I only read one book last week because time was tight. It was for uni, and it was about ethics in counselling. It was very interesting. I made a lot of notes.
I will begin with the one thing I found intensely irritating about this book. I read it because it’s on the required reading list for my course. In the course handbook it says you can either buy the book, borrow it from the library, or download it as an ebook. As you can see from the cover above, it also comes with free access to an interactive ebook.
I applaud the invention of ebooks. I’m happy that it makes it easier, and more likely, for more people to read. However, I personally prefer to read my books in paper format. I do not like being forced to read an ebook, and I find it annoying when a book has too obviously been written as an ebook and then printed out, rather than being a hard copy in its own right.
Standards and Ethics for Counselling in Action unfortunately fell into this category. For the first couple of chapters I wondered why certain words were highlighted in orange, then I realised they’d be hyperlinked in the ebook version. Also, the interactive ebook is less of an optional extra and more of a strong recommendation: there were a couple of examples of “X, Y and Z are important concepts in psychotherapy. Hover over these in the table in your interactive ebook to find out what they mean.”
Like I said, while I am happy that ebooks exist, I am not happy about being forced into reading them. In fact, I rebel against this so I didn’t check out the interactive ebook at all. I imagine if you don’t have my aversion to reading things online* then you might like this book even more than I did. Because despite just having spent several paragraphs ranting about it, I did in fact enjoy this book enough to buy my own copy.
* I am aware of the irony of writing this on a blog.
So, what did I like about it?
It provides a useful look into various issues surrounding ethics, for sure. Each chapter deals with a different concept and I liked how practical the advice was, particularly when it got into the murky legal stuff. I also enjoyed how much emphasis it placed on the counsellor’s responsibility to remain ethical, and constantly to update their own understanding of their personal moral systems and how these could fit in with their therapeutic practice.
Cultural differences are a huge area for ethical reflection in psychotherapy, and I think as (trainee) counsellors it’s uncomfortable to take a realistic look at what our cultural prejudices might be and how they might impact our practice in real terms. It’s much easier to go, “Oh yeah I’m sure I’d be fine, I can set aside any preconceived notions and just focus on what the client is saying.” But that’s rarely the case if you’re not willing to do some work on it too. For one thing, it’s not the client’s job to educate you about their entire sociocultural context, so if there’s something you don’t understand then it’s up to you to do some of the work. Sure, you can ask your client about their life and their place in the world – if you’re an existential therapist, which is what I want to be, then that’s a fundamental part of what you’ll be doing – but it’s not the client’s job to educate you out of your misconceptions. That shit’s on you. Bond doesn’t deny this, and that’s important.
It’s not just about straightforward prejudice, either: our whole concept of therapy in the UK is by definition skewed towards a Western perspective.
“Counselling has largely developed in cultures with a strong sense of individualism, but how should counsellors work respectfully with people who have a strong sense of collective identity?” – p.9
This isn’t the only example, of course, but it’s an interesting one. Our very idea of what therapy is seems to be tied up in the concept of autonomy, of becoming or uncovering ourselves as individuals. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this, but it’s important to remember that for someone else, the goal might be different.
There are also times when you’ll have to deal with things as a counsellor that go against your personal ethics. Setting aside one’s beliefs is harder than it sounds, and it can feel like you’re trying to live a paradox when you have to do it. How do you sort this out when it comes to therapeutic practice?
“Counsellors who seem most at ease with this dichotomy [of personal vs. professional ethics] appear to recognize a distinction between their personal and professional ethic but have integrated both ethics within a deeper sense of self.” – p.40
I’ve only been training for two weeks so far, but already I’m struck by the extent to which therapists’ methods are about self-awareness and a consciousness of one’s own subjectivity. It almost seems like the type of therapy isn’t relevant at all; it’s all in the individuals. In fact that’s directly claimed in C.H. Patterson’s Theories of Counselling and Psychotherapy, which I read last week. I knew this already, sort of; I’d seen studies demonstrating that it was the nature of the client-therapist relationship that makes therapy work, rather than the type of therapy being practised; but it’s fascinating just how much of that relationship comes from the therapist having a congruent relationship with themselves first.
So, yeah, I’d recommend Standards and Ethics for Counselling in Action despite the ebook thing. Definitely one to get the ethical cogs turning in your brain, and a useful point of reference if you’re already practising.