Relational Ethics in Practice: Narratives from Counselling and Psychotherapy.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Thompson, Kate
Pub Date: 01/01/2012
Publication: Name: Existential Analysis Publisher: Society for Existential Analysis Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Society for Existential Analysis ISSN: 1752-5616
Issue: Date: Jan, 2012 Source Volume: 23 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: Relational Ethics in Practice: Narratives from Counselling and Psychotherapy (Collection)
Persons: Reviewee: Gabriel, Lynne; Casemore, Roger
Accession Number: 288874189
Full Text: Relational Ethics in Practice: Narratives from Counselling and Psychotherapy Lynne Gabriel & Roger Casemore (eds). (2009). Hove: Routledge

In their introduction, the editors of this volume begin to define relational ethics thus:

In the context of a helping relationship we can construe relational ethic as a co-constructed ethical and moral encounter ... The term relational ethic represents the complex medium through which decisions and interactions associated with the processes and progress of a relationship are mindfully and ethically engaged with (Gabriel & Roger, p1)

This edited volume of 16 chapters gathers together 10 contributors (plus the two editors, who also appear as chapter authors) from different backgrounds and experience; many of them are established experts in their own fields. The professional perspectives from which they write include: private practitioner, academic researcher or teacher, trainer, psychiatrist, psychologist, psychotherapist, counsellor, supervisor, writer or policy maker. Their philosophical or professional orientations appear equally diverse, which gives a rich breadth and scope to the work. This also perhaps makes it understandable that the understanding of the term 'relational ethics' should also be diverse, if not divergent.

Nic Neath in her chapter written from the perspective of a recent graduate says: 'It was a novice trainee that stepped into the training room not even knowing I would need to consider relational ethics, let alone how to.' (p76)

Val Wosket's excellent chapter on supervision begins:

These thoughts were echoed by this reviewer. A quick search on the internet came up with several definitions and discussions and little consensus. As a philosophical term it seems to have roots in feminist theory, as a professional approach it seems to be to do with making safe and ethical decisions. So perhaps the use of the term here is actually a distraction--for a while it distracted me from the thought-provoking and fascinating essays themselves. Several contributors seemed to get round it by ignoring it altogether or de-constructing it into its semantic parts relational (therefore relationship) and ethics: 'The term combines the notions of ethic and relation to form an ethical narrative thread that weaves through all aspects of a relationship.' (Gabriel, p11).

Perhaps the title was the choice of the publisher (I've often heard authors disavowing responsibility for the choice of their title). The trend in professional publishing is towards very bald, descriptive titles. A much-used phrase claims: 'It does what it says on the tin', (though I have no idea to which tin this refers). In this case it's more like one of those tins where the label has fallen off but when you open it you find the contents to be delicious and surprising. So I suggest the nervous reader overlooks the title and concentrates on the subtitle: Narratives from Counselling and Psychotherapy. Then the richness of the contributions begin to offer much --and the key word becomes 'Narratives'. And narrative, I believe, means story: 'My interest in these issues is embedded in my fascination with stories as a form of knowledge creation and enquiry.' (Etherington, p59).

Indeed we find narratives about ethics and relationships. Some of them are well-told tales, some are more theoretical or philosophical enquiries, all are grounded in practice and invite readers to think more deeply about decisions they make in private and in practice.

In 'The Choice' W.B. Yeats wrote:

The contributors to this book show that this is not the case--that in fact to live ethically and fully means integrating the life and the work, and making choices and decisions which support both.

Unlike many edited volumes this book is not divided into sections, signposting the reader to particular issues, however there are recurring themes emerging across chapters, taken up by different chapter authors. For example, practitioner self-care and the relationship between practitioner and private selves are covered by Val Wosket, Alan Dunnett and Lynne Gabriel (whose final chapter is a moving description of her own journey back to practitioner health after traumatic loss--a brave chapter. Gabriel has just come to the end of her term as BACP chair and I hope that this will allow her more time for writing). Between them they explore the effect of client stories on the practitioner, practitioner experiences on the work and the possibility of being wounded healers. They agree that making ethical decisions about self-care is ethically sound for professional practice.

Several other chapters also contain personal narratives. In Chapter 12, Roger Casemore writes about his work in remote communities where traditional notions of confidentiality and relationship are challenged. This is a powerful example of 'counselling in the real world'. A common theme throughout the book is that axioms and orthodoxies must be flexible enough to operate with unorthodox or unconventional situations. Aaron Balick begins his chapter on working with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender clients (LGBT) with the epigram: 'Self-revelation is not an option it is an inevitability' (Lewis Aron, 1999). And goes on to illustrate what he means from his own experience with a client.

Nic Neath talks about her experience through her training and the ethical containers which perhaps were not always strong enough. She asks many provocative questions throughout her journey from person-centred to existential practitioner, questions which we would all do well to re-visit from time to time throughout our practice years. Psychiatrist Subodh Dave writes about his transition from India to the UK, and how his relationships and experience with patients helped him adapt to his adopted country.

The BACP Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy underpins many of the contributions (many of the writers have held office or been recognised by the BACP, so it is perhaps not surprising that this is the primary reference). In chapter three, Roger Casemore makes the case for integrating its principles into the whole person: 'I wish to suggest that for each of us our ethical values and principles should form part of our way of being that informs how we are and what we do in all aspects of our lives.' (p23). Peter Jenkins in his chapter on legal perspectives, comments on its robust deontological heritage, which provides therapists with '.the conceptual underpinning, or philosophical scaffolding, for developing their own finely tuned and well thought out, or indeed heartfelt, response to ethical dilemmas.' (p107). Moira Walker allies the framework with the principles of feminist psychodynamic therapy, Nic Neath looks at how students begin to wrestle with it. Thus chapter authors from different orientations and perspectives agree that the BACP Ethical Framework for Good Practice in Counselling and Psychotherapy is a helpful tool for ethical behaviour in life and work.

So having worked through my own journey in the writing of this review, and having followed the authors and editors on their individual journeys in considering relational ethics, I think I have come to my own definition ... I thoroughly recommend this book to practitioners, trainers and writers alike for the quality of the writing and the encouragement it offers to us all to think about the big questions in our lives.
My first reaction on being invited to make a contribution to this
   volume was to feel unsure that I knew enough about the concept of
   relational ethics to write anything useful ... I also experienced
   some apprehension about whether I might expose myself as having a
   lack of knowledge and expertise on the subject. (p44)


The intellect of man is forced to choose
   perfection of the life, or of the work
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2012 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.