The definitions are provided as supplementary information. They should be understood as non-binding good practice guidance, which do not override or weaken the commitments contained in the Ethical Framework. Definitions may be adapted or refined to suit particular services or settings, where any changes are consistent with the Ethical Framework.


In Section, the code indicates the sections and points within the Ethical Framework where the word or term appears.

  • C = Our commitment to clients
  • E = Ethics
  • GP= Good practice

So, for example, C2e can be found in the section Our commitment to clients, point 2, subpoint e.


Term Definition Section
Abuse Violation of another person's rights, for example by physical force, psychological manipulation or deception. GP35
Accountability Taking responsibility for one’s work and being willing to give an accurate account about what has occurred to anyone to whom this responsibility is appropriately owed, for example, clients, employers and professional colleagues. C6; 
Accurate All due care has been taken about the truthfulness, completeness and exactness of what is being communicated. C2e, 5b; E12;
GP15, 45, 71, 75
Accurate records Records that are factually correct and complete and are careful to distinguish fact from opinion or interpretation. C2e;
GP15, 71
Adjustments Changes to the physical circumstances or the way that a service is delivered in order to make it accessible to someone, particularly someone with a disability. GP22f
Agency 1) Any organisation that provides the services to clients.
2) The right to use one’s own power and authority to act for self.
Agreement A shared understanding between two or more people about any terms or conditions that have been mutually accepted. Agreement is an essential requirement for a legally enforceable contract. GP26, 31, 31a, 31b, 31f, 64, 83d
Anonymised The removal of any information that would allow the person concerned to be identified or identifiable by any means from what is being communicated. Failure to anonymise adequately within the counselling professions can lead to a breach of trust with the person concerned and cause harm resulting in significant embarrassment, anxiety or distress. Where there is any uncertainty about whether anonymisation will protect someone’s identity, it is ethically and legally good practice to seek that person’s explicit consent to use that information and for how that information will be used. 

Anonymisation is different in meaning from ‘pseudonymisation’, a term used in current data protection regulations. ‘Pseudonymisation’ is defined as ‘the processing of personal data in such a manner that the personal data can no longer be attributed to a specific data subject without the use of additional information, provided that such additional information is kept separately and is subject to technical and organisational measures to ensure that the personal data are not attributed to an identified or identifiable natural person’ (GDPR Article 4.5). An example of this would be where a client’s contact details and the client’s records are kept separately, but linked with a reference number. Pseudonymised information is regarded as personal data, and subject to the data protection law. 

By contrast, anonymised information ceases to be ‘personal data’ with the associated legal requirements and protection when any means of identifying the person concerned has been genuinely and irreversibly removed. The GDPR is very clear:  ‘The principles of data protection should therefore not apply to anonymous information, namely information which does not relate to an identified or identifiable natural person, or to personal data rendered anonymous in such a manner that the data subject is not or no longer identifiable. This regulation does not therefore concern the processing of anonymous information, including for statistical or research purposes (GDPR (26)).
GP55g, 78, 83a
Appropriate Fitting and ethically right for its purpose. The term is used widely throughout the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions.  
Appropriate records Adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary. The decision about what is appropriate will take into account the ethical and legal requirements for processing (includes making, keeping, using and sharing) records. See Information Commissioner's Office for the latest information. C2e
Association The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy GP14f, 47, 49
Attitudes Persistent ways of feeling, behaving or holding an opinion about someone or something. GP74
Autonomy The right to be self-governing. The principle of autonomy emphasises working in ways that assist the client in being self-directing in all aspects of life. This principle underpins the ethical emphasis on clear contracting, being attentive to obtaining freely-given and informed consent, voluntary engagement with the service being offered, protecting privacy and confidentiality to maximise client control and agency, being open and honest with clients. This principle opposes deceiving or manipulating clients, even for beneficial purposes.
See also: Individual autonomy, Relational autonomy.
Bankrupt Legally recognised (regarding a person or organisation) as having insufficient funds to pay debts. GP47
Being trustworthy The principle of being trustworthy prioritises honouring the trust people place in the practitioner, both as a person and as a professional, with particular attention to being trustworthy to clients in the counselling professions. This principle underpins the emphasis on integrity, openness and honesty, candour, integrity, and probity throughout the Ethical Framework. Even when a practitioner has done everything in their power to be trustworthy, this cannot guarantee that trust will be given. The most a practitioner can achieve is to create the conditions in which it would be appropriate to be trusted. Whether or not trust is granted depends on the other person. E5
Beneficience The principle of beneficence prioritises doing good, and specifically in the counselling professions, by promoting the client’s wellbeing. This principle underpins the ethical emphasis on assessing what will work best for any particular client, working within one’s competence, using the most up to date knowledge and skills, being attentive to and monitoring the impact on the client, and reviewing the work undertaken in supervision. This principle becomes paramount when any clients lack the capacity to act autonomously due to immaturity, lack of understanding, intoxication, extreme distress, serious disturbance or other significant personal constraints and creates an obligation to act in the best interests of the person concerned. E5
Boundaries The limits in relationships between practitioners and their clients that, if crossed, could cause harm to the client or contravene professional standards and ethics. C4c;
GP33, 33a, 63, 79
Breaching confidentiality Disclosing something that has been communicated in confidence by mutual agreement or with the expectation that it will be kept secret. The expectation of secrecy may have been stated expressly or implied. Confidentiality is breached when any disclosure is made without the consent of the person concerned, legal authorisation or being legally defensible in the public interest. Breaches can occur accidentally or deliberately. In most circumstances, obtaining the consent of the person concerned provides an ethical way of avoiding a breach of confidentiality. Any disclosure of confidential information requires respecting the possible rights to confidentiality of any third person who is identifiable within the disclosure. GP9
Candour A commitment by practitioners about being open and honest about anything going wrong and to inform clients promptly if anything has occurred that places the client at risk of harm or causes harm to their wellbeing or safety, even if the client is unaware of what has occurred. C6;
Capability The capacity to be able to do something. E12;
GP29, 57
Children and young people Anyone under the age of 18 years in the UK.
See also: Safeguarding.
Circle of confidentiality This circle represents the boundary between people who are included or excluded from the confidentiality agreement with the client. It encompasses all the people who have access to confidential information about clients as part of their usual work and are explicitly committed to treating that information as confidential, typically as a term of their employment. The people within the circle of confidentiality may be identified to clients by name or role, for example in contracting. The communication of confidential information beyond the circle of confidentiality will require client consent, being legally defensible in the public interest, or legal authorisation by court order or statute.
See also: Confidentiality
Civil claims Claims against another person that can be heard in the civil courts, for example for damages or a court order. GP47
Client A client is anyone in receipt of coaching, counselling, pastoral care, psychotherapy or counselling skills from a member or registrant of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. This includes being a supervisee or trainee. All clients are entitled to receive services that satisfy the commitments stated in this Ethical Framework in ways that are appropriate to the type of service being provided and its setting. Trainees, supervisees and participants in research will receive the same applicable commitments and ethical standards as any client receiving services from a member of the counselling professions. This term is widely used throughout the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions.  
Coaching A way of helping people that builds on their existing strengths to develop their potential by enhancing their understanding of themselves, beliefs, behaviours or actions. Introduction - key terms;
Colleagues Practitioners and people in closely associated roles who collaborate to deliver services to clients (and who are bound by similar or equivalent professional standards). C2c;
GP14c, 16, 17, 22b, 24, 33d, 37b, 44, 56-59
Competent Working with sufficient knowledge and skills to satisfy the fundamental standards for the service being provided.
See also: Professional standards.
GP13, 74
Confidentiality The protection of information that has been communicated in the expectation that it will not be disclosed to others.
See also: Reasonably foreseeable limitations to confidentiality.
GP9, 10, 31c, 42, 44, 55a-g, 64
Consent An agreement to a course of action based on a shared understanding of what will be involved. In the General Data Protection Regulation ‘consent’ of the data subject means any freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject’s wishes by which he or she, by a statement or by a clear affirmative action, signifies agreement in the processing of personal data relating to him or her (GDPR (32); Article 4.11; Article 7).
See also: Informed consent
GP16, 26, 27a, 28, 55f, 78, 83a, 88
Continuing professional development Ongoing training and opportunities for professional learning and experience after qualifying to undertake the role or having been placed on the BACP Register as a practitioner GP14e, 82b
Contract An agreement, written or oral, between the people involved about the terms on which something (goods or services) will be provided. Any business and therapeutic terms and conditions that are agreed between counselling professionals and their clients will usually form part of the legal contract between them. Contracts may be useful in reinforcing and clarifying practitioners’ ethical commitments to their clients and should generally be in writing, or in another form appropriate to the client’s needs. It is good ethical practice to ensure that any contractual terms are clear and easily understandable and that the contract is readily available for the people concerned to check what has been agreed between them. It is a legal requirement that any information and communication relating to the processing of personal data should be ‘easily accessible and easy to understand, and that clear and plain language be used’ (GDPR (39)) Where appropriate, information may be given using electronic form or using visualisation. Communications to a child ‘should be in such a clear and plain language that the child can easily understand’ (GDPR (58)). Introduction;
GP31, 31a, 31b, 31f, 38, 55e, 83d
Contractual incompatibilities These occur when there are differences or contradictions between contracts that apply to the work being undertaken. Incompatibilities may arise, for example, between a contractual agreement with a client, the practitioner’s agreements with supervisors and/or trainers, the contractual terms and conditions of a professional body to which the practitioner belongs, a practitioner’s contract of employment, any contractual agreements or regulatory requirements that apply to an organisation employing the practitioner. GP31f, 83d
Counselling A specialised way of listening, responding and building relationships based on therapeutic theory and expertise that is used to help clients or enhance their wellbeing. This term is widely used throughout the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions.  
Counselling professions Providers of services informed by therapeutic theory and practice that are delivered with sufficient expertise to satisfy professional standards and ethics. These professions include coaching, counselling, pastoral care, psychotherapy and using counselling skills.  Title, Introduction; C;
GP3, 37b, 47
Counselling skills A specialised application of communication skills informed by therapeutic theory and practice that are considered essential to practice in the counselling professions or may be incorporated into other roles, for example, in health, social care, education and human resources. The use of counselling skills outside the counselling professions may be regulated or informed by that profession’s codes of ethics and standards. Introduction; GP3
Criminal charges A formal statement of the offence(s) that someone is alleged to have committed to used as the basis for criminal proceedings or trial. GP47
Dignity The quality of being worthy of respect from self and others – opposite of humiliation. E3;
Dilemma A choice between two or more possible options or courses of action, where it is unclear which to choose for the best. E13;
Disciplinary procedures Investigation and adjudication of allegations concerning bad practice or misconduct by an employee or a member of a professional body. GP47
Disrepute To bring a person or group of people such as a profession into disrepute is to damage their good name or reputation. GP48
Diversity Variations and differences between people. GP22a, 23
Dual relationship Having two kinds of relationship concurrently with the same person, for example, client and neighbour, colleague and trainee or supervisee and employee. GP33b, 33c, 33d, 63, 79
Education Systematic instruction in theory and practice. GP75
Effectiveness A measure of what has been accomplished or achieved. E3;
see also C6d;
GP18, 54
Equality Treating all people with equal fairness and impartiality, regardless of their differences. The Equality Act 2010 requires public bodies to protect people from discrimination due to any of the following characteristics – age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. The precise legal requirements vary between the different nations in the UK. Nonetheless, all practitioners in any nation or setting are ethically committed to respecting these characteristics. E12;
GP22a, 23, 57
Ethical problem-solving A systematic approach to responding to and resolving ethical challenges and dilemmas. E13;
Evidence base Evidence that is informed by systematic research, particularly into effectiveness and safety. GP14b, 84
Explicit Stated in words or clearly communicated by other methods, for example by sign language or images. GP9, 88
Exploit Take advantage of someone for one’s own benefit, typically emotional, sexual or financial benefit. C4d;
GP11, 35, 37b, 63, 79
Face-to-face In the physical presence of the other person – not working at a distance and communicating through technological devices such as telephones or video links. GP20
Gender identity This is interpreted broadly to include all varieties of binary (male or female), non-binary and gender fluid identities – see Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in UK. GP22e
Harm Emotional, psychological, relational, social, behavioural or physical damage, or neglect are forms of harm that may result in distress, heightened anxiety, damage existing relationships, reduce the capability to relate to others, and undermine the self-respect or sense of personal worth of the person concerned. C6b:
E5, 12;
GP9, 10, 11, 33b, 33c, 37, 52, 52a, 52b, 55d
Identity Sense of self in relationship to others that forms the basis of responsibility and motivation. Identity may have wide variations between people. Differences between between individualistic, relational and collective identity can be particularly relevant to the counselling professions and how people understand their own autonomy or agency, relate to others, or find the social resources that support their resilience and resourcefulness. E12;
GP22d, 22e, 22g, 83a
Inclusion Being welcomed and drawn into an activity or service on an equal basis to anyone else. GP22a, 23
Individual autonomy The right to self-government where the people concerned view themselves as individuals who live and act independently of others.
See also: Autonomy, Relational autonomy
Informed consent Where the person giving consent is accurately informed about the reasonably foreseeable positive and negative implications in ways that that the person concerned can understand. In relation to processing personal information, data protection legislation sets a high standard for consent.
See also: Consent
GP26, 27a, 88
See also C6b;
GP30, 49, 75
Insurance A premium paid for protection from financial or other types of losses. Adequate professional practice and public indemnity insurance cover means having a sufficient amount of cover to protect clients from any loss or harm arising from the practitioner’s professional and occupiers liability, if something went wrong. GP19
Integrity Being moral in dealing with others, including personal straightforwardness, honesty and coherence. C5;
E3, 5, 11, 12;
GP33d, 37, 37b, 43-49, 86
Justice The principle of justice prioritises treating all clients fairly and impartially, and ensuring the adequate provision of services. This principle underpins respecting equality, diversity and inclusivity in how services are provided, being attentive to how ethical and legal obligations are implemented, a willing readiness to be accountable for decisions and actions, and a commitment for striving towards a provision of services that are accessible, fairly distributed and of sufficient quality and quantity for potential clients. Managing any reduction in services due to shortages according to the principle of justice is particularly challenging. E5
Knowledge A practitioner has knowledge when they are aware of and understand something both theoretically and practically. C2b;
GP3, 5, 12, 14, 14d, 14e, 20, 22g, 27b, 62, 74, 84, 86
Known risks These are ones that can reasonably be anticipated from research, professional literature and guidance, or previous experience of working with clients or others facing similar issues, for example, the possibility of feeling worse before feeling better, the impact on key relationships or performance of significant tasks etc. C6a;
Law A system of public morals that are enforceable in the courts. The main sources of law are statutes, subsidiary legislation and decisions made in courts (also known as case law). The commitment to giving the law ‘careful and conscientious consideration’ requires knowing the law relevant to their practice and to carefully consider how it ought to be applied to their circumstances. Careful or conscientious consideration may require practitioners to consult legal or expert advice when appropriate. Ideally law and ethics match each other but this is not always the case. When a conflict between ethics and law arises, it may be appropriate to campaign for changes to the law whilst observing the applicable law. Conscientious objection to a legal requirement that leads to defying the applicable law is not something to be undertaken lightly as it requires a willingness to be openly accountable for resisting or breaking the law, an acceptance of the risk that legal penalties may be imposed, and may require consideration under the Professional Conduct Procedure. GP9, 14f, 23, 27c, 46, 70
Monitor To observe or keep under review at regular intervals. C6d;
GP54, 91b
Multiple relationships To be involved in three or more types of relationship at the same time with someone, for example, friend, trainee and colleague. GP33b, 33d
Non-maleficence This principle prioritises avoiding harm, particularly with regard to clients in the context of the counselling professions. The emphasis on preventing and avoiding malpractice and misconduct, any exploitation or abuse of clients, poor management of confidentiality or boundaries are all examples of the application of this principle. This principle underpins much of the investigation and adjudication undertaken in the Professional Conduct Procedure. E5
Online Connected by computer or other digital technologies to communicate between people. GP20
Pastoral care Care that advances personal and spiritual development in a variety of ways, informed by therapeutic theory and skills. Introduction;
Performance The accomplishment of actions at an appropriate level. GP29
Practice The application of professional knowledge and skills to the work being undertaken, particularly when working directly with people. Introduction;
GP1, 11, 60, 63, 68, 79, 81b, 83a, 83e, 84, 90, 91, 92
Practitioner A practitioner is a member or registrant of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy who is providing therapeutically-informed services, particularly coaching, counselling, pastoral care, psychotherapy or using counselling skills. This includes being a supervisor, trainer, educator of practitioners, or a researcher of any aspect of the counselling professions. Trainees are practitioners when working with members of the public as their clients. Introduction;
E3, 5, 7, 10, 13; 
GP3, 11, 14d, 37b, 41, 42, 57, 58, 60, 61, 67, 82a, 84, Heading at 91
Privacy Freedom from disturbance or intrusion by other people. C3, 3b;
GP21, 31c, 55, 55d, 61
Probity Working with integrity and conscientiousness. GP43
Professional standards Working to a recognised level or quality of performance, which applies to all services of that type. A fundamental professional standard sets the baseline for quality and safety, below which a service ought not to be provided. Achieving the fundamental standard requires adequate resources for the type of work being undertaken combined with reasonable care and skill in how the work is delivered. An enhanced quality standard sets the level above the fundamental standard that is achievable through good use of existing resources. Developmental standards are ones that practitioners or the agency are aiming to achieve in the future. C2;
GP13–20, 66, 67, 83b, 83c, 91b
Psychotherapy A specialised way of listening, responding and building relationships based on therapeutic theory and expertise that is used to help clients or enhance their wellbeing. Introduction:
Reasonably foreseeable limitations to confidentiality Any limitations that a reasonably competent practitioner ought to be able to anticipate as causing difficulties in protecting clients’ confidences, for example, arising from legal or contractual obligations to disclose confidential information or to protect people from serious harm. Some situations that arise in practice may be so unexpected or exceptional that they are not considered to be reasonably foreseeable. GP55d
Record A catch-all word that includes all notes, records, memoranda, appointments, communications and correspondence, photographs, artefacts, video or audio recordings about an identifiable client. Records may exist in any format, typically but not exclusively, on paper or electronically. There is no distinction between factual and process notes in what the law regards as a record. C2e;
GP15, 31d, 31e, 71
Regulations An authoritative rule or instruction GP14f, 83a
Relational autonomy The right to self-government where the people concerned view themselves as inextricably linked with other people, for example, as a member of a family, social group or tribe.
See also: Autonomy, Individual autonomy
Reliable electronic resources Information and resources accessed by electronic means that have been subjected to good quality controls before the item was posted and/or are from people or bodies who are respected for the accuracy and soundness of their output. GP14a
Research A systematic enquiry or experiment to advance knowledge typically using statistical or qualitative methods. GP3, 14b, 84-90
[Research] participants Someone being studied or providing information to a research project. ‘Participant’ is now widely preferred over ‘subject’ as it places greater emphasis on the active engagement of the person concerned rather than viewing them as depersonalised or passive. GP88, 89
Resilience The ability to overcome or recover from challenging situations. E3, 10, 11, 12
Review Carefully reconsider, examine or inspect. C6c;
GP14d, 32, 33d, 65, 89 
Safeguard(ing) Protecting people’s health, safety, wellbeing and human rights in order to enable them to live free from harm, abuse or neglect. GP10, 55d
Self-respect This principle prioritises growing the practitioner’s sense of personal and professional integrity through supporting and enhancing the quality of work undertaken and being actively engaged in its ethical and therapeutic purpose. Being attentive to self-care to ensure that one’s resilience and resourcefulness are sufficient to work to adequate standards in the counselling professions, monitoring one’s wellbeing in supervision, having a good work-life balance are all examples of the application of this principle. E5
Sense of self An awareness or understanding of oneself and one’s relationships with other people and the environment. E3, 12
Services Professional assistance provided by practitioners to their clients, or provided indirectly by providing services designed to enhance the work of practitioners working on the frontline, for example through supervision, training or research. This term is used widely throughout the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions.  
Sexual orientation This refers to the sexual or romantic attraction someone feels to people of the same sex, opposite sex, more than one sex, or to experience no attraction - see Memorandum of Understanding on Conversion Therapy in UK. GP22e
Sexual [relationships] Any action or communication directed towards another person involving acts, words or behaviour that arouse or gratify sexual impulses or desires. GP34, 35, 36, 37b
Skills An ability to perform tasks well using knowledge and practical expertise. C2b;
GP14, 14d, 14e, 27b, 62, 74, 81b
Social media Websites and electronic applications that enable users to create and share content or participate in social networking. GP33c
Standards See Professional standards  
Student A person following a course of study at a university, college, institute or other educational establishment, including trainees on professional courses. GP75, 76, 77
Supervision A specialised form of professional mentoring provided for practitioners responsible for undertaking challenging work with people. Supervision is provided to ensure standards, enhance quality, stimulate creativity and support the sustainability and resilience of the work being undertaken. Introduction;
GP14d, 33d, 37b, 53, 55d, 60–73, 83e, 93
Supervisor Someone who provides supervision. Introduction;
GP3, 8, 42, 52d, 62, 63, 65, 66, 68, 70, 71, 83c, 83e
Therapeutically-informed services Services developed from and informed by the theory and practices used in talking and listening therapies, typically coaching, counselling, pastoral care, psychotherapy or using counselling skills. Such theories and practices may be drawn from a wider academic and professional base, including neurology, psychoanalysis, psychology, social sciences and other disciplines. Introduction;
Trainee Someone working under the guidance or instruction of a trainer in order to develop their expertise. Introduction;
GP3, 34, 37, 66, 80, 81–83
Training Guidance or instruction, usually within a structured programme or course. GP55d, 62, 66, 74–80, 82b, 83a, 83d, 83e
Unauthorised access or disclosure This involves acting without legal authority or client consent to obtain or release confidential information in ways that are contrary to professional standards and ethics and violate the privacy of the people affected. Unauthorised disclosures may be deliberate or they may be accidental, for example by unintentionally leaving notes or a file in a public place. GP55a
Unfairly discriminating Treating people in a prejudiced or unfavourable way in comparison to others. Unfair discrimination includes anything that diminishes how we relate to and work with others because of a failure to respect someone’s characteristics that are significant to their way of being and relating. Unfair discrimination usually arises from prejudices against another person or group of people. Prejudices may operate at conscious or unconscious levels in individuals, groups or organisations. They include reacting against or being insensitive towards someone’s cultural values and beliefs, lifestyle, parental responsibilities, consensual sexual activities between adults, education, social and economic status, or party politics. These characteristics are in addition to those protected by law.
See also: Equality
GP22b, 24
Valid interest in our work This may arise from a formal responsibility to oversee that work, other contractual arrangements concerning the practitioner and client, authorised by legal authority, or with client consent when the practitioner considers this appropriate. Introduction;
Voluntary Action undertaken of one's own free will or choice – not coerced or constrained by another person. GP25
Vulnerable adult The meaning of ‘vulnerable adult’ varies across different contexts but is widely used to refer to people over 18 years old who are regarded as vulnerable because they are unable to adequately protect themselves against significant harm and exploitation or unable to take care of themselves without assistance.

In social policy, a vulnerable adult is typically someone aged 18 years or older, who is receiving or may need community care services due to mental or other disability, age or illness and who is or may be unable to take care of themself without assistance, or unable to protect themself against significant harm or exploitation.

The legal definition of a vulnerable adult in England and Wales is anyone to whom health and social care is being provided as set out in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 (as amended by the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012).
Wellbeing Living in a good state of emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual health. C2d;
E3, 5, 12;
GP11, 29, 91