Musings and Articles by CST Associates and Partners
Jim Holloway believes the revised Ethical Framework gives us an accessible set of refined terms to help guide our work
I got an odd look the other day when I suggested to a wonderfully conscientious supervisee that the new Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions1 is a supreme work of fiction. I admit that was very pointedly postmodernistic of me – not my preferred mode as it happens, but it can sometimes stimulate useful new thinking.
In this case, after a slightly tense discussion, my supervisee sat back and realised the essentially paradoxical nature of the Framework. In the plainest terms, the paradox is this: we say all these fine things in it about how superbly we conduct ourselves, and it’s obvious we don’t behave like that, because if we did it wouldn’t be necessary to write it all down. A good way to develop this idea is to ask yourself how you would be practising differently if the Framework didn’t exist.
We might say the Ethical Framework is fictional only in the sense that it’s aspirational – it points you to the best version of yourself, which, unless you’re a living saint, isn’t going to appear.
We sit in the frame to talk and then something happens. We are the work that animates the frame. all day every day. And this hints at another basic but more personal paradox: the very best version of me is one in which I accept my imperfections.
Another supervisee told me she had no trouble at all accepting the new Framework as both excellent and flawed. She said she feels similarly about her religion: for her, it is at once emancipatory and restrictive. This led us to talk about how counselling as a vocation might have a sort of religious aspect for some counsellors, with BACP as a type of church. Could the Ethical Framework be mistaken for scriptural dogma? I really hope not. Although it could be aptly be described as our trade association’s ‘Articles of Faith’, it has not been delivered to us as a divine revelation, and its chief scribe, Tim Bond, is not a holy prophet (as far as we know!). However, it does tell us there’s a strong moral code to be followed and we’re committed to following it.
While not primarily proclaimed as such, isn’t supervision itself a morally based activity? Our professional lexicon seems to favour the word ‘ethics’ over the more pious-sounding ‘morality’ – though of course the Ethical Framework does lay out a list of desired moral qualities for us to nurture in ourselves. (By the way, have you noticed that ‘fairness’ has been dropped from the list, and ‘competence’ has been renamed ‘diligence’? Something to ponder, briefly. I think the two new additions, ‘care’ and ‘identity’, complement the others well but need a bit of discussion to make good sense of them as active personal virtues.)
Although it’s packed with enormous nominalisations (‘justice’, ‘wellbeing’, ‘integrity’, and so on), the Ethical Framework does give us an intelligible and manageable structure for remembering first principles, realigning values, giving shape and finding direction. In supervision sessions, ethical principles are often named but I’ve noticed how rarely supervisees refer to or include the Framework as a whole. I wonder about that. Perhaps there’s a clue in the title: it’s a framework, not the work itself. We sit in the frame to talk and then something happens. We are the work that animates the frame. And, in fact, we’re still building the frame. I remind supervisees that the evolved document we have now is the result of painstaking collaboration between hundreds of peopleoveraverylongperiod–morethanthree decades in fact, if we take the new Framework as having begun its life as the first BAC Code of Ethics and Practice in 1984. That code must have had its critics back then, just as the current Framework does now. Not all my supervisees seem aware of the major concerns some BACP members have raised about the new Framework; or, if they are aware, they don’t hold particularly strong views about them. The debate is important and I feel we owe it to our fellow professionals to keep up with the arguments, even if we don’t always know where we stand. For a clear summary of the ideological, statutory and legal issues, I recommend Peter Jenkins’ helpful article and the eloquent correspondence in Therapy Today between Arthur Musgrave, Els van Ooijen and Tim Bond.
Despite perhaps being read by some practitioners as a worthy collection of numbered rules, the Ethical Framework clearly expects us to think for ourselves – and we expect this of ourselves, surely. See the very last sentence (item 78): ‘We will take responsibility for considering how best to act... and will be ready to explain why we decided to respond in the way we did.’ We know from experience that describing our work in regular supervision is the best method to practise being ‘ready to explain’. The way I see it, because the Framework has wrestled for years with some vague, unwieldy or obtuse terminology to do with values, qualities and principles, we now have an accessible set of refined terms to help us shape our explanations. By using this shared language in actual practice, we contribute to its further refinement. And the whole point of learning this language is to comprehend and contain the moral and ethical uncertainties brought into the supervisory space through our clients’ stories. The ethical world we seek to construct may be a fiction, but it’s always real people who live in it.
1. BACP. Ethical Framework for the counselling professions. Lutterworth: BACP; 2015. [Online.] http://www.bacp.co.uk/ admin/structure/files/pdf/14237_ethical-framework- jun15-final.pdf (accessed 18 April 2016).
2.JenkinsP.WhatiswrongwiththeEthicalFramework? Contemporary Psychotherapy. [Online.] http://www. contemporarypsychotherapy.org/volume-7-no-2- winter-2015/what-is-wrong-with-the-ethical-framework/ (accessed 18 April 2016).
3. Letters.Theunethicalframework?TherapyToday2016;27(1). [Online.] http://www.therapytoday.net/article/show/46