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Ethical Standards



PACFA sets high standards of ethical conduct for the counselling and psychotherapy profession.  This supports the ethical practice of counsellors and psychotherapists and helps to protect the public from harm.

Practitioners registered with PACFA are required to abide by the Interim Code of Ethics 2015 and the Codes of Ethics of any PACFA Member Associations to which they belong.  PACFA Member Associations are required to abide by the Code of Good Governance.

PACFA and it Member Associations operate complaints handling processes for situations where there are concerns that the required standards of ethics have not been met.  The complaints system holds practitioners accountable for any breaches of the relevant Codes of Ethics.

For information on how to make a complaint, go to the Complaints page. All complaints are heard in accordance with PACFA’s Professional Conduct Procedures.

PACFA’s ethical standards are implemented and reviewed by the PACFA Ethics Committee. For more information about the work of the Ethics Committee, go to the Ethics Committee page.

PACFA also provides training in ethics and ethical practice to support practitioners and to maintain high ethical standards. For details see the Ethics Training page.

Overview of PACFA Code of Ethics

The PACFA Code of Ethics establishes minimum standards of ethical practice for Counsellors and Psychotherapists for the information and protection of those using their services. Below are some of the key principles and responsibilities set out in the Code. For full details, you can download the Interim Code of Ethics 2015.

Ethical Principles

  • Counsellors respect the essential humanity, worth and dignity of all people and promote this value in their work.
  • Counsellors recognise and respect diversity among people and oppose discrimination and oppressive behaviour.
  • Counsellors respect the privacy of their clients and preserve the confidentiality of information acquired in the course of their work.
  • Counsellors protect the rights of their clients including the right to informed consent.
  • Counsellors take steps to maintain and develop their competence throughout their professional lives.
  • Counsellors abide by the laws of the society in which they practice.

Ethical Responsibilities

  • Counsellors take all reasonable steps to avoid harm to their clients as a result of the counselling process.
  • Counsellors faced with situations which extend the boundary of their competence seek supervision and consider referral to other professionals.
  • In the event of harm resulting from Counselling, Counsellors take responsibility for restitution.
  • Counsellors promote client autonomy and encourage clients to make responsible decisions on their own behalf.
  • Counsellors consider the social context of their clients and their connections to others.
  • Counsellors are responsible for setting and maintaining professional boundaries within the Counselling relationship.


  • Counsellors must not exploit clients, past or present, in financial, sexual, emotional or any other way.
  • Counsellors will not accept or offer payments for referrals, or engage in any financial transactions, apart from negotiating the ordinary fee charged for Counselling.
  • Sexual relations between the client and the Counsellor can never be acceptable and constitute unethical behaviour. This is not restricted to sexual intercourse and includes any form of physical contact, whether initiated by the client or the Counsellor, which has as its purpose some form of sexual gratification, or which may be reasonably construed as having that purpose.
  • Counsellors should consider that the deeper the involvement with the client’s emotional life during Counselling, the less likely is the possibility of a subsequent equal relationship following termination of therapy. Counsellors must seek professional supervision should any attempt to build a relationship with a former client be considered.


  • Counsellors treat with confidence any personal information about clients, whether obtained directly or by inference. This applies to all verbal, written, recorded or computer stored material pertaining to the therapeutic context. All records, whether in written or any other form, need to be protected with the strictest of confidence.
  • Clients must not be observed by anyone other than their Counsellors without having given informed consent. This applies both to direct observation and to any form of audio or visual transmission or recording.
  • Counsellors and Supervisors are responsible for protecting the client’s rights of confidentiality in the supervisory context by ensuring that shared information is disguised appropriately.
  • Exceptional circumstances may arise which give the Counsellor good grounds for believing that the client will cause serious physical harm to others or themselves. In such circumstances, the breaking of confidentiality may be required, preferably with the client’s permission, or after consultation with a Counselling Supervisor.
  • Any breaking of confidentiality should be minimized both by restricting the information conveyed to that which is pertinent to the immediate situation and by limiting it to those persons who can provide the help required by the client.
  • Agreements about confidentiality continue after the client’s death unless there are overriding legal considerations.
    Special care is required when using specific Counselling situations for reports and publication. The author must have the client’s informed consent should there be any possibility of identification of the client.


  • Counselling activities are to be undertaken only with professional intent and not casually and/or in extra professional relationships.
  • Contracts involving the client should be realistic and clear.
  • When a client is incapable of giving informed consent, Counsellors obtain consent from a legally authorised person.
  • Any publicity material and all written and oral information should reflect accurately the nature of the service offered and the training, qualifications and relevant experience of the Counsellor.
  • Counsellors are responsible for communicating the terms on which Counselling is being offered.
  • Counsellors will disclose any conflict of interest which may arise in relation to a client and will seek supervision to resolve appropriate action which may include referral.