Dr Andrew Perry

Jul 8, 20203 min

Some ethics of co-productive relationships

Updated: Dec 3, 2023

Illuminating the ethical implications of adopting an additional model of helpful relationships.

The ethics of co-productive relationships seem to depend upon the capacities, competencies, and the context of their participants. This document interrogates co-productive relationships using the four principles of the British Psychological Society (BPS) (2018) code of ethics: respect, competence, responsibility and integrity. It concludes that co-productive relationships appear to have different ethical properties from other forms of helping relationships.



This principle implies both participants in a co-productive professional relationship have a competency for knowledge, consent and understanding, an adult to adult relationship. People with different experiences, and expertise, to share. Working respectfully in the spaces where both individuals have the capacity to make decisions. So participants enter into a psychological contract unique to that circumstance. Terminology about the relationship may be secondary to inviting informed consent from both the participants and other people, the relationship affects. As such an ethic of, flexible, reciprocity is paramount. This ethic can be summated as 'do not do unto others as you would that they should do unto you. Their tastes may be different' (Shaw, 2022.)' All humans being worthy of equal moral consideration.

Practical examples include answering the questions we pose and modelling, first, the relationships we invite. Co-productive relationships may reduce infantilism and encourage taking responsibility for self, and others. There can be a shared responsibility for practice. Co-productive relationships seem less suitable when acting in the best interest of people receiving services, any compulsory elements of treatment and/or as part of court sanctioned punishment.



This principle requires a child like role, for the professional, with regard to an external authority. This is important because it is possible to imagine destructive co-productive relationships between adults with capacity. These include malignant coupling, collusion, traumatic re-enactment, the forming of gangs and/or cartels. In addition, acting independently from culture is fraught. There are likely to be non-equal expectations about the respective roles in any relationship with a professional. Altering those without societal knowledge could be considered deceptive. These possibilities mean that co-productive relationships may require an increased ethical responsibility for transparency, than more traditional forms of helping relationships. In particular, to receive support and to communicate with wider society about practice. In sum, the greater the contrast between the helping relationship and outside culture the greater the need for external scrutiny. In situations of uncertainty participants should consider, with others, if an alternative model of helpful relationships would be more ethical.



This principle implies a parental role towards the person receiving a service from the professional. Behavioural standards, for professionals, are above those required by law. The professional's privileged position suggests they should lead in the communication of vulnerabilities and in demonstrations of the realities of change. Disclosing personal experience, when it appears to be, in the person receiving services best interests. There seems an ethical responsibility, upon professionals, to remove barriers to people helping each other in reasonable, evidence informed, ways.

Conversely, this principle also reminds us that expecting a co-productive relationship could become an additional burden upon a more vulnerable person. Professionals need to be sensitive to the diversity in human capabilities. Co-productive relationships could also reduce the benefit of an individuals’ expertise e.g. limited re-parenting forms part of some effective psychotherapies (Arntz & Van Genderen, 2009). In this way co-productive relationships may not always represent an efficient use of resources. Finally, professionals need to take into account the uncertainty about short, medium and long term outcomes.The supporting experience, theory and current evidence, for co-productive relationships, represent part of the variance in human behaviour.


This principle requires a parental role towards the person receiving a service above that required by the law. Professionals, in co-productive relationships, are expected to explicitly communicate the likely costs and benefits to both parties. Balancing any financial inequality with other inequalities. They will also need to recognise, in their actions, the inherent power differential between people in professional and other roles. The greater information exchange, in co-productive relationships, should enable participants to become more objective. Providing additional context and allowing them to abandon false hopes, for the relationship. As such co-productive relationships recognise that participants hold multiple, professional and social, roles simultaneously (Proctor, 2010.) Finally, the idea of a co-productive relationship could act as a seduction. A promise of change without real change. To demonstrate this was not the case, professionals’ need to evidence positive changes in the recipient's well being.


Arntz, A. & Van Genderen, H. (2009). Schema Therapy for Borderline Personality Disorder, Chichester: John Wiley and Son

British Psychological Society. (2018). Code of Ethics and Conduct. Ethics Committee of the British Psychological Society.

Proctor, G. (2010). Boundaries or mutuality in therapy: is mutuality really possible or is therapy doomed from the start?. Psychotherapy and Politics International, 8 (1), 44-58.

Shaw, B. (2022). Maxims for revolutionists. DigiCat.

UK Government (1995) The-7-principles-of-public-life, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/the-7-principles-of-public-life

n.b. I have also collated a list of other free resources on relationships I have found helpful. You can find them here : CLICK HERE