Where Do Ethics Come From?

The fells & Dales group of counsellors/psychotherapists met on 12th March, when we considered the questions, “Where do ethics come from? What give us our sense of right and wrong?”

The pre-reading was Ch 6 ‘Working ethically as a counsellor or psychotherapist’ in Peter Jenkins:  ‘Professional Practice in Counselling & Psychotherapy’ and the paper ‘What is Ethics?’- BBC Ethics Guide 2014

We  began by each of us sharing where our own sense of ‘right and wrong’ came from. Ideas included our parents, siblings, extended family, religious faith, the 10 Commandments and social mores.  We debated the extent to which ‘ethics’ are innate/hereditary or acquired, how they are learned through observation of others, and how they have evolved over time.  We noted the strong sense of (in)justice that even young children can experience.  It was pointed out that ethical values are socially construed, meaning some could develop in different ways in different cultures, while others might be universally understood and applied.  We spoke of resistance to externally imposed regulations (“rules are to be broken!”).

We considered the BACP Ethical Framework based on ethical principles, and noted the significance of it having moved away from the previous Code of Conduct with its lists of rules (especially what not to do).  A number of ethical issues arising from present-day circumstances were tackled, e.g. what to do if a client refuses to be vaccinated, or if a client discloses that they are infected but not self-isolating?

We also raised the issue of ‘mistakes’ in therapy, the duty of candour, and the differing possible interpretations of having ‘got it wrong’.  The conclusion we reached was the importance of having a rationale with which to justify and account for our decisions, and if our practice is ever scrutinised, hoping we would be judged by those with similar standards to our own!

Where Do Ethics Come From?