and psychologically. It is one our responsibilities to ensure the physical safety of their clients and the people around them, as well as the wider community. If a counsellor believes that a client is in physical danger, or is of a mind to be the cause of that physical danger, then a counsellor must purposefully break confidentiality with that client. Working safely also asks us to consider any conflicts of interest that may arise after a professional relationship with a client has ended. It is wise to exercise caution before entering into a personal or business relationship with former clients.

Safety also refers to keeping yourself safe as a practitioner. Care of self as a practitioner (self-care) is very important and counsellors must take responsibility for their own wellbeing, as it is essential to sustaining good practise. This includes taking adequate precautions to protect your own physical safety, monitoring your own psychological and physical health, seeking professional support and services as the need arises and keeping a healthy balance between work and other aspects of life. Supervision could also be a form of self-care, in that it provides counsellors with regular and ongoing opportunities to reflect in depth about all aspects of their practise in order to work as effectively, safely and ethically as possible. Supervision also sustains the personal resourcefulness required to undertake the sometimes difficult emotional work.

We also discussed what Limits of Ability actually means.

In terms of counselling, Limits of Ability is the term used to show you own boundaries when it comes to what kind of thing you can work with, your experience and qualifications, and your capability. It requires immediacy to disclose these boundaries if asked; as well as congruence to follow through with what you know to be your limits in your mind, from thoughts into action in the form of words, statements or questions about your limits.

Referring to a counsellor’s limits of ability in terms of experience shows what kind of areas and problems they are comfortable working with. This doesn’t just include counselling experience, but also life experience. For example, if someone has little personal experience with people of colour, then it would be unwise to counsel someone who is having race or religious problems that require some idea of what the person is going through. Different cultures and races have different social norms, and the Respect 22.f in the BACP Ethical framework states that when a counsellor’s knowledge of key aspects of a client’s background, identity or lifestyle is inadequate then the counsellor should take steps to inform themselves rather than expecting the client to teach them. Personal limits of knowledge could cover areas such as sex and relationships, mental health, eating disorders, adoption and bereavement.

A counsellor’s limits of ability when it comes to qualifications are to be clearly communicated to a client. If a counsellor is a trainee, it is normal practise to tell the client this. Also, if a counsellor does not hold a qualification that allows the counselling of couples, for example, then it would be unethical for that counsellor to counsel couples. Likewise, if a counsellor does not have any relevant training or a qualification in counselling young people or children, then they should not counsel young people or children.

The risks of a counsellor working beyond his or her limits are manifold. It could leave the client very vulnerable if the counsellor does not have sufficient knowledge about a certain subject, such as bereavement, eating disorders, mental health or sexual identity. And it is very important to not delve in something like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder unless you are fully trained and have relevant experience; PTSD can easily be triggered by someone that can only go so far. A counsellor could cause problems if they try to counsel couples when they have only been trained to counsel individuals, or if they attempt to help someone that is having problems with their sexual identity but have no knowledge of or experience with trans people.

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