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Code of Conduct Introduction

1. The Australian Community Counselling Association Inc.(“ACCA”) has been established to;

  1. To provide an industry based Association for persons engaged in registered member practice and education.
  2. To monitor, maintain, set and improve professional standards in registered member education and practice.
  3. To be a self-regulatory body to provide for registration of members and to provide a mechanism for dealing with complaints about members.
  4. To liaise with Government for the benefit of members and the public.
  5. To specifically provide an association, which acknowledges all Nationally Accredited Training in professions that promote mental health and wellbeing provided in Government Training Packages.
  6. To provide an appropriate association for Indigenous Australians who may not have opportunity to study mental health and wellbeing related practice at a theoretical level but who do work competently and ethically in mental health practice.
  7. To provide a collegial association which supports counselling and other allied health professionals in the vital mental health support work that they do in the community.

2. Membership of the ACCA commit members to adhere to the ACCA Code of Conduct. The Code of Conduct applies to mental health support related activities. It includes the clinical or counselling practice as well as research, teaching, supervision of trainees and other activities that relate to the overall general training and employment of the mental health support professions.

3. The Code of Conduct is intended to provide standards of professional conduct that can be applied by the ACCA and by other bodies that choose to adopt them in Australia. Depending upon the circumstances compliance or non-compliance with the Code of Conduct may be admissible in some legal proceedings.

1. Code of Ethics Introduction

The helping relationship constitutes the effective and appropriate use of helper’s skills that are for the benefit and safety of the client in his or her circumstances. Therefore as members (regardless of level) of the Australian Community Counselling Association will:

  1. Offer a non-judgemental professional service, free from discrimination, honouring the individuality of the client.
  2. Establish the helping relationship in order to maintain the integrity and empowerment of the client without offering advice.
  3. Be committed to ongoing personal and professional development.
  4. Ensure client understanding of the purpose, process and boundaries of the helping relationship.
  5. Offer a promise of confidentiality and explain the limits of duty of care.
  6. For the purpose of advocacy, receive written permission from the client before divulging any information or contacting other parties.
  7. Endeavour to make suitable referral pathways where competent service cannot be provided.
  8. Undertake regular supervision and debriefing to develop skills, monitor performance and sustain professional accountability.
  9. Be responsive to the needs of peers and provide a supportive environment for their professional development.
  10. Not act as or practice legal council on behalf of or to a client when practicing as a counsellor or act as an agent for a client.
  11. Not initiate, develop or pursue a relationship be it sexual or nonsexual with past or current clients, within 2 years of the last helping session.
  12. Be responsible for their own updating and continued knowledge of theories, ethics and practices through journals, the association and other relevant bodies.
  13. Be committed to the above code of ethics and recognise that procedures for withdrawal of membership will be implemented for breaches. Code of Practice Introduction This code applies these values and ethical principles outlined above to more specific situations which may arise in the practice of counselling. No clause or section should be read in isolation from the rest of the Code.

2. Issues of Responsibility

  1. The helper-client relationship is the foremost ethical concern. However, mental health support work does not exist in social isolation. Helpers may need to consider other sources of ethical responsibility. The headings in this section are intended to draw attention to some of these.
  2. Helpers take responsibility for clinical/therapeutic decisions in their work with clients.

3. Responsibility to the client

  1. Client Safety
    1. Helpers must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the client does not suffer physical, emotional or psychological harm during helping sessions.
    2. Helpers must not exploit their clients financially, sexually, emotionally, or in any other way. Suggesting or engaging in sexual activity with a client is unethical.
    3. Helpers must provide privacy for helping sessions. The sessions should not be overheard, recorded or observed by anyone other than the support worker without informed consent from the client. Normally any recording would be discussed as part of the contract. Care must be taken that sessions are not interrupted.
  2. Client Self-determination
    1. When in a client-helper relationship, the balance of power is unequal and helpers must take care not to abuse their power
    2. Helpers do not normally act on behalf of their clients. If they do, it will be only at the express request of the client, or else in exceptional circumstances.
    3. Helpers do not normally give advice, unless their role is advocative.
    4. Helpers have a responsibility to establish with clients at the outset of providing support work, the existence of any other therapeutic or helping relationships in which the client is involved and to consider whether their added support in this instance is appropriate. Helpers should gain the client’s permission before conferring in any way with other professional workers.
  3. Breaks and Endings
    1. Helpers work with clients to reach a recognised ending when clients have received the help they sought or when it is apparent that the support work is no longer helping or when clients wish to end.
    2. External circumstances may lead to endings for other reasons which are not therapeutic. Helpers must make arrangements for care to be taken of the immediate needs of clients in the event of any sudden and unforeseen endings by the helper or breaks to the helping relationship.
    3. Helpers should take care to prepare their clients appropriately for any planned breaks from support work. They should take any necessary steps to ensure the well being of their clients during such breaks.

        4. Responsibility to other Helpers

        1. Helpers must not conduct themselves in their counselling-related activities in ways which undermine public confidence either in their role as a helper or in the work of other helpers.
        2. A helper who suspects misconduct by another helper which cannot be resolved or remedied after discussion with the helper concerned, should implement the Complaints Procedure, doing so without breaches of confidentiality other than those necessary for investigating the complaint.

        5. Responsibility to Colleagues and Others

        1. Helpers are accountable for their services to colleagues, employers and funding bodies as appropriate. At the same time they must respect the privacy, needs and autonomy of the client as well as the contract of confidentiality agreed with the client.
        2. No-one should be led to believe that a service is being offered by the helper which is not in fact being offered, as this may deprive the client of the offer of such a service elsewhere.
        3. Helpers must play a demonstrable part in exploring and resolving conflicts of interest between themselves and their employers or agencies, especially where this affects the ethical delivery of counselling to clients.

        6. Responsibility to the Wider Community Law

        1. Helpers must take all reasonable steps to be aware of current law as it applies to their support practice.

        7. Resolving Conflicts between Ethical Priorities

        1. Helpers may find themselves caught between conflicting ethical principles, which could involve issues of public interest. In these circumstances, they are urged to consider the particular situation in which they find themselves and to discuss the situation with their clinical supervisor and/or other experienced helping professionals. Even after conscientious consideration of the salient issues, some ethical dilemmas cannot be resolved easily or wholly satisfactorily.

        8. Client Respect

        1. Helpers work with clients in ways that affirm both the common humanity and the uniqueness of each individual. They must be sensitive to the cultural context and worldview of the client, for instance whether the individual, family or the community is taken as central.
        2. Helpers must endeavour to work with the preferences of clients with respect to the environment in which the support work is provided. For example, in an indoor or outdoor setting.

        9. Client Autonomy

        1. Helpers are responsible for working in ways that respect and promote the clients ability to make decisions in the light of his/her own beliefs, values and context.

        10. Support Worker Awareness

        1. Helpers are responsible for ensuring that any problems with mutual comprehension due to language, cultural differences or for any other reason are addressed at an early stage. The use of an interpreter needs to be carefully considered at the outset of helping.
        2. Helpers have a responsibility to consider and address their own prejudices and stereotyping attitudes and behaviour and particularly to consider ways in which these may be affecting the helping relationship and influencing their responses.

        11. Confidentiality

        1. Confidentiality is a means of providing the client with safety and privacy and thus protects client autonomy. For this reason any limitation on the degree of confidentiality is likely to diminish the effectiveness of helping. 
        2. The helping contract will include any agreement about the level and limits of confidentiality offered. This agreement can be reviewed and changed by negotiation between helper and client. Agreements about confidentiality continue after the client’s death unless there are overriding legal or ethical considerations.
        3. Limits to confidentiality include client or community safety and working within a legislative framework.

        12. Settings

        1. Helpers must ensure that they have taken all reasonable steps to inform the client of any limitations to confidentiality that arise within the setting of the professional helping work, e.g. updating doctors in primary care, team case discussions in agencies. These are made explicit through clear contracting.
        2. Many settings place additional specific limitations on confidentiality. Helpers considering working in these settings must think about the impact of such limitations on their practice and decide whether or not to work in such settings.

        13. Exceptional Circumstances

        1. Exceptional circumstances may arise which give the helper good grounds for believing that serious harm may occur to the client or to other people. In such circumstances the client’s consent to change in the agreement about confidentiality should be sought whenever possible unless there are also good grounds for believing the client is no longer willing or able to take responsibility for his/her actions. Normally, the decision to break confidentiality should be discussed with the client and should be made only after consultation with the clinical supervisor or if he/she is not available, an experienced professional helper.
        2. Any disclosure of confidential information should be restricted to relevant information, conveyed only to appropriate people and for appropriate reasons likely to alleviate the exceptional circumstances. The ethical considerations include achieving a balance between acting in the best interests of the client and the helper’s responsibilities to the wider community.

        14. Management and Confidentiality

        1. Helpers should ensure that client records are kept in safe and confidential storage.
        2. Arrangements must be made for the safe disposal of client records, especially in the event of the helpers’ incapacity or death.
        3. Care must be taken to ensure that personally identifiable information is not transmitted through overlapping networks of confidential relationships.
        4. When case material is used for case studies, reports or publications, the client’s informed consent must be obtained wherever possible and their identity must be effectively disguised.
        5. Any discussion about their helping work between the helper and others should be purposeful and not trivialising.
        6. Helpers must pay particular attention to protecting the identity of clients.
        7. Client information is passed to the Supervisor when a Supervision Contract is in place and is exempt from Confidentiality
        8. Helpers must understand that client notes and files belong to the client and are held in trust for the client. Client’s requesting access to their case notes must be provided a copy on request. No other person can request client notes without client written permission unless a guardian by law and this evidence must be provided.


        15. Advertising and Public Statements

        1. Helpers who hold accredited qualifications and who are members of recognised bodies are encouraged to mention this.
        2. All advertising and public statements should be accurate in every particular.
        3. Helpers should not display an affiliation with an organisation in a manner which falsely implies sponsorship or validation by that organisation.

        16. Pre-Support Work Information

        1. Any publicity material and all written and oral information should reflect accurately the nature of the service on offer, and the relevant professional training, qualifications and experience of the helper.
        2. Helpers should take all reasonable steps to honour undertakings made in their pre-helping information.

        17. Contracting with Clients

        1. Helpers are responsible for reaching agreement with their clients about the terms on which helping is being offered, including availability, the degree of confidentiality offered, arrangements for the .payment of any fees, cancelled appointments and other significant matters. The communication of essential terms and any negotiations should be concluded by having reached a clear agreement before the client incurs any commitment or liability of any kind.
        2. The helper has a responsibility to ensure that the client is given a free choice whether or not to participate in the helping service. Reasonable steps should be taken in the course of the helping relationship to ensure that the client is given an opportunity to review the service offered.
        3. Helpers must avoid conflicts of interest wherever possible. Any conflicts of interest that do occur must be discussed in clinical supervision and where appropriate with the client.
        4. Records of appointments should be kept and clients should be made aware of this. If records of helping sessions are kept, clients should also be made aware of this. At the client’s request information should be given about access to these records, their availability to other people, and the degree of security with which they are kept.
        5. Helpers must be aware that computer-based records are subject to statutory regulations. It is the helpers responsibility to be aware of any changes the government may introduce in the regulations concerning the clients right of access to his/her records.
        6. Helpers are responsible for addressing any client dissatisfaction with the provided service.

        18. Boundaries With Clients

        1. Helpers are responsible for setting and monitoring boundaries throughout the helping sessions and will make explicit to clients that helping is a formal and contracted relationship and nothing else.
        2. The helping relationship must not be concurrent with a supervisory or training relationship.

        19. With Former Clients

        1. Helpers remain accountable for relationships with former clients and must exercise caution over entering into friendships, business relationships, training, supervising and other relationships. Any changes in relationships must be discussed in clinical supervision. The decision about any change(s) in relationships with former clients should take into account whether the issues and power dynamics presented during the helping relationship have been resolved.
        2. Helpers are prohibited from sexual activity with all current and former clients for a minimum of two years from cessation of helping.

        20. Support Worker Competence and Education

        1. Helpers must have achieved a level of competence before commencing helping and must maintain continuing professional development as well as regular and ongoing supervision.
        2. Helpers must actively monitor their own competence through clinical supervision and be willing to consider any views expressed by their clients and by other helpers.
        3. Helpers will monitor their functioning and will not provide helping services when their functioning is impaired by alcohol or drugs. In situations of personal or emotional difficulty, or illness, helpers will monitor the point at which they are no longer competent to practice and take action accordingly.
        4. Competence includes being able to recognise when it is appropriate to refer a client elsewhere.
        5. Helpers should take reasonable steps to seek out peer supervision to evaluate their efficiency as helpers from time to time.
        6. Helpers must recognise the need for continuing education in their chosen profession to maintain a professional level of awareness of current scientific and professional information and education in their particular fields of activity.
        7. Helpers should take steps to maintain their level of competence in the skills they use, be open to new procedures and keep up to date with all dangers that are relevant to their area of expertise.
        8. Helpers are responsible for ensuring that their relationships with clients are not unduly influenced by their own emotional needs.
        9. Helpers must consider the need for professional indemnity insurance and when appropriate take out and maintain adequate cover.
        10. When uncertain as to whether a particular situation or course of action may be in violation of the Code of Ethics and Practice, helpers must consult with their clinical supervisor and/or other experienced practitioners. 

        21. The Practice Environment

        There are two environmental factors to be considered: physical factors and emotional factors. Because of this, ideally the practice setting room should:

        • be well lit and ventilated, and preferably have window(s)
        • have a temperature that is set at a comfortable level for both helper and client.
        • have the exit easily accessible to the client should they choose to avail themselves of it
        • provide for confidentiality while allowing the client to feel safe
        • have within it a comfortable open space between the helper and the client, insofar as the work environment allows. In terms of ethics, a failure to provide such an environment could be seen as leading to a breach of: 3.1.1 “Counsellors must take all reasonable steps to ensure that the client does not suffer physical, emotional or psychological harm during helping sessions.” depending upon the effect of the helping environment both physically and emotionally upon the client.

        22. Working with Children

        1. Working with children requires specialist training and helpers working in this area should endeavour to continue their professional development in order to ‘do no harm’.
        2. Helpers working with children should first obtain a ‘working with children’s’ permit usually through Police or other State authorised agencies.
        3. Helpers working with children should ensure that the child is supported by their parent/guardian and that they are happy to participate in the counselling service
        4. Records for children may need to be held in trust for a longer period of time until they are adults.

        Equal Opportunities Policy Statement

        The Australian Community Counselling Association (ACCA) is committed to promoting Equality of Opportunity of access and participation for all its members in all of its structures and their workings. ACCA has due regard for those groups of people with identifiable characteristics which can lead to visible and invisible barriers thus inhibiting their joining and full participation in ACCA. Barriers can include age, colour, creed, culture, disability, education, ethnicity, gender, information, knowledge, mobility, money, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, social class and status. The work of ACCA aims to reflect this commitment in all area including services to members, employer responsibilities, the recruitment of and working with volunteers, setting, assessing, monitoring and evaluating standards and the implementation of the complaints procedures. This is particularly important as ACCA is the Voice of Support professions in Australia. ACCA will promote and encourage commitment to Equality of Opportunity by its members.