This section grew out of a series of webinars for the previous version of the Ethical Framework. You’ll notice that many of the professions now have a section in their ethics called ‘duties’ and this didn’t feel right for the members of BACP, and this came across very clearly in the webinars, and so we tried to think of a way that really captured what it is that we really want to communicate with our clients, and that’s how the notion of ‘commitments’ emerged.
Also we wanted to provide something that was a short overview of what is a fairly lengthy and complicated document that could be given to clients so they had a strong sense of what is on offer to them. So that’s where our commitment to clients came from.
In order to make the commitments section more user friendly, on the website we have also made it possible to print it out on its own without all the other documents so that it can be given to clients, and also colleagues and other people who for any reason are interested in understanding how we work with our clients and what the ethical basis of our work is.
Our big challenge is how do we turn our good intent to our clients, because our experiences that all our members have good intent and want to do good, how do we turn that good into good actions and produce good results and that’s where the Ethical Framework is so important it is really, its sole purpose is to address that issue.
Q1: Why don’t we just have rules?
A: It’s a good question, and some people sometimes would clearly like rules or expect rules, but there are several problems with rules. First of all, rules brings a third party into the room, it’s an external authority which the practitioner is listening to and following and obeying, rather than the ethics coming from them as a person, and that’s why we use the language of commitment.
Also there have historically been problems with rule-based ethics for professions and particularly in the United States but some of the British professional bodies as well have found that, if you create a culture of ethics as rules then what is not forbidden is permitted, so in other words, whatever the rules are silent about, you can be creative and work around the rules, whereas if you go with ethics you are trying to address your intention to do good, and to allow that to inform how you interact with your clients. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy and it doesn’t mean that we always get it right, but we are trying to work with our intention of doing right for another human being and in our context of our work with them.
Q2: If I can see a better way of implementing the commitments than is suggested in the Good Practice section what should I do?
A: Well, that’s a challenge for all of us and a very good question, because the Ethical Framework inevitably is written as the best practice at the moment that it’s written and things change and new circumstances arise, but the first thing I think to do, is just to make sure that you really are understanding the Ethical Framework as it’s written and to test out whether something you think would be better, really is, in supervision, discussing it with other colleagues, possibly discussing it at conferences, or in seminar format or some other way just to test out whether the idea is right.
If it does look like there is something that could be much better, then let BACP know, but also think carefully how you are going to manage this with your clients, so their expectations match your understanding and reduce the risk of misunderstandings or potentially a complaint or a grievance ultimately. So, I think the short answer is, test your insight, and secondly, introduce carefully.
Q3: Can I use the commitments section on its own to explain how I work ethically and give it to my clients or other colleagues?
A: You can, if you go onto the website you’ll see that there is a version which is a stand- alone commitments section, which you can print out and hand to clients free of any other documentation or anyone else who is interested in it. I know some people who actually have it on the wall in their offices, other people who put a link to it in their own websites and some people actually use it as a quick aide memoire for themselves rather than consult the whole Ethical Framework, but every now and again they just cast their eye over that in supervision and think what does this mean for the way in which I work with my clients?