Extract from the Ethical Framework

91. We will take responsibility for our own wellbeing as essential to sustaining good practice with our clients by:

a. taking precautions to protect our own physical safety
b. monitoring and maintaining our own psychological and physical health, particularly that we are sufficiently resilient and resourceful to undertake our work in ways that satisfy professional standards
c. seeking professional support and services as the need arises
d. keeping a healthy balance between our work and other aspects of life


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

A dilemma is when you have two or more options, and it's not obvious what is the best, or the least worst, way forward. A problem may be a single issue, which you know is going to be challenging, but it could have a single answer - or it could turn into a dilemma. The nature of our work means that we will all encounter dilemmas from time to time.

Is there a simple ethical problem solving model that might be used in supervision?

There's is a fairly standard model based on problem solving more generally. First, you describe the problem you’re experiencing as briefly as you can, because that helps to clarify the issues are. Then you can ask ‘whose dilemma is it?’ Is it the client’s dilemma, should they leave their partner for example, or is it a dilemma for you in how you manage your work with your client, or how you manage other responsibilities you may have in relation to this client.

Then look at all the available resources. The Ethical Framework is an important resource, and there may be other sources of information to do with the law, therapeutic or coaching theory, or other aspects of your role which are particularly important.

When you’ve considered all the information, which can be discussed at supervision, you can then start to think about what is the ethical goal I want to achieve? It’s important to go through this stage. Culturally we tend to race to action rather than thinking of the direction of travel, so asking ourselves about the goal helps us to identify the general direction. From this we can see possible actions and work out which action is most likely to achieve that ethical goal. Then the task becomes much easier because it’s actually about implementing what you’ve decided as your chosen course of action and evaluating it - which may well happen in a later supervision session.

If this approach doesn't quite work there are many other approaches in the literature on ethical problem solving.

How do I use the Ethical Framework to work out what to do if I have an ethical dilemma?

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. But 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. Your summary 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 to think about the ethical issues involved. This is where the section on Ethics is often most useful. Start by selecting the Values, Principles or Personal moral qualities 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, 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.