To clients, the list of professional organisations in the therapy field can seem a forest of initials, with very little meaning attached. But there are many important reasons why practitioners and therapists are members of professional organisations. For some, status, differentiation and quality assurance might be key drivers. For others, recognition, insurance and continuous professional development might be more important. 

As a practitioner who works in different fields, in my case the corporate and health sectors, the costs of membership can quickly mount up. Every year, when it’s time to renew membership fees, I always find myself wondering whether I should continue with my membership and whether the cost-value relationship still makes sense. I think the core issue for both practitioner and potential client remains: what real difference does membership of professional bodies really make? After all, surely the only thing that really matters is whether someone can actually do the thing they claim they can do?

Several events recently, big and small, flagged up a key aspect of membership which, up to now, had been very much in the background - and that is the importance of ethical frameworks. Starting with the big picture, we see #metoo, data privacy (or lack of) and our daily diet of news exposes. Then the recent GDPR legislation has put pressure on all organisations to review and seriously challenge themselves in relation to how best to handle client data. They have been forced to be upfront about the what, why and how of data they hold on individuals, to ensure they are as up front with their clients about the information they share. 

On a more personal level, I recently had several off-line conversations concerning therapeutic practices, such as whether supervision is necessary or value-adding, especially for experienced practitioners and an anecdotal story about someone who was ‘worked on’ by more than one wellbeing therapists simultaneously - without clear consent.

These sporadic snippets can be brought together in a common thread, which is how people in positions of power and trust handle the responsibility that comes as part of the deal. And it is in the area of responsibility that ethical frameworks play an important part in making it clear that by being a member, there are certain things that are not negotiable. These things usually include clinical supervision, continuous professional development, record keeping and mechanisms for dealing with complaints. 

As ever, no framework can be thorough or comprehensive enough to take care of all eventualities. Therefore, it is always down to each individual practitioner to exercise their sense of responsibility in applying an ethical frame of mind so they are constantly challenging themselves to ensure their practice is contained in a way that is appropriate for the clients in their care. An ethical frame of mind also means I am challenging myself on what I am doing and I am alert to a wide range of issues, which might include conflicts of interest, disclosure, publicising client/ case work, motivation, dual relationship to name but a few.

An ethical framework provides an important baseline and point of reference for both the client and the practitioner. As the forces of markets, competition, consumerism and technology provide a perpetual pulling outwards of boundaries, the need for equal forces of ethical practice becomes greater to maintain the integrity of those very boundaries, within which safety is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of therapeutic work.

If you are a potential client, take the time to look up the organisations a therapist belong to, see if their membership is current. If it is, you can normally find them in the membership directory. On, this has been done for you. Take a look to see whether their association or professional body has a code of practice or ethical framework and familiarise yourself with what is in them. That way, you will know that the therapist and their professional body are working together to provide a safe practice for you.

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