All the key professional registration bodies report an increase in the number of formal complaints. One response has been to update codes of ethics to protect the public from unethical and incompetent practices. It may surprise therapists to learn that irrespective of a client’s presenting issue, the therapeutic modality applied or practice context within the Western world, around 10% of people attending therapy report experiencing their therapy as harmful. The figure increases for marginalised groups and individuals. The figure for therapists reporting on their personal therapy is 27% to 40%. This presentation explores whether the new codes of ethics intended to limit harm actually risk engendering harm.
An essential aspect of ethics is to safeguard clients from harm that may have occurred from attending therapy. In a profession that is inherent with risks because we work in-relation-with-others, therapists who seem not to succeed in meeting the delicate balance between doing good work vs. poorer work can become enmeshed in quasi-legal complaint procedures. The culture of publicly ‘naming and shaming’ therapists is having an unintended outcome because the public process means an important debate around this sensitive topic risks being silenced. It seems the policy of naming and shaming may itself contribute to further difficulties and anxiety, and so may engender defensive practices and more complaints. This presentation suggests the awareness, discussion and management of unintended harm signals good and ethically-grounded practice, rather than poor clinical practice.