Importance of Ethics in Counseling
Ethics are crucial in counseling because they outline the code of action for all professional counselors. The client’s welfare should be protected at all costs, and the Code of Ethics is the primary source of support for clients and counselors looking to receive and provide fair services. As Oramas (2017) noted, a proper counseling relationship is required to encourage client growth and help the counselor follow the plan related to the client attaining their welfare. Hence, informed consent and detailed counseling plans should be in place for the counselors to make the boundaries more visible and introduce enough imbalance in the client-counselor relationship to have the counselor hold more power due to being the expert. A reasonable approach to counseling ethics would also require counselors to maintain the highest possible level of confidentiality (Oramas, 2017). Nevertheless, confidentiality could be broken to prevent clients from harming others or engaging in self-harm activities.
In the article, Oramas (2017) heavily emphasizes that while ethics is a code and set of rules that must be followed by professionals, real-life situations and applications of these ethics are increasingly more complex than simple right and wrong. Therefore, counselors must continuously evolve their knowledge and understanding of ethics, not just through training (which are important according to the author but not fully encompassing). Counselors can engage in ethical reflection and discourse with other professionals, maintaining strong moral values and self-awareness of these values and establishing professional, cultural, and ethical competency.
Counselors face ethical gray areas more than most other professions due to the nature of the practice, and even experienced professionals in the field struggle with ethical choices. While maintaining core values and practicing them in everyday life benefits counselors in their ethical commitment, they should also strive to develop skills and qualities for ethical decision-making. These include the basic skills of effective listening, empathy, and common sense. Commitment to honesty, and flexibility to adapt to various situations and changing environments are beneficial attributes. However, more importantly, while applying ethical values and principles, it is critical to place the client’s needs and safety above anything else (Oramas, 2017).
Finally, Oramas (2017) also highlights the need to embrace the diversity of all kinds. Multiculturalism will help to build healthier relationships with culturally diverse populations, understanding their lifestyles and perspectives in a more encompassing way. Depending on race/culture, LGBTQ+, religion, and even gender, diverse populations inherently face different challenges and barriers and conduct themselves in various ways. In order to properly treat these individuals, a true professional must embrace their diversity and treat them as they would any ‘regular’ traditional patient.
Personal Experience with Ethics in Counseling
A personal experience with an ethical challenge in counseling occurred as I attended outpatient treatment after drug rehabilitation. Although I benefited strongly from individual therapy, group therapy aligned with my recovery plan, and I wanted to ensure that I stayed off any addictive substances. One of the other members of the group was battling a gambling problem but openly expressed that he was a recreational drug (cocaine) user. This individual sought to spend time with me outside of the group. Furthermore, he continuously expressed positive views of substance use in the group sessions. I believed this crossed boundaries and was inappropriate in a group therapy setting, which was small and tight-knit. Eventually, the individual was quietly removed from the group set by the group counselor. However, I was not allowed to express my feelings to the group regarding the situation, and the counselor never fully addressed it.
There were several ethical issues at play in this situation. Ideally, participants in a group therapy session should remain anonymous and not share unnecessary details about their lives. It is also not recommended for group members to encounter each other outside the group due to the nature of the counseling in group sessions and a matter of confidentiality, risking a third party unwillingly finding out about a patient’s problems (Grand Canyon University, 2018).
This individual kept pursuing to meet outside the group setting and form a personal relationship, which was highly inappropriate. Furthermore, during sessions in group therapy for addictions, the individual kept emphasizing his cocaine use, suggesting that it was recreational, not addictive to him. Not only is such behavior inconsiderate, but given that others in the group were attempting to recover from substance abuse, myself included, it was unethical. There is a significant difference between constructive sharing (it may have been ok to share just one time with the group) and glorification of substance abuse. Constructive sharing allows a person to share their feelings around the action, while glorification discusses the thrill of being ‘high’ and enjoying this substance use (Editorial Staff American Addiction Centers, 2019). It may have served to derail the progress of other addicts who are attempting to practice sobriety.
The counselor was faced with an ethical dilemma. The individual discussed was also a patient, deserving of the services and help provided by the group therapy. However, it was evident that he was disrupting the sessions, acting inappropriately, and potentially hurting others’ progress. I believe removing the individual from the group was the correct decision. However, the counselor should have allowed the group members to discuss their feelings and concerns regarding the situation, as it may have been helpful as both a healing tool as well as a learning moment as to how to deal with people when encountering substance use in the outside world, as to avoid addictive behavior again.
An Ethical Issue to be Considered
The primary issue that has to be covered when dwelling on the essential counseling ethical principles is the need to reduce the complexity of a supervisory relationship between the counselor and the client. Even though it is often overlooked, the lack of control over choosing one’s supervisor represents a significant challenge. Most considerations make it harder for new counselors to set themselves up for efficacious counseling (Schultz et al., 2020). At the same time, Oramas (2017) highlights that counselors, both new and experienced, often rely on consultation with their supervisors for guidance or resolution of complex ethical dilemmas.
This professional relationship and interaction are necessary and important to provide the best available treatment for patients. It is an ethical issue for a counselor because they do not have the opportunity to pick the supervisor that is right for them and merely choose from limited available options. Therefore, a supervisory relationship could be just as challenging as one’s interactions with a client they do not like. The feeling of having to cope with an unfitting supervisor is an ethical issue because counselors might not have the opportunity to get their questions answered on the spot. Regardless of whether it is a practicum or a full-fledged job, new counselors are not to be exposed to a supervisory relationship where they are disrespected or ignored and cannot do anything about it.
One of the possible ways to resolve the issue would be to communicate with the supervisor to establish two-sided expectations and see if in-person or distance supervision fits their relationship better. In order to avoid scenarios where supervisors avoid coordinating the site, new counselors should receive enough assistance from the respective institutions and organizations to fulfill their purpose. A counselor’s supervised experience should be documented properly, with all the issues and successful activities being carefully translated into detailed reports (Schultz et al., 2020). Thus, both the new counselor and their supervisor should engage in a committed relationship where all considerations contribute to a positive relationship and not a hostile working environment.
Cottone, R. R., Tarvydas, V., & Hartley, M. T. (2021). Ethics and decision making in counseling and psychotherapy. Springer.
Editorial Staff American Addiction Centers. (2019). Constructive sharing vs. glorification of drug abuse. Web.
Grand Canyon University. (2018). A look at ethical issues in group counseling. Web.
Oramas, J. E. (2017). Counseling ethics: Overview of challenges, responsibilities, and recommended practices. Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 9(3), 47-58. Web.
Schultz, T., Baraka, M. K., Watson, T., & Yoo, H. (2020). How do ethics translate? Identifying ethical challenges in transnational supervision settings. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 42(3), 234-248. Web.