This e-learning module is intended to help you understand how to make ethical decisions using a 12-step ethical decision making model. 

It can be used by individuals or within teaching, supervision or peer group settings. 

Throughout this resource you are encouraged to reflect on the scenario and engage in self-study. You can also watch our panel of experienced practitioners discuss the scenarios and ethical decision-making model.

1. Ethical decision making

Kim sees her client Nathan

Kim started seeing private practice clients in her home last year. She's been working with Nathan, an 18 year old student, for about four months.

As you watch the video, think about:

  • what risks does Nathan present with?
  • what are the ethical challenges?
  • what might you think and feel in Kim’s position?

(Video 9 minutes)

Ethical decision making

Take a look at GPiA 044 Ethical decision making in the counselling professions. This gives details of a 12 step model that may help you make ethical decisions in your practice.

For additional support in ethical decision making, you can visit the Ethics hub.

Supervision and steps 1 to 3

We join Kim with her supervisor Rachel as they work through steps 1 to 3 of the ethical decision-making model.

As you watch the video, think about:

  • what are the risk factors Kim needs to be aware of in respect of Nathan?
  • does anything in Nathan's current situation alleviate these risks?

Take a look at these Good Practice in Action resources:

These show that a client expressing suicidal thoughts, is generally insufficient to justify breaking confidentiality against their wishes.

(Video 12 minutes)

Supervision and steps 4 to 7

Kim and Rachel explore the risks using steps 4 to 7 of the ethical decision making model and the Ethical Framework. Again, Lynne Gabriel describes each step.

As you watch the video, think about:

  • how have Kim and Rachel engaged with steps 4 to 7?
  • which points of the Ethical Framework do you think would be most relevant in this situation?
  • what appropriate support do you have for managing challenging ethical dilemmas in your own practice, other than supervision?

(Video 12 minutes)

Supervision and steps 8 to 12

Kim and Rachel discuss a suitable course of action using steps 8 to 9 of the ethical decision making model. Lynne Gabriel gives an overview of these and steps 10 to 12.

As you watch the video, think about:

  • do you agree with the actions Kim decides to take?
  • how might this model have helped you with an ethical dilemma or problem that you have encountered?

Think about the relational aspects of these scenarios:

  • what did you notice about the dynamics between Kim and her client Nathan?
  • how might you and your supervisor work through the ethical decision making model if you were working with Nathan and taking this dilemma to supervision?

(Video 12 minutes)

For more resources on supervision, see the Ethical Framework supervision.

2. Further discussion

We asked a panel of experienced practitioners the same questions. See if their thinking matches yours.

Panel members consider what they may have done if Nathan had been their client.

(Video 10 minutes)

The panel discusses its understanding of contracting and what this should mean in practice. It also discuss breaches in confidentiality, and how the Ethical Framework should be used to benefit practitioners and their clients.

(Video 15 minutes)

3. Trainers' resources

The supervision session in full.

(Video 17 minutes)

Full supervision video transcript (opens in a new window)

Lynne Gabriel discusses all 12 steps of the ethical decision making model.

(Video 18 minutes)


This ethical decision-making resource presents a fictional scenario where a counsellor is concerned that a client may be at risk of suicide. It shows how the 12-step ethical decision making model can be used in supervision to work through this dilemma. It also enables you to think through how you may make ethical decisions within your own practice.

For filming purposes, the 12 step model has been demonstrated as a linear process, but in practice, the steps may be taken in a different order or time-frame.

For further support in making ethical decisions, see the Ethics hub.

About the contributors

Our practitioner panel comprises:

  • Professor Lynne Gabriel - Professor of Counselling and Mental Health and Director of the Counselling and Mental Health Research Clinic at York St John University. Lynne is the author of GPiA 044 Ethical decision making in the counselling profession.
  • Alistair Ross – Associate Professor of Psychotherapy at Oxford University and past chair of the BACP Ethics committee
  • Natalie Bailey – Clinical Supervisor and Lecturer at the University of East London and a counsellor and supervisor in private practice. Natalie is also a Trustee on the BACP Board of Governors
  • Faisal Mahmood – Senior Lecturer in counselling at Newman University, Birmingham and a therapist and supervisor in private practice

We'd also like to thank the production team and actors, especially:

  • Keanan Lloyd-Adams - Nathan
  • Jeanette Percival - counsellor Kim
  • Julie Binysh - supervisor Rachel

Using e-learning resources

These resources are not contractually binding on members, but are intended to inform good practice based on current ethical and legal standards.  

All the scenarios shown are fictional. They are not intended as examples of good practice, or BACP policy, but to stimulate ethical thinking and decision making within the counselling professions.

Please see Good Practice in Action for further information on using these resources.

Please send any feedback on this resource to

Permission is granted to reproduce for personal and educational use only. Commercial copying, hiring and lending are prohibited.