BACP ethics are not prescriptive. They do not tell the practitioner what to do or what not to do. Instead they act as guidelines to help him/her make the correct decision. This is done by presenting a set of principles that a person should keep in mind when making a decision, evaluating different options when principles conflict. These decisions are taken by first clarifying the dilemmas, consulting with others, considering alternatives and then reviewing the decision.
Ethics are important because the therapist is accountable both on a legal level and on an ethical level (towards client, towards society, and towards the professional body).
BACP has 6 ethical principles:
- beneficence (doing good / avoiding to do harm)
- non-maleficence (not doing harm through exploitation in use of power)
- respect for autonomy (empowering the client through self-government & information)
- respect for the person (respect for therapist’s well-being; treating the client as an end not as a means)
- fidelity (acting according to a duty of confidence towards the client)
- justice (fairness and equality, both in access to services and in relationships with different clients).
One’s decision can be inspired from 3 moral approaches:
- absolutist (Kant): morality is determined by reasons and it states that persons are always to be treated as an ends. Consequences are not important in this approach.
- utilitarian (Bentham): the good is what is best for the greatest number of people.
- virtue ethics: one identifies what are the characteristics of a virtuous person.
I was amazed that being in Britain, the main concern with ethics was about protecting the therapist in the eventuality of a court case. Although it is true that therapy is legally controlled, it still distorts the actual focus of what ethics originally means, i.e., acting in the best possible way in relation to the other person. In fact it was very strange being present for a discussion about whether a therapist should stop a person from committing suicide, where the main focus was on how the therapist should act in order not to have the client sue him/her afterwards. What came in my mind during that discussion was that a therapist should never do less than a human being would normally do. The ethical framework is there to act in even a better way and not to do less because of possible legal matters.
Another aspect that I found important in the ethical discussions is that of the resolution of an eventual clash between principles. For me this highlighted the responsibility of the therapist since the decision ultimately rests in his/her hands after having considered all the factors. Supervision is certainly important at this stage in order to ease the therapist’s burden of having to make this kind of decisions.