Firstly, an apology if you click the other pages and they are blank, I am in the process of turning this from a blog to a website, but was so disturbed by what appears to me to be unethical practice I felt compelled to speak out.
All that is needed for the forces of evil to succeed is for enough good men to remain silent; Edmund Burke
I enjoy twitter for the wide range of people it brings me into contact with, people whose voices and experiences I might never have encountered in a less connected age. I am aware it is also used for campaigning, promotion, and politics. However today was a less positive experience as I saw an organisation who offer counselling engaged in what could only be described as hostile haranguing of other twitter users. Indeed, the account (for one must be careful not to ascribe the views of the person who tweets to all in the organisation) was rude, dismissive and taking what can only be described as a political, and rather extreme stance, on the controversial subject of sex work.
The Personal and The Political
Can counselors be political? It is a thorny subject. As I have written before in order to demonstrate the qualities of being non judgemental and offering unconditional positive regard we must be willing to leave our own political judgements behind. It is, I believe, impossible to offer the core conditions whilst taking a strong political stance on a subject such as sex work.
This subject was first drawn to my attention by this tweet from Rape Crisis South London this morning.
I was shocked, to threaten members of a marginalized group with libel, and the dismissive “this is our social media we will use it as we wish” seemed to break a number of the personal qualities and values that the BACP expect counsellors and counselling organisations to adhere too. There is no requirement for anyone offering counselling in the UK to be registered with any regulatory body, however I have checked, and Rape Crisis South London do say they adhere to the BACP framework.
The therapist and their supervisor should be members of a recognised professional body such as the BACP, and preferably accredited by them. In the BACP Ethical Framework therapists are encouraged to develop their personal qualities in terms of their empathy, sincerity, integrity, resilience, respect, humility, competence, fairness, wisdom, and courage.
Quote from the RCSL website
These next tweets were also disturbing.
One can understand why someone would feel unable to access a service which demonstrated such hostility, however it to shows, in my opinion how Rape Crisis South London are in breach of basic principles. In this instance the requirement that;
- Practitioners should not allow their professional relationships with clients to be prejudiced by any personal views they may hold about lifestyle, age, gender, disability, gender reassignment, race, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity, religion or belief, marriage and civil partnership.
Quote from the BACP website.
Adhering to The Ethical Framework
The personal moral qualities of humility, respect, and fairness were certainly not adhered to in the quoted tweet. When we are trying to work ethically, we need to remember not just the moral qualities previously mentioned, but also the framework by which those qualities become in practical reality. Rape Crisis South London, in both taking, and advocating for, a political stance, and in their attitude to members of the public are failing in a number of respects to adhere to the ethical principles of counselling and psychotherapy, in particular;
- Justice: the fair and impartial treatment of all clients and the provision of adequate services
- Autonomy: respect for the client’s right to be self-governing
Furthermore the principle of Non malfeasance means, in seeing those occur, I feel duty bound to not remain silent.
Practitioners have personal and professional responsibility to challenge, where appropriate, the incompetence or malpractice of others; and to contribute to any investigation and/ or adjudication concerning professional practice which falls below that of a reasonably competent practitioner and/or risks bringing discredit upon the profession. Justice: the fair and impartial treatment of all clients and the provision
Quote from the BACP ethical framework
In talking to one of the sex workers involved she explained some of the background, and I am even more concerned by what seem to me to be breaches of the ethical frame-work every member of the BACP must adhere too. They explained that Rape Crisis South London take an ideological stance around sex work, and campaign according to this stance. I am not here to pass judgement on which laws should or should not be in place, my concern here is ethical therapeutic practice.
For a number of years The association of Christian Counselling defended conversion therapy on the grounds it was the sincerely held belief some therapists that being gay was wrong, could be “cured” and needed treatment. They have now changed their stance, accepting that the personal moral beliefs of the individual counsellor should not be motivating their client work in this way. In presenting only one view of sex work as acceptable, and one can assume, only one type of sex worker as deserving of help from their organisation it is my contention rape crisis South London are behaving identically to those organisations and individuals who offer reparative/conversion therapies. Being non judgemental, a basic core condition of counselling, must not simply be on policy documents, but must be demonstrated in word and deed.
I believe, as the BACP stated in 2010, that;
The ability to appreciate differences between people, to commit to equality of opportunity, and to avoid discrimination against people or groups contrary to their legitimate personal or social circumstances, is central to ethical and professional practice (BACP 2010, Ethical Framework).
Outside of the counselling room.
The final issue which I believe needs to be addressed is the question of whether these ethical standards and personal values apply outside of the counselling room, and specifically in this case, on a social media account.
Given that therapists can be sanctioned for their behaviour in a supervisory role, and in other relationships it is clear the ethical framework, and personal moral values I have discussed are not just limited to the counsellor/client interaction. No professional would I believe accept that behaviour which harms the profession as a whole in the public eye. It was clear that many members of the public were distressed by the attitude and opinions expressed by the Rape Crisis South London tweeter. Indeed, some said such an attitude meant they were discouraged from seeking counselling support, which is clearly malfeasance on the part of the organisation. Whilst we must always respect autonomy in accessing therapy this does not excuse actions which directly cause individuals to not access counselling. Indeed, I think it is clear that such behaviour harms the profession of counselling as a whole, creating as it does the impression that counselling organisations are hostile, judgemental and lacking in unconditional positive regard.
Some organisations on twitter allow various people to tweet for them, named individuals who make clear that they are representing their own views, not those of the organisation as a whole. I personally follow Writers of Colour and Diverse Church and have myself tweeted from the rotational curation account TWKLGBT. However, having checked there is no such division in the Rape Crisis South London account. There is nothing to indicate this is not one of the workers, or therapists, or to mitigate against the negative impression of counselling and counsellors the account is creating in the pubic consciousness.
In conclusion, I believe that it is acceptable to expect the public face of a counselling organisation to uphold and adhere to the highest standards of the profession, and that Rape Crisis South London has significantly failed to do so. I repeat my offer to those who were personally attacked to support any official complaint they with to make. Finally I hope that this is a situation the management of Rape Crisis South London take seriously, and work to rectify, ethical practice is not optional and must be at the heart of all that we do.
A link to this piece shall be sent to RCSL.