Second Order Ethical Decision-Making in Counselling Psychology: Theory, Practice and Process

By du Preez, Elizabeth; Goedeke, Sonja | New Zealand Journal of Psychology, November 2013 | Go to article overview

Second Order Ethical Decision-Making in Counselling Psychology: Theory, Practice and Process


du Preez, Elizabeth, Goedeke, Sonja, New Zealand Journal of Psychology


In recent years there has been an acknowledgement that the discipline of counselling psychology places an emphasis on systemic frameworks that consider the individual within a context of developmental and ecological factors. Counselling Psychology considers diversity as central to its work, and acknowledges the importance of working at the interface of science and practice, maintaining a balance between scientist-practitioner and practitioner-scholar frameworks (Woolfe, 2006).

When confronted with ethical dilemmas, practitioners have traditionally been guided by that particular country's relevant professional associations or psychology registration board. Whilst they may have no separate Codes of Ethics specific to Counselling Psychology, these bodies may have guidelines for practice that assist in ethical decision-making.

Generally, Codes of Ethics set out the rules and principles related to professional practice. However these are often presented as linear, progressive models of decision-making, facilitating first order change, rather than recursive or systemic ones that bring about second order change. First order change processes traditionally focus on changing the problem as defined by the system, and second order change processes traditionally focus on changing the system as defined by the problem. An example of this would be conceptualising depression as an individual problem and treating it as such, without talking into account the relational aspects of the function of depression in the wider system, including the socio-political context of the client. Hoffman (1985) further contrasts second order change to first order change by suggesting that second order approaches are inclusive of the context of the therapeutic system (including the therapist), encouraging of a collaborative relationship between client system and therapist, view contextual changes as the preferred area for therapeutic goal setting and support a circular understanding of the presenting problem. It is therefore important that ethical decision-making models in Counselling Psychology reflect a second order, systems theory approach, in keeping with the principles that underlie Counselling Psychology, rather than reflect a first order, linear approach.

This article argues for the development of an ethical decision-making model for counselling psychology that is situated in a second order framework, providing a theoretical foundation and descriptive practice, as well as guidelines for the process.

History and Definitions of Counselling Psychology, and Ethical Decision-Making

In the past 30 years the discipline of counselling psychology has been established as separate from clinical psychology, counselling and psychotherapy. It gained divisional status as well as a professional identity within the British Psychological Society in 1995 (Pugh & Coyle, 2000; Woolfe, 2006), by differentiating itself from clinical psychology, and aligning more with counselling and psychotherapy. Pugh and Coyle (2000) suggest that in order for a profession to construct a unique identity, it must develop a separate line of inquiry into the social reality the discipline concerns itself with.

In 1947 the New Zealand branch of the British Psychological Society was established with the New Zealand Psychological Society becoming independent in 1967. The New Zealand Psychologists' Board defines scopes of practice for registration under the HPCA with the scopes of practice initially being available limited to the general, clinical and educational scopes. In 1983 an interest group formed at the New Zealand Psychological Society annual conference, resulting in a symposium in 1984, and the setting up of a division of counselling psychology in 1985. In 2003 the Institute of Counselling Psychology was formed, and AUT University made a commitment to develop a postgraduate programme of study in counselling psychology. The first students enrolled in 2008, the Counselling Psychology scope of practice was approved by the Board in 2010, and the programme received its final accreditation in 2012. …

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