Charter for Ethical Practice

Introduction to Ethical Framework

The purpose of this document is to define the general ethical framework, as clearly as possible, for the European Association for Counsellors (EAC) members. The framework is based on a set of philosophical principles.

All affiliated organisations and members of the EAC are expected to use this Charter to help develop the profession of counselling where they may practice. Although the article attempts to take into consideration issues in the practice of counselling, each member must take into consideration the laws and the social and cultural norms in their own country while devising and monitoring standards and rules. Your counselling activities should be guided by the principles that are set out in the article about ethics and standards.


A Counsellor

is a person who has reached the necessary level of skill and training as set out in the EAC standards and who has completed a recognised course of study and who acts with the definition of counselling when practising in the counselling profession.

Who is the client

A client can be a person, a couple, a family group, or an organisation who directly or indirectly seek access to a counselling relationship.

What is a counselling relationship

it is a formally contracted relationship agreed by both parties (counsellor and client(s)) where both parties have agreed to work together for the benefit of the client..

In a Direct Assignment

the client initiates the Counselling Relationship.

In an Indirect Relationship

the Counselling relationship is initiated by someone other than the client or the counsellor. This could be a professional Medical practitioner, an employer for an employee, courts of law and legal processes. In all cases the client must agree to the relationship being formed.

Third Party

Would be a person(s) that was not involved in establishing a direct or indirect assignment and could be a family member, friend, colleague, employer or other professional including a court of law.

Philosophical Principles

The core values of the counsellor are a set of attitudes and skills which have a special regard for the integrity, authority and autonomy of the client and are firmly based on the counsellor having total respect for universal human rights and for the person and cultural differences.

There are eight attitudes that put ethical principles into practice they are:


Counsellors have the responsibility to conduct themselves with unconditional acceptance of clients including being fully aware of any personal and cultural differences, however, it does not mean necessarily the acceptance of all of their behaviour.


A counsellor bound by a code of ethics must never exploit a client but accept and honour the clients right to support their physical and emotional boundaries.


Whether a counselling relationship is initiated by a direct or indirect assignment the counsellor recognises that the responsibility for entering into that relationship is vested in the client.


Acting within the boundaries of a shared respect for universal human rights and cultural differences the counsellor must always give the client the freedom to express themselves as well as their needs and their beliefs.


At all times the counsellor must make sure that the counselling relationship is protected against uncontracted or inappropriate observation, including interference or intrusion by others.


It is the counsellors responsibility that the client has the confidence in that everything in the counselling relationship is built on a foundation of trust that their personal or any other disclosed information is protected from inappropriate disclosure to others.


The counsellor must actively make sure the observance of these key philosophical principles in the service provided through the counselling relationship.


It is required that the counsellor only provides services and techniques for which they have received adequate and qualified education and training or experience and that they keep up high standards of practice in their work.

The diagram below shows the dimensions in which practitioners put ethical principles into practice.


Ethical Framework

Counsellors express their skills and professionalism in their approach that values the integrity, authority and autonomy of the client.

The responsibility a counsellor for the quality of the work they do with clients is marked by eight principles:

  • acting according to professional standards of competence
  • maintaining confidentiality
  • being open and explicit with clients about the counselling process
  • remaining within the boundaries of the counselling role
  • engaging only in activity in which they have ability and in which they are able to act independently and objectively
  • ensuring that they receive adequate supervision of their counselling work
  • continuing their own personal and professional development as counsellors
  • establishing, maintaining and monitoring a clear counselling contract

Unless otherwise negotiated any information that is disclosed during a counselling relationship normally remains confidential to that professional relationship.

Counsellors may become frustrated by a clients lack of trust unless they are certain that confidentiality is an important ethical requirement at all times during the professional counselling relationship. However, confidentiality is not absolute because a counsellor must take into account the laws and the constraints of their society and of their professional roles. Because of this it is essential that in a contract any limitations that may be placed on the confidentiality within the professional counselling relationships are made explicit and have a clients approval. The clients right to privacy and safety must be respected and any subsequent conflicts with the principle of confidentiality must be handled clearly and openly. In the case of a likely breach of confidentiality being foreseen the counsellor should attempt to get the clients written and informed consent.

Counsellors need to be open with themselves and with clients about the feasibility of working together in a professional relationship.

The counselling professional relationship, defined by an explicit and mutually agreed contract, ends with the termination of that contract. However, there are certain professional responsibilities that continue beyond the termination of the contract. These include but are not limited to:

  • maintenance of agreed-upon confidentiality
  • avoidance of any exploitation of the former relationship
  • consideration of any needed follow-up care

Counsellors need to be clear about any responsibilities, including those outlined above, involved in the professional relationship, which may conflict with the interests of the client. Any responsibilities to third parties must be explicit at the pre-counselling contract stage or as soon as they become a reason in the counselling. For example, a relationship can be the result of a counselling ask by indirect assignment. In such cases the counsellor needs to be explicit with both parties about accountability involved to both the direct counselling client and the party requesting help, e.g. an employer who makes a request for counselling for an employee with burnout.


Research into counselling should be undertaken by competent researchers who are familiar with the values of counselling. It requires full consideration of ethical issues and concern for the dignity and welfare of the participants. Researchers have a responsibility to behave in ways that are as consistent as possible with the core values of counselling. Research that violates those values is unethical and should not be undertaken. The fully informed consent of all parties is a fundamental ethical imperative in experimental research.

Conflicts between Ethical Priciples

The complexity of ethical issues makes it likely that different ethical principles and clauses within the Charter may cause problems in specific circumstances producing ethical conflict. Sometimes the provisions in the Charter may also clash with the expectations of, such as, Legal Professionals. By their very nature the resolution of ethical dilemmas is not guaranteed to be simple.

In particular when counsellors face a conflict between ethical principles the intention should be to strive for the greatest good and the least harm for the client.

Members of the EAC must comply with this Charter of ethics and practice and must not work to lower ethical standards than those defined in this Charter. However, National Associations and other EAC Approved Organisations are free to place higher more stringent standards on their own members in their national states.