What is ethical practice in counselling? How is this reflected in the skills, competencies and qualities of an effective counsellor?
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The aim of this assignment is to show what ethical practice is in counselling and how carrying out ethical practices make a more effective and competent counsellor. The first part explains what is meant by ethical practice. The second part will examine boundaries implemented by counsellors to protect both parties. The second part focuses on the skill of listening along with other non – specific factors in order to be an effective counsellor. Next part defines a competent counsellor and the problems which occur when this is absent. The final part examines the ethical issue of advice and explains the implications of giving advice. Working in a counselling role whether it is voluntary or professional it is important you adhere to the ethics set out. There is a unified ethical code set out by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). The ethical framework in which counsellor’s ensure they carry out their roles appropriately along with the understanding that they be held accountable with regards to client wellbeing and safety. The BACP is not designed to hinder the counsellor but work alongside their values, morals and principles to protect clients in terms of expectation, rights and quality of care. General ethical commitments are expressed through their principles. These are fidelity; autonomy; beneficence; non-maleficence; justice and self-respect.
Personal qualities of a counsellor are important and interlink with values and principles of the counsellor, these consist of empathy; sincerity; integrity; respect; resilience; competence; wisdom; humility and courage. The use of their skills, competencies and qualities combined with their principles should make an effective counsellor. (Langridge, 2008) (BACP, 2013) Boundaries could be defined as a framework in which the client and counsellor work together. It acts as a safety net to ensure that the client does not come to any harm. This works alongside the ethical practice of non-maleficence. The counsellor makes clear their expectations / limitations so it’s visible to the client and also helps avoid malpractice. These boundaries also help ensure the client / counsellor is kept safe. An example of these metaphorical boundaries would be a verbal agreement as it sets out the key features and identifies what needs to be done to avoid misunderstandings. (Langridge,2008). The qualities needed from the counsellor to implement this would be sincerity and integrity. The sincerity to be consistent by doing what you said you were going to do. Integrity here can be seen as moral, straightforward and honest in stating your limitations and drawing up an agreement (BACP 2013). These boundaries are set out in a way to suit each counsellor some are fixed and some more flexible, some may argue that this can be damaging to the relationship if they are over or under boundaried (mcleod, p.229)
An example of boundaries is shown in the DVD (OU, 2008, section 4) where Helen (counsellor) is talking to James she clearly sets out boundaries stating she was not qualified but could help in a listening capacity (a skill which is very important) and also that the conversation was confidential this ensured the clients well-being and also covered the counsellor from any ethical backlash i.e malpractice. Jamie understood this and continued the conversation. Counsellors use non-specific factors when engaging with clients. A vital skill involves actively listening, this requires the counsellor to absorb all information given to them by the client without pre judgement or imposing own ideas (this can be seen in emotional and mental safety). This demonstrates to client that you think they are very important and you care (Langridge, 2008). it is also important to pay attention to the non-verbal cues as well such as body language, eye contact (although can make client feel uncomfortable) and head movement. (Langridge, 2008). It can also be said it is very important in the therapeutic relationship to pay attention to what is not being said also. Rennie (1994b, citied by McLeod) found that if the client felt misunderstood they would conceal their feelings. Some may talk openly about the important thing whilst covering up what is really happening. Therefore the counsellor needs to gain as much access as possible into ‘hidden material’. The ethical way to do this would be to examine notes that look at inner experiences as well as what was said. Both experiences of the client and counsellor can be examined. This can be useful in training and well as looking at own techniques and re-examining them when fully qualified. P252.
Also using open questions could draw out fuller responses from client and enable the counsellor to access more information into the complex issue surrounding client. Interpersonal skills needed by the counsellor are listening, empathy, awareness, communication and responsiveness. This will enable a good therapeutic relationship to form which is key to ensuring goals are met on both parts. Bordin’s Therapeutic alliance model (1979, cited by McLeod) highlights the notion of these competencies along with the ability to use specific techniques in an appropriate manner. Empathy is an important quality identified as an ethical component and should be adhered to in order to become an effective counsellor. In the DVD (ou, section 1, 2008) there is clear evidence of the counsellor actively listening to client. She uses basic counselling skills such as clarification to check her understanding of the problem (awareness) and see the problem through the client’s world (empathy). She also uses open questions to identify the areas in which the client can reflect and understand her own problem (responsiveness & communication) and in turn she has empowered the client by not imposing judgement but by demonstrating that the most important skill a counsellor has is listening to the client. In contrast in DVD (OU, 2008, section 5 clip 1) we see the counsellor not listening to what the client said and made the client feel unimportant. In turn this heightened their anxiety and left them no further forward to finding a solution. This demonstrates lack of empathy and justice on the counsellor’s part which are highlighted by the BACP to ensure clients well-being.
The ethical quality of competence works alongside what BACP determine Beneficence, to work within own competence using research and reflection to inform practice. This entails the willingness to pursue knowledge and understanding in order to develop skills further but also have a good set of skills to do the job already. To highlight what incompetence can do DVD (OU, 2008, section 5clip3) shows counsellor is out of her depth and could not give client a straight answer or any kind of guidance. Although ethically restrained to give advice the counsellor should have guided client through their feeling using basic counselling skills. However client left upset, confused and blaming herself for the issues she had. Personal qualities are lacking in order to make the counsellor effective. A counsellor is ethically bound not to give advice necessarily to the client but more to use the skills of encouragement and support to guide the client to find their own solutions to their problems and for the client to become self-determining. Should the counsellor simply give advice on issues with the client they may simply be pressing upon the client their own views and beliefs rather than following the ethical framework that effective counsellors adhere to. (Landridge,2008). Sometimes the client expects the counsellor to tell them the answers to their problems and is disappointed when the counsellor is unable to do so.
However the counsellor needs to use qualities such as resilience, competence and wisdom in order to work with the client in these situations. (McLeod, 2008 p.259). In contrast to the ethical principle of advice the DVD (OU, 2008, section 5 clip 2) where the counsellor is trying to solve practical problems of the client (the light bulb) instead of addressing emotional issues to do with her mother. She should not have been trying to give advice as this is unethical but instead allow her client to reach her own solution and explore her feelings toward her mother deeper. The support here was clearly not given. Instead the counsellor should have used her skills of listening, open questions and paraphrasing to guide client toward exploring her feelings. Competence and wisdom were clearly lacking making a very ineffective counsellor and potentially damaging the relationship. To surmise the ethical framework ensures the client and the counsellor are protected. Counselling skills are essential in order for any counselling relationship. Use of basic skills should enable the counsellor to be more effective in succeeding. However this assignment has highlighted what happens when basic skills are lacking. Possession of counselling qualities as mentioned at the start should enable client to strike up a good relationship with the counsellor. This is crucial in order for counselling to be successful. Therefore the skills, competencies and qualities combined should make counselling more successful for the client and the counsellor more effective. (Word count 1474)