Coffee Break

Navigating conflicts of interest in counselling

Conflicts of interest can occur in counselling and therapy settings for a variety of reasons. While they may pose legal, ethical and professional challenges for practitioners, these problems must be recognised and addressed to maintain the integrity of the relationship between the counsellor and client.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to navigate potential conflicts of interest while maintaining professionalism and caring for the well-being of your clients.

Understanding conflicts of interest

Conflicts of interest in counselling refer to the counsellor’s personal or financial interests interfering with their role and ability to prioritise the client’s welfare.

There might be a situation where the counsellor has a personal relationship with their client outside of therapy or perhaps is accepting financial incentives to recommend specific treatments or services which might not actually be the best solution for their client.

While not all outside relationships with a counsellor will pose a conflict of interest, they could affect the client’s privacy, making them feel uncomfortable seeing their therapist in a social setting. A counsellor is bound by confidentiality and should not disclose a person as their client beyond the counsellor’s room.

Importance of avoiding conflicts of interest

The trust and integrity of the therapeutic relationship will likely be at risk if conflicts of interest arise. This is because the client’s confidentiality, autonomy and well-being could be compromised, which is why they are against counsellor regulations.

Clients rely on counsellors to deliver unbiased support and advice, away from external influences that may impact the quality of care received.

Mitigating conflicts of interest

To prevent and mitigate conflicts of interest, counsellors should establish clear, professional boundaries with their clients. Any potential conflicts should be disclosed and supervision should be sought when facing ethical dilemmas.

Any dual relationships that might compromise the counselling process should be refrained from. Obtaining specialist counsellor’s insurance could provide an extra layer of protection and peace of mind against potential allegations of misconduct.

Legal and ethical obligations

Counsellors have a legal duty of care to work in the best interests of their clients. Professional codes of conduct laid out by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy should be properly adhered to.

All counsellors and therapists must contribute to the credibility and effectiveness of the profession as a whole by operating in line with the ethical principles of beneficence, nonmaleficence, autonomy and justice. In turn, this will help them proactively identify potential conflicts of interest and prevent these from occurring.