PACFA Ethics Update

Did you know that PACFA has an Ethics Advice Line free for members? The Ethics Advice Line provides members with general information and advice on a range of ethical issues based on the PACFA Code of Ethics.

Calls to the Ethics Advice Line have steadily increased from when it was first introduced to members in the 2016/2017 year from a total of 49 enquiries to a total of 273 in the 2020/21 year. The largest jump in ethics enquiries coincided with the Covid pandemic in 2020/21, which saw an increase in enquiries by 27.5% from the 2019/20 year.

This year 50% of enquiries were directly related to the PACFA Code of Ethics, 28% were related to complaints, 22% were unrelated or miscellaneous enquiries. Of the enquiries related to the Code of Ethics, the most common enquiries were related to Confidentiality and Client Records (30%); Responding to Subpoenas and Legal Requests for Client Records (14%); Reporting Obligations (14%); Dual Relationships and Conflict of Interest (8.5%); Client Consent (6.5%) and Client Access to their Notes (5%).

This year we saw new enquiries related to the rapid shift to online counselling and associated ethical considerations as members quickly pivoted to remote work and Telehealth platforms. This led to the introduction of CPD and webinars on Online Therapy. The common themes arising from the Ethics Advice Line informs PACFA of the professional development opportunities, training and resources to support members to effectively work to the Code of Ethics.

Of the complaint enquiries received this year, the vast majority were related to unregistered counsellors and psychotherapists and were referred on to the relevant Health Care Complaints Entities. Historically, PACFA has received a very low number of complaints and grievances about members averaging to less than 3 per year. This financial year the increase in complaints and grievances has more than doubled, though this number is still extremely low compared with other health professions. It is unclear why we have received this increase in the number of complaints this year. Further analysis is required to determine the reason for this increase and identify any gaps in professional development required to support members’ ethical practice.

For further information about the role of the Ethics Committee, Grievance Panels and Ethics Officer please refer to the Ethics Committee Terms of Reference.