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How do you know your therapist is working ethically?

When we’re searching for a therapist, often, the main things we look for are where they’re based, what their specialisms are, their fee and their availability. But, just as important is checking that they are committed to working to the highest ethical standard and keeping your well-being their priority.

Did you know that, unlike nurses, doctors and psychologists, counsellors and psychotherapists are not regulated? However, there are organisations that hold accredited registers, that counsellors and psychotherapists can become members of.

The main three professional bodies you may come across as you search for a therapist are:

However, there is a range of professional bodies that cater to more specialist approaches to therapy. An extensive list can be found on Counselling Directory or you can ask a therapist to provide details of their professional body when you first make contact with them.

Why is it important that your therapist is a member of a professional body? 

Most professional bodies have a minimum standard in terms of the level of qualification a therapist must achieve in order to become a member. This, in itself, is a really important factor in a world where there are online training providers offering six-week counselling courses.

Just as important to the qualifications required for joining, is the maintaining of standards. In becoming a member, a therapist will have agreed (as a condition of their membership) to adhere to an ethical framework or code of ethics, which ensures that your psychological and physical safety are placed first and foremost.

In addition, if you feel that your therapist has acted in an unethical way, there will be processes in place for you to discuss your concerns with their professional body and, if necessary, a process to hold therapists accountable for unethical practice.

How do I know if my therapist is working ethically?

Different professional bodies have different codes of ethics. Your therapist should make you aware of which ethical code they work to. You can easily access these documents on the professional body's website and some, such as the BACP ethical framework, have a handout written for clients to help them understand what they can expect.

Ethics in counselling runs throughout all aspects of the work, it informs everything; from a therapist’s decision to accept you as a new referral, the way they work with you, all the way through to the way endings are agreed on and carried out.

A few examples of your therapist’s ethical practice that might be more apparent to you as a client include:

  • Asking you to read and sign their contract (also known as a ‘counselling agreement’) before starting therapy.
  • Clearly explaining how your information, and records from your sessions, will be stored and how you can access them.
  • Explaining confidentiality, for example, when there may be times where your therapist would have to consult with a third party.
  • Maintaining professional boundaries. Most ethical codes require therapists to avoid forming any form of relationship with their clients, including friendships, business relationships and intimate relationships.
  • Attending regular sessions with their clinical supervisor to receive guidance on their work and ensure they are working ethically.

Whilst ethical practice may not be frequently spoken about by your therapist, if they are a member of a professional body and adhere to their ethical code or framework, you can be assured that every decision they make about your work together is made in consideration of your best interests and well-being.

What if I have a concern about my therapist?

It’s not uncommon that there may be a misunderstanding between a therapist and their client and, on these occasions, it’s encouraged where possible to discuss this with your therapist.

Less common are instances where your therapist has acted unethically. Again, where possible, a discussion with your therapist in the first instance may resolve the issue. However, there may be times when this doesn’t feel appropriate. In these circumstances, you may wish to contact your therapist’s professional body.

More information about the complaints procedures for the professional bodies listed above can be found here:

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Leicester LE3 & Market Harborough LE16

Written by Jo Langston

Leicester LE3 & Market Harborough LE16

Jo is a BACP registered integrative therapist running an online practice. Jo has also held a number of roles within BACP, including manager of their ethical support service. Jo is passionate about ethical practice, her area of specialism is helping clients overcome negative beliefs about themselves and building self-esteem and self-confidence.

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