On research ethics

laptop and notebook with glasses sitting on top

By Dr Janet E. Penny

Research is rarely, if ever, the topic in counselling training and practice that practitioners get most excited about. As a tutor of research methods in Higher Education [at Waverley Abbey College], I am aware that it can be an area of some discomfort and anxiety for practising counsellors (e.g., Moran, 2011). Nonetheless, empirical research has been woven into the history of counselling and psychotherapy, with many of its main founders such as Freud, Rogers and Beck all carrying out research. Beck, for example, developed the now widely used cognitive behavioural therapy approach (CBT) based on his observations of depressed clients, and has since been involved with refining and developing its practice through empirical research, improving the lives of many who have received CBT.

Undoubtedly, research can be a demanding process, particularly for the novice researcher, but it is also a creative opportunity to contribute to the field of counselling and psychotherapy, and build on, or indeed, challenge, what is already known. There is such a lack of research on the various aspects of a Christian approach to counselling, particularly in the United Kingdom. Thus, there is a need for counsellors to engage with empirical research of all types and perhaps add a Christian perspective to the extant literature.

And, as in counselling practice, an ethical approach to working with participants in research ought to underlying and shape any such endeavour. Whether carrying out qualitative or quantitative research, there is the same need to be attentive to issues of ethics – from the inception of the research question, through the whole research process, and in disseminating the results. Counsellors, and other linked professionals, are often already cognisant of how to work ethically with people and, with adaption, that knowledge can be used effectively in the research process. Thus, the introduction of the new Association of Christians in Counselling and Linked Professions Research Ethics Policy seeks to support its members in carrying out research, drawing out that tacit knowledge and highlighting a number of issues to consider from an ethical perspective. [This document will continue to be developed in dialogue with researchers, and comment and feedback on it are welcome via the ACC.]


Moran, P. (2011) Bridging the gap between research and practice in counselling and psychotherapy trainees: Learning from trainees, Counselling and Psychotherapy Research, 11, (3), 171-178.