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Ho Law

Readers of The Coaching Psychologist would have noticed that I have contributed regularly on the topics and principles of ethics within the context of the application of coaching psychology practise. As indicated in earlier papers, it has been recommended that we should have a regular ethics column to provide an opportunity for readers to ask ethical questions (Law, 2005a and b). This is consistent with the Ethics column in The Psychologist published by the British Psychological Society. For example, Ethics column No. 5 highlighted the new code of Ethics and Conduct and its use as a framework to help members to make ethical decisions. However, it recognises its limitation as ‘given the range of situations in which members work, the Code can only act as a guide to professional judgements … One of the most frequent themes relates to multiple relationships where the psychologist owes an allegiance to several different stakeholders and to confidentiality’ (BPS, 2006a). This is particularly true in the coaching arena, given the complexity of its unique double triad relationship between the client’s line-manager, the coach and coachee (Law, 2006a).

As a starter for 10, this paper takes a typical question from members and opens up a space for discussion in an attempt to provide some helpful and insightful answers:

‘Should coaches get clients to come along to share their experiences directly at conferences?’

Under the new BPS Code of Ethics and Conduct: Ethical Principle: Respect (1), the areas of concerns raised by the above question are two-fold (BPS, 2006b):

  • Standard of Privacy and Confidentiality (1.2).
  • Standard of Informed Consent (1.3).

According to 1.2(ii) and 1.3, coaches would need to obtain the informed consent of their client for disclosure of confidential information. It is recommended that the coaches should get a copy of the signed consent form to cover their liability.

According to 1.2(iii) and (xi) coaches would need to restrict the scope of disclosure and ensure that all participants at the conference understand and respect this Code and maintain confidentiality. To achieve this, all the delegates would need to be informed in advance. They may also be required to sign a confidentiality statement.

At one level (by simply following the ethics code), one would expect that if the above principles were observed by all stakeholders, it should be OK. However, at the deeper level of analysis, the above raised further questions. For example, a consent form does not provide the rationale as to why clients should devote their unpaid time to attending the conference to support their coaches?

From a psychoanalytical discourse (Bateman, 1991), this may be due to the transference between the client and the coach. The effect of transference and counter-transference may carry on well after the ending of the psychological contract between the client and the psychologist. This may be due to the power relationship between the coach and coachees - the coachee may wish to please the coach by accepting the invitation.

Also who can guarantee that no damage could occur to the client, when questions are asked or comments made by the third parties ie.the conference attendees?

Alternative solutions include use of video and actors. Videoing would provide a different feel, function and purpose in comparison with the actual presence of the person. Acting incurs further training and de briefing with the actors. Whichever way, maintaining confidentiality, seeking clients’ informed consents and ensuring that clients are not harmed are still the three pillars in making our ethical decision.

As we could see from the above, the question turns out to be complex and incurs more questions. There is no one simple answer to it.

We would like offer SGCP members support in line with the Society’s guidelines, which states that, ‘If there are particular difficulties [in making ethical decisions] the member can contact the Society’s Regulatory Affairs team on 0116 254 9568 or at conduct@bps.org.uk. The team will help with the ‘thinking through’ process but will not be able to make the decision. The team may be able to point members to sources of further advice or just help to reduce anxiety so that a decision becomes clearer’ (BPS, 2006b). Alternatively, for any ethical queries that are specific to coaching psychology, please e-mail me directly (see correspondence below).

E-mail: ho.law@empsy.com
Website: www.empsy.com


Bateman, A., Brown, D. & Pedder, J. (1991). Introduction to psychotherapy (3rd ed.) Hove: Brunner-Routledge, Taylor & Francis.

British Psychological Society (2006a). Ethics column No. 5 - Ethical decision making. The Psychologist, 19(5), May.

British Psychological Society (2006b). Code of Ethics and Conduct. Leicester: The British Psychological Society.

Law, H.C. (2005a). The role of ethical principles in coaching psychology. The Coaching Psychologist (1)1, 19-20.

Law, H.C. (2005b). The new code of ethics, human rights, and coaching psychology. The Coaching Psychologist, 1(2), 13-15.

Law, H.C. (2006). Ethical principles in coaching psychology. The Coaching Psychologist, 2(1), 13-16.


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