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The Ethics Column
Since the last edition of The Coaching Psychologist (TCP), regulation of psychologists has passed from the British Psychological Society (the Society) to the Health Professions Council (HPC). If chartered, you can use C Psychol and if registered with the HPC you can use Registered Psychologist, Practitioner Psychologist or Occupational/Clinical/other protected adjective Psychologist. Coaching psychology is not a protected title and as such remains unregulated by the HPC.
The British Psychological Society Special Group in Coaching Psychology (SGCP) remains committed to promoting understanding of what coaching psychology is and what it can offer, and as part of this to promoting high standards of practice and the creation and use of appropriate codes of practice and ethical guidelines. To date, the SGCP has travelled under the auspices of the Society’s Ethics guidance, and this guidance has recently been updated to take account of the HPC being the body with the power to de-register psychologists who practice inappropriately. While Registered (etc.) Psychologists must demonstrate that they adhere to HPC codes, there remains an impetus to ensure that appropriate ethical guidance and ethical development is available to SGCP members and others who are engaged in coaching psychology.
In the last issue of TCP Jonathan Passmore reviewed some of the research and literature regarding ethics in coaching, noting that there hasn’t been a lot. Outlining some common principles to be found in ethical codes from coaching-related bodies, including Confidentiality, Avoiding Harm and Respecting the rights of others, Passmore also noted how such hopefully desirable principles are still challenging to use in the complexity of practice (Passmore, 2009). And, indeed, this is a key point for experienced practitioners as it is for the development of novice practitioners - ethical dilemmas arise generally in relation to the complexities of a situation, which is why they become dilemmas rather than easily addressed ‘If X then Y’ decisions. Certainly there will be more straightforward situations when simpler ‘rules’ will hold good, however many situations start to look more like ‘If-a-bit-like-X-but-with-some-Z-qualities-and-A,B,C-added-would-P-and-Q-in-combination- be-more-suitable-than-R-with-T-andhow- would-I-start-to-find-out?’ Passmore concludes with a call for novice coaches in particular to benefit from input on ethical decision making through means including supervision, reflective practice and training. He proposes that the use of scenarios and more research on how experienced coaches and trained coaching supervisors create heuristics for ethical practice, are areas of potential value.
But what do you think? What would you find helpful? Some months ago, I posed a question and a comment on the SGCP Linked In group, the first being a very BIG question intended as a thought-starter (‘Everything we do has a result. But that which is right and prudent does not always lead to good, nor the contrary to what is bad.’ Goethe. What ethics challenges face the coaching psychologist?) and the second a direct request (What helps you be an ethical practitioner? What would you like the SGCP to provide in this regard?)
Thanks to those who responded and it would be good to hear more. One suggestion was to initiate a survey regarding what people would like from the SGCP on the ethics front, and/or what their experience is of the challenges faced.
Replies to the author by e-mail would be fine, or if you are an SGCP member (www.sgcp.org.uk/join-the-sgcp/join$.cfm to join), why not join the SGCP’s Linked In group for a wider conversation (www.linkedin.com/groups?homeNewMember=&gid=1778248&trk=)?
And ethics will be a theme highlighted by a number of speakers at the forthcoming SGCP 2nd European Coaching Psychology Conferences, see www.sgcp.org.uk/confeence/conference_home.cfm
Future ethics columns will, as here, include an ethical dilemma or question vignette for you to consider. As with most ethical questions - or, at least, those that require any consideration - there isn’t necessarily a single right answer. The important part is to consider our own responses, the questions we ask ourselves in response to the proposition, and to understand how we would navigate the situation. Thanks to Marion Gillie for providing the material for this edition, drawn from the CPD event she offered in September 2008, Boundaries and Professional Practice.
And if you like the process of considering such scenarios, log on to the home page of the website at www.sgcp.org.uk for a link to more on the topic of ethics.
Finally, with the utility of Supervision for enhancing ethical sensibilities being increasingly appreciated, the SGCP, through this column and other avenues, will seek to promote that debate. I hope it proves a usefully developmental debate for those of us who supervise as well as those of us who receive supervision, and will benefit the profession and our clients.What would you do if …?You get a call from your coachee’s boss who asks you to give him feedback about your coachee to include in the performance review process.
The issues: what is your contract of confidentiality and what is the boss’ motivation for asking you? What is the performance review used for, is it for development purposes alone or does it influence remuneration? The most obvious option would be explore what the boss hopes to achieve and the implications for your coachee. If the motive is a supportive one, a clear option would be to say that you would only do this if your coachee agrees and that you would like to show your coachee what you have written before submitting it. If you have doubts about the boss’ intent, you might explore with the boss issues like what feedback is s/he withholding from your client that s/he hope you might provide? You can always use confidentiality as a reason why it would not be appropriate.
HR have asked you to work with a particular individual. You’ve had an initial meeting with your coachee who talks about coaching as supporting his hoped for transition into the Partnership. At the meeting with his boss you are told that your coachee is on ‘a yellow card’ (i.e. heading towards a disciplinary) but the boss hasn’t told your coachee this.
The issues: who do you see as your ‘client’ - your coachee and/or the sponsor? What ‘buttons’ does this press for you (e.g. feelings of being used/manipulated by the boss or HR)? What do you see as the boundaries between coaching and line management? One option would be to be clear with the boss that this is a line management issue, i.e. it’s their job to exit people, not yours. Explore with the boss their reasons for not being ‘up-front’ with your coachee. A further option would be to offer to support a three-way meeting to explore this between the manager and the coachee, then support the coachee in either exiting with dignity or doing what is required of them to stay. However, if the boss refuses to be up-front with your coachee, and you can’t disclose the situation to your coachee, you may consider withdrawing from the contract. You may also want to find out how much of this HR knew when putting you in front of the client in the first place.With thanks to Marion Gillie (The Gillie Partnership, 2009) for providing these examples. The advice expressed in these examples is not the official view of the Special Group in Coaching Psychology, or the British Psychological Society.
Passmore, J. (2009). Coaching ethics: Making ethical decisions - novices and experts. The Coaching Psychologist, 5(1), 6-10.
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