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Ethics queries

The society provides a number of important guidelines designed to inform and assist our members in the practical and professional application of psychology and in resolving ethical dilemmas.


The advice offered by the society in response to ethical and practice enquiries received, is normally drawn from the following guidelines:

We have also produced the Ethics Guidelines for Internet-mediated Research.

The BPS expects that the guidelines will be used to form a basis for consideration, with the principles being taken into account in the process of decision-making, together with the needs of others and the specific circumstances. No guidance can replace the need for psychologists to use their own professional judgement. Effective practice means exercising this professional judgement in a defensible way that does not put clients or the public at risk, or undermine, or call into question the reputation of the profession as a whole.

If you are experiencing an ethical or professional practice dilemma we advise you to consult the documents above and apply the information to your situation. Members often find it useful to talk through their situation with other experienced colleagues, including their supervisor and/or line manager. Sometimes it may be necessary to seek advice from a union, HR department or it may be necessary to seek legal advice.

The society cannot give legal advice or provide practical support to members facing a complaint. For that reason we strongly recommend that members consider taking out professional indemnity insurance. In some cases, the legal helpline of the indemnity insurers may be able to offer some legal advice.

The following information is provided to reflect the advice offered in response to the most frequent enquiries received.

If you cannot find the information you need on this page, please contact us.


Independent student research 

Conducting research is generally undertaken by those who have an undergraduate degree and postgraduate training in research methods, or have a doctoral level qualification (e.g. a PhD), or those who are fully trained practitioners. If you are an A-level or Undergraduate student it is not best practice to pursue research that does not have the appropriate supervision or ethics review in place.  

If you wish to conduct research as a student, you should speak to your academic institution for further guidance and support.  

For additional information and guidance, read our Code of Human Research Ethics which sets out general principles that are applicable to all psychological research contexts.  

Independent research

We recognise that, where a researcher is working independently from any organisation which has an established formal ethics review process, it can be difficult to know how to proceed if the researcher is seeking a review for their project.  

In recognition of this, the society has published the following document, ‘Statement on Ethics Review and Independent Research with Human Participants’, for further information and guidance to help support psychologists wishing to conduct independent research.   

Retrospective Ethics Review of Research 

Where researchers have collected data without ethical approval (either due to a lack of awareness of the ethics review procedures, or the data was collected prior to the establishment of such procedures), we recommend that a retrospective ethics review is offered, but not retrospective ethics approval.

This is based on concerns that offering anything more than review may allow for the misuse of retrospective approval (i.e. the deliberate conduct of research in the absence of approval - and then the seeking of that approval). Retrospective review should always be the exception and not the norm.

It is also advisable that retrospective review is only offered for low-risk research.

Student research participation requirements

Our Code of Human Research Ethics, Section 10.1.3 refers to undergraduate participation in psychological experiments: 

“This Code of Human Research Ethics requires that there should be valid consent and no coercion in the recruitment of student participants. Given the non-invasive nature of most psychological research this generally does not present problems. However, in cases where problems with particular forms of research do arise, it is recommended that participants should be given alternatives so that there is no coercion to participate in any particular study. It is also recommended that, where research participation is a course requirement, this be clearly stated in course handbooks or other advertising material, enabling prospective students who do not wish to take part in research to opt for a different course.” (p. 33)

Consent – with children

Gaining consent from a child is a social negotiation, not just a paper exercise. In recognition of this, careful preparation of consent procedures should include, for example, questions to which a child can be expected to say ‘no’. The person seeking consent should make it absolutely clear that it is fine to say ‘no’ and that the child is also free to say ‘no’ to participation, and to cease participation, and ‘withdraw’, at any time. The crucial element here is that there will be ‘no consequences to saying no’, and this is not always easy to convey clearly to a child. 

Children are used to being in inferior power relations with adults. It is their default expectation, so a researcher will have to make special efforts to establish the different relation that positions the child as a free agent. 

With few exceptions, it is not only the child’s decision regarding participation. Typically, it will be necessary to seek the consent of one or both parents or other person(s) with a legal responsibility to protect the child’s best interests. If a child indicates that they do not wish to participate, or that they wish to stop participation, best practice is to treat the child’s wishes as you would treat any counter wish on the part of the parent(s) or other responsible person(s) for the child’s participation to commence or continue. 

For school-based research, where the research activity is identical with, or very similar to standard curriculum practice, the consent of the head teacher may be sufficient in addition to the child’s consent. Parents must also be informed of the research and it should be an expectation in the school and among parents that such research may take place. The process in these cases needs to be carefully vetted by the head teacher. 

Nevertheless, appropriate measures must be taken to inform the children and their parents (or guardians) of the nature of the processing of the data and the rights available to them in relation to requesting full anonymisation, the withdrawal or deletion of data and the retention period for the data.  We have published additional guidance on this in our Data Protection Regulation guidelines.

Researchers are required to provide this information in all circumstances, regardless of whether consent is the basis for processing, 'in a concise, transparent, intelligible and easily accessible form, using clear and plain language'. 

This must be provided before, or at the time, the data is first collected and it must include the researcher’s identity and contact information and the intended purposes of the processing activities. 

For further information and guidance on conducting research with child participants, read our Code of Human Research Ethics

Renewal of consent

Where the research requires a substantial commitment of time or repeated data collection sessions, such as in longitudinal studies, it will often be appropriate to seek renewed consent from participants. This also recognises that consent should be an ongoing process and that a fuller appreciation of the research and the nature of participation will often become more apparent to participants during the course of their involvement with the research. 

Participants should be given information about who they must contact in the event of any issues arising in the course of the research that cannot be resolved with members of the project team. Such a contact should be both independent of the project team and also in a position to take appropriate action if issues are raised by participants. 

Ethics best practice guidance on conducting research with human participants during Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in some unprecedented changes across society. Conducting research during such times can create practical and ethical challenges.  

In response to the pandemic, we have published some specific best practice guidance for researchers – Adaptations to psychological practice: Interim guidance during Covid-19 pandemic’.  While this does not provide a definitive guide for decision-making, it aims to assist researchers in recognising ethical practice issues during these unique circumstances. It is intended as an aid to ethical decisions and should be used alongside our Code of Human Research Ethics and Code of Ethics and Conduct. 

Researchers are advised to consider how best to proceed with their research on a case by case basis and in accordance with the guidance from their university and the UK Government. 

Conducting research with adults lacking capacity to consent

Our Code of Human Research Ethics, provides specific guidance on conducting research with persons lacking capacity: 

“If valid consent cannot be obtained from adults with severe impairments in understanding or communication, the investigator should consult a person well-placed to appreciate the participant’s reaction, such as a member of the person’s family, and must obtain the disinterested approval of the research from independent advisors. Where the research falls within the regulatory framework of the Mental Capacity Act, the Adults with Incapacity (Scotland) Act or relevant legislation in Northern Ireland, approval must be sought from a recognised REC.

Where capacity to consent is in question, it should be assessed using a systematic procedure such as engaging the potential participant in a dialogue to explore their understanding of what it is that they are consenting to. This process may usefully include offering a choice to which the response indicates whether the individual is capable of making decisions based on likely outcome.

For persons lacking capacity to give valid consent, the researcher must identify a 'personal consultee' who can express a view about whether a person lacking capacity should take part in the research. If no-one can be identified who is prepared to act as a personal consultee, the researcher may consult a 'nominated consultee', someone independent of the project appointed in accordance with the Department of Health’s guidance on research involvement for adults who lack capacity to consent. Research without consent from a person should normally only occur if the research activity is considered to provide direct benefit to that person. Specific regulation applies to clinical trials.”

Further consideration and guidance on this matter is provided in our guidelines on Conducting research with people not having the capacity to consent to their participation.

Is it ethical to offer reimbursement, payments or incentives for individuals to participate in research?

Incentives can be ethically acceptable as long as they are not so large that they run the risk of compromising a persons’ freely-made decision to participate, which would violate the principle of respect for autonomy and become coercion. Incentives should be proportionate to the extent of burden of participation, but should never be associated with the degree of any risk. Normally incentives should be at the same level for all participants in a project. However, there may be circumstances, such as a research design where purposive stratified sampling is essential and varying incentives to ensure adequate representation of specific groups, can be ethically justified. 

Reimbursing expenses incurred in participating in research, such as travel, is normally ethically required and is common practice. Asking someone to participate at their own expense is clearly unreasonable. Payment should also be offered (while it may not always be accepted) where participants are giving up substantial amounts of their time. There is an argument that giving time to activities that can potentially benefit science and human well-being should be seen as a valid citizenship expectation. Of course, not all research can make such a claim. Payment for time given to research participation is ethically problematic because deciding on levels of payment, and whether these should relate to a persons’ earning capacity, is challenging and may be seen as discriminatory. If it is felt appropriate to pay for time, a standard across-the-board token payment scale (for example at minimum wage level) is a good starting point for consideration. In some circumstances, such as elite interviews, it may be necessary to justify higher levels of payment, but this should be the exception rather than the rule. It is accepted that not all research is sufficiently funded to reimburse expenses and pay for time. In these circumstances it is normal practice to make the position clear at the time of recruitment; many potential participants are altruistically motivated.  Furthermore, the need for reimbursement can by significantly reduced by considering the timing and location of the research. 

Token levels of payment for research participation are not seen by HM Revenue and Customs as income for tax purposes. Alternatives to direct monetary recompense can take the form of vouchers to spend in specific retailers, small gifts (food or drink may have health and safety issues), or ‘certificates of participation’. Gifts, certificates, books, stickers or t-shirts with appropriate printed logos and text are especially appropriate for children. 

Some researchers have made use of prize draws as an incentive, but this can be seen as objectionable by virtue of endorsing gambling. If a lottery approach is used, the prize(s) should be modest in value, again to avoid risk of coercion. The use of prize draws raises a further ethical issue: it is necessary to collect and store contact details and this raises data protection issues. Some research can be conducted entirely anonymously, collecting contact details for the sole purpose of entry in a prize draw is ethically questionable. 

Is participant data confidential?

Subject to the requirements of legislation, including the Data Protection Act (2018), information obtained from, and about a participant during an investigation, is confidential unless otherwise agreed in advance. Investigators who are put under pressure to disclose confidential information should draw this point to the attention of those exerting such pressure. Participants in psychological research have a right to expect that information they provide will be treated confidentially and, if published, will not be identifiable as theirs. In the event that confidentiality and/or anonymity cannot be guaranteed, the participant must be warned of this in advance of agreeing to participate. 

The duty of confidentiality is not absolute in law and may, in exceptional circumstances, be overridden by more compelling duties such as the duty to protect individuals from harm or alerting authorities to evidence of illegal activity. Where a significant risk of such issues arising is identified in the risk assessment, clear procedures to be followed should be specified in the protocol.  

For further information and guidance on matters concerning confidentiality, read our Code of Human Research Ethics and the Practice Guidelines.

Internet-mediated research

Advances in technology increase opportunities for psychological research.  Such technological advances may also introduce additional, and sometimes non-obvious, complexities around adherence to ethics principles. This is particularly true in the case of internet-mediated research. 

If you are conducting internet-mediated research, read our Ethics Guidelines for Internet-mediated Research for further information and guidance. 

Authorship and publication credit

We have already published some general guidance on authorship and publication credit setting out that responsibility or credit for the research (including data and datasets) and intellectual property of others must be not claimed.  Moreover, the contributions of others in collaborative work must be appropriately and accurately reflected in the authorship or other publication credits.  

Insofar as is possible this should be agreed early on in the collaboration whilst recognising that this may change through the research and publication processes. 

Our guidance emphasises the importance of not claiming credit for research on the basis of seniority or status. This is especially important for postgraduate research, 'Postgraduate students are encouraged to claim first authorship for research arising principally from their PhD dissertation or thesis'. 

In the case of undergraduate research, first authorship will depend on the relative contributions of the individuals consideration should be given to the independence of the research conducted by the student, with respect to the experimental design, statistical analysis and the interpretation of the results. 


Can I provide therapy during or before an ongoing court case? 

The society’s Guidance on the Management of Disclosures of Non-Recent (Historic) Child Sexual Abuse provide some information about what to think about when considering pre-trial therapy. 

The Crown Prosecution Service (2002) and the Home Office (2002) have provided clear guidance regarding the provision of pre-trial therapy. This not only addresses the ethical issue of not withholding a person’s right to help, but also addresses concerns about inadvertent ‘coaching’ of witnesses or contamination of evidence. It also clarifies that a psychologist’s notes can be called as evidence in legal proceedings. Practitioner psychologists may also be called to give evidence in person. 

You may also be interested in the Crown Prosecution Service website which provides some general information on vulnerable witnesses. 

What guidance does the BPS have about DBS checks?

Due to the nature of the work they may undertake some psychologists will need to have a DBS check to identify any record of criminal convictions and cautions. You will be provided with a certificate to demonstrate this. You cannot request a check personally, but this can be requested by a psychologist’s employer. We can help psychologists who practice independently. 

There are different rules for getting a criminal record check in Scotland and Northern Ireland

We don’t have a policy on how frequently psychologists working in private practice should have a DBS check.   

The government Disclosure and Barring Service website, under ‘How long a DBS check is valid?’ says: 

“A DBS check has no official expiry date. Any information included will be accurate at the time the check was carried out. It is up to an employer to decide if and when a new check is needed. 

Applicants and employers can use the DBS update service to keep a certificate up to date or carry out checks on a potential employee’s certificate.” 

This website also has other information related to DBS checks.

If you are working privately via an agency they may have a requirement for when checks are re-done.  If not, you should use your professional judgement as to the level of risk involved within your private practice and therefore, how frequently you should revalidate.  The Care Quality Commission advice on DBS checks for staff is quite helpful on this, under renewal of checks, it states:  

“There is no requirement for a service that directly employs its own staff to repeat DBS checks within a set period. For example, there is no blanket rule such as re-checking all employees every three years. However, employers can re-check their staff whenever they think it is necessary. Any additional checks should be proportionate to risk.

Further checks on staff depend on whether the registered person judges that this is necessary or advisable after a certain period. When making their decision they should undertake a risk assessment taking into account the work staff do, the potential scope for abuse, and the stability of the workforce.”

Dual relationships and boundaries in relationships

Our Practice Guidelines state: 

"Multiple relationships occur when a psychologist is in a professional role with a client or colleague and at the same time is in another role with the same person or group e.g. as a supervisor, sports club member or co-author in a publication or where a psychologist is asked to work at a school where their child is a pupil."

Psychologists should: 

  • Ensure that the relationship reflects the appropriate context within which the practice is taking plac
  • Be aware of the issues of multiple relationships and professional boundaries which may lead to (real or perceived) conflicts of interest or ethical considerations
  • Clarify for clients and other relevant stakeholders when these issues might arise

When acting as leaders in practitioner or managerial roles, psychologists should maintain an awareness of the importance of respect for boundary and power issues within leadership relationships. In particular, an awareness of the possible abuse of these relationships should be maintained at all times. It is important that psychologists explicitly define the boundary of the relationship and negotiate and respect the responsibility that each holds in relation to it. 

Where psychologists are in a position of power/leadership with individuals, it is particularly important that they exercise caution and consider the possible issues which may arise from developing a personal relationship with these individuals. It may be necessary to seek further supervision where appropriate, with additional peers as necessary. 

Psychologists have a duty of care towards their clients, who may be vulnerable, and should maintain a professional emotional distance from clients, services users or relatives and should not enter into an intimate or sexual relationship with any clients, service users or relatives they come into contact with as part of practice. Psychologists should also be aware that their duty of care can continue after a client practitioner relationship has ended.

As far as is reasonably practical, psychologists should not enter into a professional relationship with someone with whom they already have, or have had, a close personal relationship. This includes family members and friends. Where there is no reasonable alternative, such as a lack of availability of other professionals, and it is acceptable in the particular context of practice, the psychologist should make every effort to remain professional and objective while working with the individual they know or have known. In such circumstances, at the earliest possible opportunity, this should be disclosed and discussed with a manager, where there is one, and supervisor and a note should be made in client records. 

A range of psychologists work with people who initially have accessed the services in a dependent position, and have then transitioned to becoming partners and colleagues in service and policy development and design. The nature of the work becomes more collegiate and the psychologist holds multiple roles including facilitating participation, adapting communication and advocacy.

NHS to private clients

The BPS Code of Ethics and Conduct stipulate that psychologists should have respect for all people. This means that nobody should be refused treatment just because they are being treated privately (or by the NHS). 

That said, it is usual practice not to treat a person for the same issue for which they are already receiving treatment. 

The reasoning is that one clinician may do one thing which is different or counter to that of another, which could affect the efficacy of either treatment. 

This may not apply where the services being sought are quite different. For example if someone is having assistance for substance misuse and seeks separate treatment for gender dysphoria a person may be seen for both simultaneously - although even here it may still be best for these treatments to be consecutive. 

With regard to transferring a patient from the NHS to a psychologist's private practice, there is only a conflict of interest where there is some intention to use the fact that the person has been referred for NHS treatment as a way of getting private work, especially where this is not disclosed and clear. All NHS Trusts have their own policies about transfer of patients and we would suggest that you refer to your individual Trust’s policy in this case, in discussion with your Line Manager or Service Manager.

Breaching confidentiality: should I share my notes?

Only a judge can order access to notes via a court order.  

You should use your professional judgement as to whether to share your notes. You should pay particular attention to whether there may be abbreviations or shorthand that are unclear and need explanation, and whether information contained in the notes is relevant to the case. Only other psychologists should be able to comment on any psychometric data. 

An individual who is the subject of a report may be able to request access to notes under legislation such as Health Records Access or Data Protection. In this case the request should make clear the legislation under which the request is made. The ICO website is helpful when thinking about data requests.

Should I breach my client’s confidentiality? 

Our Practice Guidelines state: 

“Clients are entitled to expect that the information they give to psychologists about themselves and others will remain confidential. Psychologists have a duty not to disclose such information except as discussed below and to bring their confidentiality practice to the attention of their clients, employers, managers and any other professionals involved. 

Psychologists have a duty to inform involved parties of their confidentiality standards and practice at the point of first contact. Clients should be informed of the limits of confidentiality where information about them may be shared and confidentiality breached, for example for reasons of safeguarding, requirements of the law, and public protection.” 

If disclosure of information is deemed necessary, psychologists should obtain specific informed consent from their clients, making the consequences of disclosure as clear and unbiased as possible. There are a number of circumstances where this might not be possible or may not apply: for example where the health, safety, security or welfare of the client or someone else may otherwise be put at risk; and if there are legal or safeguarding responsibilities, such as the need to avoid ‘tipping off’. If confidentiality is broken without consent, the client should be told what has been said and to whom, unless such disclosure may expose the client or others to serious harm or is contrary to legal or safeguarding obligations. 

Psychologists who are faced with the difficult decision as to whether to disclose information without a client’s consent must weigh carefully the arguments for and against disclosure. The responsibility for this decision lies with the individual psychologist. 

Disclosure without consent, or against the client’s expressed wish may be necessary in situations in which failure to disclose appropriate information would expose the client, or someone else, to a risk of serious harm (including physical or sexual abuse) or death. 

The psychologist must weigh up the needs and interests of their own client against the wider welfare, protection and safeguarding of the public.

Breaching confidentiality after death

Our Practice Guidelines state: 

“After a client’s death, relatives or other authorities may seek access to the psychologist’s records. In the first instance, the psychologist is advised to follow organisational procedures where they exist which usually deal with the administrative proofs required such as proof of death, proof of kinship and right to access the material requested."

A psychologist’s duty of confidentiality continues after a client has died. The psychologist will need to weigh up the circumstances around the request for disclosure and what personal information is being sought. If there has been a specific request by the client for their information to remain confidential, their wishes should usually be respected. If the psychologist is unaware of any instructions from the client, when considering requests for information the following should be taken into account: 

  • The purpose of the disclosure
  • Whether the disclosure of information is likely to cause distress to, or be of benefit to, the   client’s partner or families
  • The permission of a surviving relative or next of kin is not required, and does not authorise disclosure of confidential information, although the views of those who were close to the client may help the psychologist decide if disclosure is appropriate
  • Whether the disclosure will also disclose information about the client’s family or anyone else
  • Whether the information is already public knowledge or can be anonymised or coded

There may be circumstances where the disclosure of information is required, for example: 

  • To support an inquest or fatal accident inquiry
  • Where the disclosure is required by law, is authorised under section 251 of the NHS Act 2006, or is justified in the public interest, such as for education or research
  • In the case of national confidential inquiries or for local clinical audit
  • When a person has a right of access to records under the Access to Health Records

My client has disclosed a crime, do I have to tell the police?

Our Practice Guidelines state: 

“Clients are entitled to expect that the information they give to psychologists about themselves and others will remain confidential. Psychologists have a duty not to disclose such information except as discussed below and to bring their confidentiality practice to the attention of their clients, employers, managers and any other professionals involved. 

Psychologists have a duty to inform involved parties of their confidentiality standards and practice at the point of first contact. Clients should be informed of the limits of confidentiality where information about them may be shared and confidentiality breached, for example for reasons of safeguarding, requirements of the law, and public protection.” 

If disclosure of information is deemed necessary, psychologists should obtain specific informed consent from their clients, making the consequences of disclosure as clear and unbiased as possible. There are a number of circumstances where this might not be possible or may not apply: for example where the health, safety, security or welfare of the client or someone else may otherwise be put at risk; and if there are legal or safeguarding responsibilities, such as the need to avoid ‘tipping off’. If confidentiality is broken without consent, the client should be told what has been said and to whom, unless such disclosure may expose the client or others to serious harm or is contrary to legal or safeguarding obligations. 

Psychologists who are faced with the difficult decision as to whether to disclose information without a client’s consent must weigh carefully the arguments for and against disclosure. The responsibility for this decision lies with the individual psychologist. 

Disclosure without consent, or against the client’s expressed wish may be necessary in situations in which failure to disclose appropriate information would expose the client, or someone else, to a risk of serious harm (including physical or sexual abuse) or death. 

The psychologist must weigh up the needs and interests of their own client against the wider welfare, protection and safeguarding of the public.

Psychological services over the internet

Our Practice Guidelines state:  

“Digital media continues to advance in terms of choice and functionality. It is becoming increasingly common for psychologists in particular when working with clients to make use of the internet and/audio-visual technology. These technologies require the psychologist to ensure that the network used is as secure as reasonably possible and, as far as is feasible, assures privacy to their clients. 

There can be no guarantee of security when using the internet, and voice over internet protocol (VOIP) services such as ‘Skype’ or ‘FaceTime’ are no different, as they use the same data infrastructure as the rest of the internet.” 

This Covid-19 specific guidance has further information.


Our Practice Guidance have a large section about supervision (section 1.5) including information about who can provide supervision, the forms it can take, amounts and responsibilities of the supervisor.


Our Practice Guidelines state: 

“Psychologists are encouraged to state their registration with the HCPC and protected title(s). This will provide assurance that the psychologist meets national standards of training and professional skills. 

The term ‘consultant’ generally does not have a formal definition. Within the medical field it is used by doctors who have considerable experience and proven expertise demonstrated through examination within their respective Royal Colleges. 

While there is no clear comparable grading structure for psychologists outside the NHS (within the NHS, the consultant title is used by psychologists who are employed in Band 8C, 8D and 9 positions), the use of this title would be seen to reflect both seniority and specialist expertise. 

There is a difference between a ‘consultant’ psychologist and a psychologist who provides consultations in their context of practice. The Society expects that psychologists should be honest and accurate in representing their professional affiliations and qualifications, including such matters as knowledge, skill, training, education and experience. 

The society’s position is that this would be applicable in any situation where expert knowledge or skills is being marketed or promoted, whether or not this is for financial gain. Further information is available in Society Document: Guidance on the use of the title ‘Consultant Psychologist’.”

How long should I keep my records?

Our Practice Guidelines state that:

Psychologists’ records should be held securely for as long as they are required for the purpose of psychological work. Psychologists must follow legal requirements, national and local policy frameworks and procedures regarding the retention or disposal of records after the psychologist’s work is concluded. Psychologists should ensure that they keep up to date with requirements. 

For independent practitioners general guidance is that many independent psychologists keep records relating to contact with adults for 7 years, and follow NHS guidance in relation to children. Where the records derive from work undertaken within an organisation, the maintenance of these records is determined by the organisation’s policies and legal requirements.  

Retention and destruction of health records, both paper and electronic, is covered in the NHS code of practice for records management. Generally speaking, retention is until age 26 for people seen as children; 20 years after the last contact for adults, and 8 years after death if the death occurred while the person was in the care of the NHS. There are specific requirements for mental health services depending on the nature of the contact.  

In education settings, Local authorities generally retain Education Health and Care Plans for 35 years after the case has been closed. Other records are retained until the child is 25. 

All records must be destroyed under confidential conditions following organisational procedures or for independent practitioners using a destruction service or process which meets industry standards for document management and can provide the appropriate certification.

You should use your professional judgement as to which is an appropriate length of time. This should be detailed within your privacy statement and you should ensure that you do whatever is stipulated within this statement.

We are currently in the process of developing BPS guidance regarding the employment of assistant psychologists. As we currently have a high number of queries on this topic, we have created this interim advice until the full guidance is agreed and published.

What is the difference between Band 4 and Band 5 Assistant Psychologist posts?

Assistant psychologists may be employed on Band 4 or Band 5 of Agenda for Change.

The full job profiles and banding information is available through the NHS employers website here

The difference between the 2 bands may be summarised as:

  • Band 4 Assistant psychologists must have a greater level of supervision and direct management by their line manager. All their work will be routinely checked in supervision.
  • Band 4 Assistants will not develop or deliver teaching, training or advice to other staff: their role in training would be purely to assist a qualified Applied Psychologist. Band 5 Assistants might help develop training programmes and would be able to deliver elements of a planned training programme
  • Band 4 Assistants would not have research and development as a major part of their role but they might contribute towards research programmes being carried out by qualified colleagues e.g. through directed literature searches or data analysis
  • Band 4 Assistants should not work with people in crisis or severe distress. Band 5 Assistants can work with people in crisis or severe distress, as long as they are not the sole practitioner and they are well supported by their supervisor and in a safe working environment

Assistants would normally be employed as Band 5s, because this Band offers greater flexibility and independence in the role. They must always be employed at Band 5 in roles where there is not the constant presence of a qualified applied psychologist for advice.

However, Band 4 Assistants have much to offer where there is a very well defined and closely supervised role, working with less complex or serious cases. They can work effectively in a larger team of applied psychologists, where there are opportunities to progress to Band 5 with greater experience.

Do you have an example Assistant Psychologist Role description?

We do not have example role descriptions for assistant psychologists.

The NHS job profiles for assistant psychologists band 4 and 5 can be found here

Assistant Psychologists must work under the clinical supervision of qualified Applied Psychologists, providing assistance and delivering assessments, interventions and training as directed.

Tasks carried out by Assistant Psychologists may include but are not limited to:

  • Assessment e.g. direct observations, formal psychometric testing, using semi-structured interviews
  • Carrying out prescribed interventions with individuals and groups
  • Developing and delivering workshops and training packages for individuals, carers and staff
  • Writing appropriate reports
  • Literature searches to determine best practice
  • Support for service user and carer involvement in psychology services
  • Audit and service evaluations
  • Research
  • Developing and disseminating information for service users, carers, colleagues, referrers and commissioners

Assistant psychologists should not be required to:

  • Carry out tasks over and above their level of competence.
  • Substitute for qualified applied psychologists
  • Undertake primarily administrative and clerical duties or the role of a care assistant or support worker
  • Work alone without access to a qualified psychologist for advice and support
  • Work without adequate and regular supervision from a qualified applied psychologist
  • Work as the sole professional with complex cases or in emergency or crisis services

What Supervision is required by an assistant psychologist?

Assistant psychologists should be supervised by an HCPC registered practitioner psychologist.

Full time assistant psychologists should have access to at least 2 hours per week.

Further generic information on supervision can be found in our Practice guidelines.

What training requirements do Assistant Psychologists Have?

We do not specify particular training requirements for Assistant Psychologists but do expect that they undertake any training required by their employing organisation.

Assistant psychologists should have access to and time for Continuing Professional Development as other staff and receive regular appraisal.

What titles can assistant psychologists have or use?

We refer to Assistant Psychologist throughout these FAQs for clarity, however, there are several similar titles used in job descriptions which refer to the same role:

  • Honorary Assistant Psychologist
  • Voluntary Assistant Psychologist
  • Psychology Assistant
  • Assistant Educational (or other protected title) Psychologist
  • Research Assistant Psychologist

We recommend that only the titles above are used in order to protect employer and employee.

We note there are several other titles used where job descriptions are similar to assistant psychologists such as assistant practitioner, graduate psychologist and psychology practitioner amongst others.

We recommend that one of the titles above are used instead, to avoid confusion and ensure safe practice and employment.

Who is accountable for the work of assistant psychologists?

Assistant psychologists are accountable to their employer for employment issues such as dress and lateness.

Assistant psychologists are professionally accountable to their supervising HCPC registered practitioner psychologist for any professional decisions made, assessments and interventions carried out.

What support can assistants get when things go wrong?

If something is not right for an assistant psychologist at work they should speak to their supervisor/ line manager or the head of psych services in their employing organisation.

If this is not possible or does not help, Assistant psychologists can also be part of a union and approach their local rep for support.

There will also be local organisational policies regarding employment and whistleblowing which could be referred to.

Locally, there may be Assistant Psychologist support group(s) to link to for peer support. Local BPS branches may have this information.