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Saturday, September 17, 2022

Ethical knowledge, dilemmas and resolutions in professional coaching

Hannah K. Heitz & Mark M. Leach (2022) 
Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, 
Research and Practice
DOI: 10.1080/17521882.2022.2112247


There is little understanding of coaches’ ethical knowledge, means to resolve ethical dilemmas, and how these dilemmas might align with those experienced in other helping professions. Using purposive convenience sampling, 260 coaches were asked about their training, the ethical dilemmas they have experienced, and how they have resolved their ethical dilemmas. The qualitative and quantitative results indicated that coaches reported a variety of dilemmas, with the three most common types being dilemmas related to conflicts of interest, confidentiality, and boundaries between therapy and coaching. The most reported methods of resolving dilemmas included informal resolution, referral to therapy, seeking supervision, seeking consultation and referring to the ICF Ethics Code. The results highlight common ethical issues that arise in coaching and their relationship to other helping professions.

Types of ethical dilemmas

Almost half of the participants reported having experienced an ethical dilemma as a coach. There were multiple types of ethical dilemmas reported by coaches, although the most prominently reported included conflicts of interest (36%), confidentiality (32%) and boundaries between therapy and coaching (20%). The remaining ethical dilemmas (12%) included a range of themes (e.g., misuse of services, criminality, compensation). Approximately 19% of coaches who reported experiencing an ethical dilemma reported more than one type. See Table 3 for themes and sample responses.

Ethical dilemmas

Approximately half of respondents indicated that they had encountered an ethical dilemma, and those most reported parallel the most common dilemmas reported by psychologists and counsellors. Coach responses most frequently acknowledged ethical dilemmas around conflicts of interest, confidentiality and boundaries of competence, similar to those of a multinational study by Pettifor and Sawchuk (2006) who indicated that practicing psychologists reported confidentiality, multiple relationships and competence as most common. Coaches did not report ethical dilemmas related to multiple relationships as frequently as psychologists in the Pettifor and Sawchuk study; instead, coaches reported a higher percentage of dilemmas related to conflicts of interest. At the time of data collection, multiple relationships were not explicitly mentioned in the ICF Ethics Code, except within the specific context of romantic relationships with clients, so other forms of multiple relationships may not naturally come to mind for coaches. Given that broader multiple relationships were not included within the ICF Ethics Code and the code emphasised conflicts of interest, it was difficult to discern whether coach dilemmas that were described as conflicts of interest were similar to what could be described as multiple relationships. After data was collected, the ICF Ethics Code was updated to include a broader definition of multiple relationships.