Being trustworthy means that we need to think about how we build an appropriate relationship with our clients and one of the key ways of doing that is to give them information in advance and to help them shape their expectations of us in a way that’s realistic and we can deliver. And we do that in a number of ways, clearly reaching some mutual agreement with our clients about what we are going to offer and how it will be delivered and addressing any particular needs that a client can make of us that are reasonable and appropriate to the service we are offering is one way of doing that, so contracting and reaching agreement and communicating clearly what is their’s is the basis of this.
We also, the other major dimension to this is about boundaries, and boundaries in relationships, so keeping the boundaries between the personal and the professional is another aspect of it, so that clients don’t have unrealistic expectations of what they can expect of us and also so that we also can focus our attention on a client while they’re with us, but we are not taking on unsustainable demands if they were to extend beyond the time we’re with clients too much.
And one of these boundaries which is proved to be very significant is that we commit ourselves to not entering into sexual relationships or sexual behaviour with our clients in order to create the conditions which we can, clients feel free to be psychologically intimate with us, but that’s not as it were a precursor to a sexual relationship, and also we commit ourselves to being non-exploitative, not abusing our clients, that’s absolutely essential to being trustworthy.
An issue which has proved quite problematic to us as a profession is how do we, if we continue to have contact with clients after our formal role has ended, how do we manage that continuing relationship in a way that’s consistent with the ethics that we’ve deployed in our work together, and this 2018 version of the Ethical Framework has new guidance on this.
Q 1 Why does the Ethical Framework talk about both ‘agreements’ and ‘contracts’? Why not just ‘contracts’?
Well it’s really in response to the different ways people work with their clients. It’s much easier if you have a way of delivering your services, which are based on appointments and clients come in a predictable way. You can prepare contracts … formal written contracts which clients can sign, and that’s really excellent practice for that type of service. But very often, you may be talking to clients either ahead of reaching a contracting point, so you have an enquiry, or sometimes, some services are less formal, and less appointment driven. So how you manage a client’s expectations is more through the spoken word and reaching an agreement, rather than the formal contracting. But both are valid. What matters is that there is a meeting of minds, you both have a shared understanding about what has been agreed, whether that’s written as a contract, or whether it’s an aural understanding.
Q 2 Do our ethics apply too much attention to sex? Are we the new puritans, or in danger of becoming Victorian prudes?
A: I hope that we are neither prudish, nor obsessed with sex. In fact, it’s a very small part of the Ethical Framework, but it clearly is a really important point, and culturally it’s an area around which there is a vast amount of interest… and tabloids and various other publications seem to major on sexual interest.
What we are trying to do is to provide clients with a safe space in which they can talk about things which concern them. And not confuse that with the sort of exchanges that people might have as a precursor to a sexual relationship. So that there is a degree of psychological and emotional intimacy quote often in the way that we work, but that’s there, and used, the energy in it is used for the benefit of the client rather than something leading to mutual satisfaction, which, ideally is the result of a sexual relationship. But, we are not saying our practitioners should not be sexual beings, what we are saying is, don’t do it with clients.
Q 3 What is new in the guidance of continuing relationships with clients after the work is complete?
A: the major change, here is that we require that whatever the relationship is, that it should not be exploitative, and it should have the quality of integrity, and within the framework there is further guidance on some safeguards in continuing that relationship and in particular that sufficient time should have elapsed for it to be a new relationship, and not too easily confused with the therapeutic relationship. That there should be alternative services available to the client, so it is not, as it were, depriving them in total of any other services similar to the ones that they have been receiving. There are other requirements that are spelt out in the Ethical Framework. But the really key thing is that whatever emerges in the continuing relationship should have integrity and be non-exploitative of the person concerned.