Home  The Buddhist Way   Psychotherapy  EcoSocial Web  Ethics

Back to Ethics Page


53 Grosvenor Place,
Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 2RD





All ethical systems inevitably highlight the contrast between ideals and actuality. The guidance in this code helps us to think through and understand the importance of ethics in therapy. Having rules does not eliminate the necessity to make choices. Personal ethical growth is an essential dimension of becoming a therapist. These guidelines are therefore both an aid to growth and a protection for ourselves and others. They incorporate the idea that ethics do not cease as soon as we leave the consulting room: a therapist attempts to develop a healing attitude to the world generally, not simply to those who are paying for a service.

The spirit of this guidance, therefore, is that by working with ethics we can grow as people. If, for instance, we make a serious and thorough attempt to avoid criticising others, even if only for one day, we will probably not succeed, but we will learn a great deal about ourselves and about how we actually regard other people. Through such an exercise we will advance, even if we do not become instantly perfect.

IBAP is an institute for the advancement of Buddhist psychotherapy. Some members may use such terms as counsellor, facilitator, trainer, mentor, guidance worker, befriender or volunteer for some aspects of their professional work. In such cases the same ethical guidelines apply as though this term stood in the place of the word psychotherapist. These guidelines therefore apply to all members in all their human relations work and, in some respects (as specified) to the conduct of their lives outside of the purely professional situation.


Ethics are not about punishment. Punishment itself is not ethical. On the other hand, ethical mistakes do bring unhappiness to ourselves and to other people and we should, therefore, strive to avoid making ethical mistakes and to recognize and learn from those we do make. When serious mistakes with harmful consequences are made, third parties inevitably become involved and we have to consider how best collectively to heal such situations and grow from the experience.


There are three levels of ethics described here. The first set are inspirational, the second normative and the third minimal. IBAP members are expected to at least maintain a level of practice which meets the third set, to make every effort (end 1) to adhere to the second set and, as far as they feel able, to aspire to the first set. They are all three provided to help us work upon ourselves. It would be a contradiction of terms for them to be used oppressively. Unfortunately, in many social settings, rules are used in harmful ways. We should, therefore, be careful to ensure that while seeking to reach the highest level of personal development of which we feel ourselves currently to be capable, we do not seek to oppress others nor get caught in moral competitiveness.


As therapists we are here to bring healing to ourselves and others. A therapist therefore, does not cause harm, helps others and cultivates a wise and compassionate human-heartedness. All ethical precepts are contained within these three. The purpose of ethics is to achieve inward peace, outward kindness and social harmony.


1. We do everything we can to remove the obstacles within ourselves which impede our ability to offer help to those who come to us in need.

2. We have an accepting attitude to others and do not harbour judgement or resentment. We respect everyone, irrespective of their age, sex, religion, race, social class, sexual orientation, ability, appearance, affiliations, habits or past conduct.

3. We listen and attend to others without reserve.

4. We actively work for peace and reconciliation between people known to us and in the world at large. We find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent destructive conflict.

5. We regard all beings as our potential friends, no matter what may have happened in the past and are willing to learn from whatever situations arise.

6. We build a sense of community and harmony among people, respecting the individual natures of each, good or bad, and we do not say nor do things which will create destructive strife within the groups to which we belong.

7. We work for ecological harmony.

8. We use what we have for generous, hospitable and wholesome purposes, avoiding selfish accumulation in a world where poverty and exploitation persist.

9. We are guided by kindness, learning to understand others and help them to become successful, each in their own way.

10. We cultivate peaceful minds by appropriate attitudes such as contentment, appreciation and wise acceptance, and by practices such as meditation, relaxation and contact with nature.

11. We avoid supporting harmful actions by others by not purchasing nor consuming products which can only be produced by cruelty or unjust exploitation and not investing in ventures which do harm to living beings or the environment.

12. We work to create harmonious and aware communities in which people can find secure conditions for wholesome lives and relationships.


1. We are not sectarian and do not disparage the views of others, accepting that all views are only partial expressions of truth.

2. We care for and do not mistreat our bodies or the bodies of others.

3. We are hospitable and generous.

4. We support those who are working for compassion and harmony in the world.

5. We speak words of peace and reconciliation, avoiding gossip, dishonesty and any form of harmful speech.

6. We are careful in our intimate and personal relationships to be truthful and honest, and not to harm or exploit others or undermine their commitments.

7. We work to eliminate compulsive habits from our lives.

8. We try to achieve insight into ourselves and transparency in our dealings with others. In particular we do not seek to keep people in a relationship of dependency, care or help-seeking in relation to ourselves longer than is appropriate to their needs.

9. We encourage free exchange of views and do not think that the knowledge we presently possess is changeless or absolute truth.

10. We recognize and acknowledge the good done by others.

11. We are willing to acknowledge mistakes and to go on learning from them.

12. We contribute to the life and growth of our own professional group and the therapeutic professions generally and avoid behaviour in professional or social settings which may tend to bring our own or other people's therapeutic work into disrepute.


1. We do not physically harm people nor give support to situations which foster violence and do all in our power to prevent physical harm coming to anyone in our care.

2. (a) We do not take anything which rightfully belongs to others. (b) We do not become involved in financial transactions for our own profit with those who seek our help beyond receiving appropriate and agreed fees for our work.

3.(a) We respect the confidences of others, not divulging information that has been given to us in trust, nor that confidential information has been given to us, without the clear and informed consent of the client. (b) In exceptional circumstances where suicide, or harm to a third party, is likely to occur, or where legally required to reveal information, the therapist should discuss with the client what action should be taken. (c) We are careful to keep any records we generate secure. We ensure that the room or situation in which clients are seen affords privacy. (d) Where psychotherapists are working in an institutional setting which requires them to share information received more widely than is specified in clause 3a, they should make this clear to the client.

4. When we use information in supervision or in publications or training situations, we ensure that individuals are protected by changing identifying details. We clarify with our clients the nature, purpose and conditions of any research in which they may be involved and ensure informed and verifiable consent.

5. We do not have sexual relations with persons who come to us in a role of dependency or seeking help.

6. (a) We do not make statements to our clients which are untrue. (b) We disclose our qualifications when requested and do not misrepresent our qualifications, experience nor membership of professional institutes either directly to clients or in advertisements, publications or any other public medium. (c) We disclose on request, the terms and conditions of our practice, and, where appropriate, our working practices. We adhere to the contracts, explicitly or implicitly formed with our clients, or, when it is impossible to do so, we deal with this situation in an open and straightforward way with proper regard for the client's interests. (d) When it is necessary for us to represent our clients to other professionals or in public situations, we do so with great discretion and regard both for accuracy and avoidance of condemnatory language.

7. (a) We do not practise under the influence of alcohol or other mind altering drugs. (b) We do not practise when our ability to do so is impaired by ill health or emotional disturbance. (c) We recognise our own limitations and take into account the client's best interests in making professional referrals.

8. We do not conduct our professional practice in ways that indicate condemnatory attitudes toward social groups designated in terms of age, sex, religion, race, social class, sexual orientation, ability, appearance, affiliations, habits or past conduct. This clause will not be taken, however, to prevent a practitioner specializing in offering services to one or more specific groups and not to others.

9. (a) We do not act in ways which will bring the profession of counselling and psychotherapy nor the agencies for which we work into disrepute. (b) A practitioner who is convicted in a court of law for a criminal offence or in a tribunal of any professional institute shall report this fact to the Institute. (c) Psychotherapy practitioners shall ensure that their work is adequately covered by professional indemnity and public liability insurance. (d) A practitioner who becomes aware that a colleague's behaviour has become detrimental to the profession shall take appropriate action in bringing the matter to the awareness of the ethics committee.

10. We continue to improve our ability to help others throughout our careers by training and attention to personal development.

11. We ensure that our helping work is properly and regularly supervised. Guidance on this will be issued by the Ethics Committee from time to time.


Therapists heal and do not harm. Although therapeutic work may involve helping individuals to get in touch with and explore their own rage and violence, it is important that neither they nor others are actually physically harmed in the process. Similarly, clients may need to work through their feelings about illtreatment they have suffered and it is important that this is done in a way which does not retraumatize them.


Therapists do everything they can to provide a safe environment for the provision of therapy and avoid getting into situations which could compromise their relationship with clients, trainees or other professionals. Therapists do not allow themselves to become sexually involved with their clients. A therapist who engages in a sexual relationship with a client is open to charges of serious professional misconduct.


The therapeutic relationship does not end when formal therapy ends. It may be superseded by a different form of relationship. Thus a client might eventually become a student or colleague of the person who was their therapist or they might become friends. If such a transition is not initiated by the client, the therapist should endeavour to remain available to the client as therapist. Accepting a client is a long term responsibility and we should always be willing to see a client again even if they return after an interval of years. If the client does seek to change the nature of the relationship, the therapist should be cautious since although such change may involve the client gaining a teacher or colleague or friend, it will also mean them losing a therapist and this is not to be taken lightly. Every effort should be made in such circumstances to achieve frank dialogue so that the client's best interests may be carefully considered and given primary consideration, and that the therapist only offers what can genuinely be given by way of friendship, teaching or other increased contact. Even after such a change, both parties should remain alert to the fact that there will almost inevitably be some carry over of feelings from the previous relationship and they should take care to be sensitive to each other's needs. (End page 5) If in doubt about such a situation a therapist should consult with their supervisor or other responsible colleague.


The therapist will ensure that the setting in which therapy takes place is suitable for the purpose and provides adequate privacy and freedom from interruption.


I. Procedure

Any complaint made against an IBAP member should be lodged in writing with the Chair of the Ethics Committee of the Institute. The Institute will inform the person(s) complained against promptly. In the first instance, where both parties feel able to do so, the disputing parties will be invited to meet to see whether the matter can be resolved informally. A neutral Facilitator will be found for this meeting. No records will be kept of the content of this meeting which is an attempt to settle the matter informally. Where resolution is not reached by this method, the complaint moves to a second stage.

Where informal meeting has not succeeded the Ethics Committee will appoint a senior member, who shall not be the Facilitator, to act as Mediator. Both the complainant and the complainee may appoint for themselves or have provided for them another member of the Institute who will act as friend and support through the ensuing procedure and the Mediator will ensure that this happens. The Mediator will have discretion how best to investigate and resolve the matter, within the principles set out in section 2 below, and having due regard to all the circumstances. The Mediator may call on the assistance of other person(s) as appropriate. In any case, the Mediator will seek to bring the parties together and to resolve the matter without undue delay. The Mediator will keep, or arrange to have kept, a full record of all proceedings. The aim of mediation shall be to arrive at a written "final statement" agreed to and signed by the complainant, complainee and Mediator which brings the matter to a close. Such a statement may include (a) statements of apology by either or both parties, and/or (b) the specification of actions to be carried out by either party within a specified time span. The Mediator shall report to the Ethics Committee when a complaint has been heard and resolved and when all actions agreed to in its resolution have been satisfactorily carried out. All records will be kept confidential. (End page 6)


In the event of a dispute still not being resolved by the above method, the parties now involved shall attempt to agree a best procedure for resolving or arbitrating the matter acceptable to both sides. If no such procedure can be agreed, the Ethics Committee shall appoint one or more neutral Adjudicators, who may or may not be members of the Institute who shall investigate the matter and give a final ruling to which all parties will be bound.

Subject to any general rules in force affecting the profession as a whole, any further appeal beyond this point will be to the General Meeting of the Institute. Whether such appeal may be allowed will be at the discretion of the Ethics Committee. Appeals will only be allowed where (1) new evidence has come to light or (2) there are grounds to question whether the code of ethics has been correctly interpreted or (3) bias on the part of the adjudicator is alleged. The General Meeting may rule directly on the point at issue or may delegate the task as it sees fit.

The Ethics Committee may from time to time issue further guidance on how each or any of the above stages are to be conducted.

2. General Principles

Where a member has engaged in unethical behaviour and has caused some harm to another person, the aim will be to achieve reconciliation, learning and restitution so that peace may be restored and the wounds of the community healed in ways which do not set up the causes for further damage. What might constitute an appropriate way to remedy the situation is a matter for discussion by all concerned and every attempt will be made to achieve consensus on this. It is expected that any IBAP member who has done harm to another person will take all possible steps to make amends and not seek to protect their own interests in a narrow sense.

It is not IBAP policy that wrongs done should generally lead to the suspension of the person concerned provided that there is evidence of appropriate learning, change and, if appropriate, restitution. In some cases further training, supervision and/or a period of withdrawal from client work may be indicated. On the other hand, if a person has been falsely or mistakenly accused then there may be need for apology or even remedial or conciliatory action on the part of the complainant. As therapists our task is to resolve disputes and learn from them. Every effort will be made to reach a constructive resolution helpful to both parties and to avoid stigma and embitterment. Parties involved should listen to one another with respect, no matter how strongly personal feeling may run, and all should regard conflicts as opportunities for learning, not arenas for the pursuit of (End page 7) personal interest. Punishment plays no part in this procedure. The expulsion of an individual from membership should be considered only in extremis and regarded as a failure by all concerned.


Any IBAP member may make suggestions for the improvement of this code and procedure. Suggestions should be addressed to the Ethics Committee. Suggestions which may have substantial repercussions for other members will become part of a consultation procedure. Consultation will generally be by publication of the proposal in a "green" paper circulated to and inviting response from other members. In the event of there being no adverse response the suggestion will be adopted. In the event of adverse response being received to a suggestion, debate will continue through the various forums of the Institute until a consensus is reached. In the event of no consensus emerging, the General Meeting of the Institute has final authority.

Revised March 1998

  The original can be requested from the address at the top of this page.

Return to the top