The Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions 2018 came into effect on 1 July. It follows a comprehensive review of the 2016 version to incorporate member feedback, enquiries and new legislation.

What does it include?

The new Ethical Framework 2018 includes:

  • the Framework itself, which is in three sections
    - 'Our commitment to clients' provides a summary of working to professional standards and building an ethical relationship
    - 'Ethics' considers the values, principles and personal moral qualities that inform our work and underpin supervision
    - 'Good practice' considers applying our commitment to clients and ethics to our practice

  • the Glossary, which helps to explain the meaning of terms used within the Ethical Framework. It can also be used as an index to help you find out more about particular issues.

  • Our commitment to clients - a simple, one page document which you can give to clients to tell them what they can expect when working with a BACP member

We're currently working on new online Ethical Framework resources and updating the Good Practice in Action publications. 

Watch Tim Bond talking about the changes at a recent Making Connections event.


Listen to the Counselling Tutor interviewing Tim Bond about the Ethical Framework.

Transcript of the interview

What's changed and why?

We regularly review the Ethical Framework to keep it up-to-date with current issues and legislation, and to ensure that it supports members in the best way possible.

The 'Our commitments to clients' section was first introduced in the 2016 Ethical Framework, so we particularly wanted to see if this was working well for members. Feedback was generally positive.

These are the main changes to the 2018 Ethical Framework.

Appropriate standard of service
We've responded to members' and clients' comments by expanding the commitment to 'putting clients first' to include the importance of providing an appropriate standard of service.

Research showed the definition of candour was unclear so we've re-defined it as ‘openness with clients about anything that places them at risk of harm or causes actual harm’.

Counselling skills
We've added counselling skills to better support members working within therapeutically informed services.

Record keeping
We've updated record keeping and contracting to ensure members and supervisors work in accordance with GDPR. We've also added a new section on confidentiality.

Gender identity and sexual orientation
We've included new points on gender identity and sexual orientation to explicitly acknowledge our commitment to the Memorandum of Understanding on conversion therapy.

Children and young people
We've expanded the section on working with children and young people to reflect both our research and new data protection and safeguarding legislation. We've clarified consent issues and the specialist knowledge required to work with this client group.

Relationships with former clients
Members raised many concerns around relationships with former clients so we've explained in greater detail when it might be possible to have a personal relationship with someone who is no longer a client.

Breaks and endings
Members wanted clarification on breaks and endings, so we've introduced a new good practice section explaining what should be in place in case practitioners become severely ill or die.

Working in teams
A new section on working in teams looks at the need for empathy and compassion with colleagues and well as in client work.

We've updated supervisors' responsibilities for trainees on training placements to include the need to work with placement providers  to ensure the trainee’s work meets professional standards.

Supervisors often tell us they can only know what their supervisees tell them, so supervisees now have a responsibility for openness and honesty.

We've clarified trainees' roles and responsibilities, which include informing clients of their trainee status and accountability for the work they do.

We welcome your feedback on the changes, and your suggestions for the next review. Please email us at

Ethical Framework FAQs

What is the Ethical Framework?

The Ethical Framework is a set of principles and values that provide a solid foundation for safe and ethical practice within the counselling professions.

All BACP members commit to working to the good practice standards set out in the Ethical Framework and it is our main reference when considering professional conduct complaints.

The framework is designed to be accessible and easy to understand. It's not a set of rules but is interpretative, giving members the flexibility to respond to the needs of their different client groups and working environments. But they must be able to justify any decisions they make.

It's also a living framework, which can constantly respond to changes affecting the counselling professions, such as new legislation or research.

Why is it important?

The Ethical Framework matters to anyone who works in or with the counselling professions:

  • it reassures clients that their practitioner will provide a good, ethical service - and they can hold them to account if they do not. A commitment to clients is at the very heart of the Ethical Framework.

  • it gives members guidance on professional standards and supports them in working through challenging issues
  • it provides the most up-to-date guidance and support for trainers and students, ensuring practitioners of the future are being trained to the highest standards

  • it assures commissioners, service providers and employers that services have clear professional and ethical standards and practitioners are committed to good practice

How is it used?

The Ethical Framework is an essential companion for practitioners throughout their career. It should be integrated into their practice, providing a secure base for practitioners and clients to work together. 

It’s vital when situations and challenges arise where a practitioner is unsure what to do. For example, they may be concerned for the client's safety, or a medical practitioner might ask to see their records of client sessions. The Ethical Framework provides commitments, ethical values, principles and good practice points to help support them through the decision-making process.