Guidance on good practice in counselling and psychotherapy
The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy is
committed to sustaining and advancing good practice. This guidance
on the essential elements of good practice has been written to take
into account the changing circumstances in which counselling and
psychotherapy are now being delivered, in particular:
- changes in the range of issues and levels of need presented
- the growth in levels of expertise available from
practitioners with the expansion in the availability of training
and consultative support/supervision
- the accumulated experience of this Association over nearly
The diversity of settings within which counselling and
psychotherapy services are delivered has also been carefully
considered. These services may be provided by the independent
practitioner working alone, one or more practitioners working to
provide a service within an agency or large organisation,
specialists working in multidisciplinary teams, and by specialist
teams of counsellors and psychotherapists. Most work is undertaken
face to face but there are also a growing number of telephone and
online services. Some practitioners are moving between these
different settings and modes of delivery during the course of their
work and are therefore required to consider what constitutes good
practice in different settings. All practitioners encounter the
challenge of responding to the diversity of their clients and
finding ways of working effectively with them. This statement
therefore responds to the complexity of delivering counselling and
psychotherapy services in contemporary society by directing
attention to essential issues that practitioners ought to consider
and resolve in the specific circumstances of their work.
The term ‘practitioner’ is used generically to refer to anyone with
responsibility for the provision of counselling- or
psychotherapy-related services. ‘Practitioner’ includes anyone
undertaking the role(s) of counsellor, psychotherapist, trainer,
educator, supervisor, researcher, provider of counselling skills or
manager of any of these services. The term ‘client’ is used as a
generic term to refer to the recipient of any of these services. The
client may be an individual, couple, family, group, organisation or
other specifiable social unit. Alternative names may be substituted
for ‘practitioner’ and ‘client’ in the practice setting as the
terminology varies according to custom and context.
Providing a good standard of practice and care
All clients are entitled to good standards of practice and care from
their practitioners in counselling and psychotherapy. Good standards
of practice and care require professional competence; good
relationships with clients and colleagues; and commitment to and
observance of professional ethics.
Good quality of care
Good quality of care requires competently delivered services that
meet the client’s needs by practitioners who are appropriately
supported and accountable.
Practitioners should give careful consideration to the limitations
of their training and experience and work within these limits,
taking advantage of available professional support. If work with
clients requires the provision of additional services operating in
parallel with counselling or psychotherapy, the availability of such
services ought to be taken into account, as their absence may
constitute a significant limitation.
Good practice involves clarifying and agreeing the rights and
responsibilities of both the practitioner and client at appropriate
points in their working relationship.
Dual relationships arise when the practitioner has two or more kinds
of relationship concurrently with a client, for example client and
trainee, acquaintance and client, colleague and supervisee. The
existence of a dual relationship with a client is seldom neutral and
can have a powerful beneficial or detrimental impact that may not
always be easily foreseeable. For these reasons practitioners are
required to consider the implications of entering into dual
relationships with clients, to avoid entering into relationships
that are likely to be detrimental to clients, and to be readily
accountable to clients and colleagues for any dual relationships
Practitioners are encouraged to keep appropriate records of their
work with clients unless there are adequate reasons for not keeping
any records. All records should be accurate, respectful of clients
and colleagues and protected from unauthorised disclosure.
Practitioners should take into account their responsibilities and
their clients’ rights under data protection legislation and any
other legal requirements.
Clients are entitled to competently delivered services that are
periodically reviewed by the practitioner. These reviews may be
conducted, when appropriate, in consultation with clients,
supervisors, managers or other practitioners with relevant
Maintaining competent practice
All counsellors, psychotherapists, trainers and supervisors are
required to have regular and on-going formal
supervision/consultative support for their work in accordance with
professional requirements. Managers, researchers and providers of
counselling skills are strongly encouraged to review their need for
professional and personal support and to obtain appropriate services
Regularly monitoring and reviewing one’s work is essential to
maintaining good practice. It is important to be open to, and
conscientious in considering, feedback from colleagues, appraisals
and assessments. Responding constructively to feedback helps to
A commitment to good practice requires practitioners to keep up to
date with the latest knowledge and respond to changing
circumstances. They should consider carefully their own need for
continuing professional development and engage in appropriate
Practitioners should be aware of and understand any legal
requirements concerning their work, consider these conscientiously
and be legally accountable for their practice.
The practice of counselling and psychotherapy depends on gaining and
honouring the trust of clients. Keeping trust requires:
- attentiveness to the quality of listening and respect
offered to clients
- culturally appropriate ways of communicating that are
courteous and clear
- respect for privacy and dignity
- careful attention to client consent and confidentiality
Clients should be adequately informed about the nature of the
services being offered. Practitioners should obtain adequately
informed consent from their clients and respect a client’s right to
choose whether to continue or withdraw.
Practitioners should ensure that services are normally delivered on
the basis of the client’s explicit consent. Reliance on implicit
consent is more vulnerable to misunderstandings and is best avoided
unless there are sound reasons for doing so. Overriding a client’s
known wishes or consent is a serious matter that requires
commensurate justification. Practitioners should be prepared to be
readily accountable to clients, colleagues and professional body if
they override a client’s known wishes.
Situations in which clients pose a risk of causing serious harm to
themselves or others are particularly challenging for the
practitioner. These are situations in which the practitioner should
be alert to the possibility of conflicting responsibilities between
those concerning their client, other people who may be significantly
affected, and society generally. Resolving conflicting
responsibilities may require due consideration of the context in
which the service is being provided. Consultation with a supervisor
or experienced practitioner is strongly recommended, whenever this
would not cause undue delay. In all cases, the aim should be to
ensure for the client a good quality of care that is as respectful
of the client’s capacity for self-determination and their trust as
Working with young people requires specific ethical awareness and
competence. The practitioner is required to consider and assess the
balance between young people’s dependence on adults and carers and
their progressive development towards acting independently. Working
with children and young people requires careful consideration of
issues concerning their capacity to give consent to receiving any
service independently of someone with parental responsibilities and
the management of confidences disclosed by clients.
Respecting client confidentiality is a fundamental requirement for
keeping trust. The professional management of confidentiality
concerns the protection of personally identifiable and sensitive
information from unauthorised disclosure. Disclosure may be
authorised by client consent or the law. Any disclosures should be
undertaken in ways that best protect the client’s trust.
Practitioners should be willing to be accountable to their clients
and to their profession for their management of confidentiality in
general and particularly for any disclosures made without their
Practitioners should normally be willing to respond to their
client’s requests for information about the way that they are
working and any assessment that they may have made. This
professional requirement does not apply if it is considered that
imparting this information would be detrimental to the client or
inconsistent with the counselling or psychotherapeutic approach
previously agreed with the client. Clients may have legal rights to
this information and these need to be taken into account.
Practitioners must not abuse their client’s trust in order to gain
sexual, emotional, financial or any other kind of personal
advantage. Sexual relations with clients are prohibited. ‘Sexual
relations’ include intercourse, any other type of sexual activity or
sexualised behaviour. Practitioners should think carefully about,
and exercise considerable caution before, entering into personal or
business relationships with former clients and should expect to be
professionally accountable if the relationship becomes detrimental
to the client or the standing of the profession.
Practitioners should not allow their professional relationships with
clients to be prejudiced by any personal views they may hold about
lifestyle, gender, age, disability, race, sexual orientation,
beliefs or culture.
Practitioners should be clear about any commitment to be available
to clients and colleagues and honour these commitments.
Teaching and training
All practitioners are encouraged to share their professional
knowledge and practice in order to benefit their clients and the
Practitioners who provide education and training should acquire the
skills, attitudes and knowledge required to be competent teachers
and facilitators of learning.
Practitioners are required to be fair, accurate and honest in their
assessments of their students.
Prior consent is required from clients if they are to be observed,
recorded or if their personally identifiable disclosures are to be
used for training purposes.
Supervising and managing
Practitioners are responsible for clarifying who holds
responsibility for the work with the client.
There is a general obligation for all counsellors, psychotherapists,
supervisors and trainers to receive supervision/consultative support
independently of any managerial relationships.
Supervisors and managers have a responsibility to maintain and
enhance good practice by practitioners, to protect clients from poor
practice and to acquire the attitudes, skills and knowledge required
by their role.
The Association is committed to fostering research that will inform
and develop practice. All practitioners are encouraged to support
research undertaken on behalf of the profession and to participate
actively in research work.
All research should be undertaken with rigorous attentiveness to the
quality and integrity both of the research itself and of the
dissemination of the results of the research.
The rights of all research participants should be carefully
considered and protected. The minimum rights include the right to
freely given and informed consent, and the right to withdraw at any
The research methods used should comply with the standards of good
practice in counselling and psychotherapy and must not adversely
Fitness to practise
Practitioners have a responsibility to monitor and maintain their
fitness to practise at a level that enables them to provide an
effective service. If their effectiveness becomes impaired for any
reason, including health or personal circumstances, they should seek
the advice of their supervisor, experienced colleagues or line
manager and, if necessary, withdraw from practice until their
fitness to practise returns. Suitable arrangements should be made
for clients who are adversely affected.
If things go wrong with own clients
Practitioners should respond promptly and appropriately to any
complaint received from their clients. An appropriate response in
agency-based services would take account of any agency policy and
Practitioners should endeavour to remedy any harm they may have
caused to their clients and to prevent any further harm. An apology
may be the appropriate response.
Practitioners should discuss, with their supervisor, manager or
other experienced practitioner(s), the circumstances in which they
may have harmed a client in order to ensure that the appropriate
steps have been taken to mitigate any harm and to prevent any
Practitioners are strongly encouraged to ensure that their work is
adequately covered by insurance for professional indemnity and
If practitioners consider that they have acted in accordance with
good practice but their client is not satisfied that this is the
case, they may wish to use independent dispute resolution, for
example: seeking a second professional opinion, mediation, or
conciliation where this is both appropriate and practical.
Clients should be informed about the existence of the Professional
Conduct Procedure of this Association and any other applicable
complaints or disciplinary procedures. If requested to do so,
practitioners should inform their clients about how they may obtain
further information concerning these procedures.
Responsibilities to all clients
Practitioners have a responsibility to protect clients when they
have good reason for believing that other practitioners are placing
them at risk of harm.
They should raise their concerns with the practitioner concerned in
the first instance, unless it is inappropriate to do so. If the
matter cannot be resolved, they should review the grounds for their
concern and the evidence available to them and, when appropriate,
raise their concerns with the practitioner’s manager, agency or
If they are uncertain what to do, their concerns should be discussed
with an experienced colleague, a supervisor or raised with this
All members of this Association share a responsibility to take part
in its professional conduct procedures whether as the person
complained against or as the provider of relevant information.
Working with colleagues
The increasing availability of counselling and psychotherapy means
that most practitioners have other practitioners working in their
locality, or may be working closely with colleagues within
specialised or multidisciplinary teams. The quality of the
interactions between practitioners can enhance or undermine the
claim that counselling and psychotherapy enable clients to increase
their insight and expertise in personal relationships. This is
particularly true for practitioners who work in agencies or teams.
Working in teams
Professional relationships should be conducted in a spirit of mutual
respect. Practitioners should endeavour to attain good working
relationships and systems of communication that enhance services to
clients at all times.
Practitioners should treat all colleagues fairly and foster equality
They should not allow their professional relationships with
colleagues to be prejudiced by their own personal views about a
colleague’s lifestyle, gender, age, disability, race, sexual
orientation, beliefs or culture. It is unacceptable and unethical to
discriminate against colleagues on any of these grounds.
Practitioners must not undermine a colleague’s relationships with
clients by making unjustified or unsustainable comments.
All communications between colleagues about clients should be on a
professional basis and thus purposeful, respectful and consistent
with the management of confidences as declared to clients.
Awareness of context
The practitioner is responsible for learning about and taking
account of the different protocols, conventions and customs that can
pertain to different working contexts and cultures.
Making and receiving referrals
All routine referrals to colleagues and other services should be
discussed with the client in advance and the client’s consent
obtained both to making the referral and also to disclosing
information to accompany the referral. Reasonable care should be
taken to ensure that:
- the recipient of the referral is able to provide the
- any confidential information disclosed during the referral
process will be adequately protected;
- the referral will be likely to benefit the client
Prior to accepting a referral the practitioner should give
careful consideration to:
- the appropriateness of the referral;
- the likelihood that the referral will be beneficial to the
- the adequacy of the client’s consent for the referral.
If the referrer is professionally required to retain overall
responsibility for the work with the client, it is considered to be
professionally appropriate to provide the referrer with brief
progress reports. Such reports should be made in consultation with
clients and not normally against their explicit wishes.
Probity in professional practice
Ensuring the probity of practice is important both to those who are
directly affected but also to the standing of the profession as a
Providing clients with adequate information
Practitioners are responsible for clarifying the terms on which
their services are being offered in advance of the client incurring
any financial obligation or other reasonably foreseeable costs or
All information about services should be honest, accurate, avoid
unjustifiable claims, and be consistent with maintaining the good
standing of the profession.
Particular care should be taken over the integrity of presenting
qualifications, accreditation and professional standing.
Practitioners are required to be honest, straightforward and
accountable in all financial matters concerning their clients and
other professional relationships.
Conflicts of interest
Conflicts of interest are best avoided, provided they can be
reasonably foreseen in the first instance and prevented from
arising. In deciding how to respond to conflicts of interest, the
protection of the client’s interests and maintaining trust in the
practitioner should be paramount.
Care of self as a practitioner
Attending to the practitioner’s well-being is essential to
sustaining good practice.
Practitioners have a responsibility to themselves to ensure that
their work does not become detrimental to their health or well-being
by ensuring that the way that they undertake their work is as safe
as possible and that they seek appropriate professional support and
services as the need arises.
Practitioners are entitled to be treated with proper consideration
and respect that is consistent with this Guidance.