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BPS Policy Unit

Listening, learning, and legacy –lessons from Ethics, Research and Practice Queries

18 August 2017 | by BPS Policy Unit

The following article has been put together by Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard, Lead Policy Advisor for the British Psychological Society.

Being able to advise and support our members with queries related to ethics, research and practice has been a core responsibility of the Policy Unit for at least the last 5 years, as part of our wide role in supporting the Research and Professional Practice Boards, and the Ethics Committee.

Initially the prospect of providing such advice was a little daunting, as this was a new area of work, with little precedent as to how such queries were responded to, and it would be important to ensure that members were being given the appropriate guidance within the limits of what we were able to provide (given the Society cannot provide legal or union type support).

We also had no way of anticipating what type of queries we would receive.

We relied heavily on three core Society documents, the Code of Ethics and Conduct, the Code of Human Research Ethics and the practice guidelines; being careful that the advice given was consistent with those guidelines but also responsive to the individual's circumstances wherever possible.

Over the years, considerable expertise was developed enabling support and guidance to be given to members on a wide range of queries.  However, we also became very mindful of the gaps in the guidance documentation and where we were having to seek additional guidance from the members of the Ethics Committee or from external sources (such as the Information Commissioner's Office).

So, as each of these guidance documents have come up for review, we have tried to ensure that these gaps were acknowledged and taken into account so that our members could more easily find the information they were looking for.

This week we were delighted to oversee the launch of the significantly extended and updated Practice Guidelines, approved by the Professional Practice Board and the Board of Trustees.

This document has been highly anticipated, as the previous guidance was last published in 2009. The production of the document was a huge task, performed with considerable professionalism and collegiality, led by Nicola Gale (President) and our colleague Hannah Farndon (Policy Advisor, Professional Practice).

The new document sets out an extremely impressive set of revised guidelines, providing clear advice and guidance across a wide range of settings for practitioner psychologists. It also addresses some of the most frequently asked questions and practice dilemmas that we have received.

It is really pleasing to see that for key issues that members have raised with the team over the years, not only did the team listen and respond, but was able to follow that through to ensure that they were formally addressed in the revised guidelines. The quality of the document is a testament to the level of active engagement and consultation with stakeholders that the early drafts went through.

It is a wonderful example of cross-Society working and pulling together, and all those involved should be warmly congratulated.

We are confident that members both in practice and in training, experts by experience, and those responsible for developing and commissioning psychological services will benefit hugely from the new Practice Guidelines. We also hope that it becomes a much-used guide for those involved in training and supervision to support trainees and colleagues alike. 

The Code of Ethics and Conduct is currently nearing the conclusion of its first major revision since 2009, and we are working with the members of the Ethics Committee to ensure not only consistency across our documentation, but also to ensure that they provide comprehensive sources of support and guidance. The new Code of Ethics and Conduct will be published in the New Year.

So, I hope the new Practice Guidelines are received as well by others as they have been by the Unit.  As it is, due to some office changes, we are now passing the responsibility for Ethics queries onto colleagues in the Qualifications and Standards Department.  I would therefore like to say a huge thanks to Zoë Mudie and Liz Beech for responding to the lion’s share of queries over the years with due diligence, understanding and utmost professionalism.

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