Code of Professional Ethics

Code of Professional Ethics

  1. General:
    1. Ethics is sometimes called “moral philosophy”
    2. As societies and associations evolved the relationships between individuals become more complex and so do etiquettes and code of conduct. The development of counselling and psychotherapy relationship has raised many ethical dilemmas.
    3. The use of ethical standards as a method of guiding the quality of service provided by counsellors and psychotherapists, their training, protecting the client and creating safe environments is paramount.
    4. The Association’s ethical code of conduct and behaviour are not standards but rather guidelines to regulate the behaviour of counsellors and psychotherapists.
    5. This code of conduct outlines the high professional conduct that counsellors and psychotherapists need to adhere to.
    6. The Association’s code is intended to provide guidelines for both practising counsellors and psychotherapists members of the Associations. It should not be used as a base of references of other similar Associations/Societies.
    7. The Association’s code is meant to offer guidance of professional conduct that can be applied by members of the Association and is not intended as a basis of civil liability.
    8. Infringement and violations of the Association’s code of ethics does not by itself determine whether the practicing counsellor and/or psychotherapists is legally liable in court action, whether a contract is enforceable or whether other legal consequences occur.
  2. The Committee:
    1. The sub-committee members shall consist of:
      • The chair
      • Vice Chair
      • Two members drawn from the general membership
    2. The term of reference of this sub-committee is to ensure that the code of conduct is regularly reviewed and updated.
    3. Updated and review of existing information and guidelines will ensure that the Association’s code of conduct can be somewhat equated to those within the international community of counsellors and psychotherapists.
    4. With the new updates the sub-committee shall disseminate the information to existing members of the Association.
  3. Legal Considerations:
    1. Counsellor’s and/or psychotherapist’s ultimate behaviour and exhibition of code of conduct in relation to the Association’s code of conduct must in addition be applicable to the laws of Singapore.
    2. If any conflict arises between the Association’s code of ethics and the law of Singapore, regulations and other governing legal authority, the counsellor/psychotherapists needs to declare and then try to resolve the conflict. If the conflict is irresolvable then the practicing counsellor or psychotherapists may adhere to the requirements of the law, regulations or other governing authority in keeping with basic principles of human rights.
  4. Sanctions:
    1. Members in breach of or who violate the Association’s code of ethics and behaviour can expect to face one or more of the following sanctions:
      • Written censure/reprimand
      • Temporary suspension of membership and/or license to practice
      • Termination of membership
      • Withdrawal and cancellation of practitioner’s license
      • Legal action
    2. If the violation is serious, the Association, in order to protect itself may inform other similar Associations of its actions.
  5. Code of Ethics:
    1. The Association’s Code of Ethics consists of general principles that are inspirational and aspirational in nature. They are intended to provide guidelines for the counsellors and psychotherapists to aspire to high levels of practicing conduct and to express the highest ideals of the Association with regards to care to and for the clients.
    2. The Association’s Code of Ethics is intended to provide specific guidelines that can cover most situations encountered by counsellors and psychotherapists. Admitted they cannot cover all possible scenarios. Nonetheless they can be useful methods to guide counsellors and psychologists in their everyday interaction with and service provided to clients; the quality of training provided to counsellors and of protecting clients.
    3. Hence the Association’s Code of Ethics attempts to:
      • Establish a helping relationship between the counsellor/psychotherapists and their clients.
      • Ensure that during the therapeutic relationship a non-judgemental stance be adopted by counsellors/psychotherapists.
      • Establish an environment of integrity for the counsellors/psychotherapists and that of safety for the clients.
      • Ascertain that the clients are finally empowered to make their own decisions to resolve their own issues.
      • See that there is no differential in power play between the counsellor/-psychotherapists and clients.
      • Establish set goals and directions so that the therapy sessions become meaningful for both the counsellor/psychotherapists and clients.
      • Ensure that counsellors/psychotherapists upgrade and enhance their own counselling and therapeutic skills through continual self-development and professional self-education.
      • Secure clients’ confidence and trust through the process of confidentiality of information.
      • Endeavour to make appropriate referrals when counsellors/psychotherapists feel that their skills and competencies have been compromised.
      • Institute for the sake of advocacy, clients’ written permission before information are divulged to third parties.
      • Undertake the commitment of counsellors/psychotherapists toward regular clinical supervision to ensure the sharpening of their therapy skills and guide them towards professional maturity.
      • Provide platform for counsellors/psychologists to engage themselves in regular peer supervision for the sharing and exchange of information.
      • Instill into counsellors/psychotherapists a sense of personal responsibility and accountability.
      • Ensure that counsellors/psychotherapists be committed to the Association’s Code of Ethics and Code of Behavioural Conduct and to     recognise that procedures for withdrawal of membership from the Association will be implemented for violations and breaches.
  6. Code of Behavioural Conduct:
    1. The Association’s Code of Behavioural Conduct has been created to supervise counsellors/psychotherapists behavioural conduct in more specific situations that may arise during therapeutic relationship with clients.
  7. Issues of Responsibilities and Fidelity:
    1. Counsellors and psychotherapists establish relationship of trust, openness and honesty with clients. Hence the counsellor/psychotherapist main motivation should not be that of monetary/financial/kind rewards. His main drive would be the passion to the resolution of the client’s issues.
    2. Counsellor/psychotherapists should in the final analysis take full responsibility of clinical/therapeutic decisions in their work with clients.
  8. Responsibility to the Client:
    1. In this area, the responsibility of the therapist is to ensure the reasonable steps are taken to ensure that client do not suffer emotional, physical, psychological, spiritual harm during counselling sessions.
    2. Therapists must not exploit the client financially with promised that is undeliverable or services that is difficult to fulfil.
    3. Therapists do not take advantage of clients' weakened emotional position.
    4. Therapists are not permitted to be engaged in sexual harassment. Sexual harassment would be taken to mean sexual solicitation, physical advances or verbal or nonverbal conduct that is sexual in nature. Suggestion or engagement in sexual activity with client is deemed unethical.
    5. Therapists are to ensure that counselling sessions are held in an environment of privacy and that possibilities of being overheard, taped, videoed, recorded do not exist. However this privacy can be breached with the permission of the client and this is usually obtained during induction sessions with the client. Permission from client is to be obtained to include the possibility of a co-counsellor or supervisee sitting in the session.
    6. It is the responsibility of the therapists to ensure that the sessions are not interrupted.
    7. Therapists are prohibited from sexual activity with all current and former clients for a minimum of two years from cessation of counselling.
    8. Therapists do not get themselves engaged in unfair discrimination based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status or any basis prescribed by the law of Singapore.
    9. Therapists are to conduct themselves in such manner they will not show behaviour of harassing or demeaning clients with regards to their age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status or any basis prescribed by the law of Singapore.
    10. Therapists are to avoid multiple relationships if such relationship will affect the outcome of the therapy. However, multiple relationships that would not reasonably be expected to cause impairment or risk exploitation or harm are not considered unethical.
    11. Therapists do not exploit their position against those whom they have supervisory, evaluative, or other authority, such as clients, students, supervisees, research participants and employees.
    12. Therapists are to ensure that no harm comes to the client and shall take reasonable steps to avoid harming their clients and to minimize harm where it is foreseeable and unavoidable.
    13. During therapy sessions, therapists are to manage their own emotions and that their relationship with the client are not unduly being effected by the therapists own emotional needs. Therapists shall conduct all sessions in a business-like manner.
  9. Responsibility to Other Counsellors:
    1. Therapists must conduct themselves in a manner that does not undermine the work of other therapists and public confidence.
    2. It will be the therapists duty and obligations to provide guidance and advice to fellow therapists where there is suspect of misconduct. However if the issue cannot be resolved then it will be the therapist obligation to initiate the complaint procedure.
  10. Responsibility to Colleagues and Others:
    1. Whenever and wherever appropriate, therapists will co-operate with other professionals in order to service their client effectively.
    2. Therapists are accountable to their colleagues, employers and funding bodies when providing services to their clients. This accountability includes the maintenance of client’s confidentiality, respect of client’s privacy, needs and autonomy.
    3. When conflict of interests between the client and the employer/agencies arises the therapists must resolve them and apply ethical considerations.
    4. Therapists should not give impressions of being able to offer a service to client when this is actually untrue as this may deprive the client from seeking therapy elsewhere.
  11. Responsibility to the Wider Community:
    1. Therapists must ensure that they are familiar with the general current laws of the country and rules and regulations of various government agencies and organisations in order that they can perform the services with awareness and mindfulness.
  12. Empowering Client:
    1. Client is to be empowered and the therapists is to guide the client to a position of self-determination so that the client can resolve his/her own issues.
    2. It is recognised that during any therapy session, the balance of power is unequal and therapists must pay attention not to abuse their position.
    3. Therapists, as a general rule, do not instruct the client to a certain direction. Therapists can however offer suggestions, advice and guidance. However they have to be delivered with some subtleness.
    4. Therapists do not act on behalf of the client. Nonetheless, at the request of the client, this is permitted but only as an exception rather than a rule.
  13. Case Assessment:
    1. It is always useful during case assessment to consider the following so that the therapists may consider taking the case or not (competencies) or if the client should need further assistance through the engagement of other disciplines:
      • Whether or not client has been receiving treatment from other agencies or disciplines. If so then explore the details.
    2. If there is a need to confer with superiors or colleagues, the therapist will obtain the client's written permission first.
  14. The Therapy Sessions:
    1. The therapy sessions consists of one to one interview with the client and shall comprise of several components namely:
      • The case intake and assessment session
      • The case induction session
      • The Therapy sessions
      • The termination of the case
    2. In case intake and assessment sessions the therapist is to ensure that the concept of fairness, being non-judgemental, and wisdom prevails.
    3. In the case induction session, therapists will honestly build up rapport with the client so that a meaningful and honest relationship can be established.
    4. During the induction session, therapists are to obtain the informed consent from clients. The informed consent should cover the following topics:
      • The nature and anticipated course of the therapy
      • Explaining boundaries
      • Potential risks (e.g. if hypnotherapy is used)
      • Therapists competencies and skills
      • Fees, frequency of sessions, time
      • Involvement of third parties (co-supervision, presence of supervisees etc)
      • Limits of confidentiality
      • Allow clients to ask questions
    5. If the counsellor is a trainee or novice counsellor then the name of the supervisor is to be given to the client.
    6. When therapy involves couple or family, the counsellor shall be obliged to inform all parties of their involvements and to explain why they are needed.
    7. In group therapy therapists shall be obliged to inform all parties concern of the varying roles each may have to play.
    8. When therapists are offering their services and knowing full well that the client is also receiving treatment from another profession, therapists must consider the client’s welfare and should not confuse the client. The therapist may have to consult a legal person.
    9. Therapists work towards the ultimate benefit of the client and to reach a recognised ending. This ending can happen when the help the client had originally sought for had been fulfilled or when the therapist is no longer able to help the client.
    10. There may be times where external circumstances (lack of financial resources, parental intervention etc) may force the break or termination of the therapeutic relationship. Under such situations the therapists should ensure that the client immediate needs are adequately met before breaking or terminating the sessions.
    11. Before breaking/or terminating the therapy sessions, the therapists must prepare the client for this planned break. They should ensure the well-being of the their clients during such breaks (therapists taking a holiday)
    12. Therapists are reminded that they are not qualified to diagnose cases. Rather therapists assess and evaluate the presenting issues of the client.
    13. During therapy sessions therapists do not offer treatment but offer therapy plans.
  15. Service During Emergencies:
    1. When therapists provide service to individuals/clients during emergency and knowing their lack of competency delivery skills, they will have to refer the individual/client to others that can provide the individual/client those services. The service is then discontinued.
  16. Resolving Conflicts Between Ethical Priorities:
    1. Therapists may at times be faced with conflicts between ethical priorities. When under such situation therapists should consult their superior, supervisor or more experienced therapists.
  17. Anti-Discriminatory Practices:
    1. Therapists work with clients by showing them respect and treating them as unique individual. They shall be sensitive to the cultural, religious, historical background of clients and most of all to respect the client’s worldview and his/her phenomenological world.
    2. Therapists shall need to work in such a manner that will promote the client’s decision making power which is within the client own beliefs, value system and context.
    3. Therapists are greatly encouraged to settle all issues concerning client’s language comprehension and communication capabilities at an early stage. If necessary the use of an interpreter can be called for.
    4. It would be good for therapists to occasionally reflect upon their own biasness and prejudices and to address them early.
    5. Therapists should occasionally perform mental and emotional cleansing upon themselves and to explore how their actions and behaviour are affecting their work.
    6. Therapists should not deny employment, education, any sort of advancement, admission to academic institution or participating in any useful programmes to those whom complaint have been levied upon. However appropriate actions can be taken upon receiving the outcome of any proceedings or with the discovery of new information.
  18. Informed Consent:
    1. Therapist is to obtain informed consent from the client before proceeding with the therapeutic contract and therapy sessions.
    2. For persons who are legally incapable of providing such consent, therapists can still continue to provide the service provided that the law permits such a procedure. The procedure will be to obtain appropriate permission from a legally authorised person.
    3. When therapy service are mandated or court ordered the therapists shall inform the client of the nature of the anticipated services, including whether or not the service had been court ordered or mandated and explain the limits before proceeding with the therapeutic relationship.
    4. All informed consent whether written or oral has to be documented.
  19. Privacy and Confidentiality:
    1. Therapists have the moral obligations to ensure the safety and privacy of the client. This is to ensure client’s autonomy.
    2. Therapists shall take reasonable steps and precautions to protect confidential information obtained during therapy sessions.
    3. All storage of information are to be kept in a safe and secured location with only the authorised personnel being permitted to access them.
    4. The therapy contract should include any agreement about the level and limits of confidentiality and this shall be discussed with the client during induction sessions. If the client is not of legal age of consent, then the therapist should discuss them with the legal person or guardian.
    5. The limits and level of confidentiality can however be changed, reviewed and/or amended by negotiation between the therapist and the client.
    6. Agreement about confidentiality will continue even after client’s death unless overridden by legal or ethical considerations.
    7. Therapists who offer services via tele-therapy and electronic means must inform their clients of the risks to privacy and limits of confidentiality.
    8. Therapists must inform client of any limitations to confidentiality during the onset of the relationship (having to discuss with other professionals on the case, case management and review with colleagues, conferring with supervisor etc). The limitations have to be made clear and explicit during the contracting period.
    9. When there is a need of recording of voice or video, therapists should obtain client’s permission or from their legal representative (in case of a minor).
    10. Therapists need to be fully conscious that there can be many therapy settings that places limits to confidentiality (e.g. counselling in a hospital, aged home etc). Those limitations shall be indicated to the client early during induction session.
    11. When necessary therapists may disclose confidential information with the appropriate
      consent of the institutional client (prison offenders), individual clients, or another legally authorised representative of the client (demented client) unless prohibited by law.
    12. Therapists will be permitted to disclose without the consent of the client under the following situations:
      • Mandated by law
      • Provide needed professional service
      • Obtain professional consultations
      • Protect the client, therapists or others from harm
      • Obtain payment for service rendered (minimum information)
      • Client no longer willing or able to take responsibility for his/her action
    13. When deciding to break confidentiality, the therapists should discuss this with client first and also after consultation with the supervisor or an experienced therapists.
    14. When therapist needed to consult colleagues, care to be taken that the information provided will not lead to the identification of the client’s identity and that only sufficient information is to be given that is deemed necessary to achieve the purpose of the consultation.
    15. Any disclosure of confidential information should be restricted to relevant information given to the appropriate people and for specific reasons. The final ethical considerations include achieving a balance between acting in the best interest of the client and the therapist’s responsibility to the wider community.
    16. Therapists as individual hold differing views concerning the ground for breaking the confidentiality rule. However, in the final analysis, the therapists himself must consider his own view within the context of the relationship with the client and also bearing in mind that his action can affect his/her own practice. Hence when therapists decide to break the confidentiality rule, he shall need to inform his client and significant others i.e. agency, supervisor etc.
  20. Record Keeping and Confidentiality:
    1. Therapists are to ensure that records of the client’s identity are kept separately from other case notes.
    2. Therapists should make arrangements for the safe disposal of client’s records in the event of him being incapacitated or demise.
    3. When information is to be transferred care must be taken to ensure that personally identifiable information is not transmitted through overlapping networks or confidential relationship. Nonetheless if the case is transferred or referred then it is permissible to transfer that information with the written consent of the client.
    4. When therapists use client’s information for case study, reports or publications, the written consent from the client needs to be obtained. It is essential that the identity of the client be disguised.
    5. It is the moral obligation of the therapist to protect the identity of the client.
  21. Advertising and Other Public Statements:
    1. Therapists who hold accredited qualifications and who are members of recognised bodies are encouraged to mention them.
    2. Therapists are permitted to advertise their profession and services rendered. However this is to be done within the law and legislation of Singapore and all advertisement and public statements should be accurate in every particular.
    3. Therapists should avoid giving the impression that they are affiliated to any organisation and to give the false impression of implied sponsorship or validation by that organisation.
    4. Therapists should not knowingly make public statements that are false, deceptive or fraudulent concerning their practice or work activities or those of others and the agencies in which they work in.
    5. Therapists are no permitted to make false, deceptive or fraudulent statements concerning:
      • Their training experiences or competence
      • Their academic qualification
      • Their credentials
      • Their institution or association affiliation
      • Their fees
      • Their publications
    6. Therapists who engage third parties to act on their behalf to place or announce statements will be held legally and morally responsible for them.
    7. Announcements of workshops, seminars and non-degree granting educational programmes must describe them accurately and make known the intention of the programme so that the public are not mislead.
    8. When therapists provide public advice or comment via print, internet or other electronic transmission, they should take necessary precautions to ensure that their statements are accurate and based upon their professional knowledge, experiences, training. Those statements should not infringe or violate any ethical code of practise and behaviour.
  22. Establishing Contract with Clients:
    1. Therapists should take responsibility to ensure that formal and proper contract with client are reached before the start of actual therapy. Some salient topics that shall be discussed and agreed upon can include:
      • The terms on which counselling is being offered
      • Availability of the service
      • The degree of confidentiality offered and limitations of confidentialities
      • Arrangements of fee and method of payment
      • Time and schedule
      • Cancellation of appointments
      • Basis of referrals
      • Basis of termination of therapy
      • Boundaries of therapist’s competence
    2. When drawing up the contract, the client has to be empowered to make his own decision and should not be cohered to rushing to a decision.
    3. Therapists should avoid conflict of interest whenever possible. If such should arise then discussions with the client (when appropriate) and the counselling supervisor is necessary.
    4. With regards to confidentiality and when requested by the client, the therapists should indicate those having access to the records, their availability to others and the degree of security with which they are kept.
    5. Therapists should be aware that computer-based records are subject to statutory regulations and that information therein can be tampered with. Hence therapists should take precautions to protect the safety of that information as well to be aware of any sort of new statutory regulations governing their storage.
  23. Boundaries:
    1. Therapists are responsible for setting and monitoring boundaries throughout the therapy sessions. Those boundaries are to be made clear to the client on the outset of therapy and can be modified as and when necessary.
    2. Before the commencement of therapy sessions the therapists shall need to inform the client that therapy is a formal contracted relationship and nothing else.
    3. The therapy relationship must not take place concurrently with supervisory or training relationship.
    4. The therapists are involved in relationship with former clients, they must exercise caution over the relationship be they friendship, business relationship, training, supervising and other relationship.
    5. If therapists do enter into relationship with former clients they are to ensure that the issues and power dynamics presented then had been resolved.
  24. Therapist Competencies:
    1. It is necessary that therapists must reach a level of competency before commencement of therapy.
    2. In order to maintain the competencies, it is mandatory that therapist join a reputable Association that provide them areas of personal developmental growth and supervision.
    3. Therapists are to monitor themselves through self-reflections and to be able to accept and consider any views expressed by their clients, clinical supervisors and other therapists.
    4. As part of their on-going development, therapists are to seek regular peer review/supervision to evaluate their efficiency as therapists.
    5. Therapists must also seek continuing education to maintain their professional level of awareness of current scientific and professional information and education in their particular fields of activity.
    6. It is also the duty and obligation of therapists to seek the latest information concerning dangers and pitfall in therapies.
  25. Insurance:
    1. Therapists through the Association to which they belong shall subscribe to insurance as professional indemnity and to ensure coverage against professional incompetence and negligence.
  26. Consultation:
    1. When therapists are uncertain as to whether or not a certain course of action violates the code of practice and conduct of the Association, the therapists should consult their counselling supervisor or other experienced practitioner.

Acknowledgement and recognitionThe Association of Psychotherapists and Counsellors (Singapore) wish to acknowledge and recognise the Australian Counselling Association and the American Psychological Association whose Code of Ethics and Conduct have been used to guide and serve as platform for the Association’s formulation of its own Code of Ethics and Behavioural conduct.