ETHICAL & LEGAL ISSUES IN COUNSELING
  • Counselors, like all professionals, have ethical responsibilities and obligations. The principal rule supporting ethical obligations is that the counselor must act with full recognition of the importance of client’s rights, the ethics of the profession.
  • Counseling is not a value-free or neutral activity (Grant, 1992).
  • “It is a profession based on values, which are orienting beliefs about what is good…and how that good should be achieved” (Bergin, 1985), the relationship of moral standards and values, individual or cultural, in the life of that client.

Ethical Codes

  • Ethics are suggested standards of conduct based on a consensus value set.
  • Ethical standards are generally formalized in terms of a code of ethics. As the group emerges in its development toward professionalism, it requires formulation of code of ethics for safe practice of the profession. Professional bodies of counseling have developed ethical standards which they have made available to the practitioners.
  • Professional organizations for practicing counseling and psychotherapy are: American Psychological Association (APA) British Association for Counseling (BAC) American Counseling Association (ACA)
theory and practice of counseling  ETHICAL & LEGAL ISSUES IN COUNSELING:

In each case, members who were directly involved in writing the code reviewed and examined a wide range of ethical behavior and problems of professional practice that were of concern to a broadly based membership. All codes stress adherence to rigorous professional standards and to exemplary behavior, integrity, and objectivity toward clients.

Development of Codes

  • APA Code: Two codes of ethics guide counselors for the practice of ethical counseling:

a. o General Code of Ethics, “Ethical Principles of Psychologists”, can also be applied to the practice of counseling. On violation appropriate action is taken, which includes dismissal from the membership.

b. o In the “Specialty Guidelines for the Delivery of Services by Counseling Psychologists”, APA has printed a casebook for the service providers.

  • ACA Code: Codes of Ethics & Standard of Practice ACA also provide a casebook containing 8 major sections.
  1. o Based its first standards on APA code of ethics, this code does not contain any classification of misbehavior nor does it attach penalties to the violation of the standards.
  2. o Initiated by Donald Super and approved in 1961.
  3. o These standards focus on guidelines for professional conduct.
  4. o The fundamental rule is that the human being must be respected and protected at all times, which can be done only by counselors who manifest honesty, integrity, and objectivity in their behavior toward their clients. Unethical behavior usually occurs when the counselor communicates in a way that establishes one set of expectations and then behaves in a way that is inconsistent with those expectations. For example, the counselor structures the counseling situation verbally or nonverbally to imply mutual trust, concern, and confidentiality. The counselor then behaves in a way that upsets these expectations because the counselor then assigns greater value to another societal role.

Reasons for Ethical Codes

• Help professionalize and protect an association by government and promote stability within the profession.

  • Help control internal disagreement.
  • Protect practitioners from the public.
  • Protect clients from incompetent counselors especially in malpractice issues. Clients can also use codes to evaluate questionable treatment from the counselor.

Unethical Behavior

Unethical behavior can take many forms:

  • Violation of confidentiality.
  • Exceeding one’s level of professional competence: Competence refers to the ability to perform effectively. Therapists must limit their service to their training and experience. Claiming expertise one does not possess relates to the violation of this ethical standard.
  • Imposing one’s values on a client.
  • Creating dependency in a client.
  • Certain conflicts of interest: No multiple or dual relationships are allowed, for example it is unethical for a therapist to have a sexual or business relationship with the patient outside the therapeutic relationship.
  • Questionable financial arrangements such as drawing excessive fees.
  • Improper advertising regarding one’s potentials or credentials.

Client Rights: Informed Consent

  • Involves the rights of clients to be informed about what their relationships with the counselor will entail and to make autonomous decisions.
  • Starts with intake interview and continues for the duration of the relationship.
  • Usually comprehensive written statements are used (ACA Code of Ethics).

Client Rights: Confidentiality

  • Confidentiality is considered as a central concept in the client-helper relationship. The greatest single source of ethical dilemma in counseling results from questions of confidentiality.
  • Confidentiality needs to be discussed with clients from the onset of the relationship.
  • Minor or incompetent clients: Counselors act in the best interest of those unable to give voluntary consent.
  • Records:
  • Provide access to records when requested by clients
  • Disclosure of transfer
  • Permission to record
  • Anonymity in research
  • Respect for privacy in consultation

Principles Govern Confidentiality

Schneiders (1963) terms the information revealed in counseling an “entrusted secret” He provided seven general principles governing confidentiality and communication:

  • Obligation of confidentiality is relative rather than absolute since there are conditions which can alter it.
  • Confidentiality depends on the nature of the material.
  • Harmless material does not bind the counselor to confidentiality.
  • Material necessary for a counselor/agency to function effectively is often released from the bonds of confidentiality.
  • Intrinsic right of the counselee to his integrity and reputation: Confidentiality is always conditioned by the intrinsic right of the counselee to his integrity and reputation, to the secret, and to resist aggression. Such rights can be protected by the counselor even against the law.
  • Confidentiality is also limited by the rights of the counselor to preserve his own reputation and integrity, to resist harm or aggression, and to preserve privileged communication.
  • Limited by the rights of an innocent third party/community.

Limitations of Confidentiality:

a.Suspected child abuse must be reported.

b.Threats to harm others must be reported.

Rationale for Confidentiality:

Need for balance between the rights of the individual and the safety of society (Denkowski & Denkowski, 1982) with specific attention to the importance of counselors keeping up-to-date with the legal status of confidentiality.

  • In special circumstances, it is the “Duty to warn whenever the counselor has reasonable knowledge that a client’s conduct may be harmful to self or to another (Gehring, 1982).)
  • Professionals inform clients of the limits of confidentiality prior to the onset of helping relationship (National Organization for Human Service Education, 1995).

Obligations to Warn & Protect

In the case of special circumstances, it is the obligation of the counselor to warn the related people/ family members. A few examples are given below:

  • Incest and Child abuse
  • Serious danger to others: e.g., in case of HIV-positive client. This as a new standard was added in 1995 in ACA code of ethics. The case of Tarasoff v. Board of Regents of the University of California (1969) is a famous example when the California Supreme Court ruled that the University and its employees acted in an irresponsible manner when they failed to notify an intended victim of a threat, resulting in the victim’s murder.
  • Runaway plan of a child client must be reported to the parents.
  • Students’ violation of confidentiality.
  • Harm-to-self:
  • Most suicides can be prevented if we learn to recognize, evaluate, and intervene effectively in crises situations (Fujimura et al., 1985).
  • Wubbolding (1996) suggests a few questions to identify danger, for example, usually suicidal look hopeless; this knowledge can be used to detect such cases.

Client Rights: Respecting the Client’s Autonomy and Diversity

Following problems can occur, if client’s rights for freedom are not respected:

  • Fostering dependence in clients
  • Counselor having a hard time terminating a case
  • Challenging clients to do for themselves what they are unable to do
  • Keeping helping process mysterious
  • Discrimination
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