Codes of Ethics for Practitioners
Embodied in this document are values which are articulated as principles. These are not intended as rules by which to judge ourselves or one another, but guidelines by which we conduct the art and practice of psychotherapy.
Ethical standards comprise such values as integrity, competence, confidentiality and responsibility. Members of the Institute, in assenting to these guidelines, accept responsibility to clients, to the Institute and to themselves.
Practitioners respect the dignity and worth of human beings and their ultimate right to self-determination, whilst having regard for the interests of others. They accept a responsibility to encourage and support the self-development of the client within the client’s network of relationships.
Practitioners respect their clients as individuals working towards autonomy and thus growing in their ability to make decisions and changes in the light of their own beliefs, values and experience.
The client’s interest is paramount and, where there is a conflict of responsibilities, the practitioner has to use his or her considered judgment. Practitioners are responsible for the observation of the principles inherent in this Code of Ethics and use the Code as the basis of good practice rather than as a set of minimal requirements.
Practitioners do not misrepresent themselves in terms of their professional qualifications, experience and membership of the Institute when undertaking a contract for therapy.
Practitioners should recognise the training, practice, differences and experience of other professionals and act with integrity and respect towards them.
Practitioners shall state clearly to the client or where appropriate to the legal guardian, the terms, conditions and methods of practice. The practitioner shall endeavour to ensure that these terms, conditions and methods are maintained or say clearly why alterations must be made.
Practitioners undertake to set out clearly and without prejudice a contract with their client before the onset of therapy. If this is in private practice, this contract must state clearly the terms of fees charged, the duration of each session, the methods of payment, any system of induction and review, procedures for cancellation, termination, payment or otherwise for missed sessions and practical arrangements which support the integrity of their work.
Practitioners are responsible for setting and monitoring the boundaries between a working relationship and friendship and for making the boundaries as explicit as possible to the client.
Engaging in sexual activity with a client whilst also engaging in a therapeutic relationship is unethical.
Practitioners who are in doubt about their ability to perform competently, should seek appropriate advice, supervision or support. They are also able to account to clients and colleagues for what they do and why.
Practitioners have a responsibility to monitor the limits of their competence. Where those limits are reached, they refer on to others more able to help. Where practitioners have become, through whatever means, unable to work effectively, they withdraw from work until such time as they are able to work effectively again. These decisions are taken by the practitioner in consultation with colleagues, supervisors and/or teachers.
Practitioners should continuously be working to extend the range of their own skills and to become clearer all the time concerning their own limitations. It is part of their professional responsibility to seek information and advice from colleagues and also to refer clients to other therapists if this may be of benefit to them.
Practitioners should, from time to time, discuss the overall progress of therapeutic work with their clients and if reasonable progress is not being made, the practitioner has an obligation to inform the client accordingly and to suggest termination or a change of therapist, leaving the ultimate decision for this in the hands of the client. The ability to recognise that one is not the right therapist for a particular client is one sign of professional competence.
Should a change of therapist be necessary, the practitioner should endeavour to safeguard the client’s welfare until such time as a referral to another professional has been accepted.
Therapists are required to familiarise themselves with and keep up to date with changing legislation which may limit confidentiality and inform clients of these limits.
Confidentiality is intrinsic to good practice. Information which is confidential includes not only the identity and personal details of the client, but any data which could lead a third party to infer what is confidential.
Practitioners explore with clients their own and their client’s expectations about confidentiality. They also ascertain what other agencies are involved with their clients and confer as appropriate with such agencies. Except in extreme circumstances, such conference takes place only with the client’s agreement.
Contact by the practitioner with third parties such as relatives or friends of the client should happen only with the express knowledge and consent of the client. Exceptions may be made in certain circumstances: e.g. therapy with minors or in the management of clients who are dangerous to themselves or others; or in an emergency.
The practitioner should treat as privileged all information received from the client, whether this is during therapy sessions or during other situations when they might be in communication with a client, unless the client specifically agrees that this information is generally communicable.
The consent of the client should be obtained for the publication of clinical material. This requirement applies especially to material recorded by electronic means such as audio or video-recording. Where the client specifically requests that material should not be used, this must be respected.
Exceptions may be made in certain circumstances, e.g. where a lawsuit may be threatened and the therapist required to give details to solicitors or professional insurers. Material about clients held in computer files shall be secure and conform to the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1986 and any subsequent revisions.
Therapists are advised to keep confidential records secure and to restrict access to their records if they work in Agencies, Clinics or Institutions.
A client’s communications must at all times be regarded as confidential and if disclosure is necessary the client should normally be informed. The limits of confidentiality should be explained to clients. Clients shall have access to their psychotherapist’s records as required by current legislation; assessments, letters to referees and summaries of treatment should be available to clients on request. (A therapist’s own notes to themselves and any supervision on them is not required to be accessible to clients).
Where the client is a child, procedures must be in accordance with the Children Act 1989 and any subsequent revisions.
The relationship between a practitioner and his or her client is obviously fundamental to therapy. Practitioners need to recognise the power and influence which the contract of psychotherapy gives to them and the likelihood of their being recipients of numerous projections. They should not permit their professional skills to be used in such a way as to manipulate their clients to the benefit of themselves, other people or organisations.
Practitioners must not exploit their clients in financial, sexual or emotional ways.
Practitioners should be aware of current fees regarding therapy and should set their fees according to their professional competence, experience and qualifications.
Psychotherapists work with clients to terminate therapy when the client has received the help they sought or when it is apparent that therapy is no longer helping them.
If a client is not benefiting from the therapy, the therapist should terminate the relationship after effectively working through the reasons for termination, and should endeavour to safeguard the client’s welfare until such time as a referral to another professional has been accepted.
It is standard practice to ascertain at the beginning of psychotherapy the name of the client’s GP and other professionals who are involved in the client’s treatment. Where there is an adjunct medical aspect to the client’s condition, the practitioner should encourage the client to seek additional appropriate advice from his or her general practitioner or some other suitable qualified professional person.
With the client’s agreement, it may be desirable to notify the client’s medical practitioner that the client is in therapy. Where the client is receiving medical treatment relating to emotional or psychological conditions, it is necessary that the client’s GP or other practitioners prescribing treatment are informed.
A student in training or a qualified therapist who is convicted in the Court of Law for any criminal offence, or who is the subject of successful Civil Action by a client shall report the facts to the Institute.
These guidelines should be read in conjunction with the Code of Ethics of the Institute and clarified by students with their course tutor. What is important is that each practitioner is consistent and operates from a coherent and thought-out position and treats clients, colleagues and fellow students in an ethical, respectful and responsible fashion.
Practitioners shall observe such professional boundaries as prevent them placing themselves in a position that might compromise their relationship with clients, colleagues or other professionals. They are responsible for setting and monitoring these and for making explicit such boundaries to the client.
A therapist should endeavour to provide the safest possible working space, unencumbered by personal issues and ensure a secure environment for the providing of therapy.
If the therapist is working out of their own home, a suitable work setting needs to be defined for these purposes. Therapists are advised to have a separate telephone number with an answer phone for their practice. Clients are encouraged not to infringe personal boundaries outside session time.
During and after therapy, discretion should be exercised with regard to social contacts with the client. In settings where the nature of the work allows psychotherapists to mix socially with their clients, the psychotherapist must ensure that such social contacts do not jeopardise the professional relationship.
If it emerges during the course of the work that there arises a conflict of loyalties which impinges on the work with a client, it is expected that the practitioner make such a conflict explicit to the client.
Therapists who become aware of a conflict between their obligation to a client and their obligation to an agency or organisation employing them will make explicit the nature of the loyalties and responsibilities involved.
Where the relationship with a client becomes compromised in any way, the therapist has a clear responsibility to ensure that the client is appropriately referred to another professional.
Treating with confidence means not revealing any of the information which might result in identification of the client. If the practitioner owes accountability for therapeutic work to agencies or supervisors, the client should be informed that this is the case.
The principle underlying the practice of confidentiality extends to, for example, not discussing clients with involved colleagues in a manner which trivialises the client or the work.
In extreme circumstances where a client could be in danger to others or themselves, the practitioner must inform the client that he or she may break confidence and then take appropriate action.
Where a practitioner wishes to use specific information gained during work with a client in, for example, a lecture or a publication, the client’s permission should be sought and, when desired, anonymity given.
Practitioners treat with proper respect colleagues and other professionals and if privileged information comes their way through interaction with their clients, they seek with the client’s permission to resolve this directly with their colleagues.
All information that is shared during the therapy session is coloured and clouded by the client’s own viewpoint. Therapists need to be aware that they are building images in their own minds about other people mentioned by the client who do not have recourse to or sight of the information that is being shared. Therapists need therefore to hold others outside of the sanctuary of the session space with due regard and respect.
Transference and countertransference issues always arise during the process of psychotherapy. Practitioners need to be aware of the immense influence this has, not only on their client’s psyches, but also on their own. Provision for ongoing supervision and recourse to feedback from colleagues and other professionals needs to be part of the practitioner’s professional life in order to be vigilant to this.
Psychotherapists, trainers and supervisors have an ethical obligation not to accept privately as clients those who are in relationship with other agencies, organisations or institutions without prior notice or agreement with that agency.
Where the client has been referred to a practitioner, it is normal practice and courtesy to report back in general terms to the referring agent or practitioner, without breaching confidentiality or going into significant detail regarding the client’s subsequent progress.
Similarly, if practitioners refer clients to others, it is their responsibility, as far as possible, to verify the competence and integrity of the person to whom clients are referred.
Practitioners should be aware of the social, moral, and legal expectations of the community in which they work and respect cultural aspects regarding their clients and colleagues.
Practising under the influence of alcohol or mind-altering drugs is unethical. Practitioners who are undergoing treatment for chemical dependency disorders should not withhold this information from their colleagues and should withdraw from practising until such time as those professionals by whom they are being treated deem it appropriate for them to continue practising.
Psychotherapists are part of a professional community of peers and colleagues where gossip, innuendo and derogatory comments about other members of the community, or practitioners of another branch of psychotherapy, are inappropriate and to be avoided.
Practitioners must take out a professional indemnity insurance to cover themselves in the event of a legal suit and to ensure that they are adequately covered in the event of other claims that might be made against the practitioner or the owners of the premises in which the practitioner works.
Practitioners need to be aware that in using the name of the Institute as their training body, they may be indicating that the Institute has on-going authority for their work beyond qualification. On qualification, the practitioner joins a Professional Association which is responsible for monitoring Codes of Ethics. The Institute’s Professional Association is the Association of Psychospiritual Practitioners (APP).
When announcing their services, practitioners limit information to details of the service they offer, practical details and the relevant qualifications. They do not make evaluative statements as to the quality of their service nor do they make comparisons with other similar services offered by colleagues or competitors.
Practitioners do not display membership or affiliation of the Institute or any other organisation in a manner which falsely implies the sponsorship or validation of the organisation.