Ethical dilemmas

Q.1. What is the difference between an ethical dilemma and a problem?

Q.2. Can you talk through a simple ethical solving model that might be used in supervison?

A dilemma means that it is hard to choose between two or more options. It is not obvious which will do the most good or, in some difficult situations, will be the least bad option. The nature of our work means that we will all encounter dilemmas from time to time.

The first task in resolving a dilemma is producing a short and clear statement about the situation, the choices open to you, and the strengths and weaknesses of each choice. Sometimes just doing this creates a new perspective and clarifies the choice. Even if the dilemma is not resolved, you will be in a much better place to discuss it with tutors, supervisors or trusted colleagues or students subject to your confidentiality commitments.

The Ethical Framework can be a valuable resource in such situations. It is based on a wide-ranging consultation to capture the collective experience and wisdom of practitioners within BACP. Your summary of the dilemma will help you to define the important issues and topics. Use the Glossary as an index to find the relevant sections and points in the Ethical Framework to see if they can help to resolve the dilemma.

Sometimes there will still be a difficult choice to be made that requires going behind the practical issues considered in Good practice by thinking about the ethical issues involved. This is where the section on Ethics is often most useful. Start by selecting one of Values, Principles or Personal moral qualities the one that seems most relevant or speaks to you most strongly. Assess the choices against the full range of ethics within your selected section. This will help you identify the ethical strengths and limitations of the options you are considering. In challenging or difficult situations this may be best done in consultation with a supervisor or trainer. If time permits you may want to consider your dilemma through the lens of the other two ethical perspectives. No matter how difficult the choice proves to be you will be much clearer about what is involved in the choice and the reasons why you chose to resolve the dilemma in the way you did.

This process will help you to:
  • decide whether to consult your client(s) about how best to resolve the dilemma and, where this is appropriate, to present the choices as clearly as possible
  • learn something about yourself which has made the dilemma hard for you to resolve. You may use this learning to advance your personal development
  • develop the skills to analyse future ethical challenges and make ethical decisions. After the decision has been made and implemented, it is good to take the time to reflect on how the choices you made have worked out in practice.

A good practitioner learns from experience.