What is duty of care?
One definition of duty of care is
“A requirement that a person act toward others and the public with watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would. If a person’s actions do not meet this standard of care, then the acts are considered negligent, and any damages resulting may be claimed in a lawsuit for negligence”
In both therapy and personal development the practitioner or teacher has a responsibility to the client to maintain a professional duty of care. This means acting in the best interests of the client and ensuring that any teaching and/or communications are done in an ethical and considered manner. Many would consider this to be commonsense, BUT often this is not the case and all manner of problems can result as a consequence of not paying attention in such interactions. Part of providing proper duty of care means the teacher or practitioner need to have good information about the client, know how to identify and head off any problems and have the skills to be able to assist if there are any problems or have the ability to locate some external help.
Any seasoned practitioner or teacher also knows that things don’t always go to plan and that when dealing with human beings, there will be problem situations. That said it’s possible to head off and/or avoid many of these by making sure that sensible precautions are in place to protect both client and practitioner.
From the age of 20 I have had an ongoing interest in personal development and personal change. This has meant exploring many different fields, including Ericksonian hypnosis, different meditative approaches including Rada Soami meditation, mantra meditation, Zen meditation, NLP and Provocative Therapy. Inevitably this has meant being involved in a number of one to one and group interactions as well as group teaching. This article shows some of my observations about how important duty of care is when working with others.
Duty of care in group teaching
In 1990s I attended and assisted on many large group NLP and hypnosis trainings. Many of these were quite excellent and well run but on some occasions the sales teams had sold places to individuals suggesting that such workshops would be able to address therapeutic issues! This creates all manner of problems when you have large groups and longs days where people are focusing on different kinds of state changes. Yes it can be an excellent environment for personal change but I saw some examples of people having real anxiety problems in these group situations to the point of having to leave the workshop.
In talking to some such individuals over the years it was clear to me that the screening to see if they suitable to attend had either not been done, or any problems were simply ignored. Usually it was then a few experienced voluntary assistants who were left to clear up the problem as again the main presenters stood well away! This is one of the many reasons why I cap the numbers of attendees in any public event where people are involved in change work and/or personal development.
Duty of care in one to one therapy
Any professional therapist of health professional has a duty to work in the best interests of the client. Many therapists are part of professional bodies that have a code of ethics and standards. These bodies also have disciplinary procedures which allow them to sanction individuals who flout providing duty of care. In the UK medics have the General Medical Council or GMC.
It’s important for the therapist and practitioner to obtain proper information from the client including any medical history that might be relevant. Of course often people don’t communicate the whole truth, so a skilled therapist needs to pay proper attention to the client’s verbal and non-verbal responses. The practitioner also needs to maintain proper records and hold professional insurance. In my own work clients always complete a full set of client notes when requesting help that includes a medical history and all sessions are recorded on audio. They receive a copy and I keep a copy on file.
Duty of Care in Personal Development
From the late 1970s I was interested in many meditative approaches and found these extremely useful in developing personal insights. Often meditators can experience some quite powerful altered states, so the environment in which practice any meditation is really important, especially if this is for long periods of time. It’s important that people have proper nutrition, hydration and the opportunity to feel psychologically supported during this practice.
That said sometimes well-meaning teachers fail to properly address the issue if duty of care. Extreme examples of this failure of duty of care include individuals having psychological breakdowns which the teachers were then wholly unable to recognize and deal with. I heard of one person actually being sectioned after suffering a severe abreaction as the “teacher” decided to wash their hands of any responsibility. This problem occurs mostly when the teachers are a touch too evangelical about their teaching rather than really paying attention to the person they should be helping! The central problem is that in many cases people are too focused on “spiritual” and “esoteric” elements and forget totally about common sense on planet earth! Such lack of consideration will bite them in the arse at some point and no spirit guides, gods or angels will deter this from happening! Essentially “duty of care” means paying attention to others and showing professional consideration in how you treat and interact with them!
Providing a professional duty of care is the only way to responsibly work with clients in one to one and group situations. Failure to do so can result in creating major problems for the client as well as opening up the possibility of legal sanctions for the practitioner or therapist. The most skilled individuals factor in all manner of ecological checks when working with clients.