Ethical Behaviour -Group Sessions

Understand ethical issues regarding group career information, advice and guidance sessions.

CPD Assessments
Ethical Behaviour - Group Sessions

Ethical Behaviour - Group Sessions

Case Study

Xolani is a lay counsellor who works within the community. He has bravely taken the initiative to provide community members with all kinds of information and knowledge sharing sessions. Xolani feels that there is a general lack of support for rural communities and that they do not have access to counsellors to help them deal with issues like unemployment or depression. He is very keen on assisting youngsters with information on careers and options for study as well. 

He often hosts workshops for high school learners on tertiary education information, career choices and entrance requirements. During group sessions, he invites learners to talk about themselves and what they want out of life. He is very firm with emotionally fragile learners during these sessions. Some speak of their financial difficulties, some speak of being caretakers of younger siblings and others speak of losing their parents or loved ones. He reserves a challenging position and tells learners not to feel sorry for themselves, or else they will not succeed. Group sessions are often embarrassing for many learners but they subject themselves to this because it is the only way to gain knowledge.


Much like individual sessions with clients, practitioners must adhere to a strict code of ethics when dealing with group sessions. There is still firm governance over the practitioner-client relationship, informed consent and confidentiality. Keep in mind that these factors will always be a key focus for any practitioner. It is often that confidentiality becomes a delicate topic during group sessions.

Ethical issues when dealing with groups

1. Confidentiality

The practitioner can facilitate the process of setting ground rules and asking the group members to agree that everything shared in the group must remain in the group. It is important that the members of the group are aware of what confidentiality is, why it is important and what the consequences could be if confidentiality is not maintained. Things that may form part of confidentiality within a group may include the identity of members, shared stories, information or outcomes of the interaction. The facilitator may also indicate whether any of the course content is private or confidential. The practitioner must  ensure that everyone feels safe within the group and if the group is at risk of breaches in confidentiality, the practitioner must act to ensure that safety and confidentiality are maintained. There needs to be an understanding that anyone violating the code of confidentiality will be removed from the group.

2. Privacy 

Participants are encouraged to share only the information they wish to share. Practitioners need to let participants know that members are not obligated to answer any question or participate in activities which make them feel uncomfortable in any way. Participants always reserve the right to pass on a question or an activity. Group members are not allowed to pressure fellow members into answering questions which are uncomfortable for them. Participants have the right to refuse participation should they decide to. The practitioner is obligated to protect the participants' right to refuse. 

3. Maintaining Dignity

Practitioners need to ensure that no participant is abused, humiliated, ridiculed or ignored in any way. The dignity of every participant is maintained at all times. Group members are encouraged to maintain dignity of one another. Facilitators can work with participants to formulate commonly agreed upon ground rules that each participant acknowledges to abide by within the session. Consequences for not following these ground rules can also be agreed upon, prior to the start of the session. 

4. Violence or Intimidation

Practitioners must remind participants that intimidation or violent behaviour towards group members and their property is not tolerated under any circumstance. Any person who violates this rule will be asked to leave the group.

5. Alcohol and Other Drugs

Practitioners must ensure that participants are aware that the use of alcohol or drugs will not be permitted under any circumstance. Participants understand that the use of drugs or alcohol alters behaviour and responses, and this might have a negative impact on the group. Any person who fails to adhere to this rule will be asked to leave.

6. Responsibilities of Participants

Participants understand that the practitioner has to enforce basic procedures, guidelines and ground rules. If participants wish to introduce more rules, this is up to the group and the group must monitor this going forward.

Practitioners have a task of ensuring that every participant is safe within the group and all interactions are done with the following guidelines in mind. The practitioner and the entire group are expected to:

  • Extend acceptance – no judgments of participants.
  • Respect each other.
  • Respect each other’s thoughts.
  • Wait for others to finish speaking - do not interrupt each other.
  • Honour everyone’s opinion.
  • Be honest with each other.

Practitioner’s basic rules

Irrespective of whether the practitioner is dealing with an individual or a group, the practitioner must always adhere to the basic rules for interaction.

1. Strive for Non-Maleficence and Beneficence

Non-maleficence means, “do no harm”. Beneficence means, “to work toward the benefit of others”. While these two concepts seem clear and straightforward, at times it does require practice and conscious effort to ensure they are always adhered to.

When beneficence and non-maleficence are observed, it supports a trusting relationship between practitioner and client(s). While the practitioner makes every attempt to practice being of benefit to others while doing no harm, careful consideration is needed during group work. Remember that group members are not trained individuals and they could easily share information about other members.  It is therefore necessary that practitioners hold this safe space and act as an example to group members of how to discuss and respect personal information. Participants should be reminded that they can easily book private sessions for information that they do not wish to share publicly. 

2. Obtain Informed Consent

It might be necessary for the practitioner to have one-on-one sessions with participants before the group session so that participants can obtain more clarity and understanding. Confidentiality issues can be discussed more easily during one-on-one sessions and the practitioner can establish how much understanding the participant has on the issue of confidentiality. The client will leave the practitioner's room with the understanding that the practitioner or facilitator will keep the information confidential at all times unless the law requires certain information; in such an instance confidentiality might be compromised.

3. Discuss Group Policies

Practitioners must discuss group policies when the groups come together for the first time. There should be a mutual understanding from all group participants that by signing the contract, confidentiality on the part of the practitioner is upheld. Participants must agree not to disclose the names of other participants, their life circumstances or any other details discussed during the sessions. Group members are reminded of possible negative consequences if participants encounter each other outside of sessions and discuss sensitive issues; this could be overheard by family members or third parties and can have a negative impact on the participant.  

Practitioners must be aware of the changes within the group and the possible influence on confidentiality. Participants are reminded before every session that they are to maintain confidentiality. 

4. Group Rationale and Purpose

It is important to highlight why the group has come together, as this is necessary to ensure the success of group sessions. Reiterating reasons why the group was formed gives members clear direction and knowledge of what to expect during the process. When the group knows the boundaries and parameters for their engagement, they begin to share and start finding value in the interaction. It also serves as a preventative measure if participants deviate from the task at hand.
Practitioners must have a goal or a plan for the group. There must be a clear understanding of what is needed on the first day to the last day. 

A few guidelines and goals for groups:

  • Have respect for each other.
  • Participants must respect each other’s ideas.
  • Participants should not interrupt each other while someone is talking.
  • Each participant has a say and everyone’s opinion should count.
  • Every participant should share the responsibility for the tasks related to workshops.
  • The group must have a common understanding of goals that need to be achieved during the workshop.
  • Help each other to understand all concepts and content of workshops.
  • Be open to compromise.
  • Be willing to cooperate and assist others with their ideas.
  • Everyone is allowed to be vocal about their ideas and problems, and this must be communicated politely and respectfully.
  • Listen effectively and do not be critical or judgemental.
  • Attend all sessions on time unless there are circumstances that prevent this – in that case, notify the facilitator and extend an apology.
  • Be flexible about meeting times and be willing to make adjustments.
  • Keep attention on tasks related to the workshop (limit talk about non-related events to after group sessions).

You will note that there are similarities between individual sessions and group sessions. The emphasis is always on confidentiality and reducing harm to people. 

Shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 2.0 South Africa (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 ZA) 

This means you can share and adapt this work but not for commercial purposes. You will only need to include the following reference to the original content in all shared works.

Kindly attribute as follows:

Beukes, C. J., Mahadave, K., & Kanhai, K. (2022). Professional Development Portfolio for Career Development Practitioners (1st ed.)CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 ZA, 


Karuna Mahadave

Christopher John Beukes

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