As a UKCP-accredited psychotherapist, I am committed to a high standard of ethics. As we increase our visibility, and launch various research projects, I wanted to share the ethical considerations that form part of everything we do.
An ethical process
Every time we reach out to clients, potential clients, colleagues, partners the public in general, we have to apply our “ethical lens”. So it isn’t just in the therapy room.
Each activity, where we are engaging with external parties, is considered in terms of risk and potential impact, and given a “level”. The level a project is given dictates the depth of ethical review we do. In all cases, an outline is prepared and reviewed by one other psychotherapist. The most complex and / or risky projects require a higher level of scrutiny and those are reviewed in supervision.
An example of the ethical balancing act, is if we publish a quiz-style survey which provides advice to help you improve your life, we have to consider how the potential benefit you may gain might balance against potential harm learning more about your current situation could have.
Another would be where we have invited guests to join in a group discussion on loneliness that we will video and then publish, whilst they were keen to be involved, and feel really great whilst they take part, what if they look back and regret that it has been published on the internet?
An ethical framework
UKCP provides a code of ethics, a framework from which we make our ethical decisions.
We find ourselves having to balance, sometimes conflicting, ethical criteria. The standards of training and (re-)accreditation, equip us with the skills to do that balancing act. Each situation is different, so we must use our professional judgement, which is why it’s a framework rather than strict code. It also means that ethical considerations occur to us instinctively.
Just say no?
It would be easy to avoid doing anything, in case we get it wrong and unwittingly cause upset or harm. But of course, by doing that, we may miss out on helping a great number of other people.
We approach it by ensuring participants have thought about potential consequences, and often signpost to resources to help if they are adversely impacted. We may decide to not do something, or limit who is involved.
For example, in the quiz-style survey we have a ‘health warning’ as well as providing links to resources.
And for the video discussion, we limit it to close network where the trust is already built, have a one to one discussion about the risks in advance and make sure they have the opportunity to review the video before it goes out. Ultimately if one of the participants says they don’t want it published, then we won’t. Not publishing is likely to be disappointing, but the psychological health of participants is our priority.
One final word on the impact of the pandemic.
We have missed in-person work so very much. Although telephone and video work is excellent, I am UKCP-trained for in-person work (and, as the months progress, other therapists that join me will be too). This is where I / we can provide the most benefit to our clients.
Having said that, the deadly impact of the virus is also a terrible worry, and cannot, must not be ignored.
That’s why I’ve taken the time, supported by colleagues (including non-therapists), my supervisor, landlord and neighbours to make sure we are Covid-secure.
So having balanced the conflicting risks and benefits to clients, we have made sure we can take care of your mental health, without risking your physical health.
I look forward to meeting you.