We put our clients first because they are the heart of everything we do, it’s the reason why we are practitioners, or supporting practitioners, as supervisors or trainers. It’s all about meeting the needs that clients bring to us. So most of the Ethical Framework is about working out the consequences of putting our clients first and thinking about how we manage our relationship with them, where the boundaries are, how we ensure that we are competent to provide the service that we do and how we manage the various ethical challenges that arise in our work.
There are limits to how far we can put our clients first and in particular in the things that have emerged over time are, when we need to protect them or others from serious harm. Also, sometimes when we have competing duties and increasingly for practitioners those are often duties around safeguarding or protecting children or vulnerable adults from neglect or serious harm. We have to manage these competing demands on us in the context of how can we be trustworthy? How can we carry some of the tensions that are inevitably involved in wanting to meet the clients’ needs and addressing other needs and the Ethical Framework is really there to help us identify what the issues might be and find strategies to be trustworthy with our clients.
Q1: Is the claim to ‘put clients first’ potentially misleading? Aren’t there other demands that compete with putting clients first – like making sure young people and vulnerable adults are protected from neglect and abuse?
Yes there are competing demands, but many clients will not raise issues which require us to engage with these competing demands. But nonetheless, we need to construct our relationship with our clients in a way which allows us to manage these issues without doing unnecessary damage to the trust the client has placed in us. It’s a challenge, but the starting point is always the best interests of the client and if something comes in as an extra demand that competes with that, that’s probably one of the most ethically challenging situations we face and it’s one of the situations where, if we are going to continue to work therapeutically with somebody, we’ve got to address those issues of trust and how we are going to manage that.
Q2: What about the needs of practitioners? Does putting clients first lead to neglecting the legitimate needs of all of us as practitioners?
It’s the nature of counselling and psychotherapy and related roles that we are the instrument through which we deliver our services. We have no scalpels, we have no other kit very often, we are the person who works with the client and we draw on ourselves as a resource to help the client. So our needs are important if we are going to be there as a whole person, we need to find a way of balancing, addressing those needs with how we address our clients’ needs. Perhaps the phrase ‘putting the client first’ draws our attention to the fact that our work necessarily involves us in putting our own interests second and the clients’ needs first, but that doesn’t mean that our needs are wholly absent, we do need to tend to our needs and to think about what they mean in terms of the service we deliver.