This section is founded on ideas around honesty and probity. That we’re honest with our clients and probity means we are trustworthy and what we are doing has integrity. So, part of that is being open and willing to communicate with our clients the ways the service will be provided and trying in so far as it’s possible, because this is not something we can totally control, is trying to shape our clients 'expectations in ways that are consistent in the way in which we will be working with them. Part of this is the honesty and accuracy with which we communicate our qualifications or relevant background for the work that we do it, it’s important that we don’t exaggerate or overstate what they might be or deceive clients, that we approach our clients in a way that is grounded in ourselves, in our qualifications, and in the experience that we bring to the work.
Another dimension of integrity is how we relate the law and how we take the law into consideration and fulfil our legal requirements, and again, sometimes clients may not understand that, so again it is important that we are open and that we communicate what those requirements might be if they impact on our work. One of the issues which has arisen, fortunately not frequently but is an important aspect of integrity is our collective professional integrity and how we engage with the professional body BACP to protect the integrity of our work and this requires that we communicate with BACP any criminal charges or disciplinary procedures that are taken out against us, or if we’re declared bankrupt, or if civil claims that relate to our work are brought against us, so that our collective integrity is protected as practitioners and also we can be confident that we have done what we can to protect the work with our clients.
The final element of this is actually encouraging clients to raise issues which might call our integrity into question, or any concerns that they have about our work with them at the earliest possible opportunity, partly so we can take them into account, and either respond to the concern or adjust the way we work in ways, but also so that if it is a substantive issue and the client is really concerned they also have access to our professional conduct procedures in order to pursue their concerns more efficiently.
Q1: I see that you have dropped that members self-report to BACP when they are in financial difficulty. Why did you do this?
There were a number of reasons for dropping that requirement. First of all, members reported difficulty in determining what level they ought to report to BACP that they were in financial difficulty, but also we’ve been going through a period of economic difficulty for the country as a whole and that has had a consequence, there are many more members of BACP as in the world at large who are struggling financially through no fault of their own.
The typical things that tip people into financial difficulty whether practitioners or clients are things like … typical things that cause financial difficulty for people are, disruptions in relationships, breaking relationships, periods of ill health, losing particular employment opportunities and sometimes these are things which are completely beyond control of the person and there is no blame attached to getting into financial difficulty. So we thought that it needed a much clearer boundary around it, which being declared bankrupt or an insolvency agreement is a very precise threshold where this responsibility could arise, and we just didn’t want to add to the burden, some of the feedback was very poignant and rather sad, where people were saying, you know it’s difficult enough trying to manage my overstretched resources without feeling concerned whether or not I ought to be reporting this to somebody.
What we hope is that people will feel able to be open about the financial worries they may be facing as they impact on the work with their clients and raise that at supervision, and also try and get appropriate financial support and financial advice in order to bring that period of economic difficulty to the quickest possible resolution.
Q2: Why is integrity ethically so important to our professions?
It’s based partly on client feedback, but also stepping back and thinking what are the qualities of the relationship which make therapy possible. The client feedback is that, very much that they see us as people, and it’s the sense of the compatibility between how they understand us and perceive us as people and the role that we are taking on, so we need to invest in ourselves, and to look within ourselves about how we present ourselves to people, so they have a sense of us being or having integrity, which means whole and consistent and resilient, reliable, are all things that flow from having integrity and in that sense form the foundations for the relationship with the client.
Q3: We have been discussing whether a chatbot providing counselling has integrity? If it can’t have integrity, would using a chatbot with clients be unethical?
Chatbots are a form of artificial intelligence, it’s basically a computer generating responses to your questions and they may present themselves as people, hi I’m Bob, and then go on and answer your question or whatever it is. And they are being developed in the context of dealing with people’s problems and issues, they’re still in the early stages of development as we talk, but we will see them being increasingly used in all areas of our work and our general social environment.
The question is can a chatbot have integrity in the context of a therapeutic relationship? And I don’t think this is going to lead to a simple answer and people will take very different views on it, but there are certain things which I think we can already identify as key issues.
First of all, is the purpose of using the chatbot appropriate to the task? Is it consistent? If there’s a big inconsistency there, then you would have to say it lacks integrity. Also is the artificial intelligence generating responses of sufficient quality to serve the therapeutic purpose and to give some benefit to the clients? And again, if the answer to that is no, then it will lack integrity.
And then I think monitoring how client’s experience that, their interactions with a chatbot in the same way as we would try and monitor how clients working with us as people, would also be an important part of that, ensuring that it’s got integrity. So I don’t think it is as straightforward thing and many people would feel uncomfortable at the thought that maybe some of our services should or could be delivered by a clever computer, but those developments are becoming increasingly possible and we need to think through what integrity would mean in that context.