Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
thesis_access.pdf (1.08 MB)

Controversies in Counselling: Re-thinking Therapy’s Ethical Base

Download (1.08 MB)
posted on 2021-11-03, 07:58 authored by Cornforth, Sue

This is a theoretical thesis about ethical counselling/psychotherapy. Its aim is to re-think some of the many problems that beset the “psy” professions, by addressing some of therapy’s foundational assumptions. It takes the view that these are still expressed in five ethical principles: autonomy, fidelity, justice, non-maleficence and beneficence. It considers this re-thinking a prerequisite to the development of “just” practice in the twenty-first century. Counselling/psychotherapy is still an emerging profession and contains many contradictions and unanswered questions. The thesis begins by foregrounding the ambiguous relationship of therapy to social justice and to the global environment. It describes the range of internal disruptions and discrepancies which the profession contains. It then presents ethical commitment as the uniting factor, and as the topic of study for the rest of the thesis. The re-thinking draws on a variety of poststructural tools and reviews literature throughout. It takes a discursive approach, drawing in particular on a framework suggested by Foucault in 1968. Each of chapters three to seven focuses on one of the five ethical principles. Each principle is subjected to both a meta-analysis, which locates it within wider discursive contexts and a micro-analysis, which tracks its expression in various versions of the New Zealand Association of Counsellors’ ethical codes. This re-thinking seeks to foreground other “truths” that may have been excluded. The thesis finds that various controversies play a distracting role in a discourse that struggles to exclude immanent relationship with “other things”, including the planet. It finds that therapy continues to play out traditional and oppositional philosophical themes. It finds that morality, expressed rationally as ethics, suffers an erasure. It becomes mis-represented. The thesis ends by proposing a theory of materiality that bridges the gap between discourse analysis and identity politics. It concludes that ethical therapy would do better to free itself from reason’s stranglehold. It calls for an emphasis on dialogic community and the honouring of irrational relationship with the natural environment.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education Studies


Gilbert, Jane; Claiborne, Lise Bird; Neyland, Jim