061 – Ethical Dilemmas versus Ethical Conflicts – Rackets and Stamps in Transactional Analysis – Id, Ego and Superego
In episode 61 of the Counselling Tutor Podcast, Ken Kelly and Rory Lees-Oakes explain the difference between ethical dilemmas and ethical conflicts, and how you can deal with these. ‘Theory with Rory’ looks at rackets and stamps, part of transactional analysis (TA) theory. Finally, the presenters illustrate the id, ego and superego (part of psychodynamic theory).
Ethical Dilemmas versus Ethical Conflicts (starts at 2.40 mins)
What is the difference between an ethical dilemma and an ethical conflict? Rory explains that an ethical conflict occurs when two things ‘bump into each other and you know it’. For example, an ethical conflict would exist if you offered to counsel a colleague or your partner, because there would be a dual relationship, which the Ethical Framework for the Counselling Professions of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) cautions against: ‘We will establish and maintain appropriate professional and personal boundaries in our relationships with clients by ensuring that … any dual or multiple relationships will be avoided where the risks of harm to the client outweigh any benefits to the client’ (BACP, 2015: 8).
Ken gives another example of an ethical conflict: when your agency’s operating procedures conflict with those advocated in the BACP’s Ethical Framework. Some drugs and alcohol agencies, for example, require counsellors to tell them if a client is using substances – in other words, they have different rules on limits to confidentiality. Ethical conflicts can often be resolved by careful contracting, if you explain accurately and openly what is on offer and the client accepts that. If you, as a counsellor, feel unhappy with an agency’s operating procedures, don’t be afraid to try to get these changed or to decide you can’t work for that agency. Rory describes how some of his students raised their concerns with their agency (about the contract) and got this changed; the agency was delighted to have engaged and proactive counsellors on-board.
Ethical dilemmas, meanwhile, require you to think through a difficult situation where the answer is not clear-cut. In other words, you need to make a ‘judgement call’. Two examples of ethical dilemmas might be:
- A client arrives at an appointment, having driven there. You can see they are under the influence of alcohol. Do you report them to the police?
- Your agency asks you to counsel a client in a room that is clearly not soundproof. Do you go ahead?
The most important thing when faced with an ethical dilemma is to think it through carefully: you need to make sure that whatever decision you make is defensible. Ultimately, it is about courage and candour.
It can help to phone the ethics department of the BACP; another useful resource is Tim Bond’s ethical problem-solving matrix. You can download this here, or it is also available in the Handouts Vault and Counselling Study Resource (CSR).
Rackets and Stamps in TA (starts at 13.32)
You may know someone who is prone to suddenly ‘blowing up’: becoming angry at something that seems to you nothing, or very trivial. This can be confusing or frightening for those on the receiving end, or those around the angry person.
TA has a theory that may explain what is happening here. In TA, a racket occurs when a child replaces an authentic feeling with one that’s more socially acceptable to their parents. This becomes part of the child’s life script and they no longer feel the authentic emotion. People who hide or restrict their real feelings tend to keep these as bad memories – and accumulate them as you might stamps on a supermarket loyalty card.
Then, every so often they ‘cash in’ these stamps by having an angry outburst. Some people may save up their stamps for a day – and others for years – on their emotional legacy card.
Id, Ego and Superego (starts at 16.20 mins)
These concepts come from the psychoanalytical theory of Sigmund Freud, the father of talking therapies. Freud believed in drive theory: that the human psyche controlled by biological drives.
Rory compares the id, ego and superego to the child, adult and parent in TA (though in psychodynamic theory, the superego relates more to societal than to individual values).
He illustrates the three concepts using an image suggested by fellow tutor Glenys Arthur. If faced with a large chocolate cake, each component of the self might act as follows:
- Id: ‘I want to eat all that cake – now!’
- Superego: ‘That would be so bad for your health. You really should have some fruit instead.’
- Ego: ‘I know you want to eat it all, and it’s true that wouldn’t be good for your health. But you need some treats in life. So why not enjoy one slice?’