The Ethics Centre in Sydney has been running a free phone-counselling service for 30 years – but since the pandemic began the not-for-profit has seen an increase in demand, so it’s doubled the number of trained ethics counsellors available to take calls.
“With Covid and lockdown, we’ve seen people really struggling with difficult decisions,” says Ethi-call director Michelle Bloom. “I think working from home has thrown up some particular challenges for people, and living in restricted conditions has highlighted relationship issues, whether it’s family or intimate relationships, or just navigating a deeply uncertain present and future.”
Every call made is confidential, and ethics counsellors work through a series of questions to help callers come to their own conclusions – rather than offering advice. “We don’t moralise or provide specific direction at all,” explains Bloom. “What we do is guide callers through questions to explore their decision and get clarity on their options.”
In the last 12 months, almost a third of calls were for personal issues and 10 per cent were from those who work in the health sector.
“We had a call from a person who works in a vaccination facility, and for whatever reason the protocol is that vaccines are discarded if not used on the day. That particular caller wanted to know if it was ethical to offer the unused vaccines to family and friends or people who worked at that facility over throwing them away.”
Callers might ask about conflicts of interest, bullying or the consequences of reporting people for bad behaviour. People have phoned to talk through social justice issues or how to intervene in a problem that has the potential to cause upset for others.
“Generally people might talk to their friends, partners or family to help them work through a difficult decision, but often that’s fraught because they come with biases and find it hard to provide that neutral perspective,” says Bloom. “What we’re doing is having a look at that decision through multiple lenses and perspectives to help people become unstuck and start to think about different options.”
It’s a philosophical counselling service – so Ethi-call respondents might ask what you believe your responsibilities are in the situation, what the possible outcomes are, and if there are any harmful implications or non-negotiable solutions. “If someone reveals to us a situation where someone is at risk of being hurt or harmed or self-harm, we will absolutely escalate. We will follow the mandatory reporting requirements and get support for the person,” says Bloom.
The Ethi-call team has found that, in most circumstances, callers’ issues are resolved within the one-hour time frame. “People do call back because they’ve found [the service] incredibly valuable,” says Bloom, explaining that calls are funded by any profits the Ethics Centre makes from its consulting and leadership practice.
From August 2 the Ethi-call team has 20 ethics counsellors, who are available to talk from 7.30am to 9pm every day. Calls are by appointment only. Once you’ve booked a call, someone from the Ethi-call team will phone you back. There’s no issue too big or small.