The new Code of Ethics is a product of four years’ work by the UKCP and replaces the previous version, Ethical Principles and Code of Professional Conduct, which was implemented some 10 years ago. The new Code comes into force on 1 October 2019. This means that any complained-of-behaviour that occurs on or after 1 October 2019 will be judged against the new code but conduct that occurs before that date will be judged against the old code.
HAS ANYTHING BEEN REMOVED?
The UKCP’s website page introducing the amended code confirms that no single principle has been deleted from the old code but it has been condensed to remove repetitions and bring clarity to members’ obligations. As a general point this is to be welcomed because it should minimise the likelihood of duplicitous complaints appearing in allegations when cases are considered under the Complaints Process.
WHAT’S BEEN CLARIFIED?
Regulators must ensure that ethical guidelines are clear and so any clarification given is welcome, otherwise, practitioners may fall foul of the standards for want of understanding them.
Paragraph 23 of the new code UKCP confirms that psychotherapists ought to only offer therapy in which they have adequate training or experience. This was not explicit in the old code which only went as far as to say that practitioners ought to recognise the boundaries and limitations of expertise and inform a client if a case is beyond their scope of practice and refer them on to another practitioner (paragraphs 5.3 and 5.4).
For the first time the UKCP Code expressly recognises how talking therapies has moved into the online sphere and that not all therapy is provided face to face or by telephone. The preamble clarifies that the code applies “whether you meet clients in person, online or otherwise”. This confirms that the same standards are expected no matter how therapy is provided to clients.
Paragraph 7. Decline any gifts, favours, money or hospitality that might be interpreted as exploitative.
Clients often bestow unsolicited gifts on practitioners and talking professionals, in particular, may feel concerned that declining a gift could potentially damage the therapeutic relationship. Although it is not clear whose view on exploitation is relevant, the practitioner’s or the client’s, the threshold for declining gifts is therefore an appropriately high one in my view.
Paragraph 32. Act in a way which upholds the profession’s reputation and promotes public confidence in the profession and its members, including outside of your professional life as a UKCP practitioner.
Whilst this might be new to the UKCP’s code it has long been established that regulatory scrutiny can extend to conduct in one’s private life as well as professional life. Indeed, conduct outside of professional life which is of interest to regulators can be wide-reaching and can include criminal conduct and even comments made on social media (see for example paragraph 34 of the new code).
Paragraph 39 deals with the circumstances in which a practitioner ought to self-report to the UKCP for criminal conduct. It states: “Inform UKCP and any relevant organisational member if you are:
a.Charged with a criminal offence;
b.Convicted of a criminal offence, receive a conditional discharge for an offence, or accept a police caution;
c.Disciplined by any professional body or membership organisation responsible for regulating or licensing a health or social care profession; or
d.Suspended or placed under a practice restriction by an employer or similar organisation because of concerns relating to your competence, health or practice of psychotherapy.”
A similar provision existed previously under the old code but the new code has moved the trigger point for notifying UKCP of a criminal investigation to an earlier stage. Previously the trigger point was when receiving a conviction, conditional discharge or accepting a police caution, which amounts to the conclusion of a criminal case. The new code has brought forward reporting obligation to when a practitioner is charged.
The trigger point for a practitioner to report a criminal matter to their regulator varies across different regulatory bodies and sectors. Some require disclosure once an investigation has been commenced, whereas others require disclosure on arrest or when a charging decision has been made. That the trigger point for disclosure in the UKCP code is on being charged by the police seems uncontroversial. At the time of charge the police should have sufficient evidence upon which to found a prosecution, which is of legitimate interest to a regulatory body in order that they can take protective measures for the public and the public interest.
Although regulators like the UKCP are under an obligation to ensure that their ethical guidelines are clear, members and supervisors should make themselves fully aware of the UKCP’s new code of ethics and build this into their practice. If there is any uncertainly or concern about any of the provisions they should seek advice from their supervisor, anonymously to the UKCP or a lawyer.