Research is very important to us as a profession and BACP’s been involved with supporting research in a variety of ways, since its very beginning. Research helps us to identify what’s the best practice and also to identify and think through the issues as they arise and change in society. So the Ethical Framework inevitably involves some consideration of research and our responsibility as practitioners to support research or to be actively involved in research.
New guidelines for researching the counselling professions have recently been published and what’s in the Ethical Framework is designed to underpin those guidelines. There are a number of issues which are particularly pertinent to our field, first of all research quality and trying to ensure that whatever methodology we use, we produce the best quality research within the terms of that and that it’s fit for its purpose. And just as important is the way in which we treat research participants, so the, that they’re treated in ways that respect their investment, their contribution to the research and also that they have consented and are treated in ways that would be compatible with the consent requirements that we would expect for clients.
And also we’ve had to think about independent reviews because whilst most research is undertaken in either educational or health settings where there normally are quite strong ethical frameworks and support for research ethically, sometimes independent practitioners want to undertake research and what are the requirements for them given that we do think that independent review of research before it’s implemented increases the chances of it being able to face any ethical challenges, how could an independent practitioner meet that requirement?
Q1: I am a student in a college that has its own research ethics approval process. Do I need to follow BACP Ethical Guidelines for Research in the Counselling Professions as well?
The guidelines have been written in a way which should ensure both are compatible with each other, but if you’re in an educational institution or, for example, working in a healthcare institution then clearly they are the guidelines that you will be contractually obliged to follow. And we’ve drafted the BACP guidelines in a way in which they take into account of that. Sometimes you may find that the BACP guidelines raise issues that the institution has not thought of and that then gives you a basis for raising those issues with the institution.
Q2: I am working in private practice and want to send my clients a questionnaire about how they use online resources for help with the issues that concern them. Is this research? And, how will I satisfy the need for an independent ethical review in Good Practice point 89?
The distinction between research and other legitimate professional activities is an important one, and research ethics specifically relates to the generation of new knowledge which could be circulated and used by other people. Whereas, for example, in the context of that survey it might be what you are trying to do is to audit or monitor the services and they’re very service specific enquiries in which case its probable that they’re not research and therefore they fall outside the guidelines and more within the Ethical Framework principles, they both should be compatible with each other and are designed to be compatible with each other. So if you’re generating new knowledge for wider use it’s research, if you’re simply improving your services then it’s probably auditing or monitoring and therefore falls within the Ethical Framework.
But let us suppose that that survey’s intended for research and you’re wanting to extend knowledge and suggest practice for other people, then clearly it is an issue about how do you organise an independent review and that’s specifically considered in the new guidelines, but basically what you’re looking for is a panel of people who have relevant expertise but are independent of the research to review it and to think about issues about the quality of the research that’s being undertaken about whether it is fit for purpose and also thinking what are the issues for the participants in the research and protecting their ethical interest, but there’s more guidance within the guidelines for that.