What are Ethics?
Ethics are a set of principals and values that form a code of conduct, a way of being, and conducting oneself that is caring, kind, respectful, empowering, fair, responsible and safe for all concerned. Ethics also help us navigate choices and decisions professionally and also personally.
‘Helping’ fields such as counselling and psychotherapy are regulated by a governing body such as the Australian Counselling Association (ACA) which has Code of Ethics that members comply with to ensure best practice.
Supporting Principals underpinning ethics
- Autonomy refers to the promotion of self determination or the freedom of a client to be self governing within their social and cultural framework.
- Nonmaleficence means to avoid doing any harm and includes reframing from actions that may risk hurting a client.
- Beneficence refers to doing good for others and promoting the welling being of the client. It also includes preventing and/or removing harm.
- Justice refers to being fair by giving equally to others and to treat others justly.
- Fidelity means helping professionals make realistic commitments and keep these promises.
- Veracity is truthfulness, the obligation to deal honestly with clients.
Core Virtues found in a truly helpful helper
- Prudence, to be able handle matters in a wise and practical manner. Mindful discernment.
- Integrity, to be honest and open, fair, to have wholeness of character, uprightness, honouring and to abide by moral and ethical principles.
- Respectfulness, courteous regard for others.
- Benevolence, to have good will, to be well meaning and kind.
Foundational Ethics you have a right to…
Informed Consent means being provided with adequate information so that you may make an informed choice about entering a professional relationship or participating in e.g. an event or activity. This information needs to be given in a practical and factual manner without bias or coaxing. Examples of appropriate information are information about cost, time, how the support/therapy is conducted, what will actually occur, skills, qualifications, registration of the therapist, etc. Coercion refers to the misuse of power, the subtle (and sometimes not subtle) manipulation to persuade/influence an individual to go along with or participate in something.
Confidentiality is the ethical duty of care to protect your private information. It is important to know when accessing support that your private information will be respected and kept private. This fosters psychological safety. There are ethical exceptions to confidentiality e.g. where safety is at risk. If a person threatens to harm themselves or another there are ethical, moral and legal implications. In the instance of and children at risk of harm, health professional are mandated by law to intervene and report to appropriate authorities.
Professional Competence is the skills and training required to effectively and appropriately support clients in a specific area of practice. Counsellors/psychotherapists do not engage in specialised counselling or techniques or interventions unless they have received appropriate training. Scope of practice refers to not offering supports/services that are outside of one’s professional competence. In Australia and many other countries membership to the appropriate governing body requires clinical supervision/mentoring every year. This is a very helpful support to the counsellor and can be used to raise concerns, reflect upon ethical dilemmas and continue to grow and learn.
Professional Boundaries can be thought of as the framework that surrounds a therapeutic relationship, or any relationships in a ‘helping’ field. Boundaries are a set of guidelines for both the client/individual/participant and the counsellor/therapist/facilitator. The provider of the support has a duty of care to be conscious of the vulnerability of the client and power imbalance in a professional relationship and to act in accordance with ethical and supporting moral principles and virtues that promote the wellbeing of the client.
Boundaries are not barriers to another human being! Rather boundaries foster healthy and supportive connection in a psychologically safe and empowering environment.
We all deserve to feel psychologically safe, respected and empowered.