Why is so much emphasis placed on informed consent in research ethics?

There are many reasons for the emphasis on ensuring that participants have given their informed consent to being involved in counselling research by:

  • 1. Preventing people from being exploited or abused in the quest of new knowledge. It is a safeguard that has grown out of concerns to prevent any repetition of atrocities ‘justified’ as research in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany that inflicted death and extreme suffering in medical and military experiments. There are also many other examples where human suffering caused by participating in research could have been avoided if the participants had been sufficiently informed in advance about the purpose of the research, what was involved and if they had been given a free choice about whether or not to take part.
  • 2. Demonstrating respect for someone as a human being by actively asking them whether they want to participate on the basis of knowing what will be involved, particularly any risks of harm or benefits to them. Some academics suggest that this discussion about consent should also continue throughout the research. Taking part in research often requires a generosity of spirit to suffer some inconvenience for the benefit of other people. Obtaining informed consent provides an opportunity to check that participants are making their contribution knowingly and willingly.
  • 3. Ensuring that participants are willing to have knowledge gained from their participation in the research shared with others. This is a significant issue in counselling-related-research because of the contrast between the usual conditions of privacy and confidentiality in therapeutic consultations and the public nature of research findings that may require any knowledge gained from the research to be communicated as freely and publicly as possible. Anonymisation may protect a participant from being identified by strangers to them but may be less effective with people who know the participant well.


What does research integrity mean and what do I need to consider on order to ensure the integrity of my research?

Research integrity concerns ensuring the quality of the research process and outcomes and that it is undertaken to high ethical standards. Research integrity builds confidence in research as a way of increasing our knowledge and understanding, and in the application of research findings to solve problems or improve lives. Poor research practice, falsifying data or results, or behaving unethically as a researcher undermines the research integrity of any study affected and may also be professional misconduct or amount to a criminal or civil offence.

Key issues to be considered in order to protect the integrity of your research include:
  • Is the research likely to add to existing knowledge?
  • Is the research well designed to be able to answer the questions or address the issues being researched?
  • Has careful consideration been given to any risks and ethical issues involved (e.g. for the researcher, the participants and those receiving or using the knowledge gained) and how will these issues be addressed?
  • Have you got the skills and resources to undertake the research?
  • How will you ensure that the research is implemented with sufficient care and skill to satisfy academic standards?
  • How will any confidential information and participant privacy be protected?
  • How will you ensure any results are accurate, supported by the research undertaken and communicated appropriately?
  • How will you acknowledge the involvement of participants, the use of any publications, any other sources of information or contributions to the research?

For further guidance on research integrity and more comprehensive checklists see the UK Research Integrity Office